Monday, January 12, 2009
Camping outRESEARCHING THE RIGHT CAMP FOR YOUR CHILD
A Timeline for the Year
By Eve Eifler, Co-Director, Tips on Trips and Camps, Baltimore, MD
Often times, parents start researching the perfect summer experience for their child too late in the season. In many cases, the only session in which their child can participate – nestled between baseball season, the family vacation and the start of school - is already filled up. The best way to avoid this situation is to plan your summer early. Done right, the process of finding the right camp can take an entire year’s worth of research, but the reward is great.
If you are trying to decide on a traditional camp experience, here’s a timetable:
DO THE RESEARCH (Now, fall and winter)
With over 11,000 camps in the United States, it is important to come up with a list of questions to guide you. By doing so, you can narrow the possibilities to a manageable few.
What do I want in a camp?
Single sex or co-ed?
Religious or non-denominational?
Sports-oriented, nature-oriented or a mixture of both?
Close-by camp within driving distance or am I comfortable with a plane flight?
Do I want lakes or mountains (or will just a river do)?
1, 2 or 4 weeks in length?
Is the culture or personality of the camp competitive or nurturing?
Are activities required or is there free choice by interest?
To do this research, it is helpful to –
• Talk to other children and parents. Referrals from other families with camp experience are a great way to get the real scoop. Remember it is sometimes difficult to recognize when your child may need a different program than his or her best buddy.
• Watch DVDs & talk to your children. DVDs are especially helpful for children to learn what camp is all about and can easily enable you to discuss camp with your child in order to assess their readiness. Children enjoy seeing the campers and the activities. When talking to your child about their interests, be open to the unexpected.
• Search the Internet. The Internet is full of “Yellow Pages” that offer links to a camp’s web site. You can search by region or camp focus. If using this method, it is a good idea to use additional references from the camps, as well as an independent advisory service.
• Attend a camp fair. Schools, malls, and community centers sponsor annual fairs to allow parents to see many programs in a central venue. Usually present are directors of overnight camps, day camps and teen programs. Check your local parenting publications.
• Talk to camp directors. Each director should have a clear sense of what children should gain from their experiences and how to go about teaching these skills. If the director cannot adequately answer your questions about camp philosophy, home communication or supervision, then it is probably not the right camp for you.
• In-person meetings. Many camps host slide shows, gatherings or reunions where you have an opportunity to meet the directors and speak with current campers. Some offer visiting days in the spring when you can go and see the camp facility.
• Talk to a Camp Advisor. Tips on Trips and Camps is one of the many wonderful resources to use in locating the perfect program for your child. Camp advisors can help a family compare programs, obtain references, determine the right questions to ask directors, and, ultimately, find the program that suits each child. They have seen the camp and share their first hand observations.
Early Bird Discounts (Now)
Once you have determined which camp suits your child, you can take advantage of early bird discounts. These discounts usually hold the cost of camp down to the previous year’s tuition or take a few hundred dollars off the price of residential camping. And, when your neighbors are stressing out about what their child will be doing in the coming summer, you will be sitting pretty with your child already enrolled.
Camp provides an opportunity for growth that should not be underestimated. It is an integral part of a child’s educational and social development, providing a haven from our technologically and academically driven society. It certainly is not a vacation in the strictest sense of the word. Since there are programs to fit the needs of any child, I encourage you to explore the range of options available to you. The camp experience is an opportunity that cannot be replicated elsewhere. And you might want to make appointments to visit a few camps that could be of interest for next summer.
Tips on Trips and Camps is one of the oldest and largest camp advisory services. Established in 1971, “Tips” has advisors in 16 cities, relationships with over 600 sleep away camps and programs, and each year provides advice and guidance to thousands of families. The service is provided by phone, email and the website, which makes it available to anyone virtually anywhere. For more information and advice, to request brochures and DVDs, or to speak to a knowledgeable consultant, visit www.TipsonTripsandCamps.com.