The break from school is a great time for kids to explore the world around them and discover new things, and the right program can provide a child with lifelong memories and skills.
This year, parents can speak with more than a dozen camp operators and other exhibitors at the March 23 CrossRoadsNews Summer Camp Expo at the Mall at Stonecrest before deciding how their child will spend the summer.
Here are some tips to help you make the best camp choice.
Talk with your child
Maybe there’s something – drama, sports, dance, science, etc. – that your child has been yearning to try. Camp is a great place to take on new challenges. Most programs combine academic and indoor/outdoor activities; find one that suits both of you.
If you can’t find everything you want for your child in one camp, you may consider sending your child to more than one. For example, if your children want to dance and do sports, you might split time between a dance camp and a YMCA camp.
Find out what’s available
There are traditional camps that offer a variety of events, and there are specialty camps that focus on a single activity or area of interest. Traditional summer camps are a great idea for children who are flexible but love fun. Campers get to explore a variety of events that will broaden their minds.
Specialty camps are a great choice for children who are interested in specific skills and activities, such as dance, music, basketball, golf or mathematics. At specialty camps, children get to focus on a particular activity and learn all they can about it.
Learn about the camp’s counselors
What are their backgrounds regarding childhood education? Who is certified in CPR and who do you contact in case of an emergency? Who should the camp contact in case of an emergency? Who are your backup contacts? Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? Is the camp tied to any other community, religious or social organization?
Know what fees apply
There are usually registration fees and supplemental fees for field trips, camp T-shirts, food and extended services. It’s important to find out what’s included in camp fees so there are no surprises later.
Once you have chosen a camp, make an appointment to meet the camp director and arrange for a tour. If the staff seems hesitant to talk to you, this is often a sign that the camp is not very organized and perhaps you should move on to your next choice.
For your meeting with the director, have a list of questions you need answered in order to properly evaluate the camp.
Pin down additional costs for field trips or other activities. Will you be expected to provide meals, snacks or supplies for your child?
Find out if need-based scholarships are available and the refund policy if your child gets sick or has an emergency and is no longer able to attend.
Ask about safety
Make sure the camp you choose has staff trained in safety procedures, supervision, conflict resolution and other issues that may be specific to working with young children. Find out what procedures the camp follows in case of an emergency.
Find out the camp’s procedures for tracking kids during field trips and how it deals with roadside emergencies when the kids go on field trips.
For children with medical issues, such as diabetes or asthma, make sure that there is trained staff on-site and emergency procedures in place at all times.
In Atlanta, the temperature soars in the summers. What types of physical activities will your children be engaged in? Will they be indoors or outdoors, and for how long?
Will they be exposed to high temperatures, cold water? (Yes! Swimming can dehydrate you!)
If kids are spending a lot of time outdoors, find out how the camp will keep them hydrated and cool.
Will there be challenging hikes, potential allergens? What is the camp’s safety protocol?
What is the chain of hierarchy when it comes to responsibly monitoring your children’s activities?
Talk with the camp staff about your child’s medical needs and what medical facility your child would be transported to should the need arise. Finally, learn what the discipline procedure is and decide if you’re comfortable with that approach.
Go to open houses
Some camps have open houses to introduce parents and children to their programs. This is a great opportunity to meet camp counselors and/or teachers ahead of time and learn about the program and activities in which your children will be involved. You also will get a feel for the people who will be spending the summer with your kids and the environment in which they will spend their time.
Learn counselor policies
Some camps may use teen counselors who may be unaccustomed to dealing with large groups. Make sure the counselor/child ratio suits your child’s needs. The American Camp Association recommends a 1-to-6 staff-to-children ratio.
What is the return rate for the counselors and campers? How old are the counselors? What sorts of experience and education are required? What is the process for screening when hiring staff? Do they do background checks to screen out child predators? Is the staff certified in CPR and first aid?
When kids go away to 4-H, Girl Scouts, YMCA and other overnight camps, they get the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their neighborhood or school. Parents and children get to practice “letting go.”
Decisions about camp should be a joint venture, depending on your child’s maturity. If a child feels his opinions are being respected, the chances of having a positive experience will improve.
Talk about concerns
As the first day of camp approaches, some children experience uneasiness about going to a new or unfamiliar place. Discuss these feelings.
Let your child know that you believe in his or her ability to deal with new situations but maintain realistic expectations. Encourage your child to write letters home and be sure you know how to reach them in case of emergencies.
Encourage children to have a reasonable and realistic view of camp. Camp, like the rest of life, has highs and lows.
Every moment is not filled with wonder and excitement.
But remember, if you make the right choice, fond memories of your child’s camp experience can last a lifetime.