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The Right Camp for Your Child

Because One Size Might Not Fit All

February 01, 2009
Choosing a sleep-away camp experience can be scary for parents—especially for first-time campers. It's important to remember that there is a camp ideally suited for every child. The benefits of camp—independence, self-confidence, leadership and social skills, a chance to unplug and interact with nature, and an opportunity to take healthy risks in a safe environment—last a lifetime.

When making the decision to send your child to sleep-away camp, it's important to determine if your child is ready. Children are ready for new experiences at different stages. Parents know their children best and these questions can help gauge whether this is the summer your child will start camp.

• What is your child's age? Children under age 7 may not adjust easily to being away from home. Consider the day camp experience to prepare them for future overnight camp.

• How did your child become interested in camp? Does your child talk about camp on a sustained basis? How much persuasion is necessary from you?

• Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home? Visiting relatives or friends? Were these separations easy or difficult?

• What does your child expect to do at camp? Learning about the camp experience ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.

• Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp? Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious.

Camps offer widely varying options to help parents and children reach their goals for summer fun and exploration. Talking with your child about the goals you both share helps determine which choice is right for you, and the choices are many. Camp can last for just a few days or stretch to all summer long. It's well worth the trouble to investigate the variety of choices offered by camps before your child packs a backpack.

Day camp can be the perfect fit if your child is ready for camp, but not overnight away from home. Day camp can also be the perfect first camp experience for a younger child—preparing him or her for an overnight camp in the future.

If your family decides on a resident camp, the next question is where do you want your child to go to camp? Locally or far away? A local camp is easier to evaluate and visit; friends and family are likely to be familiar with the camp; there are minimal travel costs; and your child will likely have contact with classmates or children from the same region.

A far away camp opens up more possibilities and more choices; offers the opportunity for different experiences, different geography, and even different languages; promotes independence—particularly for early and late adolescent campers—and provides your child with the chance to interact with a diversity of campers.

There are other things to consider as a family—short or long sessions that run from one week to all summer. Does your child prefer a single-gender camp or a co-ed camp? Choices also abound when it comes to camp programs. One may highlight a wide variety of activities geared to campers of all ages and skill levels; others, because of their setting and expertise, may concentrate on one or two activities while providing traditional activities as well.

Parents of children with special needs are pleased to learn about the range of camp activities that help kids be kids first.And, of course, look for a camp that has been accredited by the American Camp Association® (ACA). ACA accreditation is a parent's best evidence that the camp they choose is committed to safety.

What happens when you make the decision to choose camp? You open up a world of discovery and learning for your child, a world that values children for who they are and who they will become. Camp gives each child a world of good.


The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.

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