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