The ABCs of Day Camp

26 topics and tips to consider before choosing a summer camp

The school year is more than halfway through and some kids are already dreaming of summer. Weeks of lazy days, no homework, sleeping late — what’s not to like? Parents, on the other hand, don’t want to see their children waste away from June to August. How can these two worlds meet? Through the wonder of summer camp.

Campers can enjoy the camaraderie and fun of making new friends and hanging out with old ones. Parents can relax knowing their child is spending part of his summer being challenged, learning, and having fun.

As you prepare to make your summer camp decisions, consider these points. Some are more challenging issues; others are just the details. No matter which, they all merit your consideration to ensure a great summer experience for your camper.


Tips from A to Z

• Ask About Accreditation. Organizations like the American Camping Association (ACA) offer accreditation to camps as a way for parents to know that they selected a camp that has met appropriate standards and counselor/camper ratios.


• Begin at the Beginning. Talk to your son about what interests him. Find out what type of camp he wants to go to and whether day camps or sleep-aways fit. If he’s been wanting to learn Tae Kwon Do or swimming, summer camp may be the perfect time to let him sample the sport, before making a longer commitment.


• Consider your choices. Specialty day camps give children an in-depth introduction to something new that interests them. Many camps offer a range of activities, from drama to sea life to soccer. Children could be filling their summer days doing everything from swimming and gymnastics to nature study. Read through the camp ads you find here, you’ll discover lots of information about local camps.


• Don’t Despair. Even though there are lots of options for day camps (not to mention sleep-away camps) across the Mid-South, you know your child. Talk with him and make a choice together. 


• Education. Some camps focus on academics. Summer can be a great time to help your child catch up or leap ahead before the fall begins. 


• Focus on Fun. As parents, we want every experience for our children to be worthwhile and educational. But fun should rule during the summer months.


• Get Acquainted. Many camps have brochures that are free for the asking. Or surf to their websites for videos and details. 


• High-Tech. Technology changes rapidly. Summer camp can be a good opportunity to get your child better aquainted. Some camps offer hands-on experiences in technology to enhance what’s being taught during the school year. Or they can experiment in new technologies and learn how to edit film or do animation.


• Information, Please. There’s lots of online information. Most camps have a website geared to answering your questions. For a general start, visit the American Camping Association’s website, or the National Camping Association,


• Jump, Run, Skip. Use summer camp as a chance to move your child away from the video games and off the couch. See if your child can develop a love of nature.


• Keep It Simple. It’s not necessary to have every minute of the summer break scheduled with activities. Allow your child to choose a few he especially enjoys and leave some time for just hanging out.


• Look Ahead. Save the information and research you did this year. You’ll be looking for new, exciting opportunities for next summer before you know it.


• Museums. When it’s summertime, a visit to the museum takes on a different character than a school field trip. Museum camps can turn kids on to archeology, astronomy, or zoo animals. Don’t miss this chance to have your child dig for dinosaur bones or experiment with chemistry — all under the guise of summer fun.


• New Friends. “We find that parents want to give their children opportunities to build friendships and make connections with others. Summer camp is the perfect place to do that,” says Rebekah Granquist, director of program development for the YMCA of San Diego County. 


• Outdoor Offerings. Horseback riding, water polo, and bird-watching may be unique ways for your child to experience the great outdoors. Take advantage of the inviting summer weather and choose a more traditional day camp whose program will reflect an outdoor educational experience.


• Play to Your Child’s Strengths. Camp gives children an opportunity to hone existing skill or talent. “I really like the way my son and daughter were able to improve their soccer skills,” says Diane, mother of 8-year-old Joshua and 10-year-old Brittany. “We sent them to a sports camp last summer. It really broke up the long summer and gave them a place to run off that extra energy,” she says.


• Questions to Ask. Here are a few questions to get you started: How far away am I willing to drive to take my daughter to camp? How much of a budget can I dedicate to camp experiences this summer? Do I want to send her to a camp that has lots of kids? Do I want her day to be completely structured or would she prefer a mix of structure and free time?


• Role Models. “Parents continue to look for ways to enrich the lives of their children,” says Granquist. Camp offers that opportunity in a safe, fun atmosphere. “It’s also a way to be exposed to positive role models, both male and female,” she says “and reinforce good values like caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.”


• Schedules. The daily schedules of each weeklong day camp vary. Some run from early morning until late afternoon (with extended day care, if desired). Others offer a combination of half-day or full-day sessions. You can send your child for the entire summer or select a few weeks here and there.


• Think Themes. Day camp keeps up with the trends and newest interests of their campers, too. Some novel camping themes you’re likely to see this year include scrapbooking, forensic science and movie themes like Harry Potter and Lord of
the Rings.


• Unique Memories. Your camper has never repelled down the side of a rock wall. He talks about wanting to see what it’s like to balance on a wakeboard? Maybe your daughter wants to try her hand at magic. Camp takes unusual learning opportunities and turns them into unique summer memories.


• Variety. Here’s a chance to sample lots of different activities, sports, and disciplines. If your child isn’t hooked on any one topic, a camp that has a different theme each week may be just what you’re looking for. 


• Water, Water Everywhere. Surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming are just a few of the water-related camp experiences available for kids. Summer can be the perfect time to introduce your child to the wonders of the ocean and make sure they are water-safe as well.


• eXamine and eXplore. Summer camp is a chance for children to exercise their inquisitive side. Being in an environment unlike home and school gives kids a chance to examine and explore new surroundings.


• Your choice or your camper’s. “Too often we get kids in camps that their mom or dad wanted them to attend,” says camp counselor Shawn. “I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing camp activities that your child is interested in,” he adds. “If your daughter doesn’t want to play soccer, you’re better off enrolling her in a different camping experience. Everyone will be much happier by the time the end of the summer rolls around.”


• Zoo and Beyond. Summer’s a great time for your child to learn more about the animal kingdom. The quest for learning about creatures great and small, on the land or in the sea, is encompassed in a perfect setting.

Making a decision about which summer camp to have your child attend may not be as easy as ABC. But as long as you keep your goals in mind — finding a place that offers entertainment, education, and fun — you’ll be certain to make  the best selection for your camper.

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