Summer camp gives kids a world of good. The opportunities that summer camp provides are endless: the ability to try new things, the chance to make new friends, and the prospect of gaining independence are just a few.
Which kind of camp would best suit the needs and interests of your child?
Consider the possibilities:
- Day Camps typically serve children ages 3-15. Session lengths typically vary from one to eight weeks. Some camps offer up to ten weeks of programming. Before camp and after camp programs are offered for an additional fee at some day camps.
- Overnight (also referred to as Resident or Sleepaway) Camps usually serve children ages 6-17. Campers sleep at camp for one to eight weeks, depending on the camp’s session length.
- General Camps offer a broad range of activities. Many provide campers with the opportunity to focus on one or a few areas while encouraging them to try a variety of others. It is sometimes possible to explore an activity or interest in depth within the context of the whole program.
- Trip & Travel Camps involve outdoor exploration through active sports like biking, hiking, climbing and canoeing. Campers spend most of their time traveling and preparing to travel.
- Specialty Camps are based in day or resident settings. Popular options for specialization may include horseback riding, the arts, sports, computers, or travel. Programming revolves around intensive exposure to the specialty area.
- Camps for Special Populations serve specific clientele like children or adults with particular medical conditions, disabilities, or special needs. Some camps focus on campers who share very specific diagnoses, while others are geared to meet a broader array of needs at any one time.
- Religiously-Affiliated Camps offer religious education formally and informally. Review materials carefully for explanations of how religion influences a camp’s culture to find one with the balance that best matches your family’s own values and beliefs.
- Family Camp Sessions include family members of all ages from grandparents to infants. Accommodations vary, as do program options and session length. The focus is on being together as a family—to learn, to relax, and to enjoy new experiences and adventures.
Positive camp experiences begin with the right match between a child’s needs and interests and a camp’s philosophy, program and other offerings. No two children are the same; and no two camps are exactly alike either―even ones with similar activities, approach and appearance.
Start your camp search the summer before your child will attend camp! Follow these recommended steps from the American Camp Association, New England to find the right match:
1. Choose Summer Camp!
Camps are amazing worlds created especially for children ― full of fun and learning.
2. Choose a camp that is ACA Accredited.
ACA Accreditation is the best evidence that a camp is committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment. Look for the ACA-Accredited camp logo.
3. Consider and list camp expectations (yours and the prospective camper’s).
The ideal camp experience for your camper includes what? You have to fill in the blanks here. Parents, guardians, and children themselves are the experts on what's needed to round out the school year; relatives, coaches and counselors often assist. Consider the personal definition of camp that adults and children may already have. Adults who are former campers, remember to think about your own camp experience and if something similar would be right―or not―for this prospective camper. Children who are experienced campers often know what they want. The questions at the bottom of this page will help you focus on what’s important in your search.
4. Explore options that might meet your search criteria.
- Attend Camp Fairs . Meet camp directors and staff face-to-face and learn what a camp has to offer.
- Search Online. Use your list of expectations from step 3 to search online and request camp marketing materials. Carefully consider the source of online camp information. Most online directories are NOT comprehensive and camps often have to pay to be listed. Through our search tool, families have access to information about nearly 400 ACA-accredited camps all over New England and beyond.
- Ask people you know and trust. Relatives, friends, coaches, and school counselors may have suggestions of camps that might work for your child. CAUTION: Just because someone had a great experience at a camp doesn’t automatically make that camp a good match for your child!
- Consult professionals. There are a variety of camp consultants and referral agents who can help point you to camps they represent that might meet some or most of YOUR camp search criteria. Look carefully at how camps present themselves to the world in print, in photographs, and in person! You can gain a more comprehensive understanding of each camp by reviewing a variety of their materials and by speaking with camp representatives, especially the camp director.
- Examine finalist camps closely; then, go with your gut.
- Involve your child as much as possible in the decision making process so that he or she will look forward to camp.
- Review camp materials and compare camps to your lists of expectations.
- Tour the camp when it is in session or attend an open house.
- Speak with camp directors or camp representatives.
- Request parent references from camps and check them. Ask people in your community, too.
- Go with your gut! There is no such thing as the best camp – only the best camp for your child. You will have to make the final decision, since you are the expert on your child.
- Select a camp and send in your registration materials early to avoid being wait-listed.
Prepare for camp together.
Preparing for camp together helps ensure a successful experience for all involved. Families should create progressive opportunities to prepare children for camp. Encourage day and resident campers to practice caring for their belongings and for their bodies independently. First time resident campers should practice being away from home by spending overnights or weekends with friends or family. Discuss strategies for coping with homesickness. Pack only what is on the packing list sent by the camp. The camp knows what your child will use and need. Overpacking can lead to lost or damaged items. Find out the recommended method of communicating with your child at camp. Send a letter or postcard a week ahead of time so that it is there for the first mail delivery.
Questions to ask all camps under consideration:
- Is your camp accredited by the ACA? What other regulations does your camp follow?
- What training does the staff receive on safety, supervision, counseling, problem solving, and other issues unique to working with children?
- Is the price all-inclusive, or are there extra charges for registration? uniforms? horseback riding? t-shirts? waterskiing? group photos? field trips?
- Is transportation available and what are the specifics? Is there an additional cost?
- How will the camp meet my child’s special dietary or physical needs?
- In what way may I communicate with my child while he or she is at camp? With the staff?
- How does bad weather affect the daily schedule?
- Are there family visiting days?
- What is unique about your camp?
Day camp questions:
- Is before/after camp care available? If so, who cares for the children, and what activities are offered? What is the additional cost?
- Are meals provided? At what cost?
- How and where do I drop off or pick up my child?
Questions to ask yourself and your child about expectations:
- What/who is driving the camp search? Unparalleled fun and learning? New experiences, skills and friends? Need for child care? Family tradition? Encouragement from friends?
- What are your leading camp search criteria? Which are “non-negotiable” and which are “preferences”?
- What type of camp are you looking for?
- Which of your family’s values should be reflected in the camp philosophy? How religious? How competitive? How diverse? How much camper choice? Camps are intentional communities. What they do and why is reflected in the staff members they hire, the schedules they follow, the activities they offer, and their materials.
- What activities/programs interest you and your child? What level of intensity are you looking for? Are you looking for opportunities to try new activities, to play, to advance current skills, to practice, to compete, or to specialize?
- What kind of facilities will your camper consider? Discuss electricity, bathrooms, and dining.
- What session length, from 8 weeks to a few days, is comfortable for you, for your child, and for your family’s summer schedule? The most common session lengths are: full season (7-8 weeks), half season (3-4 weeks), two weeks, and one week. Remaining flexible about session length can increase your camp options.
- What camp clientele do you want to consider? There are camps for boys only, girls only, coed, brother/sister, religious groups, under-served populations, and children with special needs.
- What is your budget for camp tuition? Camp remains an affordable option for nearly everyone. Some camps offer financial assistance. Financial aid procedures vary from camp to camp, so be sure to ask and to read brochures and websites carefully.