Sharon Aschaiek, Our Kids Go to Camp 2012
The first time your son or daughter goes to summer camp is a big step—for you and your child. Fortunately, with so many different summer camps from which to choose, you have a better chance to find the best fit.
"I think every camp has its own personality," says Catherine Ross, communications officer with the Canadian Camping Association. "The program, location, the style and philosophy of the director – all can give an idea of the type of camp that’s best for the child."
1. Is Your Child Ready? Are You?
✓ Consider your child’s ability to handle being away from the family, whether for just part of the day or overnight.
"Look at whether your children can look after their own belongings and make their own bed because at camp, they’re expected to look after themselves," Ross says.
In reality, there’s no set age for when to start day or overnight camp. Readiness is more important than age. Some camps even offer a three-day, two-night introductory program for campers as young as three.
"Each child is different," says Troy Glover, director of the Healthy Communities Research Network at the University of Waterloo and head of the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project. "Some kids will want to go at a young age, and some will never be ready."
If you’re anxious about this new experience, don’t let it hamper your child’s enthusiasm. "It’s harder on you than on them," says Blaine Seamone, director of Discovery Day Camp in Richmond Hill, Ont. "Once kids get dropped off and start playing, they usually don’t look back."
With lifelong friends and an important mentor he met at camp, journalist Steve Paikin doesn't hesitate to encourage parents who are afraid of sending their children to camp. "Get over it. It's not about you. It's about your kids," says the author, documentarian and host of TVO’s flagship current affairs program The Agenda. "And if you pick the camp that is the best fit for your children, you'll never regret it."
2. What Are Your Child’s Interests?
✓ Find out what matters most to your child about camp. Choose a camp that piques interests or focuses on what your child enjoys or excels at while allowing her or him to try new things. "Camp is a really great opportunity for kids to engage in activities they normally wouldn’t do in the school year," Glover says.
Today, there's a camp to fit every interest, ability, need and budget. What's best for your child? Day or overnight? Single sex or coed? Traditional or specialized?
3. Make a Checklist
✓ You'll need to consider several factors about potential camps, as well as your wants, needs, goals and priorities.
- Location: How close should camp be to your home?
- Fees: What are the costs, and do they fit your budget? See tips for paying.
- Transportation: Is busing available? Is there an extra cost?
- Day vs. overnight camp: Which option would best suit your child’s first time at camp? (See day camps or overnight camps.)
- Types of activities: What does your child enjoy doing?
- Programs: Are kids grouped by age? Are the activities age-appropriate?
- Length of sessions: Are shorter sessions available to help your child ease into overnight camp?
4. Research Your Top Camps
✓ Start your general search online. Browse www.camps.ca and the websites of the Canadian Camping Association and your provincial camp association to learn about camps in your area.
✓ Research prospective camps early. Most camps have application deadlines, and popular camps can fill up quickly. Camp expos and open houses can help your family find the right fit. "Start a year in advance so you can visit them when they're in session and see them in action," Ross says.
✓ Ask the camp director questions.
- What is the camp's vision and how is it put into practice?
- What is your background and experience in leading summer camps?
- What kind of training do staff receive?
- What is the ratio of counsellor to campers?
- What kinds of facilities are on site?
- What is a typical day's schedule?
- What are your health and safety protocols?
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✓ Get other parents' perspectives. "Ask the director to refer you to other parents to get a more unfiltered perspective on the camp," Seamone says.
✓ Include your child in the process from start to finish. "Every child has likes and dislikes, and should have a say in this decision," says Heather Heagle, executive director of the Ontario Camps Association. Your child's feedback on the final decision keeps the experience positive and ensures that she or he is happy with the camp, Glover adds.
5. After You Find the Right Camp...
✓ Get the fine details about the camp. Find out its application process and its policies on fees, payment options, deadlines, meal plans, transportation services, sick days, cancellations and refunds. "When applying, be frank about your child’s needs so that they can be properly met," Ross says.
✓ Build excitement and ease anxieties by helping your child become more familiar with what to expect at camp. Browse the camp's website, social media sites, information packages and, if available, DVD.