Our VP of Youth Development shares tips on picking the best camp

6 February 2020
Kinder campers at table laughing and playing with blocks

Our VP of Youth Development, Jamie Childress, shares his tips on picking the best camp.

I have 2 children of my own, one is 3 years old, and the other is 11. When my wife and I are selecting camps for our oldest to attend, the conversation usually begins with reviewing all of the cool new activities and specialty camps Hampton Roads has to offer. This gets us excited and we become eager to show our son all the cool things we want him to take part of, and all of the new “hard” skills he will learn, like rock climbing, catching a football, shooting a bow and arrow, or making a rocket. But each year, our son has a similar, less enthusiastic response, “ok, but what camps are my friends doing?”  

Now, as a camping professional with over 21 years of experience operating and managing camp programs, I often don’t take my own advice, especially with my own child. But know this, kids want come to camp because of their friends, so we, as parents, should find every opportunity to involve our children in programs that foster friendships and provide opportunities for them to practice social and emotional learning skills. Sure, the hard skills they learn while at camp can be valuable and fun, but it’s the social-emotional development parents should be concerned with most. Camp gives children the safe space to make mistakes, develop an affinity for the outdoors, practice empathy, learn group collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking.  So, as you plan your child’s summer camp experience, you should consider the following:

  1. Staff: Child Ratios and Safety. This is a prerequisite for all parents and one that must not be compromised. Consider learning the staff: child ratio before enrolling as small group environments foster relationship building and encourage children to make friends more easily.
  2. Specialty Camps vs. Traditional Camps. Specialty camps are the latest craze in the out of school time world as parents and children flock their local camp venues when registration begins hoping to grab a seat in the STEM camp. While specialty camps are great for older campers (8 years and older), parents of younger school-age children should consider sticking with a well-rounded day camp that offers a variety of activities. This strategy helps children reduce phobias and biases and ultimately encourages them to try new things.
  3. Consider coming to multiple weeks at the same camp. This strategy leads to stronger social skill development, higher confidence and better friendships. A familiar place and people are comforting to all ages, but more so with children as this familiarity creates a safe space for children to develop a sense of belonging and be themselves. This takes time.

So as you are planning your camp experience for your children, remember to ask what their friends are doing and try to coordinate where appropriate. And if this is your child’s first camp experience, find a program where character development is high and staff: child ratio is low.


Jamie Childress
VP of Youth Development 
YMCA of South Hampton Roads