8 Tips for Picking A Summer Camp

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It is officially mid-May and that means summer is right around the corner. If you’re signed up for a Wilderness Adventures trip, you’re at the point where you’re checking out the pack list for your child’s trip and shopping at REI, checking out the WA Store, or visiting other local gear shops in your area. You’re booking flights, running through the trip itinerary, and encouraging your child to break in those boots a bit. The buzz of summer is on.

But what if you haven’t signed up for a WA trip yet, or any camp for that matter? A slot has opened up in your summer schedule and now’s the chance. The pressure is on to pick a trip or a session before things fill, but picking the right summer camp is a big decision. It shouldn’t be rushed. How do you choose?

Our Director Tom Holland, former CEO of the American Camping Association, wanted to provide a bit of guidance on how to choose from more than 13,000 summer camps out there.

Start With Day Camp

Don’t know if camp is right for your family? Start with day camp. The day camp experience in America grew out of the residential summer camp world. Families wanted to feel the experience of residential camp but without the eight-week commitment on a remote lake. Day camp is a great way to test the camp waters and expose your child to the culture of camp. Day camps operate around the United States and offer varying options for length of enrollment. Finally, with day camp, you can get immediate feedback on the experience with your child when you pick them up after an action-packed day. Wilderness Adventures’ day camp, Base Camp, is a great option in the Jackson Hole area.

Try Camps With Many Activities

If you are still learning your kids’ interests, try programs that offer a variety of activities, as opposed to a single-activity camp. Unless you already know the exact type of program your child is looking for, cast a wide net. Many day camp and residential camps offer programming that exposes the children to a wide range of activities so that they can find their interests and foster them. It is also important that once they have selected a program that has a specialized skill, it should be one that they want to do. Pick a program that will foster who your child is, not who you want them to be.

Choose Sleepaway Camp Only When Your Child Is Ready

Is sleepaway camp right for my kid? Every child is different, so choose sleepaway camp not according to age, but when the time is right for them. My eldest daughter is the camp kid through and through: she attended her first sleepaway camp when she was 8. My second daughter is now 9, and is still not ready to commit to an overnight experience. One easy way to gauge your child’s readiness is to look at how they approach sleepovers: If your kid loves spending the night out, they are likely ready for sleepaway camp.

Camp Alums: Don’t Oversell It

Are you a camp alum? Tone down your enthusiasm for “the best summer of your life!” Some parents already know where and when their child will attend camp. For them, a certain camp is a part of their family history. Those legacy families don’t have to be sold on the impact of the camp experience. They know how that experience has impacted their families for generations. If that is you, be careful with how you build up this experience for your child. Alumni children sometimes feel the pressure to replicate the experience of mom or dad and may have the experience of falling short. Just be sensitive to how you describe your past experiences.

Ask About Discounts

Concerned about the cost? Don’t be afraid to ask about scholarships, discounts, or payment plans, which most camp programs offer. Many of these are advertised, but it never hurts to ask if you’re concerned about the cost.

Do Your Research

Word of mouth is wonderful, but it is really important for parents and kids alike to do the research on the camp programs they’re interested in. Take a tour. Check references and make sure there is space for your child. Find out if the camp accredited by the American Camp Association: ACA accreditation is the best evidence of a camp’s commitment to the health and wellness of the kids in the program. If the camp is not accredited, ask them why they have chosen not to be.  ACA also has one of the best tools to search for camp programs in the U.S.: the Find-A-Camp web tool. Check it out for the most comprehensive database of camps broken down by duration, geography, and programming.

Give Your Child a Say

For the most successful experience, include your child in the decision-making process. They should have an interest in going to a camp program, and this often comes from feeling ownership in the process. This doesn’t mean that every kid needs to be overwhelmed with excitement to the point where their bags are packed in April. They just need to have an interest, a spark, something that their camp counselor, program staff, and camp directors can foster. Don’t worry if, in the final moments before the summer experience, your once-excited child becomes nervous. This is natural for any child venturing into a new activity.

Have Fun

Finally, have fun with the process. Our childhood summers are precious moments that are meant to be fun and memorable. Camp directors know this. They will take a lot of pride in helping you find the best summer experience for your child.

The main content of this article was originally posted by Fatherly.com.