Overnight camp is wonderful! Kids come home with the perfect dose of vitamin D, new independent and social skills, new friends, new hobbies and new confidence. At least that’s what the hope is! How do you know which camp is right for your child when there are so many amazing options. In our global society, kids don’t need to stay in their home state anymore or even their country! How do you know which one is best for your family? How do you know which one is best for each child? In my household my three kids are going to camps in three different states and/or provinces in two different countries (yes, Canada counts!) Do your research! A not so ideal experience is hard to turn around from and your kid may not want to go back to overnight camp afterwards. Be an educated consumer! Here are my top eleven (I’m an overachiever) questions I ask camps as a parent and former camp professional!
Disclaimer: When I talk about camp! I get so happy!!! that I use too many!!! My editor, a.k.a. husband, said I should remove some but I’m standing strong with this stylistic choice!-Franki
1. How big is your camp? This is an important question and will help determine the right fit for your kid. Some children want a large camp with a ton of physical space to explore, a large variety of programming and lots of peers! Often times bigger camps can have bigger resources and may be the ones that have established inclusion or support programs, on site medical staff and a strong group of camp professionals. However big camps have tons of needs to manage so again questions are key, see #2. Other kids love a small camp like the one I grew up at where you can stand at the flagpole and pretty much see the whole thing! They crave that tight knit community feel, where everyone knows each other regardless of their age.
2. Who oversees “intake”? Who reads my child’s application and health forms? And equally important if my child has a social/emotional need who do I talk further to about this? Who makes sure this is followed through upon? Who is my contact in the summer? You may be thinking, my kid(s) are pretty easy going and don’t need any support. However, this is still an important question for any child. If the campers who require extra help aren’t getting it, it may affect the whole cabin of campers.
3. Do you have a social worker living at camp? Again even if you don’t think your child requires this, every child needs a little help navigating emotional health at some point and you want to assure that each camp has the necessary resources to serve the needs of your child’s bunkmates!
4. What is your policy on electronics? I have mixed feelings on this one. I have seen first hand how amazing a tech free camp experience is and I recommend it for most campers elementary school age! Some travel trip experiences do allow phones in a limited fashion and for some kids that helps keep them feel connected and more willing to take the leap to enjoy these experiences. Again different kids benefit from different styles of camp!
5. What if my child is sick? Takes a daily medication? It’s very important to understand how this is managed. There should be a medical professional available to answer these questions who will be living at camp. Some camps have a doctor and nurse or two on staff at all times while others have a nurse running the day to day medical program and a strong relationship with an urgent care around the corner. Both can be successful depending on your child’s needs.
6. How can my child communicate with me? Many overnight camps feel that phone calls lead to increased homesickness and find that letter writing is the best bet! This is ideal for many maybe even most campers. However, through my years working with camps I have seen a few rare campers benefit greatly from hearing the reassuring voice of their parents a couple of times throughout a session. This is a very individual need based on your child.
7. What independent skills do you suggest my child have? How does your camp staff help appropriately with self care, showering, making their beds, writing letters…
8. Can I talk with the director? Every camp regardless of structure or size should have a director that is accessible by phone or email and can talk knowledgeably about the day to day of their camp and it’s mission!
9. How do you approach bunking? Bunking is a delicate, puzzle. Camps should strive to balance bunk dynamics/personalities/needs… AND family bunking requests! If you don’t trust your camp to have the final word in this, then maybe it’s not the right camp.
10. Does your camp offer choice programming? Camps are all over the map with this one! There are amazing specialty camps out there were campers pick a “major” and spend much of the camp day refining a skill. Other camps have kids signup for activities daily or weekly and allow campers to make all the choices. This often works well with kids who are anxious and feel the need to have some control. The downside to choice is that they aren’t necessarily traveling with their bunk-mates and counselor, so that is something to consider. Traditional “all around” camps often determine the campers’ schedules before they even get off the bus, especially for the youngest campers. This ensures that campers push their limits, try new things and really bond with their bunk-mates and bunk staff.
11. What session length do you offer? This is super important for new campers through returning middle school and teen campers! Kids these days are busy!! So many of our older campers don’t get the opportunity to experience camp due to summer school requirements, sports, band and other obligations if shorter sessions aren’t available. Some older campers do best with shorter session options, because they tire easily, experience social fatigue (it’s not always easy to be with people all the time) or just generally do better with less time away from home. Other older campers may not be ready for overnight camp until they are in middle school and still benefit from a slow start! Young first time campers often feel less overwhelmed by a shorter experience to start. However, shorter is not always better. If you have a slow to warm child, a three day camp experience may not give them enough time to adjust and start to have fun!
In the end parent intuition plays a large role in this big decision, trust your gut! Don’t be afraid to ask these questions and more. Any wonderful camp should have leadership available to talk with you, meet with you in person or virtually as much as you need!