Not all camps are created equal. But when faced with thousands of choices they can all start to look the same. Find some great camp options on Care.com, then narrow down your choices with these seven qualities.
If you want a traditional sleep-away camp that runs seven weeks, then skip over any camps with multiple sessions that interrupt the community for kids staying full term. On the other hand, families who are on a budget or who are not willing to forgo a summer family vacation should consider camps with shorter stay options. This way when kids have to leave they don't feel as sad about their departure or get mad at their parents for taking them away.
There are traditional models where kids are exposed to a variety of activities from water sports to arts to adventure, while others offer these activities as electives. First, decide if you wants day or overnight camp. Then, well-rounded or focused on something specific. For all camps, keep in mind how many campers attend, the gender mix and the age range.
Use our Camp Personality Matching Guide to get more ideas.
"Camps are expensive, but what your kid can get out of it is unbelievable," says Jill Tipograph, a youth and summer expert/consultant and founder of Everything Summer. Whether a camp is private or non-profit, plus the length of the session, are the biggest factors in tuition. Many camps have flexible payment plans and discount opportunities such as early-bird registration, sibling discounts, referral discounts or camperships for those with financial need. Some faith-based camps might offer free or lower tuition to members of certain congregations. Occasionally kids or parents can work at the camp to receive further price reductions. Try these 8 Free or Cheap Summer Camp Options »
Near, far or right in town, camps can be anywhere. If you have anything in mind, start there. If you're concerned your child might get homesick, stick with camps closer to home or choose a day camp. Some families like to choose overnight camps in locations that also offer a great destination for a family vacation when camp has ended or during visiting time.
Why does this camp exist? It might sound forward but you need to ask the director. When you find out the philosophy of the camp or its mission statement, see if it matches your values and goals for your child, suggests Ann Sheets, a spokesperson for the American Camp Association. One camp director might say she strives to have the campers work together as a community with shared goals, while another director places all of his efforts into building self-confidence.
You especially want to know the philosophy of sports camps. Is the focus on building skills or is the emphasis on competition? You and your child need to be comfortable with how the sport is handled.
Camps can be run by private individuals, non-profits (often faith-based groups), youth organizations or city government. You need to know who foots the bills and how that affects the philosophy and daily activities of the camp.
Who will actually be handling the chaos that all of those kids can produce? You'll want to know what kind of training staff members have and how many counselors are assigned to reach group -- or bunk, in an overnight setting. Younger children need more supervision, while older kids need less. Some overnight camps hire dedicated counselors to run bunks. That means it's a counselor's job to watch over the kids and not also teach water skiing or organize plays.
Need help getting started? Read up the six steps to follow when starting your camp search »