By: Susan Ragsdale
A clear sign of the impending summer season usually happens inside households across America, right about now. It involves you (mom or dad), sitting at a table with your checkbook and calculator in one hand while the other hand hovers back and forth between the search engines on the computer and the scattered camp brochures before you. You have just realized that SUMMER is almost here, and your kids need a fun, safe place to spend their time.
The idea of summer camp evokes a certain nostalgia filled with images of an ideal childhood—one where our kids are making new friends, learning new skills, bringing home crafts, and sporting the requisite skinned knees and sunburned noses—a good indication of a full summer spent out-of-doors and in the sun. The echoes of camp songs that have been passed on from generation to generation, such as "The Bear Song" or "Boom Chicka Boom", continue to fill your home weeks after camp has ended, a happy reminder of days spent exploring, enjoying, learning, and just being a kid!
But summer camp isn't always within a family's means or priorities. When considering a summer gameplan for your family, ask yourself the following questions:
Is it best for your child (and is it part of the family plan) to have a summer full of family fun time instead of looking into camps? - You might consider taking advantage of all the options that your own town and nearby cities offer for exploring, learning and having fun (swimming at the Y, taking a painting class together, joining a summer family soccer league, etc.).
As you think about whether or not camp is the right choice, consider this: A camp experience puts your child in a social setting where he interacts and engages with others and learns to develop relationships and a sense of community, independent of relying on you. He also has a "practice grounds" where he can further develop and refine his own sense of independence and confidence as he tries new things and stretches his wings.
Additionally, camp takes your child out of cyber world and puts him in “real time” with real people in real situations and real engagement – and he may very well discover that he likes games, the goofy songs, the fun, AND being with others even more than he likes video games!
If you're seriously considering summer camp...
There's a lot of planning that goes into selecting the right camp for your child. Which camp? How many camps? Is it a quality camp? Is my child old enough? Is my child too old? What if my child HATES it? Consider these guidelines if you're seriously considering sending your kids to camp.
1. Talk with your child and create a list of his or her interests. Is there a skill or talent he would like to further explore and develop? Has she been thinking a lot about trying that martial arts class down the street and is curious to see if she would like it? Has he noticed how much he likes to doodle and heard about an art camp that explores various art mediums?
As you talk with your child, watch her face as she talks. Does she light up over a particular idea? Does he become more animated as he talks about his interest? Think about the times when your child has been fully engaged in something and has lost all sense of time because she was so into whatever it was that she was doing? (Tinkering with cars, writing a song, playing the drums or putting together a weathervane.)
Knowing your child’s sparks (what he is interested in doing or pursuing) can help narrow the list down and make the decision of what to do that much easier (and it also helps chunk out all the opportunities that hold no interest for your kid whatsoever).
And if your child hasn’t figured out his particular spark, don’t worry. Camps and summer opportunities are a perfect time to explore a variety of things and see what "clicks". As you look through the various camp options, watch your child’s reactions for signs of possible interest – “that sounds like it might be fun.” Revisit the idea again later to see if your child has the same reaction. The visual or verbal clue might be the beginning of a spark.
2. Consider the developmental aspects of your child. What does she want/need? Are there any special considerations that need to be taken into account when choosing a camp? Does your child need special accommodations of some sort (handicap accessible, diet, nurse on staff, etc.)? Does your child need something really structured, like a martial arts camp? Or, could he benefit from a more free-flowing and relaxed atmosphere, like an art camp?
3. Figure out the summer experience that's right for your child and your family. What works for your family and your crazy schedules and financial situation? Day camp? Overnight camp? Out of town camp? Specialty camp? Or, should it be a summer of family fun offerings: amusement parks, museums, art centers, zoos?Get ideas for planning family fun >
4. Picking the right camp. Once you’ve determined the camp type based on your child’s interests, ask around. Ask other parents or ask other youth who’ve gone to camp about which ones they recommend. Quiz them about their experience and about the camp itself (food, sleeping areas, showers, a typical day in camp, pace of the schedule, activities offered, etc.).
Then call the camp. Any quality camp worth its salt won’t mind parents asking questions. They expect it. Ask: