Winter is the time to plan for kids’ summer camp

Matching kids with the right camp makes for a more enjoyable summer experience.
Matching kids with the right camp makes for a more enjoyable summer experience.

Summertime will soon be here, and it’s never too early to start thinking summer camp.

A good camp experience can offer a child the opportunity to try new activities, learn new skills, make friends and gain a sense of independence.

Where to begin? It is essential for parents to understand their children and to know their interests when choosing a camp. Some questions to ask might include:

Does the child have a special interest, such as drama, music, a particular sport, nature study or arts and crafts?

Has he or she expressed interest in learning a particular new skill?

Are swimming and water sports important?

Does the child do well in a structured environment, or is a relatively relaxed setting more appropriate?

Would the child be more comfortable in a day camp near home, or is he or she ready for a sleep-away experience? The child’s age, past experience and personality will be factors in determining his readiness for a particular type of program.

Camp can be lonely for some youngsters, especially those attending for the first time. But a camp that strives to promote friendship among its campers can reduce, if not eliminate, any feelings of homesickness.

Choosing a camp should be a thoughtful process that involves interviewing the director, reviewing information, getting references from other parents and visiting the camp in progress. The whole process should be a cooperative parent-child effort.

Parents should begin their inquiry by calling the camp for a brochure and some basic information about the program. Find out if the camp will be having an open house or will be represented at a local camp fairs during the winter. Some camps have videotapes or slideshows that give a visual impression of typical camping experiences and the facilities.

Parents should know what the camp’s philosophy and goals are, how the staff is trained and supervised, their ages and experience and the staff-camper ratio. One indication of the camp’s success is the rate of return of both campers and staff, including the director.

It’s also good to ask about the camp’s vetting process for hiring new staff, including the extent of background checks.

What is the camp’s daily schedule? What happens on rainy days?

Many parents want their youngsters to have a well-rounded experience, while others might want their kids to attend a more specialized camp, focusing on sports or music, for example.

When considering specialized camps, ask the representative if kids will have the chance to simply have a little fun and what types of recreational activities are planned to give campers a break from often rigorous schedules.

Are any special events planned? What do the camp’s facilities include — pools, sports fields, art studios?

Is there a trained nurse or doctor on site? Is there appropriate water sports supervision?

The more questions parents ask now, the fewer surprises will be encountered later.

It’s a good idea to ask the camp director for references of parents whose children have gone there in the past.

As an alternative to a typical day camp or sleep-away camp, summer activities for children can also be found at local community centers, neighborhood playgrounds, Scout programs and public libraries. These can range from arts-and-crafts classes and swimming lessons to other recreational programs.

Good summer camps do fill up early. So it behooves parents to start thinking about camps for their kids in winter, before camps start filling out their rosters in early spring.