When school's out for summer, it's time for a time-honored tradition: camp! There's an option for just about every child and budget, from day camp to sleepaway (or overnight) camp and one-week programs to full-summer sessions. Themed camps cover academic specialties, creative and performing arts, religion, sports, travel, and more. But which one is right for your family?
Camp During the Day, Home for Dinner
Kids as young as 5 (and at certain camps, even younger) right up through the teenage years can enjoy day camp. And no matter what your child's budding interests are, you're sure to find a camp to cater to them. One 8-year-old Atlanta boy has tried basketball camp, drama camp, and a more traditional day camp in the past; this summer he's going back to drama camp. "It's great," says his mom, Dara Milner. "By the end of one week, the kids put on a fabulous production with costumes, songs, and memorized lines. It is so fun to watch!"
Pack Your Bags for Sleepaway Camp
Once your child is about 9 years old, he may be ready for overnight camp. Sleepaway camp isn't for everyone, but it does have some big benefits. Everyday aspects of camp, from interacting with bunkmates to getting to programs on time, provide valuable practice in teamwork and responsibility.
Choosing the Right Camp
With so many options out there, making a decision may seem like a daunting task. Start by answering some specific questions. These five, suggested by the National Camp Association (NCA), will put you on the right track:
- What do you and your child want to gain from the camp experience? Consider the primary goal, which can range from learning new skills or becoming proficient in a particular subject to developing more self-confidence and exerting more independence.
- What are other expectations of the camp experience? Determine whether your child is old enough to try sleepaway camp, or if a day camp is more appropriate right now.
- What are the special interests that your child wants to explore? Remember, there are many choices. Make sure your child gets to try new things!
- Does your child have any physical, intellectual, or social limitations? If there's a question about whether a camp can accommodate her, contact the camp director to discuss your child's needs.
- What kind of emphasis will your child profit from the most? Think about how the camp structures the day, what its professed values are, and whether you'd prefer a coed camp or not.
The NCA also advises parents to consider the size of the camp (both how large the grounds are and how many campers attend), location, cost, and of course, type of program (academic, arts, sports, etc.). For an easy online camp-finder, visit Kidscamps.com's Camp Quest or try the American Camp Association's well-organized, searchable database. Both sites, in addition to the NCA, are excellent resources for more information.