Sleep away, or residential, camp conjures up a variety of images in people’s minds. Movies about summer camp depict it in a fairly fun but careless manner, making it seem like only fun and games with no real goal in mind, and even often a place to learn bad habits; if a parent had an important summer camp experience as a child, the image may give a warm, nostalgic feeling. One thing that many moms and dads think once the idea of summer camp for “my son or daughter” comes into play is: “Will he or she be safe?” and “How can I trust other adults, particularly young adults, with my child?”
The family that is looking for a camp for a boy or girl must first of all think of what they are hoping the child will get from a summer camp experience.
- Physical growth in skills and strength?
- Spiritual growth?
- Nature and outdoor skills?
Now that a list has been made of what the goal is, search on the American Camp Association website (http://www.acacamps.org/findacamp) for a camp that is right for your child. There are many great camps that aren’t ACA Accredited, but if a camp is accredited, you know that they are being scrutinized at least every three years by youth camp professionals, in how they run their business, how they work with staff and children, and how they manage risks inherent to outdoor activities. ACA Accreditation does not mean that you should fail to ask important questions, though, such as:
- What is your program’s mission and what kind of goals do you have for each camper?
- What is a typical day at camp like? What activities will my child get to do each day or during his/her time at this camp?
- Who hires your staff and where are most staff members from?
- Where will campers sleep?
- What is your screening procedure? (this should include interviews, reference checks, and background checks via a reputable company.)
- From year to year, what percentage of campers return to your camp? (40-60 percent is an indication that this is a positive place.)
- From year to year, what percentage of staff return to your camp? (this will vary because of young people’s many summer choices and commitments, but 25-50 percent is a good target.)
Finally, the best way to be sure is to visit the camp that you’re considering sending your child to:
- Don’t pre-schedule it. Show up and see how welcome you are; while you should feel welcome, the director shouldn’t give you unsupervised access to the campers (you want to know they are protective of the campers.)
- Can they articulate how values and fun are mixed together? (Passion for how kids learn and develop in a playful environment makes the best camp.)
- Ask them what they do when a child gets homesick. (They should have confidence that they can handle it without minimizing what children feel.)
- If skill development is part of your goal, ask them how they handle instruction in the desired areas. (They should have a knowledge of the progression necessary to learn a particular skill.)
With schools raising the academic bar, often your child’s social and emotional development is put on the back burner. Great camps are committed to bringing kids up well so that what is gained in good schooling is used in a positive and well-balanced individual. Great camps will help you raise your child well, contributing to the young man or woman that you are raising.
Kay Tally-Foos, M. Ed, M.Re., is Executive Director of Tecaboca, Marianist Center for Spiritual Renewal, in Mountain Home, Texas. She is a self-described “Camp Person” who has spent a lifetime being positively impacted by the Camp experience, as a child, and by leading camp experiences for others over the past 30 years.