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10 Tips for Choosing a Summer Camp

(Published Nov 13, 2014)

Looking for a summer program for your child that will allow them to have fun, make friends, be safe and develop new skills?  Be sure to ask any program you are considering these questions to ensure your child will have a blast and the program meets your needs for appropriateness and safety.

    1. What is the camp’s philosophy?
      Is it one you are comfortable with as a parent? Is it a match for your child’s personality and temperament? Is it competitive or cooperative?  If it’s a camp that promotes time with an expert of celebrity – how much time is with that actual person?
    2. How does the camp recruit, screen and train its staff?
      The camp staff (counselors and specialty staff), not the directors will be spending the most time with your child. How does the camp hire the best of the best?  What does their screening/background check involve?  What about staff training?  Be sure to ask about time spent teaching staff about child development, appropriate discipline, etc.  Does the camp’s approach to discipline fit yours?
    3. What does the typical day look like?
      A camp program should keep your child appropriately active, with not too much down time – just enough for their age. In my opinion, you are paying for experiences and want to ensure your child is kept busy with fun, safe and creative activities.
    4. What is the ratio of counselors to campers?
      This will vary based on age but the best camps ensure a 1:6 ratio for children aged 5-8 and 1:8 for children aged 9-14. It is also important to inquire about the age of the counselors and how they are supervised – you want to be sure high school and college aged staff have qualified adults working alongside them and supporting them.
    5. What is the retention/return rate of staff and campers?
      At most camps the answer for staff should be at least 40%, if it is lower you will want to ask why. For campers, 50% should be your minimum – it shows quality of program and trust of other parents to continue to send their child to that specific camp program.
    6. What procedures/policies are in place to keep my child safe?
      This obviously includes the earlier question about hiring practices. You should also be inquiring about health and medical issues, transportation of campers, swimming, severe weather, etc.  A camp program should never allow a single staff person to be with a child alone.
    7. What is the cost of camp & what’s included?
      Be sure to ask what you are getting for the fee of camp – does it include meals, camp clothing, trips?  Are there any extra or supplemental fees? What is the camp’s refund policy?
    8. What are the camp director’s qualifications?
      What is their educational background? How long have they been in this specific role?  Are the available to you should you have questions or concerns before and during the summer?  What is their approach to working with children and staff?
    9. Is my child ready for camp?
      Regardless of what kind of summer program you are looking into (day, overnight, travel or specialty), is your child ready? Have they spent time away from you as parents/guardians? How are they in new environments?  Be sure to be honest with yourself as a parent that your child is ready for whatever type of program you are looking into.  If you aren’t sure – it probably is not the right fit or they are not ready.
    10. What’s is the camp’s reputation?
      The beauty of this day and age is you can use the internet to both look for camps and see what others have to say about them. While this is a nice feature, it is critical to talk to others about the program you are looking at.  Any high quality camp should be able to provide you with references – if not, look elsewhere!  If speaking to the camp directors, ask how long they have been operating.  When speaking with references, knowing they are likely to speak highly of camp, be sure to ask “Was there anything you did not like?” and make sure your child can speak with their child.

Happy Camping!

Jon Shapiro-HeadshotPrior to joining the JCC, Jon spent 12 years as a director for two large overnight summer camps and is a lifelong camp person!  For additional information, or if you have other questions and need resources please contact Jon Shapiro, Sr. VP of Membership & Youth Services: Jshapiro@jccindy.org

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14 comments

  1. Excellent post loaded with valuable info.
    All of our sons grew up with Indy’s JCC
    being their favorite meeting and friends
    locale… A great part of their growing up
    years! Thanks so much Indy JCC!
    S.L.Cahn

  2. Great Post! It is true; that a summer camp is important for overall growth of children but it can only happen if the program is appropriate. Thanks for sharing these tips so that one can choose a right summer program.

  3. My kids have wanted to go to a summer camp for a couple summers now but, due to vacations as well as family reunions, we have never been able to sign them up for one. This summer, however, it seems that we are completely free! I’ll have to keep these tips in mind when looking to sign them up. Hopefully we are able to figure out something soon so they are able to go this year.

  4. It’s a good idea to ask questions like that when you’re going to send your kids to summer camp. Personally, I wouldn’t send my kids if I didn’t know what their screening process was for their staff. The safety of my kids is very important. Luckily, most camps are very mindful of those things.

  5. Camp philosophy is important when deciding what camp to send your child to. Thanks for the tips.

  6. I have two different summer camps I want to go to. One is a religious camp, and another is a dance camp. I’ve had a hard time deciding which one to go to, because they are the same week. After asking these questions about the camps, I will probably go to the religious camp because it has an amazing reputation and I don’t think I am ready for the dance camp.

  7. Is this post still relevant as it is 2 years old?

    • Yes. This post is still relevant as it is not time sensitive information. And, we are excited that people are still referring to our post 2 years later! Thanks for the question, Raymond!

  8. I liked when you talked about taking into account safety procedures when looking into summer camps. It makes sense that remembering this can help you rest assured your children will be safe and have fun. I would want to find a place that has the right activities and programs in place to make sure the children learn and have a good time.

    • As a camp and youth professionals, the safety of the children in our care has to be our number one priority. The fun, friendships and learning at camp only occur when children are and feel safe. Thanks for your feedback!

  9. Yo make a great point that a camp program should keep a child busy throughout the day. My son has been wanting to a fun summer camp, and with the amount of energy, he has I want to be sure that I am paying for not only a fun learning experience but a place for him to have fun throughout the day. I will be sure to find a summer camp that is educational and also safe for him.

  10. I like how you mentioned that you need to choose a camp that fits your child’s personality and temperament. It would be hard enough on them to be away from home, one would want to make sure that they are as comfortable as possible. I am looking to send my kids to camp this summer, and I’ll have to keep this on mind when choosing the right one.

    • Thank you so much for saying. Camp, and all-things kids, is our jam. We do have programming, open to non-members, throughout the school year, e.g., when school is out of session, that your child could try to see if we’re a good fit for him/her.

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