Summer Camp – It’s More Than a Vacation

It’s a place where a child learns to appreciatethe outdoors and explore talents, interests and values. It’s aplace where skills are developed, such as teamwork, self-relianceand cooperation. It’s a chance to learn, contribute and makefriendships.

To help make camp a fun and memorable experiencefor your child, you’ll want to choose a program that fits yourchild’s age and likes. You might want to consider whether yourchild is developmentally ready for camp. If so, what kind of campis the best match? What do you need to consider when looking atcamps? And how can you help your child get ready?

Sending a child to overnight or day camp,especially for the first time, can be stressful for parents. Byreviewing the following information, you can help prepare yourchild for this fun event and gain some peace of mind for yourself.

Ready or Not?

You want your child going to overnight camp tobe safe, involved and happy while away. How does a parent tell ifa child is ready? One of the most important considerations iswhether your child has a desire to attend summer camp.

If so, the American Camping Association (ACA)suggests ages 7 – 8 as a guideline for overnight camp. However,children mature at different rates. Some 7-year-olds may adjustfine, while some 8-year-olds might panic at the sight of Mom andDad driving away.

Take into account how your child reacts during asleep-over at a friend’s house. Is your child playing contentedlywhen it’s time to go home, or calling you at the crack of dawn?Does your child generally become anxious when you’re separated, oris your youngster independent by nature? Before sending your childto camp, you might try a weekend visit to the home of a relativeor friend who has children of comparable ages.

Regardless of age, a child should be able toperform some basic tasks before attending any camp. Without theseskills, a child will have to rely on counselors as baby sittersinstead of the friends, instructors and role models they shouldbe. Make sure your child can:

  • Tie shoelaces
  • Cut food
  • Shower
  • Dress
  • Make a bed
  • Fold clothes
  • Write a note or letter

How to Choose a Camp

Most summer camps provide a range of activities- such as swimming, hiking, archery and crafts. But some campsspecialize in a particular hobby, sport or activity. Baseball,language studies, computers, bicycling, fencing and aviation aresome of the topics covered extensively in specialized summercamps. Identify camps that best fit your child’s needs, interestsand temperament.

Talk to friends who have children and talk tothe parents of your children’s friends. They may have already gonethrough the process of choosing a camp and can share informationwith you. You might discover several families have childrenlooking into the same or similar camps and you can share yourthoughts and information.

Some things to consider when choosing a camp:

Type of camp: Same-sex or coed? Overnightor day camp? You might consider a specialty camp that offers afocused curriculum, such as basketball, or a special-needs campdesigned for specific physical or medical disability.

Session lengths: A child may attend campfor a week or two – or an entire summer.

Cost: Fees generally range from $15 to$55 per day for those operated by nonprofit organizations, youthgroups and public agencies. Fees at independent, privately runcamps can range from $35 to $120 per day. Transportation to campis generally not included, except at day camps, though someovernight camps do provide free transportation to and from thenearest metropolitan area. A camp’s tuition fee may not includeall the extras. Many camps charge additional fees for horsebackriding, canteen (camp store) purchases, insurance, special tripsand other items.

Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, “Y’s” andother nonprofit agencies offer “camperships” while somereligious, municipal and government agencies offer financial aid.Parents should check with local agencies and/or specific camps tofind out about scholarship availability and eligibility.

Location: If you’re sending your child tocamp for the first time, a camp that is relatively close to yourhome might provide some reassurance. Not only is the areafamiliar, but in case of an emergency, you could be there quickly.

Program emphasis and philosophy: Does the campprovide structured activities, in which everyone is required toparticipate, or elective programs, in which students pickactivities that interest them, or a combination?

Enrollment: Some camps close theirenrollment for summer sessions as early as January or February.Start early in deciding on summer camp so you don’t choose onethen discover it is no longer accepting reservations. It’s nevertoo early to start thinking about camp for next summer. Some campsoffer early registration fees at reduced rates.

Accreditation: Camps accredited by theACA comply with nationally recognized health, safety andprogram-quality standards, including:

  • Emergency transportation
  • First aid facilities and training
  • Aquatic programs supervised by staff memberscertified in lifeguard training
  • Health histories, including immunizations,for all campers and staff
  • Emergency exits from second-floor sleepingquarters

Important Questions to Ask the Camp Director

When you’ve narrowed your search to two or threecamps, the ACA recommends scheduling an appointment or telephoneinterview with the director: This meeting helps you get answers toquestions or concerns that have not been answered in the brochuresand videos sent out by the camps.

Some important questions to ask directors:

  • What is your educational and careerbackground? Look for a bachelor’s degree and prior campadministrative experience.
  • What do you look for when hiring counselors?
  • Are most of the camp counselors at least 18years old? The ACA recommends 80 percent or more of thecounseling/program staff be a least 18.
  • How many counselors from previous years havereturned? Most camps have 40-60 percent returning staff.
  • What is the ratio of counselors to campers?This will vary with age and type of camp; the medium range isone staff member for every seven to eight campers.
  • What is the camp’s philosophy? Decide whetherit complements your won parenting philosophy. Is itcompetitive or cooperative?
  • What are the safety and medicalaccommodations at the camp? If your child has special needs,is the camp equipped to handle them?
  • How does the camp handle homesickness? Doesthe camp have recommendations for parents to help with thesituation?
  • Does your child have access to a telephone?
  • How are behavioral and disciplinary problemshandled? You might look for positive reinforcement, assertiverole-modeling and a sense of fair play.
  • Is it possible to visit the camp beforeenrolling your child?
  • Can the director provide names of otherfamilies to contact for their impressions of the camp?
  • Does the camp offer scholarships for thosewho can’t afford the tuition?
  • Is the camp accredited by the ACA? If not,why did the camp not seek accreditation?
  • What type of food is served and how often?Ask to see the meal plan.

Preparing Your Child for Camp

Preparation for camp starts in the planningstage. If your child is part of the decision-making process –fromwhere to go to camp to what to pack – the youngster will likelyfeel better about attending. Still, many children have someanxiety about leaving home.

Here are some suggestions to minimize anxietyand make camp fun.

  • Talk about the possibility of homesickness.Explain to your child that it’s a natural emotion felt bypeople of all ages when left in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings and respondwith love and reassurance.
  • Be realistic. Like the rest of life, manyfind that a camp has high and low points. Encourage arealistic view. Talk to your child about the possible ups anddowns
  • Try to visit the camp ahead of time so yourchild can become familiar with the facilities andsurroundings.
  • Send your child a letter before camp beginsso a message from home is waiting upon arrival. Packpre-addressed, pre-stamped postcards and envelopes so it willbe easy for your child to write to you.
  • Should your child call you from camp and wantto come home, encourage trying to work things out. You mightsay, “If you still feel this way in two days, we’lldiscuss what we can do.” But trust your instincts. Ifyour child is not enjoying anything, not adjusting to camplife and having a miserable time, you might allow the child toreturn home.

Packing Tips for Camp

You should receive information on policies andprocedures before your child is ready to go. The followingchecklist would help you decide what you do or don’t need to pack:

  • ? Bedding: Sleeping bags, sheets, blanketsand pillows are usually the camper’s responsibility. Most bedsare twin size or smaller and may be bunk style. Some campssupply linens.
  • Towels: Usually supplied by the camper.
  • Clothing: Most camps supply a list ofrecommended clothing that varies with the climate. Be sure topack long pants (for hikes and/or horseback riding) as well asshorts. Comfortable, durable shoes are a must, while specialfootwear is advisable for certain activities (tennis, hiking,horseback riding). Use a permanent marker or name tags toidentify your child’s belongings. Some camps require campersto wear uniforms. Some camps will furnish the uniforms whileothers will provide you with ordering information.
  • Toiletries: A small bag can be handy fortoiletries if a camper has to walk to a separate building forshowering and bathing. It is wise to pack sunscreen, lip balmand insect repellent, soap, toothpaste and toothbrush,shampoo, a hairbrush and comb, and deodorant (if your childuses it).
  • Laundry: Generally, sessions under two weeksdon’t include laundry service. You might send a pillow case orlaundry bag to store dirty clothing.
  • Equipment: Camps usually provide items suchas oars, life jackets and craft materials, but check with thecamp to be sure. The camper may want to bring a tennisracquet, musical instrument or backpack. Don’t pack radios,televisions, portable CD players, stereos, food or huntingknives.
  • Spending Money: Camps have different policieson children bringing spending money. Some have stores thatsell T-shirts, film, candy and other items. Check with thecamp staff.
  • Medicine: Any medication should be properlylabeled in its original container with dosage instructions andgiven to the camp’s medical personnel for safe keeping.
  • Insurance: Camper health and accidentinsurance may be provided by the camp. You might be asked tobring information of family health and accident coverage. Besure to ask the camp director if there are additional chargesfor insurance.

Day Camps

If overnight camp is not the right choice foryour youngster or if your child is younger than 7, check into themany summer day camp programs available in your local community.YMCAs, scouting programs and parks and recreation departmentsoften provide day camps. It can even prepare your child forovernight camp. Some points to consider when choosing a day camp:

Accreditation: The ACA has specificstandards only for day camps. Find out if the day camp is ACAaccredited.

Training: Is the staff trained in safety,supervision, counseling, problem solving and other issuesimportant to working with young children?

Cost: Is the price all-inclusive or doextra charges apply for transportation, horseback riding, foodservice, group pictures, T-shirts and other items?

Transportation: If before and after campis offered to accommodate working parents, who is with thechildren and what activities take place then?

Lunch: Is lunch served, or do campersbring their own?

Swimming: If swimming is offered, arelessons included, or is swimming only recreational?

Supervision: Does one counselor stay witha group all day? Or are campers free to roam from one activity toanother? If so, who supervises children in the interim?

Visits: Are parents allowed to drop byfor visits?

For More Information

The American Camping Association: Check yourtelephone directory for a local ACA office, or contact thenational office at 5000 State Road 67-N, Martinsville, IN46151-7902; 765/342-8456. The ACA offers a free brochure,“What’s the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Child ThisSummer?”

Camp Fairs: Camp fairs are held during theoff-season at many schools and/or public facilities. Campdirectors offer slides or videotapes along with brochuresexplaining the camp’s activities and philosophies. To find outabout upcoming camp fairs in your area, contact the ACA.

Referral Services: Some regional offices of theACA provide referrals as a free service to parents. Experiencedstaff take basic information (age of child, activities they enjoy,type of camp they are looking for, price range, location, etc.)and then have brochures and videos sent for your review. Privatereferral agencies will meet with parents and then forward theprospective camper’s name to several camps; the camps will thencontact the parents. Most of these firms charge the camp, whileothers chare the family a flat fee. If you use this type ofservice, be sure you understand the financial arrangement and whois responsible for payment.

Reference Materials

Guide to ACA-Accredited Camps

Available from libraries, bookstores or by calling the AmericanCamping Association at 800/428/CAMP


Nature in a Nutshell for Kids

Jean Potter, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


The Basic Essentials of Camping

Cliff Jacobson, ICS Books, Inc.


The Working Parents’ Handbook

June Solnit Sale and Kit Kollenberg, Simon & Schuster


Internet Information

American Camping Association


KidsCamps Homepage


Peterson’s Education Center


The Camp and Conference Homepage


For more information on other Life Adviceresource booklets available from Metlife, visit their Web site at

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