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Choosing the right summer camp for your child

July 01, 2013

When I was growing up, my mother was a stay-at-home mom, and we spent a lot of time at home during the summer. It was a time my sister and I could play in the woods, eat popsicles, read and help my mother sew Barbie clothes (Yes, she deserved a medal for that endeavor!). My family didn’t take a lot of formal vacations, but my siblings and I participated in a variety of activities that made summers feel special.

However, when my son was growing up, both my husband and I worked away from home, which created a need to keep my son preoccupied by someone, or something, other than us during the day. So, we began to look for affordable options that would be fun for our son, too. We found that for our family, summer camps were the perfect balance between fun (for our son) and childcare (for us). And we were fortunate to live in an area that offered a lot of affordable special interest day camps so he stayed busy all summer.

What type of summer camp is right for my child?

No matter what your child’s interests are, day camps and sleep-away camps should be selected to match their interests and their maturity level. Day camps are a good way to wade into the camping pool. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and City and County recreation centers put a lot of energy into planning full days, with a lot of variety. These well-known camps are usually expert at scheduling and staffing their camps. They are also a good option because they include: sports, arts and crafts, outdoor and indoor activities, field trips, games and full day programming. Many day camps also have childcare available earlier and later than the regular camp day, which is very helpful for working parents.

What about special interest camps?

Special interest camps are great for kids who like to focus on a particular interest or type of activity. Here are a few of the special interest offerings in Central Florida:
  • Visual art camps including: ceramics and clay, painting, cartooning, sculpture, and woodworking
  • Sports camps including: football, soccer, basketball, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, and yoga
  • Performing arts camps including: drama and theater, dance, singing, and camps focusing on specific musical instruments
  • Computer or computer-aided design and animation
  • Water sports camps including: fishing, sailing, surfing and wind-surfing
  • Museum camps including: art, history, science, children’s and other museums
  • Academic camps either to strengthen skills, or more deeply explore areas of interest
  • Religious camps and vacation bible schools
  • Camps related to health (asthma camp, diabetes camp) and camps that can handle special needs
  • Parent/child camps where you and your child can learn something together

Common questions parents ask regarding summer camps

How do I know if my child is ready for overnight camp?

There are many important factors to consider when deciding if your child is ready for overnight camp. How easily does your child make friends? Has your child spent time away from home overnight? Will your child tell an adult other than you if he/she needs help or is having trouble with peers? Does your child have strong eating preferences? There is a quiz on overnight camp readiness from Parents Magazine, and additional information on that can help guide you in making the right decision for your family.

Should we send our child to the same camp all summer, or mix it up?

That really depends on your child and your schedule. If you do not work away from home, or if you have flexible work hours, you can probably manage more different locations and change, than if your situation requires more routine. If your child is outgoing and makes friends easily, he/she may like meeting new people and going new places. Other kids do better when they can settle in at a particular camp with the same staff and a similar routine week to week.

How can I be sure my child will be safe at camp?

Ask questions about safety practices (for things like first aid and ). If your child is going to overnight camp, be sure to send any regular medications, discuss any allergies or health concerns, and talk to the camp nurse when you drop your child off. Before camp, discuss how your child will communicate with you if something concerns them.

How can I afford camp?

Ask about scholarships. Many camps do offer them, especially camps associated with faith groups. The overnight camps listed above tend to be affordable. In our family, we saved for summer camp throughout the year with a special savings account and automatic deductions from our paychecks at our credit union (kind of like a Christmas Club account). We also had our son contribute a little to camp costs when he got old enough to earn money.

How old is too old for camp?

I am a big fan of organized activities for kids even into teen years. This is partly because my son was a high energy/low impulse control kid. There are a lot of exciting and fun camps for older kids. Older kids can also transition into becoming counselors-in-training, especially if they have attended the same camp for a number of years. Counselor-in-training programs are also great leadership opportunities. If your teen isn’t interested in that type of program, you can find information on activities for older kids by looking for “teen camps” or “extreme camps.”

Day camps and sleep-away camps are a treasured part of my childhood memories. They gave me the opportunity to slowly gain independence and leadership and social skills. Anyone want to go make a lanyard?