Choosing a Camp
Posted by Andrew “Mish” Hood, Program Director at Camp Silver Beach
This is an interesting topic, and one that needs careful thought and consideration. The answer to this question is not simple or straightforward, but here I will attempt to give you some good questions to ask yourself in the decision making process. Let me first start by saying that I am a huge supporter of the camping industry in general, and the great impact that a camp experience can have on a child’s life. This blog is not specifically meant to guide you to choose CSB as your summer camp of choice, but to arm you with the tools to choose your camp wisely, and with as much information and education at your disposal as possible.
So what do you need to consider? Firstly, it is important to understand that a camp experience can have a wide range of impacts and benefits for your child. Camps change and evolve through the years as management and age affect the programs. So sending your child to the camp you went to as a child is not always the best approach, although can be. So keep an open mind, and look at a range of camps before making your decision. Once you have an open mind on where to choose, then you have a barrage of questions to answer. What are your goals for your child’s experience? What are his/her goals? What are their interests? What do you want to expose them to? What are their expectations, and what are yours? Looking at the camp decision from their perspective, and from yours, is very important. It may seem like you have very different priorities, but more often than not, the two sets of priorities can be aligned into one perfect camp for your child.
There are various types of camps out there, co-ed, boys only, girls only, overnight, day only, special needs, activity specialist, traditional - the list goes on and on. What are you looking for? Do you want your child to improve on a very specific skill set or do you want them to learn and be exposed to a wide range of new activities? Does your camper have special needs that a camp will have to be able to accommodate? Will your child most benefit from an environment build around rigorous structure or guided freedom? These are all extremely important questions, and ones that each bring with them their own drawbacks and benefits. The question is, what is right for your child?
Then you have to consider the more practical factors, like how much do the various camps cost? How far away are they? What size are they? What activities do they offer? All of these are important questions for you to ask as well. You don’t want to fall in love with a camp for your child but then not be able to make the eight-hour drive to drop them off, or find that the day camp you want to send your child to is two hours away.
So let’s look more closely at some of these questions. The size of the camp - why is this important? There are two ways to look at it. Small camps provide more of a feeling of community, of belonging to a small and special group, but also may hinder your child’s desire to make a broad range of new friends. While larger camps offer a vast number of potential new friends and possibly a larger facility with more activities and staff, you may feel your camper will get lost in the mix. Maybe the benefits of one are more appealing to you than the other, or maybe you look for a compromise between the two.
How much does the camp cost? Again, there are multiple ways of looking at it. Cheap is cheap, cheap is good? Right? Maybe it is in many circumstances, but a cheap camp often can’t afford to keep their facilities in good condition, or be adequately staffed. The other side of that coin asks whether the camp is out of your budget. Is the value of the camp that is $3000 per week so much greater than the cheaper option? You want the best for your child, so how much does finance play into the decision? There is a large range of prices, which often depends on whether the camp is a day camp, or overnight, or whether the camp is private, or sponsored by an association such as the Y.
What activity does the camp offer? This is all preference. Some camps focus on one activity, soccer camps, baseball camps, etc. Some focus on one type of activity, sports camps, water sports camps, etc. Others are broad with a range of traditional activities, and some are very, very broad, with an unimaginable range of things for your children to participate in. So what are you looking for, and what is your child looking for? Your child may love soccer, so maybe it’s important the camp has soccer as an offering. But do you want to put them into a week-long soccer camp? Or do you want soccer to be just one of the many options to choose from? How are the activities structured at the camp is a big question. Do the campers follow a strict regiment where they go blindly from one activity to the next on the say so of the counselors. This structure can be beneficial for children that are in great need of guidance and A, B, C structure. Other camps allow their campers a little more freedom of choice to dictate their own experience. This freedom comes in many forms, and to differing degrees. How do the freedom of choice camps encourage their campers to try new things and learn new skills? Selecting the right degree of freedom is important, and specific to your child, and the different benefits you feel that they are most in need of.
The big question - what type of camp? Sleep away, day, boys only, girls only? There are decisions to make here that will make your child’s camp experience vary a great deal. Is exposure to joint experiences such as activities and meal times with the opposite sex a desirable thing for you or not? Are they ready for a sleep away experience? This is a very hard question to answer. Often the answer will be different from your perspective and theirs. Sleep away camps will have an age range associated with their camp, that is meant as a guideline. For example, our age range guideline here is 8-16 years old. This does not mean that every child is ready for a sleep away experience at 8 years old, but is a good guide for when to consider it. You as a parent may not feel ready to be separated from them, but this does not mean that they are not ready. The first time a child goes to a sleep away camp is most often the hardest for parents and children. There may be a struggle when they take their first step in this direction, but the idea is to put them through this struggle in a healthy and safe environment, when they are old enough to handle it, but young enough to bounce right back and be stronger, more independent and healthy individuals for it. Where is the best environment for your child to go through this growth process? And when is the right age? They are going to have to go through the process of being away from home at some point, and the question you need to ask is how can you best equip your child to handle that. Is a day camp the best option for now, where they sleep at home every night and get dropped off in the mornings? Or do the social benefits of a sleep-away camp outweigh the extra cost that is involved in sending your child there? All of these are important factors to weigh in your decision making process.
There are a host of factors to consider about the shortlist of camps that you have narrowed your options down to. Do they have an accreditation from the American Camping Association? How much experience does the camp management have? What is the camp’s mission, goal, philosophy? What is their camper to counselor ratio? How does the camp keep track of your child? What are the mechanisms in place to communicate with you about problems? What medical facilities and personnel do they have available? What is the food like? What are the cabin facilities? How is the staff trained? What percentage of campers return for a second year? What safety procedures do they have in place for the higher risk activities such as aquatics and high ropes?
All in all, there are a lot of factors to consider. This guide should allow you to make a more informed decision on your child’s first, or next camp, whether you live on the east coast and near YMCA Camp Silver Beach, or whether you are anywhere else in the country. Camping is a wonderful experience for a child, and one that will impact their lives in so many ways. An informed choice is a good choice.