Choosing a Summer Camp

Kayaking & Watersports
Horse Back Riding
Horse Back Riding

The Benefits of the Camp Experience

When you begin to plan what your child will do over the summer break from school, you will notice immediately that there are many summer camps to choose from. The idea of making a decision about which one is right for your child can seem overwhelming! A safe, fun opportunity to learn something new ranks highly on most parents’ lists for possible summer camp choices. The camp experience is a great way for kids to learn skills of independence, have positive social experiences or gain new skills. Parents often rely on word-of-mouth references for summer camps. Indeed, that is how our family has chosen most of our children’s summer camps. However, note that your child might miss out on some important benefits of camp if you enroll them with their friends. Perhaps your child is interested in drama, but they go to a school that doesn’t consider drama “cool.” You might want to include drama in the types of camps you’re considering. Camp can give kids a “blank slate,” freeing them from the social pressures of their school context or clique, resulting in an empowering experience for them.

Factor #1 ~ Goals and Activities

Consider what you would like your child to get out of camp. Choose a camp with a curriculum

Kayaking & Watersports
Trackers Camp ~ Kayaking

that supports your child’s growth and interests. Decide whether you prefer your child to attend a single-sex camp or a coed camp. Get a sense of what the daily schedule will look like at camp. The schedule will give you information about the focus of the activities. Will your child have an appropriate amount of exercise or sedentary activities, or do you want a camp that focuses primarily on physical activity? Here are some examples of interests that summer camp can support: Team or Individual Sports, Watersports, Adventure, Creative Arts, Performing Arts, Science, Education, Travel, Faith-based, Green/Ecological.

Factor #2 ~ Day or Overnight

If you are considering whether to do a day camp or an overnight camp, you might wonder if

The Skill of Archery
Trackers Camp ~ Mastery of Archery

there is any benefit to sleeping over. Sleeping over at camp can, in fact, have valuable benefits. Children learn independence and resilience during the short-term separation from parents that the camp experience provides. Note that there are more day camps than overnight camps, with 14,000 day camps and 7,000 overnight camps nationwide to choose from (American Camp Association). Overnight camps should have a doctor or nurse on staff. The ratio of counselors to campers is a key consideration for safety. Here are the recommended ratios for counselors to campers provided by the American Camp Association. Notice the ratio is much lower for overnight camp:

Day Camp Overnight Camp

Summer Fun Together
Summer Fun Together

Ages 7-8 1:16 Ages 6-8 1:8

Ages 9-11 1:8 Ages 9-14 1:10

Ages 15-18 1-12 Ages 15-18 1:12

Factor #3 ~ Special Needs

There are many specialized camps focusing on a plethora of interests and experiences, and this

includes special needs. Parents must always consider cost and distance when deciding whether a particular camp is right for their child(ren). The perfect camp for kids with ADHD might be in a neighboring state, and it could be worth it to arrange transportation. Be sure to inquire about the staff’s training and expertise.

Factor #4 ~ Understand the Philosophy of the Camp

You want to make sure you’re on the same page (at the very least, in the same chapter) with your child’s camp on issues that are important to you. You definitely want to understand their policies on discipline. If your child often inspires impromptu teacher-parent conferences, you want to understand the rules before you get a call home. You could even discuss these rules with your child ahead of time. A discipline policy can protect your child and helps to establish boundaries. Simply ask how does the camp handle conflict between campers?

Factor #5 ~ Know the Key Staff’s Credentials

Fun & Encouraging Staff
Fun & Encouraging Staff

Great counselors can enhance the camp experience for your child. Indeed, they can make something that would usually seem boring to your child the most fascinating subject on earth. My daughter participated in a drama camp at a university a few summers ago. She remembers learning about the technological aspects of a production more than anything else at camp. I asked her, “Why? I thought acting was your thing.” She said, “The counselors were awesome! They made learning about tech so much fun. We played tag on the stage to learn how the lights worked.” Check out the staff’s credentials if you are trying to choose between two camps. Previous experience as a camp counselor and academic experience in the camp’s main theme are good indicators that their heart will be in it.

Factor #6 ~ Start and Keep a “How To Make A Decision” Checklist

1. Actively listen to your child’s needs/desires in a camp (archery, music, special interests etc.). Involve them in the whole process (if age appropriate).

2. Confidently know your family’s requirements (location, budget). Write these down.

3. Write a short list of possible camps based on answers to the first question.

4. Consider which camps you can eliminate from the list.

5. Narrow your choices down to two or three camps. Review the info you gathered.

6. Establish a relationship with a key staff member.

7. Ask the staff if there are a few parents to call. Speaking with these families can give you valuable insight about the camp and the families that send their children there.

8. Inquire about the camp safety plans and security of its campers.

9. Find out about what medical facilities are available and what medical staff is on site.

10. Inquire about a refund policy if a camper leaves early.

Factor #7 ~ Research Early. Plan Early. Decide Early. Apply Early!                   Summer Camps logo

Camps fill up months ahead of time! You must apply early in order to ensure your child will be able to participate in the camp you select. Now is the perfect time to get the conversation started! After all this is a big financial and perhaps emotional decision for your family, and you need to feel confident that you are making the right choice. So take your time (tho now is the time to start the research), do your homework, and don’t be bashful–ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS!

Next up I will be taking a closer look at local area camps. Summer Fun is just around the bend!


Dene is the Mom of two active children who are both sports enthusiasts. Dr Dene has been an educator and coached a variety of sports for various ages for over 30 years. She is an active volunteer Kidsports Coach here in Eugene and has served as an Executive Director for local day & overnight camps and mentoring programs for boys & girls. You can find her at or send an email to [email protected] ~ follow me on Twitter @DrSuccessCoach

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