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Making smart, safe choices in selecting the right summer camp


boy-campfireAs winter’s thaw approaches, the signup sheets for summer camp flood the mailbox and dominate “water cooler” conversations.

This annual ritual of researching and selecting the best camp can be daunting to say the least, but for parents of first-time participants, it can be simply overwhelming.

To find a camp that best meets the needs of an individual child, Dr. Rachel Dickerson, a St. Luke’s Hospital physician, suggests following the child’s lead.

“It is always a good idea to choose a camp that will build upon a child’s interests,” Dickerson explained. “It can be general, like choosing a sports camp for a child interested in athletics, or more focused, like soccer camp, for the child that wants a more subject matter intensive, competitive experience.”

“Another way to evaluate whether a camp is a good fit is to see if it will provide supplemental information to topics the child enjoyed at school,” Dickerson said. “For instance,  summer camp is a great way to work in something like drama or art, to enhance interests and delve deeper into a subject matter.”

In the case of core subjects, like math and science, many camps are available that teach these subjects in fun ways, such as robotics or construction-themed camps.

But interest isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a camp.

Age level, the family’s schedule and finances, and transportation components are all valid considerations. So is the decision to attend one camp or many. Accounting for all of these conditions, as well as making sure to apply before the registration is full, takes some careful planning.

While parents have to have the big conversations about schedule, finances and transportation, it is important that the child have a say in choosing from the camps of which mom and dad approve. Attending camp with a friend or friends, especially for younger children, is a plus for the child and often the parents as car pools can be formed for day camps.

Beyond convenience, cost and camaraderie, experts suggest parents take a close look at credentials, safety and staffing.

“From my standpoint a list of all policy and protocol measures should be accessible,” Dickerson said.

Examining those measures is a good place to start in evaluating the camp-to-family fit.

Another important consideration is safety. Dickerson suggests parents meet and ask questions of the staff and counselors that will be spending time with the children.

“It is always wise to ask the personnel what type of training they have received. For instance, do they know CPR, is a defibrillator on site, are they aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration?” she asked.

Parents also should consider how the camp is structured.

If campers are younger and require more guidance, camps with a smaller counselor to camper ratio often provide a better fit. In addition, it is often better for younger campers to attend camps with structured routines. For older campers, children who are used to school environments, it is less necessary that the camp has rigid structure.

In either scenario, Dickerson said “it is always good to break up the routine with free time for children.”  “Summertime is a great time for them to explore spontaneity and creativity,” she added.

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