I'm a parent like you and I’ve had to choose a summer camp for my own kids a zillion times. With so many options available, how do you know when a summer program is the right fit for your child and family?
A word-of-mouth reference about a program is a great start, and there are lots of great camp guides out there. Regardless of how you hear about the camp, make sure it's licensed as a Children’s Activities Facility. Being licensed as such means all staff who are present with your child have been through a fingerprint-based state-police background check and that the Fire and Building departments have inspected the facility for safety. Some companies that offer camp for kids are licensed differently (with a Limited Business License only) because they offer 60% or more adult programming and do not specialize in children’s programming. Not sure? You can check how a business is licensed here.
More things to look for when vetting a summer camp:
Is the camp site/facility secure? Is the entry and exit access-controlled by a system (for example, a self-locking door) or a person with eyes on the entrance at all times?
How does the camp’s price compare to other programs in the area? Does the price reflect the value that you expect from the provider?
What is the max size of the camp? What is the leader-to-camper ratio? What is the age range of the campers? How are the ages grouped or not grouped? There are pros and cons to mixing a large age range, and you will want to decide for yourself what is right for your child.
In addition to licensing for safety, how many staff members are trained and certified in CPR, basic life support and first aid? Optimally, every staff member is trained so that no student needs to wait for assistance in an emergency.
Any program that has its eye on managing allergen cross-contamination will be cleaning throughout the day. What kind of cleaning products are used? Are they used around the campers? This answer should resonate with the guidelines you use in your own home.
How does the camp play? Do the activities, including games, support empathy and other social-emotional skills?
Is the team made of seasonal employees or permanent staff? If the employees are seasonal, are they studying or working in education, child development or the camp’s specialty during the school year? Great people who enjoy doing this work, working with a team and with children are the main ingredients that makes a program amazing. Everything else is just marketing.
What will the day/week be like? Even if you’ve heard great things, knowing what to expect can help you determine if the daily mix is right for your child’s needs. Look for references to both fine-motor and gross-motor activities, open time and, if applicable, instruction time, and ask about time indoors and outdoors—it’s summer!
Once your child is in camp, keep assessing the following:
Were you welcomed on the first day and every day? After the first day, does the staff know your child’s name? How does the staff interact with other campers? Does your child need to have a name badge to be recognized by the staff?
Good programs will ask for a lot of information from you on registration forms. Is the staff using that information to contribute to your child’s safety and experience? After camp has begun, is the staff relying on forms or do they seem to know your child?
If your child is learning a new skill, is he enjoying the process? Is he feeling judged or encouraged? Does he show an interest in learning or practicing more?
Is your child leaving the program with a smile on her face? Did she have fun? Did she make a new friend? Kids are great reporters when asked these questions in an open-ended way (e.g., “Tell me about your favorite part of the day”).