Planning Guide

Things Your Summer Camp Won't Tell You

1.    "Accreditation? We Don't Bother"

Summer CampIt is not a secret that the number of the U.S. camps for kids has rapidly increased. The American Camp Associations (ACA) has reported that there are 7,000 overnight camps currently registered in the United States. And the number of day camps is now 5,000 which is 90% more than in 1980. What accounts for such big growth of kids' programs? First of all, children's camps now offer extended day sessions that do meet the needs of the parents. Accepting younger children is another factor that enhanced kids' camp popularity. But despite such a great supply choosing the right summer camp is a rather challenging task which requires substantial time investment. With about 12,000 options to choose from, only 2,400 have ACA accreditation which means that the particular camp meets more than 300 requirements. To check whether your camp is a member of ACA enter www.acacamps.org and look through "Find a Camp" database of accredited programs.

If you failed to find your camp among the ACA accredited programs it doesn't always mean that it is not legitimate. To make sure that your camp is a reliable one check out KidsCamps.com to search through the database of camps based on geography and interests. To find out how the particular camp operates call its director and ask whether they check the staff's background and what the staff return rate is (more than 50 percent is a good figure). Another important aspect to consider is their personnel-to-camper ratio: the ideal one is 1-to-4 for very young kids and 1-to-8 for older ones. And be sure to check whether the camp has a state permit or camp license that would guarantee that the camp meets at least minimum safety requirements. And finally ask for references from a prospective camp and be sure to ask for people in your hometown.

2.    "We Pay for Referrals" 

There are camp advisory services you can find in the Internet or in the yellow pages which can recommend you a kids' camp and save you a great deal of legwork absolutely free. But if parents don't pay them money, there is a natural question: who pays? The answer is evident – the camps. To figure out whether the advisors recommend only those camps that pay them ask how they charge: a set fee or their pay is tied up to how many kids they refer. And when you call to the camp you may double-check this information by asking about its relationship with the particular advisor.

3.    "We Might Not Be the Right Camp for Your Kid"

Trying to attract more children to join the kids' programs many camps encourage parents to send their children there even though the particular camp might not match the talents and interests of the kid. This is especially true for specialty camps which are becoming more and more popular nowadays. The problem is that such camps may enroll a child of five years old in a group of ten-year-olds and naturally the youngest child is going to feel very uncomfortable there. To avoid misunderstanding, try to be objective in evaluating your child's personality and then match the culture of the camp to the personality of your kid. Ask the camp employees to describe the typical kid at this camp and then compare him with your youngster. You also need to check the camp referrals and make sure you find out as much as possible about the camp activities and schedule of classes.

4.    "And You Thought Getting Your Kid into Harvard Would Be Tough"

As summer camps are so popular ( for example, in 2005 about 10 mil children attended day or resident camp according to the American Camp Association), many parents encounter some difficulties in getting their kid into the camp of his choice as there are camps that fill up as early as the previous August. So try to apply not close to deadline in order not fail to get there. If you didn't manage to get to his camp of choice, don't panic as there are plenty of camps available, but keep in mind that you need to act quickly. Of course, the earlier you start searching for the camp the better. Ideally you should start your search in January so that you could make appointments to visit camps in late March or early April before the common deadline in May. If the camp your kid wanted to attend is already full, ask the director of the camp to recommend other programs and make sure you are on the wait lists of the camps you prefer. Sometimes registered kids may change their mind and then the camp will call you.

5.    "We'll Put Your Little Leaguer through the Grinder"

There are two popular kinds of summer camps – traditional camps and sports camps. But if your kid is not going to become an NBM star or participate in Olympic Games in the future and doesn't have abilities to match placing your kid in a sports camp together with serious athletes might not to a good idea. If you plan to register your kid at a sports camp make sure you find out about a typical day in the camp and the level of training and competition. Also you need to inquire who is going to be a coach. Typically, camps invite a former college or pro athlete and sometimes even a big-name coach. Naturally star coaches attract a great number of campers and consequently your kid is likely have little face time with the famous athlete. So before registering your kid make sure that the coach is a qualified one with adequate training and experience.

6.    "Our Add-ons Reality Add up"

According to the American Camp Association the average tuition cost at the accredited day camp ranges from $100 to $300 a week while overnight camps typically charge about $597 per week. The most expensive are overnight camps in New England that cost $780 per week. But tuition costs are not all costs that many camps require parents to pay. So before booking make sure to ask whether extra fees will be charged. Usually such activities as swimming, horseback riding, along with uniforms, transportation and even food are not included in tuition.

7.     "Our Prices Are Negotiable”

The most recent ACA report has revealed that 49 percent of camps provide some kind of financial aid to families with a parent in the military or because of the family military crisis. It never hurts to ask for a discount and in fact many camps do provide rebates that often depend on income. In case you don't qualify for financial assistance, many camps provide 5 to 10 percent discounts for early registration, full-season enrollment and enrollment of several family members.

8.    "Your Kid Could Be Sick There"

Unfortunately there are many incidents when kids confront with such health problems as poison ivy rashes, head lice and sore throats. So make sure your camp can deal with such basics. It is recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics that all overnight camps with more than 50 kids should have an onsite registered nurse with access to the supervising M.D.

The conditions at camp where many kids get together enhance the kids' chances of catching even more serious diseases. In 2002, a 12-year-old girl was reported to die from bacterial meningitis after attending a Girl Scout camp in Joplin, Mo. Even though the cases of meningitis are rare, camp conditions may put kids at greater risk for the disease. To prevent catching diseases parents should explain to their children that they shouldn't share water bottles, food, utensils and other personal items and all parents should consider having their children vaccinated.

9.    "Our Values Are Different from Yours"

It is also important to find out the camp rules in advance as rule breakers even for minor violations are often sent home. For some serious violations like hazing or drinking the camp not only sends kids home but also can punish the parents financially by not returning their money paid for tuition. Of course, the rules vary from camp to camp, but in most cases if a kid brings certain things to the camp such as fireworks he is immediately sent home and parents don't have their money back.

10.    "Your Kid's Homesick? He Looks OK to Us"

Most kids, up to 95 percent, who attend the overnight camps feel some degree of homesickness. But parents won't hear about that from the camp directors. Naturally, counselors will help homesick kids to adjust. If you fear that your kid may feel homesick in the camp, prepare for separation ahead of time by letting your kid practice spending time away. And make sure you find out about parent-child-communication policies before registering. Most resident camps allow few or no phone calls that is why some kids may require some counseling approved by parents. Most camp counselors are trained to deal with adjustment: they know how to recognize signs of distress and are trained in talking with kids about this. Counselors won't give kids any consoling hugs though fearing accusations of inappropriate behavior, but they may support children by giving a pat on the shoulder or a high five.