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10 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Summer Camp


Help your child have a healthy, happy experience at summer camp by asking some questions before you sign up.

Looking for a camp that will offer your child a safe, happy opportunity to develop new skills this summer? Start with the basics: Ask the director

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of any camp you’re considering how long it’s been operating and what licenses it has. You should be aware, however, that state licensing requirements vary widely, and in many cases, are minimal.

If the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association, you can be assured that the day camp or sleepaway camp on your list has satisfied the nonprofit organization’s more than 300 standards on health, safety, facilities, programs and staffing.

But many good programs are too new or too small to get ACA accreditation, which costs money and staff time. Even an accredited camp can be a poor match for your child if the camp’s “culture” doesn't fit his temperament.

That means a parent considering any program needs to ask lots of questions. Here are 10 to ask the camp director:

1. What’s the camp’s philosophy? Is it one you’re comfortable with as a parent? Is it a good match for your child’s temperament? Is competition or cooperation emphasized? If it’s a camp run by a religious organization, what religious observances or practices are part of the program? If you’re looking at a sports camp that touts an affiliation with a celebrity athlete, how much time--if any--will the sports star actually spend there?

2. How does the camp recruit, screen and train its staff? Do counselors have criminal background checks? First aid training?

3. What about return rates?? How many counselors are returning this year? The ACA says at most camps, 40-60 percent of the staff returns. If the number you’re given is lower, ask why. How many campers return? Fifty percent is good, and more is better.

4. What’s the ratio of counselors to campers? ACA guidelines for overnight camps call for a 1:6 ratio for ages 7 and 8, 1:8 for ages 9-14; and 1:10 for ages 15-18. Day camp guidelines call for 1:8 for children ages 6-8; 1:10 for children ages 9-14; and 1:12 for ages 15-18.

5. How old are the counselors? The ACA recommends that 80 percent of the staff be 18 or older and that all staffers be at least 16 and a minimum of two years older than the campers they supervise.

6. What medical staff work at the camp and what backup facilities are nearby? While most states have regulations for camps, there is no federal oversight of camps’ health and safety. The ACA recommends that an overnight camp have a licensed physician or registered nurse on the site every day, and that day camps should have direct phone access. If your child takes medication, has food allergies or a chronic medical condition, be sure you are comfortable that the camp will be able to handle your child’s needs.

7. What is the camp’s approach to discipline and how does the camp handle conflicts between campers? Find out what the camp’s rules are and what breaches would result in a camper being sent home. You should be comfortable that the camp’s practices are in line with your parenting practices.

8. What does a typical daily schedule look like? This will help you decide if your child will be happy with the level of physical activity or the amount of time devoted to arts and crafts. Ask how much freedom a child has to choose activities.

9. Will the camp be transporting the children? What vehicles are used and how often are they inspected? Who drives them and what training do drivers have?

10. Ask for references. Finally and most important, get the names of parents with children the same age who have attended the camp. While it’s true that a director is likely to give you the names of campers who had good experiences, you’ll be able to get a fuller view of the camp by asking the right questions, says ACA President Ann Sheets. “Ask ‘Is there anything you didn’t like about the camp?’ And let your child talk to their child, too,” she says.

The Fresh Air Fund – Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer vacations in the country to more than 1.7 million New York City children from disadvantaged communities. Each year, thousands of children visit volunteer host families in 13 states and Canada through the Friendly Town Program or attend Fresh Air Fund camps.

· Camp Tommy is The Fund’s camp for boys, ages 12 to 15, with 120 campers each session. Camp Tommy offers hiking, nature and other outdoor programs to develop cooperation and encourage team building. Major improvements and recently constructed facilities have created opportunities for significant educational programs, such as literacy and career skills development, computer workshops, drama, photography, and music. Camp Tommy is named after Fund Board member Tommy Hilfiger for his generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children.

· Camp Hayden-Marks Memorial serves 204 boys each session, ages nine to 12. Campers enjoy outdoor activities including sports, cooperative games, fishing, boating and hiking. Boys at Hayden-Marks Memorial also benefit from educational activities, including computers, video, music and art.

· Camp Anita Bliss Coler has 216 girls, ages nine to 12, attending each session. At Camp ABC, girls live in small groups where they learn to develop self-confidence, independence, and teamwork. Activities include swimming, dance, arts and crafts, hiking and nature studies. Major improvements and recently constructed facilities have enhanced an educational curriculum including cultural art programs, classes in digital photography, video production, visual and fine arts.

· Camp Hidden Valley serves 130 girls and boys with and without special needs, ages eight to 12. At this unique camp, children with and without disabilities live and play together and find out how much they have in common. Hidden Valley campers have special needs including sickle-cell anemia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, hearing impairments, emotional problems and physical disabilities that require the use of wheel chairs, braces or crutches. Camp activities include art, hiking, nature, and creative writing. The new specially-designed pool complex is enjoyed by children who use wheelchairs, braces, or other forms of assistance. At Camp Hidden Valley, children with special needs dream climbing mountains, learning to swim, laughing with new friends - and they realize those dreams.

· Camp Mariah, The Fund’s Career Awareness Camp, enables nearly 300 inner-city adolescents to explore educational paths and career options, while enjoying camp adventures. Camp Mariah offers a unique setting to engage boys and girls, ages 12 to 14, in an educational curriculum, and prepare them for the world of work. Intensive three-and-a-half-week summer sessions and weekend camping trips are complemented by year-round activities in New York City. Children must be in the 6th grade to apply. Camp Mariah is named after Fund Board member Mariah Carey for her generous support and dedication to Fresh Air children.

HOW CAN I APPLY for one of the Fresh Air Fund Camps?

CAMBA a neighborhood non-profit organization offers a free of charge application process for parents who would like their children to go to the Fresh Air Fund camps. Regular business hours apply (9 am – 5 pm) but please call in advance to make an appointment: (718) 282-5575. Their address is 885 Flatbush Avenue, 3rd Floor (two doors away from Citibank).

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