It's hard to believe summer is around the corner, but thankfully Matt Weneta takes the stress out of planning for summer camps. Camping as a great opportunity for kinesthetic kids who need to move – they can learn by doing. In this blog, Matt offers parents 7 questions to consider when selecting a summer camp program for your child.
Summer is an Opportunity: 7 Questions to Find the Right Fit for Your Child
Summer camps provide fun, a sense of community and friendship. They offer kids independence and self-confidence, as well as social and emotional growth. At camp, kids can be themselves. For ADD/ADHD kids, that can be huge relief.
At camp, kids escape from normal routines and get to try new ones that are more exciting. Finding the right fit is really important for kids, especially when they have social, emotional or learning challenges.
Before you begin searching for the “right camp,” decide what you want for your child. Are you looking for fun, growth, support, or community? All camps provide a level of each, but what is the focus for your child?
- 1. How Do You Find a Camp? Web searches are the best way to get started. Camps with the highest Google ratings may have great marketing, but they may not have strong programs. Flashy web sites and expensive materials are not always a good indicator of a meaningful camp experience. Use search engines that list many programs, and take the time to explore all of your options. Find programs that focus on substance. Ask local organizations and other parents for recommendations, as well.
- 2. What about Overnight Camps? Overnight camps are best for growth. There is more time to become part of a community, and much more intensive programming. At sleep-away camp, children learn to navigate their fears about being away from home, along with their peers, who are having the same experience. Ask yourself, is my child ready for sleep-away camp? And then ask yourself, am I ready for my child to go away to camp? Despite fears your child may feel about a new experience, going off to camp is often more anxiety producing for parents than it is for their children. Your fears will translate to your kids, so be confident in your decision. Knowing that your child (and you) might experience some fear about sleep away camp -- and that is normal – will enough support make a difference? Initial struggles for both parent and child is typical, including a tearful homesick evening or two. A good camp provides a safe environment to deal with these fears, setting up children to be capable and confident. Later in life, kids will have had some experience managing their fears.
- 3. What about Day Camps? If your child is not quite ready for sleep away camp, don't despair. Day camps also provide wonderful experiences and enormous growth for your child. Use the questions below to choose a day camp or an overnight camp.
- 4. What Kind of Support Does your Child Need? Next, be honest with yourself: how much support does your child require? Children who need little support, and who function well in social environments, can usually attend camps that do not make many adaptations. For children who need more support, finding the right summer camp fit can get trickier. How prepared is a camp to support your child? Look for a higher than average staff-to-camper ratio, and staff members who have both the educational background and practical experience to provide your child with the support s/he needs.
- 5. What kind of Staff Does the Camp Employ? When evaluating the staff-to-camper ratio, find out how that ratio is determined. Are the cafeteria staff and maintenance crew included in the staff ratio? The qualifications of a camp's Executive Staff is important, but even more important is the experience and education of the direct care staff. They will hold the most influence over your child's daily experience. If a camp's staff is mostly made up of well-intentioned and energetic college students, ask yourself if they will be able to meet your child's physical, social and emotional needs. For many children, the answer is yes. To determine this, ask the camp about the staff who will be managing your child's daily experience. Will they be able to keep your child physically and emotionally safe? Ask for specific examples of how the camp has handled children similar to yours in the past. During this process, be open about all of the strengths and weaknesses of your child.
- 6. What Kind of Camp is Best? Deciding on a type of camp can be easy if you are looking for skill development for your child. If your child wants to be a better soccer player, you'll look at soccer camps. Otherwise, explore camps that offer new experiences for your child. Novel experiences allow children to explore new interests and strengths. While familiar experiences allow children to practice using tools and habits they already have, new and interesting experiences will require your child to reach. This helps develop internal motivation, interest and exploration.
- 7. What's It Going to Cost? When it comes to cost, know your budget and stick to it. In addition to tuition, find out whether there are other associated fees for admission, special activities, field trips, camp stores or gear. Ask about what your child will need to bring to camp that you do not already own, or that is not provided by the camp. Consider all of these costs in your bottom line.
Like any industry, summer camps are and should be competitive. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and make sure your questions are answered to your satisfaction. If a camp does not have the time and attention to answer your questions and concerns before camp, they likely don't have the time and attention your child will need while at camp.