When looking for a summer camp for your child, it’s important to do your research. Each camp is different, and you want to make sure the camp you choose is the right camp for your child while also meeting certain criteria. At a minimum, parents should consider asking the following 10 questions when researching summer camps. Finding out the answers to these questions will help you make an informed camp decision.

1) What is your camp’s philosophy and mission?

Each camp has its own philosophy and mission. A camp director should be able to clearly explain the philosophy and mission, and parents should consider whether it matches their own family’s values.

2) What is the camp program, and what type of child is successful in your program?

Ask about the camp program and what activities the camp offers. Parents should think of what the must-have activities are for their child and make sure the camp offers them. Also ask the camp director about what type of child is a successful participant in their program, and see if it matches a description of your child.

3) Who is the camp director, and what type of training/education does he have?

Parents want to learn about the camp director and make sure they click with him. Families want to know who is caring for their child. Get to know the camp director through phone calls, e-mails and in-person visits. Inquire about the camp director’s background and whether he is a year-round camp professional or a seasonal employee. Year-round camp professionals spend the year planning for camp and focus their program on youth development. The American Camp Association recommends directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director.

4) What is the staff composition?

Inquire about the age of the staff, their experience, pre-season and on-going staff trainings, background checks, the interview process, camper-to-staff ratios, and supervision in bunks and various activities. At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures, communication, behavior management techniques, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision.

5) What enrollment options do you offer?

Ask what the length of the program is, and make sure it works with your child’s summer schedule. If you are looking into day camp, ask about how long the day is, whether half days or a couple of days a week are options, and whether there is before and after care.

6) How do you handle special considerations?

If your child takes medication, has food allergies, has religious obligations, etc., make sure you ask the camp director how these considerations are handled. You want to be upfront about your child’s needs and make sure the camp can handle anything your child might need.

7) What are the safety procedures at camp?

Inquire about the camp’s safety measures that are in place. These include asking about a medical professional on property, emergency plans, staff screening procedures, instructor qualifications, water safety, and transportation.

8) What percentage of the campers return each year?

A large number of returning campers is usually a good indication of a high level of satisfaction with the camp’s programming and operation.

9) Is your camp accredited by the American Camp Association?

The American Camp Association (ACA) is a nonprofit organization that has the only camp accreditation program in the country. Ask if the program has chosen to participate. ACA chooses summer camps based upon 300 health, safety, and program standards. It goes well beyond what is required by the Department of Health, addressing specific areas of programming, personnel, health care, emergency response, management practices, and youth development.

10) May I have references?

Parents should ask the camp director for references and call a few camp families for their feelings on camp. Ask about the camp director, staff, communication policies, activities, and overall satisfaction with the camp.

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  • Jess Michaels

    Jess Michaels is the Director of Communications for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ. ACA-Accreditation is a parent's best evidence of a camp's commitment to health and safety, and it ensures that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. Families who need assistance with finding a summer camp can call the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey's Camper Placement Specialist, Renee Flax, at (212)391-5208 for free, one-on-one advice in finding a camp for their child. Visit www.searchforacamp.org for more information. Photo credit: American Camp Association® Camp Pemigewassett, Wentworth, NH