Questions can help parents, kids determine which camp is best
Group of little girls have a nice time together (Muhamed_Smailhodzic / Smailhodzic - Fotolia / May 3, 2013)
From sports camps to music camps, day camps to sleep-away camps, parents have many options to choose from when picking the camp experience that's just right for their kids.
The decision might seem overwhelming, but experts recommend parents start by asking a simple question.
"One of the first questions should be, 'What kind of camp experience would their kids like to have?'" says Beth Morrow, a camp program director and columnist for Camp Business Magazine. "Having the child's input can make the difference in whether they will be excited or resistant to go to camp."
Here are other questions parents should ask when choosing a camp for their kids.
1. Sleep-away or day camp?
Overnight camps and day camps provide kids with very different experiences.
"With overnight camps, the kids are away. They're gaining independence, they're growing as people, they're learning to communicate better, they're learning to work well with others," says Rick Mades, camp director of Maine Arts Camp and founder of Camp Finders, a referral service for parents looking for the right sleep-away camp. "They're exploring new activities and exploring themselves."
Day camps don't involve overnight stays. Parents drop kids off at an in-town facility for a few or several hours a day. Although they typically include plenty of activities and field trips, day camps are usually more affordable than overnight camps, making them good choices for families on a budget. Day camps are also good for kids who might not feel ready to spend time away from home.
How do you know if your kids are ready for sleep-away camp? Experts suggest looking at how they've adjusted to brief times away from home, like stays at grandma's house or sleepovers with friends, for clues.
"Consider how the child does while away from home for extended periods of time as an indication as to whether or not they're emotionally ready to try an overnight camp," Morrow says. "I think overnight camps are good for all kids provided they have reached a level of maturity and independence necessary for thriving in an overnight situation."
2. What do they like to do?
There are camps available for just about anything kids are interested in. Experts suggest matching a camp specialty to things your kids are already drawn to — they'll have an easier time making friends with kids who share their same interests, and their confidence will only grow after they've built on strengths they already have.
Have kids who are interested in lots of things? Many specialized camps offer shorter day camp or overnight stints, giving your kids the chance to explore lots of different areas in one summer.
Holly Lesnick, owner and director of a Kindermusik studio, which offers music-based summer camp programming in 14 locations throughout central Florida, suggests compiling a list of all your kids' interests, then looking to see if there are camps that match them.
"My children, for example, do music camp for two weeks, drama camp for two weeks, and good old-fashioned field trip camp for a few weeks," Lesnick says. "This keeps things fun and exposes them to all sorts of people."
You can also find a camp that gives your kids the opportunity to explore areas they may never get a chance to in school.
"We offer something in the summer that schools can't offer, because they have time constraints," says Jamie Moorehead, owner of Super Awesome Cool Pottery, an Orlando pottery studio that offers summer day camps. "Pottery takes longer to do than the amount of time they're given in a typical art class in school."
Looking for a really specialized area or skill? Broaden your search beyond museums and art studios. The YMCA of Central Florida, for example, offers summer camps in areas as diverse as cheerleading, aviation, cooking and robotics.
"People just think the Y is just swim and gym, but we have a strong footprint when it comes to educational programs," says Secily Wilson, director of financial development for the YMCA of Central Florida.
3. How much would you like to spend?
Camps can get expensive, but that doesn't mean your kids have to go without camp if the family budget is tight.
Many non-profit organizations, like the YMCA, offer day and overnight camps at lower fees than privately-run camps. The YMCA of Central Florida is also willing to work with families who would love the camp experience for their kids, but might not be able to afford it.
"We never turn anyone away for their inability to pay," Wilson says. "Reach out to us, and share what the issue is. Any child can get the same quality program whether you can afford it or you can't."
And, make the effort to look beyond a camp's marketing. A glossy pamphlet, flashy Web site or large fee doesn't make a particular camp the best choice for your kid.
"More expensive doesn't necessarily mean their kid will connect better and make friends," Mades says.