Parents Camp Q&A
HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT SUMMER CAMP FOR MY CHILD?
Any number of things will initially attract and motivate you to seriously consider a camp for your child. Location, session duration, pricing, facilities, and programs should all be considered. See our article on "choosing the best camp."
HOW DO I FIND THESE THINGS OUT ABOUT A CAMP?
This online service, camp publications, brochures, and videos typically contain this information. Many camps participate in camp shows or open houses held during the winter and spring at hotels or convention centers. Asking friends who send their children to camp is another good source.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF VISITING A CAMP BEFORE SENDING MY CHILD THERE?
By visiting a camp, you have the advantage of speaking directly to staff who may be interacting with your child. Another advantage is the opportunity to see the facilities firsthand, and if you happen to go while camp is in session, meet the children your child may bunk with. This can help allay fears of the unknown, and feed your child's interest and enthusiasm. Generally, you will go prior to the start of camp, which can still be an extremely helpful experience.
WHAT IF I CAN'T VISIT A CAMP FIRST?
The next best thing is to learn as much as possible about the camp. Ask for any promotional material, particularly videos and brochures. The advantage of videos is that they give a quick physical overview and will allow your child to "tour" the camp.
SHOULD MY CHILD BE PART OF THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?
Absolutely! Children who have not been part of the decision-making process are more likely to be homesick than those children who had a part in the decision to go away.
DO ALL CHILDREN GET HOMESICK?
No. However, homesickness is not uncommon in children up to the age of 12. See our article on "homesickness."
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO PREVENT MY CHILD FROM EXPERIENCING HOMESICKNESS?
Yes. Include your child in the decision-making process and familiarize him with the camp -- through visits or promotional literature. Additional recommendations include:
1. Provide the child with non-threatening experiences away from home (e.g., overnight stays with a grandparent or a friend).
2. Pack the child's bags with familiar clothing and special mementos.
3. Prepare the child by reading books about going to overnight camp (e.g., Off To Camp by Myra Pravda or Pinky and Rex Go To Camp by J. Howe).
4. Talk about the fun they will have or activities they will be involved in.
5. Talk to other parents whose children have gone to the camp and if possible, introduce your prospective camper to them.
6. Allow the child to pick out clothing he wants to bring and let him pack.
7. Familiarize yourself and your child with the camp's communication procedures. Know if -- and when -- telephone calls can be made, whether the camp accepts faxes and/or e-mail, and how often mail is collected and distributed.
8. Write letters frequently. A letter waiting for the child upon arrival --telling about weather, work, or local sports teams -- lets the child know the parent is thinking about and loves him.
WHAT SHOULD I SEND MY CHILD TO CAMP WITH?
Encourage your child to bring an item from home to make him feel secure and comfortable. Find out if the camp provides linens, or whether your child must bring his own sheets, blankets, pillows, or sleeping bags. Send towels for swimming and showers. Other items to pack include: soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, brace wax, shampoo, comb, brush, insect repellent, lip balm, sunscreen, and any medications your child needs. Obtain a list of recommended clothing, keeping in mind that comfortable, informal wear is appropriate. In addition to shorts, shirts, underwear, socks, and swimsuits, clothing for certain recreational and sports activities as well as rain gear should be packed. Shoes must be durable, and one or two extra pairs is a good idea. And most important -- label everything. Here's more help on what to bring to camp.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK A PROSPECTIVE CAMP DIRECTOR?
One of the most important questions to ask is the camp's philosophy -- what is the camp's purpose, and how it affects all areas of camp life. Is the camp geared towards a particular sport or is it an academic camp? Is it a performing arts camp or an all-round camp? Is competition looked on as a natural part of life, or does the camp foster a greater sense of cooperation and interdependence through non-competitive means? The answers to these questions are important in placing your child in the camp that meets his or her needs.
WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE SHOULD A CAMP DIRECTOR HAVE?
The American Camp Association (ACA), an independent review and certifying agent, sets minimum standards for a camp director as a bachelor's degree, a minimum 16 weeks of camp administration experience, and the completion of in-service training within the previous three years.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A CAMP DIRECTOR SAYS HE IS A CERTIFIED CAMP DIRECTOR?
The ACA bestows this certification on those candidates who meet requirements related to work experience, age, and education, and have successfully completed a Camp Director Institute.
WHAT STAFFING RATIOS SHOULD I BE LOOKING FOR?
Accredited overnight camps require a ratio of counselors as follows: One counselor for every six campers for ages 7 and 8; one counselor for every eight campers for ages 9-14; one counselor for every ten campers for ages 15-17. Day camp ratios are: One counselor for every eight campers for ages 6-8; one counselor for every ten campers ages 9-14; one counselor for every twelve campers for ages 15-17.
WHAT QUALITIES/EXPERIENCE SHOULD I BE LOOKING FOR IN COUNSELORS?
Counselors should be energetic and interact with their campers -- communication skills can't be underestimated! Look for a good sense of humor. And, if they are supervising a particular activity, they should display skill in it. Watch the children they are in charge of. Do the children appear to respect them? Do they look up to them as big brothers and big sisters? You should be able to tell immediately who the counselor is -- not so much by their age or size, but by the maturity and leadership they display. Are any children lagging behind? How is the counselor handling this situation? A good counselor will motivate kids. Finally, does the counselor indicate whether his has a genuine interest in children?
When speaking to the camp director about how he hires staff, ask how he assesses these areas, and how many of his staff were campers at that camp or any other camps before becoming counselors. Ask what innovative programs counselors have introduced to the camp. Does he look for any background in conflict management when hiring (e.g., peer counselor in high school or college, residence hall assistant in college)? How many of his staff are working at the camp for the internship experience it offers (e.g., for teaching, coaching, directing)?
ARE REFERENCES IMPORTANT?
Yes. You should always ask a camp director for references. It's possible you'll find the name of someone you know, and a conversation with a few other parents -- friends or strangers -- who have children attending the camp can be very helpful. Also, speak with friends about camps they've had experience with. This can provide you with additional direction in selecting the best camp for your child.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN TELL MY CHILD THAT CAN MAXIMIZE HIS CAMPING EXPERIENCE?
Encourage your child to express himself. If he wants to be at camp -- and he should want to be there -- he should show his enthusiasm. However, if he is feeling shy and homesick, he should feel free to discuss this as well. Chances are, other children will feel the same way, and both your child and his friends can find comfort in sharing these feelings. Encourage him to experiment and participate in all activities offered -- not only those he is proficient in. Encourage him to be open minded -- to make friends with different groups of kids rather than staying with one clique. Encourage him to be independent and cooperative.
MY CHILD IS SHY. WHAT CAN I TELL HIM TO HELP HIM MAKE NEW FRIENDS?
Remind your child that he has friends at home and school -- he made friends there, and shouldn't worry about making friends while away. However, give him some concrete suggestions on how to strike up conversations. On the way to camp, if he is going by bus, tell him to look for someone who is about his age and ask if he can sit with him or her. Tell your child to smile and make eye contact as he introduces himself. Even if this person doesn't become a friend, your child will now know someone at camp. Tell your child that repeating the name of someone they just met will help them to remember it. If your child feels nervous, tell him to smile, take a deep breath, and speak slowly and clearly. Recommend that your child try to find something that he and this new person have in common: suggest he talk about sports, cars, favorite foods, school, musical instruments, skate boarding, movies, TV shows. Tell him that there's nothing wrong with going up to someone and say something like, "Hi, I'm new at this camp. Can you help me find the swimming pool?" A statement like this doesn't put any pressure on your child, and most people are willing to help a new camper. While walking to the swimming pool, they can talk about camp. If your child goes to the sports field and a group has already gathered to play a game, he should walk over to the group and wait to be included -- don't disturb the ongoing activity. If he sees that someone else is also waiting to be included, he should approach them with a smile or nod. Buy a joke book for your child. Whether in the bunk or over a campfire, kids love to tell jokes. Your child should be prepared with several of his own. See article on "Making Friends At Camp" in the kids article area.
WHAT DOES "ACA ACCREDITED® CAMP" MEAN?
ACA Accreditation means that your child's camp undergoes a thorough (up to 300 standards) review of its operation - from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. American Camp Association (ACA) collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth-serving agencies to assure that current practices at your child's camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation. Camps and ACA form a partnership that promotes growth and fun in an environment committed to safety.