There are more than 8,000 residential summer camps in the United States and Canada. Picking the best one from so many may seem like a huge task. Follow the “top-ten” list below and you will find the best camp for your child. It may not be the same camp I’d choose for my son or that your neighbor would choose for their daughter, but it will be the best camp for your child.
10. Make It a Family Decision — First of all, include your child in the decision. Picking a camp and sending your child away without involving them in the decision is the best way to send them to the worst camp in America. Start the process early. Exceptional camps may fill some sessions as early as September (yes, almost a year before the summer camp season). Many families will begin the camp search a full year before they plan for their child to attend.
9. Review the Camp’s Philosophy — Camping can be good for learning a sport, to de-emphasize competition, for fun, school credit, furthering a camper’s religious education, or for interacting with children of many faiths. Ask camps for their mission statement and then look at their literature and camp video to see how the mission of the camp is woven into the overall camp philosophy.
8. Know the Size — The size of the grounds can mean the size of the facility or how many campers are in the program. If the camp is huge, let’s say 500 or 750 campers, it can seem smaller if there are meaningful ways to segment the group. It is important to ensure that campers in these smaller segments are still getting the full camp experience.
7. Ask About the Staff — The composition of the staff is, for most parents, the most important consideration. How long have the directors been at the helm, and what are their priorities when selecting staff. Do they conduct background checks? What percentage of the staff is foreign? What is the staff-to-camper ratio? What is the age and experience of the staff? There is no “right” answer to these questions, but the answers you receive might spark a deeper conversation about a camp’s staffing philosophy.
6. Understand Their Standards — How is the program evaluated and improved? There are numerous organizations that grant accreditation to camps–the ACA, AEE, CCA, GSA, BCCA, and the list goes on. The ACA, American Camp Association, is by far the largest accrediting organization for camps. Find out what organizations accredit the organization, and ask about their criteria. Many excellent camps are not accredited but should be prepared to tell you how their program is evaluated and improved in an ongoing fashion.
5. Ask for References — Will they give you references to contact in your area? Most camps are happy to provide a list of families who’ve agreed to give a testimonial. Once you’ve narrowed the choices down, call a few families and ask them why they chose the camp and what they feel are its top attributes. That is the person to ask about the quality of meals, the staff, and the “feel.”
4. See or Review the Facility — Visit, if possible. Most organizations will be happy to give you a camp tour that fits your schedule. There is no better way to get details than by checking out a cabin, seeing the dining facility and conversing with the staff as you walk around. Even better, schedule your tour during the summer to see the program in action. Meeting the directors and asking them questions in person is the next best alternative if you cannot visit in person. If you’re unable to visit in person, see if a representative will be visiting your area. Many organizations will schedule visits to the geographic areas they serve. A phone call to the camp may be the only practical way to speak to someone in administration. Whether it’s in person or over the phone, ask a representative what they feel are the special qualities of the camp. Don’t just go through a list of questions–talk about your child, and engage the camp representative in conversation about the meaning of a camp experience.
3. Choose the Right Summer Program — What sort of experience are you looking for? There are high adventure camps, traditional ones with a range of activities, those that focus on skateboarding, football, computers, and the list goes on. The length of the session can make a big difference in the effectiveness of a summer program. In general, longer sessions mean more skill development. After you’ve thought about philosophy and program, you are ready to start making your “long list” of camps.
2. Consider the Cost — Many wonderful organizations pay their staff well, use the best equipment, have a great camper-to-staff ratio, and constantly work on improving their facilities. They’ll also, by necessity, charge a higher tuition than camps that pay low salaries or have aging program equipment. Some low-cost camps are still great, because they are supported by an organization that subsidizes the camp to lower fees. Or they’re great because of the nature of their program offerings. Some camps offer discounts for financially strapped families. Grandparents often send their grandchildren to an outstanding camp that would normally be beyond the means of their family.
1. Choose the Best Location — How close is it to home? If it is too close, part of the camp experience may be lost. Too far from home, and travel costs can become an issue. Other considerations with regard to location include the temperature during the summer, and activities suitable to the geographic region.
After going through the top-ten list, you should be able to have the 8,000 choices narrowed down to the “best camp in America” for your child. You will then be able to drop your child off on opening day with confidence about the experience they’re going to have while at camp.
To aid you in your search, CampPage provides a comprehensive list of summer programs throughout the United States and Canada.