by Karen Meister
Nine good questions to ask to find the right camp experience for your child and family. One question not to ask — where does the neighbor’s child go.
Each child is different and each camp has a different personality. The goal will be to make the greatest fit. Let’s start with some assumptions. First, assume that you want a camp that is safe and secure and that the children will be well supervised. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the differences between one good camp vs another good camp. The questions to consider are:
- What is my child’s personality like?
- What are my child’s interests?
- What are my interests for my child?
- What about the siblings?
- Are there any special needs?
- How much money am I prepared to spend?
- How far can my child travel?
- How long can my child be away?
- Where do I want to visit my child for the next few years?
1. What is my child’s personality like?
If you can answer these three simple questions, you can begin to identify the type of camp your child will enjoy. First, imagine that your child is entering the dining hall of their future camp. Behind door number one, the dining hall is filled with kids standing on the tables, cheering at the top of their lungs, the craziness is exciting for many. Behind door number two, everyone is sitting at their tables, with their counselors, eating, engaging and having lively conversation, but more subdued. Pick one door. Second, your child is invited to a birthday party. They go to the side of the room and wait for others to approach them or, they enter the room and the other children flock to greet him. Finally, there is a room full of people, adults, older children and children the same age as your child. With which group is your child most comfortable?
Seems like a strange collection of questions, but believe it or not, each camp also has a personality. And understanding your child’s personality in these three areas helps to identify a collection of camps that will be a better fit than others.
2. What are my child’s interests?
Put your dreams aside and focus on your child. Does your child want to chase, touch, play with any type of ball and any type of team? Or prefer the individual sports of ie tennis, golf, horseback riding, sailing, skateboarding? An indoor, “don’t make me sweat” type of child? Are the interests really more towards scientific? Curiosity? Theater? Arts?
Identifying your child’s passion helps to again make better choices. It doesn’t mean that a child should or would go to a camp specializing in their passion. It just provides better insight into where your child may find comfort while exploring new areas of interest. You want to increase the probability of success by at least providing an area of interest during their summer experience because of course, we now move to the next question….
3. What are my interests for my child?
You see, you are the parent. And although your child may prefer to spend the entire summer playing video games, watching TV or playing the guitar, you know that physically and emotionally, they will need to branch out just a little bit. So… what are your thoughts? Do you want your child to learn a life skill ie tennis, golf or sailing during the summer? Do you want to expose them to the great outdoors? Is travel an important element you want to share? Do you want your child to be exposed to the wonders of the arts because they only want to talk about the baseball? Or is it possibly the reverse? Do you want your child to learn the fundamentals of basketball dribbling, the intensity of competition? Do you want it all? Some? What did you like or dislike about your summer experiences? And how would you like to repeat or change the experience for your child?
4. What about the siblings?
In selecting a camp, and certainly to make your life easier, it would be really nice if all the siblings get to go to camp together. So understanding the needs of each child also help in selecting just the right camp. If you have a boy and a girl, it is important to review either co-ed or brother/sister camps. All boys? All girls? You can really focus on the single sex camps. One thing can be said — if the children can go to camp together, it is a bonding experience they will cherish for life. Sibling rivalry at home? Send them to camp together and watch them bond. Even if their interests are different, and personalities are different, which so often may happen, finding a camp that offers a compromise for each child will often be a great choice.
5. Are there any special needs?
Does your child have an allergy, a condition or special need? Is nighttime bed wetting an issue? Phobias, medications? Is there a doctor or RN on staff? Or a local pediatrician with standing orders? How close is the nearest hospital? What about religious preferences? Or a need for tutoring or language skills? Anything that your child may have or need can be accommodated at so many camps. The trick is to provide full disclosure to the camp or camp consultant with which you are working. Believe it or not, camp people have absolutely heard it all. There are more kids on ADHD meds than not, there are more kids taking growth hormones than ever before. Gluten free, peanut free, egg free and milk free diets can all be accommodated. Every religious or non-religious needs can be accommodated. Just speak up and make sure the camp can provide your child with the most perfect, safe environment possible.
6. How much money am I prepared to spend?
Camps come in all price ranges. The price — high or low — does not necessarily mean it is a better or worse camp. You must dig deeper. Sometimes, a lower price will reflect a smaller staff, less equipment, facilities that are not as nice or new, less security. But not necessarily. Sometimes, a camp has a lower price because they are building their marketplace, the directors are making a choice to be available to a certain market, or there are subsidies provided by charitable organizations. Sometimes the price is higher because the camp has a more experienced staff, facilities are at a high standard, and the reputation allows for a higher price. Or sometimes, the marketing choice is to charge a higher rate to connote a better camp. You just never know. But what you can identify is how much you are prepared to spend. Whatever you decide your budget will be for the summer, there will be ways to change the location, length of time, and specific camp to accommodate. There is something for everybody.
And yet, make sure you keep in mind the expense of taking care of and entertaining the children the rest of the summer. Many people decide that full summer camping is not the best choice because of the cost. Keep in mind, that you pay a very large premium for fewer weeks of sleep away programming. And then you must fill many weeks of summer at home, which of course comes with an alternative but additional price tag.
7. How far can my child travel?
There are many reasons to select certain locations for your family. Based upon where you live, certain locations may offer start dates that are more in line with your school system. You may prefer to send your child to camp by bus or drive them to camp. Or you may have a relative or summer home in an area to which you want to be close. But if they are getting on a plane to go to camp, they are getting on a plane. Many parents have expressed a fear of sending the children too far in case of emergency. Reality is, you are selecting a camp that you believe will care for your child at all times including emergencies. With flight schedules the way they are today, you can fly anywhere within a few hours. Whether drive or fly, you will not be there for the moment of emergency… no matter what! So if you can let them fly…. especially if you are trying to get out of the hot south, let them fly….
8. How long can my child be away?
There are many factors that must be considered for this question. First, of course, you must review the school calendar. Second, the family obligations such as family trips, special events, sports practices, etc. Third, budget certainly comes into play. Typically however, a parent fears a full summer commitment for a child, especially the first year. Remember why you are considering a sleep away camp in the first place. Sleep away camp offers the opportunity for a child to develop independence and development. Any sleep away experience is good, but if possible, the longer the better. The reason is that if homesickness is at all a problem, it takes time to overcome the experience and turn it around into a positive. In addition, a full summer experience really allows the development of friendships and bonds that will last a life time. There is no right answer, but only the right time frame for your family. Know that there is a camp that will meet your specific needs.
9. Where do I want to visit my child for the next several years?
So now we are really getting into the nitty gritty. Let’s assume you have narrowed down the camp selection to the top three. If you flip a coin, and make your final selection based on the coin toss, your children and pocket book will be indifferent. However, you will be going to visiting day for hopefully several years ahead. Where do you want to visit? How long does it take to get there? Are there decent and cost effective hotels in the area? Are there interesting things to do in the area to add a few vacation days to your visit? Let’s just call this one a tie-breaker!
Identifying your best case scenario is a terrific way to begin your search for just the right camp. And of course, using a camp consultant (like me…) makes the process so incredibly simple, worry free and accurate!
Karen Meister, in partnership with Joanne Paltrowitz, works with the international consulting firm, Camp Experts and Teen Summers. Feel free to contact Karen for complimentary assistance at Karen@CampExperts.com or 305.931.KiDS or 305.931.5437. Thousands of families have received confidential and complimentary guidance to select the best camp and teen programs from around the world. Karen is also the Founder of the LifeMeisters.