Parenting

Choosing the Right Summer Camp for Your Child

| by Lynda Fishman

Don’t underestimate the value of summer camp. After so many years in the industry, and consulting with hundreds of children, parents and staff members, I truly believe that camp is a great way for kids to build a variety of important skills, gain self-confidence, and grow as individuals. Many successful, accomplished adults credit summer camp with shaping their successes… – so don’t make light of this important decision.

Some people believe that camp is just for recreation and fun, and that it provides a way for children to spend their summer days with peers, doing activities such as soccer or swimming. Actually camp is extremely valuable in helping children mature socially, emotionally, intellectually, morally, and physically.

It’s critical to choose a good camp and one that is relevant to your child’s physical and emotional needs. Parents should spend time looking at the different options for summer camp in the hope that the experience will be valuable by enriching their child’s life.

If you are choosing a camp, make sure that it is campy! Why call it CAMP if there is nothing CAMPY about it. In other words, don’t choose a “camp” that is really a glorified after-school program. Summer programs that use schools as their "camp" location tend to place more emphasis on skill development (hockey or basketball in an indoor school gym; computers) and minimal importance on nature, spirit, interaction, socializing, ... similar to after school activities that kids do all year - all about the activity and nothing “camp” related.

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Suffice it to say, there is plenty of room in our children’s lives for after-school programs. But those programs need to be differentiated from the true camp experience … an experience that a child will never forget because it’s about community and relationships.

Camp should provide a wholesome escape from the pressures of school and the distractions of the urban environment. Camp should be a refreshing change of pace, surroundings, and atmosphere. It should not be hectic. Away from computers! And especially, camp should be geared toward the more well rounded approach to giving a child an experience that he or she will never forget.

To offer the word camp to an environment that is simply offering activities, and I applaud that skilled offering, is misusing the word camp. Camp in its true definition is not just a menu of activities- not only about skill development and recreation but should be a diverse, well-rounded experience including nature, spirit, interaction, and socializing - where activities are just part of the entire experience. Camp is the term we need to use to describe what happens when a child is put into a diversified, well rounded environment where activities are just part of the entire experience of life lessons.

Camp should have a positive and meaningful impact on children. While fun is undoubtedly important, even fun should be meaningful and it needs thought and planning. Camp is about having SAFE summer fun, getting along with others, developing skills, sportsmanship, and
gaining independence and self-confidence, feeling a sense of connection and accomplishment. These are all vital steps in a child’s growth and development.

Choosing a camp is an important decision. Parents should have the comfort and reassurance that they have made the best possible choice.

Who is the Camp Director?
It is critical for parents to meet the Camp Director, and ask about their experience as a Camp Director, their reputation and their safety record. The Director’s priority and focus should be on safety, leadership supervision, planning, customer satisfaction, and the high level of quality instruction in activity areas. Ask questions related to the Director’s philosophy and objectives about running a camp - culture; focus; bullying; communication with campers, parents, staff and community; willingness and ability to assume responsibility for the growth of campers and staff; overall safety; emergency procedures; behaviour management techniques. Trust your instincts about this person – their communication skills, confidence as a Camp Director, and presence as a leader, role model and mentor.

It is CRITICAL to visit the camp and check out the following:

• Where is the camp located?

• Is the camp surrounded by concrete and busy streets, or is it surrounded by nature? Camp should provide a wholesome escape from the pressures of school and the distractions of the urban environment. Camp should be a refreshing change of pace, surroundings, and atmosphere. It should not be in a hectic environment.

• What about safety and security? Is there public access to the playing areas?

• Is everything on-site or do campers have to bussed to off-site facilities? If they are being bussed away from camp, what about the bus supervision, ratios, security, first aid and emergency procedures at these off-site facilities?

• Is there ample shade? Does the property have access to hiking and nature trails?

• Are there indoor facilities with air-conditioning for excessively hot days?

• What about designated areas to change for swim, facilities to eat indoors, and indoor washrooms?

• Is there ample space, safely away from the usual playing areas, for bus drop off in the am and the loading of buses in the pm?

• Is there plenty of space for parking?

My enthusiasm peaks when I discuss our actual "dream camp site." Calling the camp "an oasis in the city with amazing on-site camp activities" I love that everything at Adventure Valley is right on-site, it's private, away from concrete and busy streets, and totally surrounded by nature.

Programs and Activities:
Recognizing that camps are competing with a lot of different interests that kids have today, ask about the camp's programs and activities, and the quality of the leaders running these activities.

Leadership:
What about the camper-to-staff ratios? Ask questions about the hiring practices, training of staff, and systems for providing on-going supervision, coaching and evaluation of staff.

How Big is the Camp?
Ask about the camper enrolment numbers. Is the camp huge and therefore somewhat hectic and busy, or relatively small allowing for personalized attention, with the overall culture and experience similar to that of a village.

For the children lucky enough to attend camp, experts unequivocally agree that camp is far more than just an enjoyable annual ritual.