Summer is quickly approaching, and selecting a summer camp is a big decision for both parents and kids. Doing a little research now helps you find the right fit for your family for many summers to come. Here are some things to consider.

Define your boundaries.

First you must decide why you are sending your children to camp and what you hope they gain from attending the program, such as experiencing the outdoors, making new friends, building character, learning new skills or exercising religious beliefs. Perhaps you seek to give your children time to enjoy being kids – the possibilities are endless. Good camp programs have intentional programming that helps children grow in a variety of ways. Make sure that what is important to you is also important to the camp. Be open to asking camp directors how a program promotes and emphasizes items that are of particular interest.

Keep it consistent.

Finding a camp that matches your parenting style is just as crucial as finding a camp that has the offerings you want. Ensure counselors are expected to interact with your children in a similar fashion as you do at home. The camp program should instill the same values you adhere to at home instead of contradicting them. Inquire from the camp director about the staff recruiting process, staff training and experience requirements.

Take it from someone who has been there.

Ask friends and family members for their referrals for camps. People you trust tend to offer honest and informed opinions about particular camp programs. Be sure to find out about children’s experiences at camp and how the staff communicated with parents and campers. Consider also asking camp directors for referrals from last season’s parents, while getting contact information for campers. Encourage your children to speak with current and former campers to help answer questions they may have regarding the daily schedule and the personalities of counselors.

Have fun at the fair.

Camp fairs are a great place to explore a large variety of different camps at once. Have a list of camp qualities and questions to address before you attend. Take the opportunity to speak with staff and counselors from camps that pique your interest. Often booths have interactive components that allow your children to engage with counselors while you speak with the director.

Go on a pre-camp visit.

After looking into camps through referrals, at camp fairs and by going online, call the ones that interest your family and make appointments to visit your top-choice camps. Visiting a camp, especially while it’s in session the summer before your child aims to be a camper there, helps you make an informed decision by getting a good feel for the camp and its staff. It also helps your camper overcome pre-camp anxiety. Even if you can’t get there in the summertime, it is best to visit a camp while activities or tours are going on to help your family get a true feel for what camp will be like.

Find out about accreditation and licensing.

For a complete picture of how the camp is meeting national standards, ask what accreditations the camp has. Most states require camps to be licensed by the state. And many camps are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). The ACA sets the highest industry standards, requiring accredited camps to pass a highly comprehensive set of guidelines and site visits from professionals.

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