HDYDI: Choose the Right Overnight Camp for Your Child

This may be our last day of summer, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. In fact, as I type this, I’m already dreaming of the fun we’ll have in summer 2014.

I’ve shared my best tips on packing for summer camp and how I highly suggest pouring a glass of wine before you get started.

Pack for Summer Camp

There was the post on why your kids should go to sleepaway camp and the wonders it can do for your kids, your marriage and your water bill.

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Today, I share what we considered in choosing the right camp for our family. We’re all different, so if you see that I missed something, by all means, comment, and tell the rest of us!

Choosing the right summer camp, 10

1. Set a budget. This seems like a no-brainer, but how many times do you walk in the store and fall in love with something without first looking at the price tag? Be reasonable, don’t get sucked into the whole “Jones'” mentality. Put a plan in place to start saving early, if necessary. Be sure to multiply the cost of camp by however many children you have. At some point, it’s likely you’ll send them to camp at the same time.

2. Define your child’s interests. For some families a faith-based camp is important, others want to foster their child’s love of sports, music, leadership or various skills. Whatever the emphasis, choose the camp that allows your child to flourish with their God-given gifts, abilities and interests. Sometimes what one family touts as the best camp on Earth may be a total bust for your kids. If you match up their passions with their camp experience, then you’ve got a winner.

3. Define your expectations of the camp experience. Do you want your child to come home a better problem solver? Is accreditation important to you? Are you set on your child learning a new skill? I’ve found you’re happier, and so are your kids, when you walk into the camp experience with the right expectations. You’ll feel better about spending that money, put more trust in the camp staff and have a child that comes home fulfilled and happy about his time away. Just remember, camp is about your kids, not you.

4. Look to see if the camp is American Camp Association (ACA) accredited. For me, this is a BIG one. You can visit the ACA website for tons of information about camps, their parent specific portal, CampParents.org, and check out the requirements for a camp to receive certification. As a former camp counselor, safety was our most important goal. If the kids don’t feel safe, then you’ve failed as a camp. The accreditation checklist assures the camp has accountability and for me, that was a deal breaker.

5. Check out the camp’s website. How updated is the site? What story do the photos tell? Is there a private portal for parents of campers to access? Can you register online? View your campers photos online? I’ve found that a camp that puts resources into it’s digital presence is a camp that cares about its reputation. Perhaps the camp has a Facebook page, Twitter feed, mobile app or Instagram account. Look at them all and get a sense of what kind of place this may be. Call me a graphic designer, but I tend to side with the camps that do a great job promoting themselves and what they have to offer. It tells me they’re not stuck in 1979. I mean, not a bad decade, but the relevance of the camp should totally be the current year in which you’re living!

6. Attend a camp informational meeting, if one exists. Typically, during the fall or spring, camps will offer informational meetings in various cities. GO. You’ll like meet the camp director or other programming staff. You’ll get the chance to ask them questions and perhaps meet other parents in your area who have been, or are considering going, to camp. You should also ask for the camp to connect you with families that have been before.

7. Talk to other families who have sent their children. This one was a crucial step for us. It’s one thing to hear the camp staff sing the praises, but to hear a family that’s experienced that same camp was so much more reassuring and helpful for me. It’s a big leap to send your child away and knowing that trusted friends had done it, and were doing it again, brought this momma some peace.

8. Do a site visit, if possible. You can see the cabins, the facilities and everything in between. We did this on a whim and I’m SO glad we did. When I imagined my kids at the waterfront, I knew exactly what it looked like, when I looked at my watch and saw they were at chow, I knew where they were. We were fortunate enough to see the camp our children attend while it was in session, which made the decision to send them even better.

9. Register early. Often times, a camp will begin pre-registration at the end of your child’s summer session. If your kids had a blast and want to go back, check into this option. And, if you’re a first-time camper, ask when registration begins for you.

10. Ask about discounts and scholarships. For many families, camp is a goal, but the funds are a barrier. They don’t have to be! Maybe the camp you want to attend has a multiple-child discount, a scholarship program or a deferred payment plan. Just ASK. Even if it’s nowhere on their website, call the camp director. You may be surprised at what he can do for your family. The ACA offers a program, “fund a camper,” that you may qualify for, as well.

Happy camping!

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  1. Michelle F. on August 19, 2013 at 7:46 am

    A budget tip: Some local county and state parks (and 4-H or ag universities/extension offices) offer fantastic overnight camp experiences. Check to see if you’re lucky enough to have such a program in your area. If so, these camps are often more affordable than private overnight camps. They can also provide a terrific “starter” experience to build up to a longer and more involved stay-away camp.

  2. Jackie on August 19, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Your link to the campparents.org doesn’t work

    • Kathryn on August 19, 2013 at 8:57 am

      should be working now – thanks for letting me know!

  3. Nicole on August 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

    This list is really helpful to me. Thank you!

    We have only sent our son (now 7) to daycamp. After last year as a 6 yr old, he said he never wanted to go to camp again. And when I suggested it this past winter to sign him up as a 7 yr old, he was practically in tears. I am so glad I still signed him up anyway. This year he went and had a complete blast! He can’t wait to go again next year. And I will have to figure out if sleepaway camp is in the cards for my will-have-just-turned 8 yr old or wait once more year.

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