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How to Pick the Right Summer Camp for Your Kids

It's much more than s'mores and sing-alongs: Top camps provide lifelong memories and skills. Here's how to pick a winner -- and help your kid have an awesome summer

By Barbara Rowley (Original Article)

Clearly, when you're choosing a day camp, your options are limited to places close to home. But you'll still likely have a choice, which is why, Smith says, it's smart to talk with camp directors before making any decisions. Good camps expect to hear from you during the selection process. "When we get an enrollment off the Internet and we don't know the family, we call them," says Bill Jones, director of Camp Lake Hubert and Camp Lincoln in Lake Hubert, MN. "We want parents to know us, and we want to know our parents and kids."
The best camps always have someone who can talk with you before, during, or after camp, or will find someone to return your call. They will always have parental references for you to speak with, and many larger ones hold open houses. What should you look for? While there are specific qualities that make some camps better for a certain child than others (a kid who loves art, for instance, might not be a good fit at a place that's all about horses), keep an eye out for these key things:


Doing Your Homework on Day Camp

  • A history. There are definitely great new camps out there. But some experts (and families) believe that operating a camp for decades, especially with the same staff, does mean something. In today's world, a camp simply couldn't stay in business for generations if it were unsafe or poorly run.

  • A philosophy. Does it focus on sports? Arts? Leadership? How is this philosophy integrated into its programs?

  • An emphasis on creating community. Good camps think about how they place kids together to create the most inclusive experience for all. Another hallmark of community: a scholarship program.

  • A well-trained staff, in adequate numbers for a low campers-to-staffers ratio (about 10 to 1 for kids ages 8 to 14). The staff should be background-checked, too, with references, an interview, and a criminal-records search.

  • An element of choice. Your child will feel more independent if he can choose some activities.

  • A communications plan for letting parents know about upcoming events, and for notifying them if a child becomes sick or injured. They also have a consistent policy on camper phone use.

​6 Tips for Picking the Right Summer Camp for Your Child

Here are the six factors you should focus on when choosing the best camp for your child.

Posted by Katie Bugbee

  • If you went to summer camp, you have a million amazing memories. Where else can you make friendship bracelets and lifelong friends? But with so many options these days, which one is the best for your child?

  • Is it day camp or sleepover? With friends or without? And which interests should you focus on?

1) Talk about Expectations 

  • Before you even start your research, discuss the idea of camp with your child. What does he want to do this summer? Who would he want to go with? What new things would she like to accomplish? This will help you start a nice search. However, always factor in your Dad-intuition: if you know he could use a chance to meet new friends, or focus on her swimming skills as well as her love of animals, don't rule things out just because your child has a strong opinion. Balance will be key to challenging kids while giving them the summer of their lives.

2) Decide on Day or Overnight 

  • Day camp is a great way to keep kids active and social all summer long while staying local. And you have more insight into what is going on each day. And it's great if your child is just warming up to camp.

  • Overnight camp typically starts at age 7. For kids who have outgrown the local camp experience and are looking for a new adventure, this could be an easy choice. If your child does well at sleepovers, follows directions at school and isn't afraid to be independent in new activities, they are good candidates. The only question is - are you ready for them to be away for a week or more?

3) Choose with Friends or Without? 

  • Clearly, the more local, the more people they'll know. So, if one of your goals for camp is for your child to meet new people and challenge her own social strengths, look outside your town. On the flip side, you'll want to factor in the commute. If the camp doesn't bus kids, you might want to rely on those BFF's parents to create a carpool.

4) Consider the Camp's Focus 

  • General camps offer a variety of activities, including swimming, archery, team sports, arts and crafts, ropes courses, music and team building activities. So kids experience new interests. But if your child wants to focus on certain skill-building and meet like-minded people, consider a specialty camp. Just remember that three weeks of back-to-back art classes could curb interest in the activity. Adding a week or two at specialty camp after a general camp might be your best way to create balance.

  • Once you know the style of camp you want, decide if it needs to be gender-specific. Most day camps are unisex, so narrowing your list to a specialty and gender will leave you with fewer options (perhaps making this even easier!).

5) Do Research 

  • Now you're ready to look into reviews and prices. If going local and interested in joining friends, send an email to certain parents asking what their summer plans are. They might have favorite camps they rave about, to make your decision easy. Once you have a few choices, call the staff and ask some of these relevant questions:

  • How is staff hired, screened and trained?

  • What is the camper to counselor ratio?

  • What is your return rate?

  • How old are the counselors?

  • How do you handle conflicts between campers, or discipline?

  • What type of child best succeeds at this camp?

  • What is a sample daily schedule?

  • What happens if my child takes medication?

  • How do you handle separation anxiety?

  • What are your safety and medical procedures?

Extra questions for Overnight Camps:

  • How do you do laundry?

  • What is a sample menu?

  • Can I send my child care packages?

  • Do kids keep their cell phones?

  • Should I send my child with money?

  • If my child needs to talk to a parent, is that allowed?

6) Meet the Camp Family 

  • Get to know the people who run the show. Introduce yourself and your child to the director and counselors on the first day. It will let them know you're committed to the camp, and in turn, they will be committed to your child's happiness. Make sure the counselors are aware of any of your child's needs or concerns. This will help you all feel like you're part of a team focused on giving your kid the best camp experience.

    This post is from Katie Bugbee. Katie is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Katie is a busy working mother of two, she's an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.