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What to Look for in a Summer Camp for your Kids

If there's one thing that parents generally dread when summertime rolls around, it's the inevitable sighs and whines of "I'm boooored" that happen once the novelty of no school wears off. In our experience, that's usually right around the second week of summer. So before boredom grabs hold of your kids, take some precautions and look at summer camp options that will keep them busy, entertained, and even learning a few new things over summer break.

There is a summer camp for almost everything, from week-long camps to full summer camps covering a range of activities and interests. It's nearly impossible to find at least one camp that your child isn't interested in. But before you book anything, take these steps to figure out which summer camp will be the best fit for your kid.

Day Camp vs Sleepaway

When it comes to summer camps, there are two main categories: day camps and sleepaway camps. Day camps will require you driving them to and from the camp activities each day, so it's important to find a summer camp that is within easy driving distance and is convenient to your schedule. These camps are generally aimed towards younger campers, since they only last from 4-8 hours each day. You can usually find camps that will correspond to normal working hours for working moms, letting you drop kiddos off before 9am and pick them up around 6pm.

Sleepaway camp, on the other hand, provides housing for kids to spend the night anywhere from a week to a couple of months. Kids sleep in cabins or dorms and have camp counselors that take care of them 24 hours a day. There are benefits to both types of camp, and the age and independence of your children will dictate which type of camp makes more sense.

Camp Themes

Summer camps can also come in a variety of themes ranging from educational (science camps and math camps) to adventure themed camps (surf camp or other camps that focus on outdoor hobbies) to faith based camps and more traditional camps that offer a smattering of everything. Camps that are focused on one hobby or subject will often be shorter, while more generalized camps will be longer and usually have different themes for each week that the camper is there.

How Do I Choose the Perfect Summer Camp?

There's no hard and fast rules about what makes a great summer camp, but it should provide a combination of things: activities or hobbies that your child is interested in, a location and time that's convenient to your work and life schedule, and experienced, certified, and trustworthy staff and counselors. Here are a few things to look for in a good summer camp:

  • Location - If it's a day camp, is it close enough for you to easily drive to and from each day that camp is in session? If it's a sleepaway camp, how far from home are you comfortable letting your child be? Will you need to drive or fly to get there?
  • Budget - How much can you afford to spend on summer camp fees? Camps can range anywhere a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars depending on the location, length of time the camp runs, and the activities involved. Make sure that you leave room in your budget for any camp purchases you might need also, such as lanterns, additional t-shirts, sports equipment, etc. Also, keep in mind that scholarships and aid exists for many summer camps, so be sure to check and see what's available. You can find out more about summer camp scholarships at the American Camp Association.
  • Activities - Are there specific activities or sports that you want to focus on and learn more about? For instance, if your child loves learning about sea life then a camp that's located close to the beach and builds all of their activities around ocean learning might be a great fit.
  • Accommodations - If you're looking at sleepaway camps, what type of accommodations and campground is the camp located on? Will your child be comfortable in rustic settings, such as outdoor tents or bare bones cabins, or would they rather be in a more modern setting?
  • Camp Size - How large do you want the camp to be? Camps can have hundreds of kids attending at the same time, or they can be relatively small with just a handful of kids on any given week. Does your child enjoy large groups of people and meeting lots of new people, or would they feel more comfortable in smaller, intimate groups?
  • Counselors - How does the summer camp choose their counselors? Do they have any kind of educational or topical background? What types of background checks are run on counselors, and are they First Aid and CPR certified? Speaking to the camp administrative staff can help you feel more comfortable with the counselors who will be taking care of your children during their camp stay, so feel free to ask as many questions as needed to get a good understanding of how the camp chooses its counselors.
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