As a publisher of summer camp directories over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to tour a number of camps. It’s no surprise that each of my four children have attended either day or overnight programs, so I’ve also had some experience as a camper parent. Here’s what I learned…
As in all fields, some organizations are run better than others. This is also true of summer camps. The best operators work hard to ensure their camp culture is something both campers and parents understand and experience, even before camp’s in session. They do a great job hiring, training and supervising staff, programming activities, maintaining their facility and ensuring all the day-to-day needs of campers are met.
It’s kind of funny but after visiting my first dozen or so camps, I started noticing a correlation between the condition of the camp sign and the facility as a whole. If it looked like it needed some freshening up, the camp also needed some updating. I generally visited camps that were in session, so I had a chance to see each in action.
When you can, tour the camp you may be sending your child to, but don’t stop at the camp sign. Prioritize seeing the bunks, foodservice facility along with indoor and outdoor activity space, camp office and their first-aid facilities.
Camp grounds, structures and equipment must be safe and clean. Camps should also have a plan for security and active threats and train campers and staff what to do.
First, does it look like an office? Though it may be rustic, it should never be messy, haphazard or disorganized. If it is, that suggests day-to-day operations may not be up to snuff. This is also a good time to learn more about security measures that are in place throughout each session.
The bunk is your camper’s home while away and other campers in it will likely become your child’s closest camp friends. What condition are the beds? How many campers will be in the same bunk. What are the bathroom facilities like. One shower for 20 kids spells problems. Are there screens in the windows to let in fresh air and keep mosquitos out? Is there adequate ventilation. Though it’s summer, don’t expect air conditioning! Is the lighting and storage space sufficient? Bunks beds are common. Upper bunks must have guard rails. Who cleans the bathrooms and are they cleaned daily? Learn about supervision by staff and counselors.
The camp kitchen will include standard appliances, small wares and a large cooler and freezer. Whether currently in use or not, everything should be clean and orderly. You might ask how often the health department comes in to inspect. While there, find out about the menu served.
Is the grass cut? Is there room for games like soccer, baseball, basketball or tennis courts? What’s the classroom space like? Is playground equipment in good working order? Does the camp limit access to specialized activity areas for campers. Is the camp lifeguard certified?
First-aid should be administered in a place protected from the elements that have a toilet, drinking water and privacy for capers. Is a registered nurse or other health professional on-site each day. What is considered minor and treated at camp and what situations require immediately contacting off-site medical services. When and how are parents informed of any health related situation involving their camper.
Though touring camp is preferred, it’s not always possible. If you’re unable to go, ask about the items mentioned here and you’ll still have a much better understanding of what your child’s camp will be like when they’re there.