Summer camps can be a great experience for children; and they can be miserable nightmares! Summer camps vary in the level of supervision, qualified staff, medical provisions, food and nutrition, safety, entertainment, discipline, ability to deal with problems, etc.
I have gone to camp as a child, worked at camps, and had my children in various summer camp programs. We’ve been to religious camps, family camps, Boy Scout camps, fine arts camps, and sports camps. Here is a list of criteria for summer camps; I’ve written it as an outline of do’s, don’ts and suggestions.
I have a basic caution to offer. Never push your child into a summer camp if he is not comfortable with it. He may not be ready to be away from home and doesn’t want to admit it. Never make a child feel like she’s inadequate or cowardly or for not wanting to go. She may want to go and then change her mind.
Listen to your child and respect his feelings. Give him time; he may be ready next year. But at any rate, be sure it’s what your child wants more than what you want. Kids are pretty good at listening to their inner wisdom; as adults we often pooh-pooh our ‘still small voice’. And we suffer for it.
Be choosy; it’s your money and you don’t have to put up with inadequate conditions. Shop around for the best option for your child. This is not an area to ‘cut costs’. Having said this, here are the areas of concern:
Is the staff qualified to work with children ( Education majors in college? Experienced with kids?)
Are they certified in the areas taught? Soccer? Dance?
Are they well-trained to deal with children’s behavior, emergencies, problems, interactions, etc.
Are thorough background checks done on staff and volunteers for civil and criminal issues? Is there any incidence of inappropriate contact with children? Violence? Neglect? Abuse?
Are the proper licensing restrictions observed? Is there a comprehensive health form required of every camper including allergies, reactions, medical history?
Is the water properly guarded by a trained WSI or Red Cross certified lifeguard?
Are the grounds, equipment, buildings, lodgings, and activity areas maintained and kept free of hazards?
Is there a registered nurse or properly trained and experienced individual available 24-7? Does she have access to a well-stocked store of first aid equipment and supplies?
Are all activities chaperoned and supervised by trained, licensed individuals?
Are the entire area designated as tobacco, alcohol and drug free? Is this monitored?
Are campers made aware insect, plant, water, environmental and animal dangers? Is there adequate preparation for emergencies? Sunstroke? Dehydration? Bites and stings? Rashes and hives? Allergies and reactions? Water-bourne pathogens?
Does the director keep abreast of local dangers? Animal control (coyotes, bears, and scavengers?) Fires? Weather updates?
Does the camp have access 24-7 to a parent or guardian who can contacted and authorize medical treatment? Cell phone numbers, doctors, etc.?
Are accommodations made for the special needs of campers? Hearing or visual impairment? Nervous or health disorders? Physical limitations? Disabilities? Is the camp handicapped accessible?
Are the facilities kept sanitary and clean? Are the washing and toilets kept clean? This is the best way to prevent outbreaks of communicable illnesses and diseases (impetigo, scabies, Hepatitis, athlete’s foot, lice, ringworm, etc.)
What is served: is it nutritious? Loaded with fats, sugar, salts and no protein? Do they serve fresh fruits and vegetables and good water? Kids need good carbs and protein, especially when they are expending a lot of energy. As a kid, I used to get constipated at camp because they served so much junk and not fresh vegetables. That was awful!
How it is prepared: is lots of processed and micro-waved foods? Is their enough prepared or is cost-cutting the focus?
When they eat: are meal served at appropriate times and are snacks available? Most kids need several snacks a day.
How campers eat: is it cafeteria style, family-style, does someone monitor to see that everyone gets fair portions and that kids aren’t putting their hands in the food?
Behavior and Discipline
How does staff interact with campers?
How are camper-home communications handled?
How are emotional needs and crises handled?
Are campers treated as individuals or as generic campers?
Are campers expected to follow certain discipline codes?
Are the codes enforced with consequences?
Are other campers kept safe from harassment or abusive behavior?
Does the camper know where to go for help?
Is help available? Even if the problem is with a member of staff?
How is discipline handled?
Are they safely constructed?
Is there adequate plumbing facilities for toilet, shower and general washing?
How are the sleeping arrangements handled? Are they safe and secure?
Does each camper have adequate space for her needs?
Is there adequate maintenance personnel?
Do campers get enough sleep and rest/quiet time? If the day is stretched too long kids will burn out; what was a fun experience can turn unpleasant.
Is active play balanced with any lessons or chapel? Camp should not be a repetition of school. Our son hated one camp because it was book and paper and pencil stuff instead of the activities he was promised.
Are there plenty of good opportunities? Even camps geared to one sport or art, should provide activities for diversion: nature hikes, swimming, archery, rope-climbing, crafts, dancing, tennis, skateboarding, horseback-riding, basketball, mini-golf, canoeing, etc. There should be evening activities to relax with: karoake, campfires, games, scavenger hunts, team-building activities, etc.
Do campers get down time or free time? No one can produce good work constantly. There should be free time and fun time. Our daughter went to a high-drive dance camp; she danced from 8-noon, 1-5 and 6-9 every day. She destroyed her ankle and could not dance again; and she was miserable and it cost us $1,000 for this. :
Summer camps are wonderful opportunities for children to explore, learn, grow, make new friends, have new experiences and expand as people. This list should help you weed out the ‘not so great’ and find the ‘excellent’. Hopefully, your child’s summer camp experience will meet all these criteria and more!