How to Choose a Camp: Preparing For Camp

Start with Your Child  |  Kids' Q&A  |  Packing Tips

Camp Is For Everyone

Today, there are camps to meet every interest, price range, and schedule. Knowing your options, as well as your child's personality, will help you identify programs from which your child will benefit most.

Resident Camp
Most offer a variety of programs for children starting at age seven. Resident camp options include coed, single sex and specialty camps that focus on a particular program. Resident camps offer varying overnight accommodations such as cabins, tents, and tepees.

Day Camp
Similar to resident camps except campers are somewhat younger, starting at four-year-olds, and everyone returns home at the end of the day.

Specialty Camps and Programs
Campers can embark on adventures as varied as learning how to ride a horse, water ski, or dance. If your child has a special interest, there likely is a camp that specializes in it.

Special Needs Campers
A physical, medical, or mental disability is not a roadblock for a camp experience. Each year more than a million special needs children benefit from summer camp. Some camps specialize in serving certain groups while other camps integrate special-needs campers into the total camp population.

Session Lengths Vary
Children may stay at camp for a few days, a few weeks or the entire summer. At camp, there's a session length for every child, budget, and schedule.

Cost
Camp remains a very affordable option for most everyone. A large range of price options are available, depending upon the choice of camp, the facilities offered and the camper's needs. The average resident camp fee is $85 a day, while the average day camp fee is $43 per day. Many camps and other organizations offer financial assistance based on need.

Top of page.

Start with Your Child

ACA recommendations about how to choose the right summer camp for your child.

When beginning the camp selection process, consider your child's interests. It's important to know a child's personality and identify what camp programs will benefit him or her most. With a variety of programs and activities, summer camp offers fun and meaningful adventures to match a child's interests and maturity level.

Be certain to include your child in the decision-making process. Together with your child, explore the camp options and examine the materials the camps provide. In addition, many camps have web sites that include photos, maps or virtual tours of the camp facility, sample daily schedules and menus, and information about the directors and key staff. As children become better acquainted with the camp experience and more involved in the decision-making process, they will have less anxiety about going away to camp.

Think about what you want in a camp before you enroll your child:

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Resident Camp

  1. What locale do I want to consider? (consider, mountains, oceanfront, distance from home)
  2. Do I want a traditional camp that gives my child a wide variety of experiences or do I want to select a specialty camp that focuses on a particular activity or set of skills?
  3. What size enrollment will make my child feel comfortable?
  4. How rustic do I want the camp to be?
  5. How structured do I want the program to be? Does my child like to have lots of choice in the activity schedule?
  6. Is my child ready to sleep away from home for an extended stay? This will help you to select either a resident or day camp setting.
  7. What session length will appeal to my child and to our family plans for the summer? (One week? Eight weeks?)
  8. How can I stay in touch with my child during camp? Does the camp allow mail, phone calls or e-mail? Does the camp have parent visitation days?
  9. How will the camp meet my child's special dietary or physical needs?
  10. What is my budget for camp tuition? Remember, many camps offer financial aid.

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Day Camp

Day camps offer experiences that are unique from resident camps. Because of this, there are specific points to consider when choosing a day camp.

  1. Does the American Camp Association accredit the camp? ACA has specific standards applicable only for day camps.
  2. What training does the staff receive on safety, supervision, counseling, problem solving and other issues unique to working with young children?
  3. Is the price all-inclusive or are there extra charges for:
  4.     · transportation     · overnights     · swimming lessons     · food service     · horseback riding     · group pictures     · T-shirts     · extended care     · field trips

  5. If transportation is offered, where is the closest pick-up location?
  6. Does the camp have an "express bus" which transports children quickly?
  7. If before- and after-camp extended care is offered, who is with the children and what activities take place?
  8. Is lunch served or do campers bring their own sack lunch? Are snacks and drinks provided?
  9. If the camp offers swimming, are there swimming lessons or is it simply recreational swimming?
  10. Are campers in a group with a counselor all day? Or, are campers free to go from one activity to another with appropriate supervision? In this case, whom would you talk to if you had a question or concern about your child?
  11. Is an open house offered before camp starts where you can meet your child's counselor and van/bus driver?
  12. Are parents allowed to drop by for visits or is there a special parent visitation day?

Once you have answered these questions, visit ACA's Camp Database to find a camp just right for your child. Parents may call ACA National Headquarters 800-428-CAMP for further information about specific camps or for the ACA section in their region.

Top of page.

Kids' Q&A

Kids Ask The Director

What's the best thing of all at camp?
That's a tough one! Everything! We think you'll have so much to like at camp that you won't be able to decide what's best of all. Maybe it's the new friends you'll make; or the swimming; or the mural you might paint; or your counselor; or the sports you'll play and learn; or the drama production you might star in!

At camp, what will I do all day?
You'll get to do so much -- things like swimming, tennis, basketball, arts and crafts, softball or baseball, cooking, ceramics, gymnastics, soccer, dancing, football... the list goes on and on. There are also special events and entertainment.

Who will help me have fun at camp? How do they know how to care for me?
Group or bunk counselors are selected because they love working with kids. They are trained before camp begins to help you have a good time, make new friends, and enjoy a variety of activities. Their job is to help you have fun, be safe, and know your limits.

Do I get to choose what I want to do?
Some camps schedule the entire day so you have an opportunity to try all the different things at camp. At many camps, you'll get to select one or even more activities every day. You can ask about how the day is planned for you.

Who will be my friends?
You will make a lot of new friends at camp. Some campers know each other from past summers or from school, but many come to camp in order to meet new friends. Camp counselors will help you make friends the very first day you arrive at camp. It's nice to have winter friends and summer friends, other kids with whom you share special experiences.

What's so great about camp?
Camp is a very special place where grownups help kids feel good about themselves. They encourage you to try new things and teach you new skills. And you make lots of new friends, because at camp you learn how to be a good friend. At camp, everyone is listened to and respected. You get to make choices on your own, but you always feel safe. Camp is like a little community, where everyone's opinion is heard, and kids work and play together. There's just no other place like camp, because camp is built just for kids!

Why shouldn't I just stay home and do what I want?
You might think it will be more fun to just stay home and do nothing, but believe us, camp is nonstop fun! There are such a variety of activities that you never get bored. And you always have friends; everyone's always home at camp! It's not like school at all. Even though there may be a schedule to follow, you are doing great things with great people.

What would a day at camp be like?
Camp is filled with different kinds of activities. If you're going to day camp, the fun begins as soon as the bus picks you up! If you're thinking about a resident camp, you'll probably wake up, along with the other kids in your bunk, get dressed, and go to breakfast. You will spend the day doing activities you really like. Of course you'll stop for lunch - maybe a barbecue or a picnic. Day campers will go home on their buses in the late afternoon, and look forward to returning to camp the next day. Resident campers will keep on going right through the evening with evening activities, which include fun and exciting programs. Bedtime at camp is a time for campers to share their best moments of the day with their bunkmates and counselors.

Will I get to choose activities?
The amount of choice you have will depend upon the actual camp you and your family select. At most camps, there is at least some choice. Sometimes you make selections for yourself and sometimes the group or bunk decides together what they want to do. Usually, when you are younger, there are fewer choices because it's good to try new things so you can learn what you like and what you don't. As you get older, you are ready to make more choices and focus on areas that are of special interest to you.

What are some of the activities?
It's almost impossible to name every activity at every camp. Traditional camp activities include: arts and crafts, archery, baseball, basketball, canoeing, ceramics, computers, confidence course, cooking, dance, dramatics, handball, hockey, fine arts, fishing, Frisbee, football, gymnastics, hiking, horseback riding, kickball, lacrosse, miniature golf, music, nature, petting zoo, ping pong, playgrounds, relay races, rocketry, ropes course, rollerblading, sailing, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, woodworking. The list goes on and on!

What if I'm not good at sports?
At camp, there are trained, caring counselors to help you learn new skills. Camp staff will encourage you, and you will succeed at your level. You are never measured at anyone else's performance ability level. Camp is not all sports, but a combination of athletics, the arts and hobbies.

What about the Counselors?
This is one of the best parts of camp! Counselors are chosen because they love kids and respect them and listen to them. It's their job to make sure that you are having fun, making friends, doing lots of different activities, and that you are safe. They spend a lot of time before camp begins in learning to do all these things for campers. And they love to have fun, too!

What if I have a problem?
There are lots of people at camp, besides your counselors, to help take care of you, depending on what you need. There is a nurse or a doctor if you don't feel well and a special place, sometimes called an Infirmary, to rest until you are better. You can count on the grownups that are at camp to help you with any problem you may have.

Top of page.

Packing Tips

Packing Tips For Resident Camps

Bedding
Select easily laundered bedding that is appropriate for the climate at your camp. Articles to include are sleeping bags, sheets and pillowcases, blankets, and pillows.

Towels and Toiletries
Towels should not be the family's best, since they'll be used for swimming and other waterfront activities as well as for showers. A small bag or plastic bucket will help campers carry and keep track of essentials such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, comb, and brush. At some camps, campers walk to separate facilities to shower.

Clothes and Laundry
The frequency of laundry day at camp affects how much clothing to pack. Generally, sessions under two weeks in length do not include laundry services. Always send along an extra pillowcase or laundry bag for dirty clothing.

Most camps supply lists of recommended clothing and some include required uniforms. In general, camp gear should be comfortable and durable clothing suitable for active days at camp. · Shorts, T-shirts, sweater/jacket and jeans · Long pants for leg protection on hikes and horseback rides · Comfortable, durable shoes and sneakers · A hat · A raincoat or poncho

Equipment Flashlight with extra batteries
Camera and film
Canteen or water bottle
Insect repellent, sunscreen and lip balm
Pre-addressed, pre-stamped postcards or envelopes

Medication
Send medication in original bottles, along with dosage instructions, to the camp nurse or health care facility. Your medical release form should list all medications.

Don't Pack
· Radios, CD players, stereos
· Televisions or portable video games
· Cellular phones or pagers
· Food (candy, snacks)
· Palm Pilots
· Hunting knives
· Fireworks of any kind
· Expensive clothing or jewelry

Clearly mark your child's name on everything sent to camp with permanent marker or nametapes.
Use common sense and think about the activities that will take place and the climate at camp. Don't hesitate to call the camp if you have questions.

Other Things To Consider:

Insurance
The camp may provide camper health and accident insurance. Sometimes parents are asked to provide information on family health and accident coverage. It's always a good idea to ask if there are additional charges for insurance.

Spending Money
Many camps have a canteen service and may recommend your child have a certain amount of spending money for that purpose. Because children might lose track of the money, camps sometimes collect it from each child at the beginning of camp and put it in an account. As items are purchased, the costs are deducted from the account. At the end of the session, money remaining in the account is returned to the camper.

Additional Costs
Camp T-shirts, group photos, or special outings may be available. Usually camps include these fees on your bill.

Transportation
Bus transportation, especially at day camps, may be included in the camp fee. At some camps, it is an added expense. Resident camps may offer bus service from centralized locations or provide pick-up service at airports or train stations.

Physical Examinations
All ACA-accredited camps require either a health history or physical examination of campers prior to camp. Schedule this exam appointment in the spring just prior to camp.

Top of page.

Tags: