Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Should you focus your search only on accredited summer camps? The decision on whether to exclude non-accredited programs is up to you, but here’s some information and suggestions you might find helpful.
There are 12,000 summer camps in the United States; roughly 5,000 day camps and 7,000 overnight programs. One out of five, or 2,400 are certified by the American Camp Association (ACA). Accreditation requires member camps to pass almost 300 standards checks and on-site visits from an ACA volunteer. Unless there’s a reported issue, ACA volunteers currently visit participating camps every 5 years. Between in-person evaluations, camps supply information to the association to maintain their accreditation status. Unlike state and local governments that focus on cleanliness, health and foodservice, accredited camps promise to maintain standards for staffing, management and healthcare in addition to programming activities. As long as those standards are adhered to, you know you’re considering a well-managed program. Of course, it’s possible for a non-accredited camp to meet or even exceed ACA standards, but you’ll have to do a more research to find out. Here’s where to access the ACA’s “Standards at a Glance.”
Why aren’t all camps accredited? There are a number of reasons and they don’t all involve a lack of transparency on the part of the operator. Many daycares and other institutions operating summer programs are already accredited by organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Association for Family Child Care in addition to meeting their state regulations. Others may be year-round schools that focus on one primary activity like art classes, gymnastics or sports that may be accredited by their respective organizations. Of course, there are those that choose not to pursue accreditation or have lost accreditation. If they aren’t, it’s important to find out why and after considering everything you’ve learned from a range of sources, decide if you’re comfortable with their response.
Though accreditation status is an important first question, it should be the first of many. If what you’ve learned on the camp website and speaking with camp staff and camper parent references is all good, there’s one more thing you can do that will either reinforce your positive impression or motivate you to continue your search. If at all possible, meet the director or operator and tour the facility! You’ll be amazed how much information you can take in by spending some time together on-site. If you’ve ever searched for a home online and then visited in-person, you know what we mean. As they say, “there’s nothing like being there!”
Whether you decide to focus only on ACA accredited camps or otherwise, finding the right camp for your child is going to take some time and effort. Here are 15 questions that will help you make the best possible decision for you and your camper.