5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids
Summer camp is often associated with fun and good times. But before kids get to camp, there are many things for parents to consider, including what sort of experience is an ideal fit for your kids. Here are five questions that can help.
Whether you view summer camp as a right of passage, or just a means to break up the dog days of summer, 10 million children and teens pack up and attend some sort of camp each year in the United States alone. Unlike the conventional camps of generations past, where boating and singing around the campfire were the norm, the contemporary camp experience has evolved to include everything from qigong to building mods for the online game Minecraft.
When faced with so many summer camp options for children and teens, the decision-making process can be daunting. Here are five essential questions to ask yourself—and possibly a camp's director—so you can discover the best camp for your children.
1. How do I determine whether my child is ready for the camp experience?
First, be aware that sending your child off to camp for the first time is a big step for you as well as them. Adam Simon, director of Omega Teen Camp says, “Parents should trust their own intuition” about what their child can or cannot handle. While a camp director can allay your fears or apprehension (and even your child's), it is really up to you as a parent to make a thoughtful decision about how ready your child is for camp. Developing independence, Simon says, is "a slow process—going away for a few weeks is the first step.”
2. Which is better, a competitive or noncompetitive camp environment?
This depends on your child. Some children thrive in competitive environments that allow them to team up and show their mettle, whereas others prefer an environment that is inherently more accepting and creative. If you're unsure about the level of competitiveness at a camp, ask the camp director.
3. What kind of camp should I send my child to, a nature camp or a skills-based camp that will help them advance academically?
The answer to this question depends on your child. Academic camps can be effective resume builders, but downtime in nature, where kids learn to cultivate a relationship with the sky, land, and elements, is an important balance for the rest of the time they spend in academic pursuits.
If your child already holds a strong footing in the natural world and hungers for something more structured or specific, like a sports or language camp, consider them. If instead they are likely to be found in front of a screen, a nature-based summer camp where they will be living, playing, and sharing adventures with other kids outside can help them develop into a healthy, productive, adult.
4. How does the camp create a loving and safe environment that feels welcoming and authentic to children and teens?
A new environment, with new faces, new rules, and new expectations can be a challenge for kids, but it's one that helps even young children take initiative, exercise their autonomy, and develop leadership, problem-solving, and social skills.
At camp, kids build self-esteem and connect with new parts of themselves. “Even just one night away from parents can be valuable," says clinical psychologist Maureen Monaghan of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., "...It definitely challenges kids—it takes them out of their comfort environment—but it’s usually really positive, and we see a lot of growth and maturing.”
Beyond the prospect for personal growth and accomplishment for the child, the success of camps has everything to do with the relationship among the staff. If there is cohesion and fellowship among the staff, this feeling will more than likely be communicated directly to campers. Ask the directors of the camps you're considering if they prioritize staff training and bonding in the weeks before camp starts.
5. Is personal evolution an end goal of summer camp, and if not, what would be the ideal takeaway?
Some camps may have a specific result in mind (like helping your child become a better soccer player), while other camps might stress the camp experience as the goal itself. In both instances, look for a place that helps children get to know themselves better and encourages them to bring some of what they've learned into their life after camp. As those of us who have fond memories of our own summer camp experience know, ultimately, camp provides an opportunity to create a part of yourself that travels with you, informs your decisions, and drives your confidence long after the experience is over.
© Omega Institute for Holistic Studies