Summer is right around the corner and parents are beginning to think about what their children will be doing when the final homework assignment is handed in and the school bell rings for the last time in June. Time spent at summer camp is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give to your child. You want to make sure that you choose a camp that will provide a safe, happy and nurturing environment that has a long term heritage of both camper and parental satisfaction.
The first step in searching for a camp is to speak with other parents or ask friends where they have sent their children. Call the camp to request information such as a brochure or camp DVD. Attending camp open houses, meeting the directors and taking a tour of the camp are essential. This will allow you the opportunity to ask specific questions of the Director and the staff.
In my 25 years of camping, I have been asked many questions by many parents. I have chosen the top six questions parents have asked of me. I would like to share them with you in the hopes that they will help in your search for the perfect camp for your child.
- What is the camp’s philosophy? Each camp is unique and has its own views and ideas of what the camping experience should be. Make sure that you are comfortable with the camp’s message and goals. Does the curriculum focus on competition or collaboration? Does it complement what you want for your child?
- How are the staff recruited, screened and trained? You may visit a camp that has unbelievable facilities and amazing programming but make no mistake; the staff is the heart and soul of the camp. The staff members will be spending each day with your child. They are the role models for the campers. They are responsible for keeping your children safe and happy. You want to know who they are so don’t hesitate to ask about hiring practices. Are reference checks performed? Are Criminal background checks (CORI) and Sex Offender checks (SORI) done on each person who comes into contact with the campers? How old are the Head Counselors and Junior Counselors. What is the retention rate of the staff and how many years have they been with the camp? What type of training/orientation is held for the staff members? All staff members need to be knowledgeable about camp policies, emergency procedures, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, group management and supervision. Parents, you want to ensure that the group is being run by highly trained, experienced adults. You should also ask if the camp owners are on premise every day to insure that this level of experience is both maintained and consistent. To know that the camp owners are on site and running the day to day operations of the camp should provide you with a high level of comfort and security.
- What is the ratio of counselors to campers? You want to make sure that your child is receiving the best care possible. Small staff to camper ratios will allow this to happen. American Camping Guidelines for day camps call for 1:8 for children ages 6-8, 1:10 for children ages 9-14; and 1:12 for children ages 15-18.
- What does a typical camp day schedule look like? You want to know how your child will be spending their day. Ask to see a group schedule. Review the schedule with your child so they can participate in the process. Look at the level of physical activity. Is the curriculum diverse or does it tend more towards sports or the arts? How structured is the program? Do campers have the option for electives within the structure of the program? You know your child and their likes and dislikes. By becoming familiar with the schedule you can determine if a particular program will be a good match.
- Does the camp have medical care on sight for the campers? The camper’s safety always comes first. Ask if a nurse or physician is on site to care for campers who may need medical attention.
- Is the camp accredited by the American Camping Association? A camp that is accredited by American Camping has to meet over 300 health and safety standards. Accredited camps are making a real commitment to provide a safe, nurturing and risk-free environment for each child.
So parents, my advice to you is, do your homework before the kids get out of school. Asking the right questions now will ensure that your child will have a fun and memorable camp experience this summer.
Susan Reardon and her brother Lee Pinstein are co-owners/directors of Maplewood Country Day Camp & Enrichment Center in South Easton, MA. They have over 50 years’ combined camping experience. The camp is offering a series of free open houses at 150 Foundry Street (Route 106). For more information call 508-238-6758 or visit http://www.maplewoodyearround.com.