Parenting is full of important responsibilities. Imparting family values, how to navigate social relationships and how to be a good winner and not a sore loser are just a few of these critical life lessons passed on to our children. Another is choosing the right summer opportunity for a child.
Many questions must be asked as you review the diverse summer experiences available to your child. Will my child make friends? What happens if my child does not want to participate in a specific activity? How will it be handled when he is disappointed in his athletic performance? What will happen if my child can’t pass the swim test? Will my child be safe? The answers should help you choose a summer program that aligns with your family’s values and financial means.
Make it a priority to meet the camp directors at prospective summer programs. During each meeting, open and honest communication is a key component to ensuring a particular program suits your family and your child. Share your concerns and expectations, inviting dialogue to decide with a director if a particular program is the right fit. But before committing to any program, consider the following ten topics.
Hot Topics to Discuss with the Director
- Enrollment Options. What is the length of the program offered? Is there flexibility? What is the length of the day? Is transportation available? Ask and understand why the program has been designed with a particular length.
- Program Quality and Diversity. Are you looking for a traditional well-rounded experience or a specialty program? What activities are necessary for your child? What teaching credentials do camp activity leaders possess? How long is each activity? What kind of choice is available to children?
- Cost. Ensure that you are comparing apples to apples when looking at programs, taking extra care to confirm your child’s welfare is a top priority even if the cost of camp is low. What is included in the base price? Are there a la carte fees? What is the program’s overall value, not simply financially but conceptually and emotionally?
- Staff Composition. Who is caring for my child? Ask about staff members’ ages, experience and preseason and ongoing training, as well as child abuse training. Also inquire about background checks, the interview process, retention rates and camper-to-staff ratios.
- Safety Procedures. What safety measures are in place? These might involve medical personnel on property, emergency plans, facility security management, staff screening procedures, instructor qualifications and operating rules of specific activities.
- Mission, Values and Philosophy. Does the program reinforce your family values? Can the director easily explain the program’s mission statement and goals? Ask the director about the type of child who is a successful participant in the program.
- Sensitivity to Camper Needs. Understand the training given to staff regarding camper needs, including diversity training, behavior management, bullying and managing peer interactions. Additionally, if your child has a special need, such as an attention issue like ADHD, a physical limitation or an allergy, be open and honest with the director. Ask about the camp’s ability to meet your child’s specific needs.
- Accreditation. Find out if the program follows a nationally known accreditation process. Ask for those standards to be outlined. Understand what it means to be accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), the only national organization that establishes uniform standards for reviewing camps. Inquire if the camp program has chosen to participate. Also determine if the program is inspected each summer by the Department of Health.
- Friends. Consider how easy it will be for your child to make friends in a particular setting. Ask what is done to cultivate friendships, smooth the rocky roads in relationships, handle cliques and make new campers feel welcome.
- Fun. All summer programs should promote a spectacularly fun and memorable experience for your child. What traditions and special days does the program have? Are there annual events and camp trips or other features of the experience that might especially appeal to your child?
The good news is that tons of diverse summer experiences are available to your child. The bad news is that choosing a summer program can be overwhelming. Being confident that you have selected the right summer camp for your child can be a defining parental moment. I hope this top ten list becomes a resource tool for you. You should feel comfortable discussing each of the topics with the camp director, and anything else on your mind. After all, you are entrusting your child to the director’s care for the summer.