It’s no exaggeration to say that the one event kids really look forward to all year is summer camp. But how do you choose the right one for them? Based on my experiences as the parent of a teen, as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve figured out the top 6 things to consider.
It goes without saying that cost is an important factor, especially if you have more than one kid. Summer camps can range widely in price, depending on whether they’re bare-bones camps with a limited number of activities, or camps that offer a lot of expensive activities like overnight trips. But don’t just consider the price of the camp. Also consider how much money you’ll have left for other summer activities like family trips. Kids’ summer vacations are long and can feel even longer if the whole family has to stay home for many weeks because you didn’t have any money left to do other things. I learned this the hard way the first time our son went to a summer camp. The camp was so expensive that we ended up not having money for our planned family vacation.
Another aspect to consider is the distance of the camp from your home. If the camp is far away, you may end up spending a lot of time and money driving to and from camp. This issue is made even more challenging if you have kids who go to different camps, at different times, and for different lengths of time. A good friend of ours spends a lot of the summer crisscrossing the U.S. on the way to and from the different camps that his kids attend.
Day Camp or Sleepaway?
One of the biggest choices every parent faces is whether to send their kids to a day camp or a sleepaway camp. In my experience, it’s best to start with a day camp until your kids express interest in going to a sleepaway camp. Believe me: they’re fully aware, even at a young age, that sleepaway camps exist and that some of their friends already have attended them. If your kids haven’t said they’d like to go to a sleepaway camp, it’s probably because they’re not ready yet. It can also be a good idea to send your kids to both. While sleepaway camps give them a chance to experience real independence and to make new friends, day camps let them come home in the late afternoon and spend some time with their regular friends.
Indoor or Outdoor Activities?
Consider the types of activities in which your kids would be engaged. Some kids enjoy sitting quietly inside, focusing on arts and crafts; other kids prefer being outdoors doing sports. You could choose to simply follow your kids’ preferences and let them decide, or you could use summer camp as a chance to challenge your kids to step outside their comfort zone and try something different.
My spouse certainly prefers the second option. Since our son first began going to summer camp, my spouse has insisted that he try activities that we can’t offer him in our regular city-slicker lives, like canoeing, water skiing, and zip-lining.
Single Activity or Multiple Activities?
Find out if the camps you are interested in are specialized and focus on one activity, or if they offer multiple activities. Many camps are geared toward one specific activity, like chess, coding, writing, or more sports-oriented activities like basketball or soccer. Other camps offer kids a range of activities from sports to crafts to performing arts. Camps that focus on a single activity typically aim to strengthen kids’ abilities in that particular area. Camps that offer many different activities try to introduce kids to different things. So ask yourself – and your kids – whether the goal is simply to have fun and try new things, or whether the goal is to enhance some particular skill of theirs.
Single or Multiple Camps?
Finally, ask yourself whether you want to send your kids to one camp for all or part of the summer, or whether you want your kids to go to multiple camps. There are good reasons for either choice. On the one hand, sending your kids to a single camp can save you time and money shuttling between camps. It would also let your kids cultivate friendships for a longer period of time. On the other hand, sending your kids to several camps would let them explore different interests and make more new friends.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.