Thu08282014

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Creating happy campers: Tips for helping parents choose the right summer program for their children


Photo By: Courtesy of ACA
Photo Courtesy Of Aca

Sports camps offering activities in and out of the water are popular with children.
Town Crier Staff Report Summer may seem far away, but it’s not too soon for parents to sign up their children for summer camp.

Most camps – including those serving Los Altos – have started accepting registration for their summer programs.

Is your child ready for camp?

Before choosing a camp, parents need to determine if their children are ready for one. The American Camp Association (ACA) advises parents to consider the following when making that decision.

• How old is your child? Children under 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.

Is the camp the right fit?

Once the decision is made to sign up for camp, the next step is finding the right fit. With so many choices out there – from sports to science and drama – how can parents ensure that their children are happy campers?

“Look for testimonials,” said Matthew Smith, owner and director of Longacre Leadership, a Pennsylvania-based educational summer program that teaches teens leadership through responsibility. “A good website is CampRatingz.com; they refuse to take down negative reviews. Also, you can request references from the directors; they often have a list of families in your area you can call.”

As far as summer-camp trends go, Smith has noticed a move toward academics – both in traditional camps and travel programs.

“Parents are looking to check more than one box with the summer experience,” he said. “In addition to the age-old aims of fun, maturation and lasting friendships, parents increasingly have an eye on college. And summer-program academics are often experiential, which is a nice complement to the methods you’ll find in school.”

Specifically, Smith has seen an upswing in camps offering culinary, photography and science programs.

“Culinary began a few years ago and has taken the country by storm; baking is a popular one. Photography is probably a nod to the explosion of social media, where photos have a virality that the written word simply does not. I imagine video is not far behind. And science, I think, is an attempt to lure the younger boys out of the house – a population where we’ve seen a decline in recent years.”

What options are available?

Once a family chooses the kind of camp that is right for them, it’s time to look at the options available. The ACA suggests that parents consider the following when zeroing in on a camp for their children.

• What is the camp director’s background? The ACA recommends that directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director.

• What training do counselors receive? At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior-management techniques, child-abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior and specific procedures for supervision.

• How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled? This is where the director’s philosophy comes through loud and clear. Do staff use positive reinforcement? What are the rules and consequences?

• How does the camp handle special needs? For a child with special requirements, parents should ask the camp director about needed provisions and facilities. Is there a nurse on staff? A designated place to store insulin or allergy medicine? Are special foods available for campers with restricted diets?

• What about references? Parents should ask for references. This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record.

• Is the camp accredited by the ACA? ACA camps meet up to 300 health and safety standards. This does not guarantee a risk-free environment, but it’s some of the best evidence parents have of a camp’s commitment to a safe and nurturing environment for their children.

Smith noted that safety is parents’ biggest concern when it comes to camps.

“Where will he sleep? Will she fit in? How often can she call home? Parents just want to make sure that their child will be OK,” he said. “It’s hard to let them go for a summer, especially in today’s world, where portable devices mean the child is so rarely out of touch.”

Even if the chosen camp limits the use of cellphones and doesn’t offer Wi-Fi, participants often find ways to have fun – and better themselves.

“Summer camps can provide excellent opportunities for your child or teen to grow in confidence, build self-esteem and leadership qualities, make new friends, foster independence and benefit from a new experience,” Smith said.

For more information on choosing a summer camp, visit www.acacamps.org. n

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