Summer Camp | Parenting, April 2012

The Search Is On

Do your homework before choosing a summer camp

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Kids enjoy the outdoors at Happy Hollows Children Camp in Nashville, Ind. Photos courtesy American Camp Association.

Summer is a time for kids to unwind and have fun, but that doesn’t mean they should avoid activities to help them grow, learn and build character.

Summer camp is a great way for kids to stay engaged during their months off from school.

According to the American Camp Association, about 11 million kids and adults attend camp each year in the United States. Of the 12,000 day and resident camps nationwide, 4,000 are privately owned for-profits and 8,000 are non-profit. Most are resident, or overnight, camps.

With the tremendous variety of camps available, parents are advised to do their research early.

“You want to do your homework when you are placing your child in the hands of others,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. “You don’t want to do it last-minute. The earlier you start, the more choices you have.”

Involving your child is important. Together, you’re planning a summer that should meet the specific needs of the child, says Heather Perkins, executive director of youth enrichment for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. Getting your son or daughter involved can help build excitement for the approaching summer.

Applying early can also reduce camp fees or qualify your child for financial assistance.

Specialty camps
Among themed camps, which will always be popular, Smith names organic cooking, gardening and recycling as in demand this summer.


Many camps in Indiana focus on themes like music, art or sports.

The YMCA offers more than 179 different combinations of activities for children including golf, science, magic, hockey and cheerleading.

“We make sure we are speaking to all the aspects children are exposed to and interested in,” Perkins says. “We are here to meet the needs of our community and families. We have something for everyone.”

Indiana camps focus on music, art, theater, philanthropy and photography, among many others. Chances are, if your child is interested in something, there’s a camp that’s dedicated to that hobby.

Before you decide on a camp, take the time to do some research. Camps may look appealing in a brochure, but glossy photos aren’t good enough. Make sure to check for proper documentation.

“You have a right to some peace of mind knowing your child will be safe with a highly trained and accredited staff,” Perkins says.

Camps that are ACA-accredited undergo a review of their operations, from staff qualifications to emergency management.

Smith recommends finding out the camp’s training and emergency procedures. It’s important not to make assumptions.

Your son or daughter’s school may be able to help determine whether the camp is licensed or accredited.

“Not all camps are licensed in Indiana,” Smith says.

Overall benefits
Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Camp can be a great way to ensure kids are off the couch and getting the exercise they need. In fact, one trend among camps is the addition of more challenging and adventurous activities, like rope courses, climbing walls, backpacking and mountain biking, according to the ACA.

“We know that diabetes and obesity are major issues with this generation,” Smith says. “Being physically involved is good for social and emotional development too. Camp provides that holistic opportunity. It is a comprehensive approach to your child’s overall development.”

Camps don’t only provide physical activity, they teach kids lifelong skills. Through a wide variety of activities, children can learn or hone skills like leadership, responsibility and communication.

“I don’t think we as parents should diminish the value of fun when it comes to learning,” Smith says. “We can’t let the child’s academic resume define the extent of his or her development as a good citizen. These fundamentals can be offered at camp.”

Home away from Home
Your child may be nervous about spending time away from home, especially in an unfamiliar environment.

The ACA recommends discussing your son or daughter’s expectations for camp. You may want to pack a favorite stuffed animal or other personal item, or consider sending a care package to let him or her know you’re thinking about them.

As you search for your child’s camp, the American Camp Association suggests checking into:

Philosophy and emphasis: Does the camp complement how your family handles behavior and discipline,
competition and cooperation?

Camp director’s background: Look for a bachelor’s degree, in-service training and administrative assistance.

Counselor training: It should include safety, emergency procedures, behavior management and child abuse prevention.

Medical needs: Is there a staff nurse? Is medicine storage available? Can the camp accommodate those with special dietary needs?

References: Use them to check the camp’s reputation and record.

For a list of camps, log on and click on Find a Camp. There, you can search by ZIP code, activities, cost or other important factors.

Log on for information and guidance.

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