There are so many summer camps out there these days that there’s bound to be one that suits your child’s interests. The downside is that it can be challenging to know where to start — especially for preschoolers or early elementary children.
Here are six tips to make your summer camp research and selection process a little easier and to help you find a summer day camp that is the best fit for your family.
Make a checklist
A great place to start is to ask your child to talk about his or her interests. It might be art today, and horses tomorrow, but getting a short list of your child’s current interests can help you narrow down the endless options. Knowing what you need from a camp and your expectations for your child’s experience will help narrow your search.
Create a list of what you’re hoping to get out of the camp. This list should include answers to these questions: What kind of care am I looking for? How long will my child’s day be? What’s my budget? What kind of environment does my child need? What outcomes am I expecting from a camp?
The absolute best way to know what a camp offers and whether it will be a good fit for your family is to ask questions. Do some research, browse websites, make phone calls, talk to other parents or attend a camp open house. Talk to the camp staff and ask for a tour of the camp facilities.
Make sure the camp is optimal for your child’s age and abilities
Many camps are designed with a certain age group in mind, and often that target age group is extended to accommodate more campers. Maybe your child loves robots, and you think you’ve found the perfect camp, but upon further inspection, the camp asks children to read instructions and build a robot from a kit while sitting at a table. This may not be the best fit for your 5-year-old who isn’t reading yet or needs more open-ended play.
Just because a camp is open to younger children does not necessarily mean that the camp staff has been trained to understand Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP) for young children. Knowing what the curriculum of a camp looks like and what variations there are for each age group can help to ensure your child will be engaged in a meaningful way.
Look for safe spaces
Know where the camp will be held and find out what safety precautions are in place. If the camp is at a school, you know that there are likely certain existing safety routines and structures. If the camp doesn’t offer structured space specifically designed for children — such as a dog shelter or an art studio — you may have some questions about safety, toileting, lunch, field trips or how time is spent in public spaces.
Ask about the caregivers’ experience
The staff is the most important part of any camp. Having wonderful projects and content is great, but caregivers, counselors and teachers who understand child development, behavior and DAP can make or break the camp experience for families. You will want to know who the people staffing the camp are, and what their backgrounds are. Ask about the caregivers’ experience with early childhood education (birth to age 8) as opposed to higher elementary or older grades. The needs of a 4- or 5-year-old are much different than those of a child who is 10.
Ask camp organizers about discipline
What is their procedure for handling behaviors that they find challenging? Are caregivers’ expectations for what children should be able to do (sit still, listen to lengthy explanations, follow multi-step directions) realistic and developmentally appropriate for your child? Do those expectations and discipline procedures align well with those of your family?