I have been involved with summer camps and the recreation field for over 15 years. I started off as a volunteer counselor at the age of 14 when I felt I was too old to attend summer camp. For 4 years, I was the Director of the Emory University Sports Fitness Camp (Georgia’s oldest multi sports camp- proudly celebrating 53 years!) and am the Co-Founder of Oak Tree Camps, the premier creative arts and adventure camp in Atlanta.
Throughout the United States, summer camps are BIG business. To put this in a better perspective, the summer camp business is currently a $15 billion dollar industry with more than 20,000 active camps and 11 million children attending camp each summer! With over 1.5 million staff members hired annually, it also offers a huge impact for local economies each summer.
Options are seemingly endless for summer day camps and sport specific camps. With camp registrations underway and deadlines quickly approaching, it’s tempting to jump at the first camp you come across to make sure you secure a spot. By doing a little homework and asking the right questions, you can select a great summer camp for your child with little stress. You want to give them a summer camp experience that they’ll never forget, not one they can’t remember!
As a Camp Director and parent, I have five areas that all parents should consider before selecting a summer camp:
1. Cost of Camp
As parents, we all know that kids aren’t cheap, but who knew that summer camps could be so damn expensive!? Families will need to set a budget for camp and plan to pay for camp as soon as registration opens. Many camps offer “early bird” pricing for the first few weeks of camp registration. If you can take advantage of this, you can easily save 10-25% on camp tuition.
If you contact the Camp Director when registration opens, you may be allowed to make several partial payments over a period of time if you are paying for multiple weeks of camp or for multiple children. Many Camp Directors are also parents, so they fully understand the immense financial burden a summer camp can put on a tight family budget. For larger and more established camps, scholarships are often available to offset the cost of camp. It never hurts to ask!
Also, look at your health insurance benefits during open enrollment. Many companies allow their employees to open a dependent care flexible spending account (up to $5,000) that can be used for qualifying day care expenses (this includes summer camp). Since these funds are non taxable, you can save hundreds of dollars each year.
2. Professional Staffing
For me, my two daughters are the most important things in my life. When looking at camps, you need to ask yourself ,”Who is directly interacting with my child?” If it’s primarily middle-school and high school students, you need to find another camp. In general, the best summer camps have teachers and college students running their programs with high school students assisting on a very limited basis. Here is an important piece of the puzzle– Meet the Director and speak with him/her in person, for it is their personality and philosophy that trickles down to the rest of the camp staff. You are entrusting these people to take care of your children, and you need to be comfortable with them doing so. . The staff should also be background-checked, with references, an interview, and a full criminal-records search. This is also a good time to inquire about the campers to staffers ratio. A good number for a campers-to-staffers ratio is around 10 to 1 for kids ages 8 to 14.
3. Program Philosophy and Curriculum
By visiting the website or looking at the brochure, can you fully understand the camp’s program and philosophy? The best summer camps also place an emphasis on creating an inclusive community. Camp Directors at these camp care deeply about how they place kids together to create the most positive experience for campers and their families. Also, summer camp programs should offer an element of choice. Your child will feel more independent if he can choose or have some influence over some activities during the day.
4. Parent Communication
Summer camps should have a communications plan for letting parents know about upcoming events, and for notifying them if a child becomes sick or injured. They also have a consistent policy on parental notifications. And remember, the best summer camps will return calls/emails before, during, and after camp.
Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for references. A camp director should be able to easily provide names and contact information for at least a few parents that have sent children to the camp. This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Don’t simply believe the online reviews-they can be altered. And when you talk to those parents, ask them about their child’s experiences, the communications from the camp, and their overall impressions.
It’s hard to put a price tag on your children’s learning and growth during the summer, but with a little work, parents can find a great camp program that can fit nearly every budget. I wish you a wonderful summer and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about camp!