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For children, the first experience with a summer camp can make lasting memories. For parents, choosing a camp can be a decision filled with uncertainty. Finding the balance between easing a parent’s concern and giving children the freedom to grow in a new environment is a parenting milestone that sometimes only feels sure in hindsight. We asked an expert for ideas to make that choice a little easier.

Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, said the sheer number and variety of camps can make it difficult for families to choose. But he offers five ideas to help.

Ask if a camp is accredited. The American Camp Association serves as an accrediting organization that can help parents know that certain standards are met.

“If they answer that that in the affirmative, they have voluntarily sought to meet up to 300 health and safety standards,” he said.

Not sure where to start? Search for your child’s camp by name on the ACA’s website at http://find.acacamps.org.

“Get to know the camp director a little bit,” Rosenberg said. “What’s the director’s background? The way the director acts really affects the culture of the camp. Every camp has a different philosophy.”

Knowing what your child wants – big or small, types of activities, day or overnight – can help your child be confident and allow him or her to shine.

“Ask the camp director how they screen the staff,” Rosenberg said.

Who will work directly with your child? Ask about that person’s training, background and experience. Find out how the camp is staffed. Will staff stay with campers overnight? What is the camper-to-staff ratio? How old are the counselors? How will they deal with homesickness? And finally, determine what the camp director’s interaction will be with campers.

If it is at all possible, see for yourself.

“If you can, get in the car and go visit a few camps,” Rosenberg said. “Visit while it’s in session if possible.”

In-session visits allow families to see the activities available, and those visits also allow both campers and parents to see that campers are having fun. Some camps offer open houses in the spring, prior to camp. Rosenberg said those visits can also be a great opportunity for families to get familiar with a program.

Ask about activities, but don’t make that the determining factor. Consider how structured the camp will be and what your child needs. For overnight camps, understand what the communication will be between the camp and parents during the session.

“It makes sense to understand the culture of the camp,” Rosenberg said. “There are kids who need a focused environment. The kids are unplugging by giving up their devices, but the parents are also unplugging from their child.”

Some camps will contact parents only in the event of an emergency. Others may keep parents in the loop via social media.

“Every camp is different,” Rosenberg said. “Camp goes by so fast in a one-week program. Many camps want to provide a one-way mirror into what is happening, but not compromise the integrity of what is happening at camp.”

Decide if a day camp is best or if your child is ready for an overnight program.

“I think it depends on the child,” Rosenberg said. “There are some great day camps out there and sometimes day camp leads to overnight camp. The experience of going to camp is truly beneficial. They become more independent and confident. They become more altruistic and learn to give to a group. They learn leadership skills. Camp is really an essential part of every child’s summer. There are many different kinds of camps. Take the time to understand the camps you are considering and make sure it’s a good fit.”

To learn more, visit http://acacamps.org.

Find a camp

Search Upstate Parent's directory of day and residential camps by clicking the link below.

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