Guest post by Craig Boronow, Director at ACA Accredited Moose River Outpost

It used to be that most camps featured similar mix of archery, s’mores, silly songs, and flag raisings.  These days that “classic” camp is still out there, but it exists among hundreds of other “camps” featuring more specialized emphases.  There are language camps, music camps, science camps, and even SAT preparation camp.  With so many options, parents are invited into the candy isle of camps and asked to choose.  Of course, if your daughter loves chemistry, science camp will rise to the top.

But is the choice that easy? 

The danger with so many camping options is that we’ll miss the forest for the trees.  There’s nothing wrong with a diverse market of camps.  In fact, these options are an exciting development for parents whose kids aren’t excited about canoes, kayaks, and compasses.

What we shouldn’t forget from camping’s past though, and what we need to seek out in it’s present, is something that goes much deeper than activity selection.  We send kids to camp, not just to occupy their time, but to better foster their growth.   It’s at camp where children first begin to make big decisions about how to spend their own time.  They formulate ideas about what it means to be an adult by watching the counselors and other staff members at camp and how they think, act, and respond.  They test their ideas about life and encounter new ones among kids their own age, and among adults not so far removed from childhood. 

Most campers can’t remember how to tie the knots they learned at camp, or how to canoe in a straight line a year after their camp experience.  However, they can remember their counselor’s names, her habits, and how she acted for years to come.  Our kids are relational people, and their learning process is irrevocably tied to the process of identifying and emulating role models.  This is important to consider as we evaluate camps. 

In a typical 2-week camp session, campers spend about 250 hours with their camp counselor.  That’s about the same amount of time they spend with their homeroom teacher over an entire year of school.  That’s a lot of time for influence.  So whether that counselor is an accomplished trombonist or an Eagle Scout, we as parents should be interested in the quality of that person as a role model and leader for our kids. 

When we evaluate camps, regardless of whether they’re travel camps or chess camps, we need to be evaluating the people who will be partnering with us in guiding our kids through their formative years, because whether we realize it or not, that’s what they’re doing.  That’s why camp can be the best thing that’s ever happened to your child’s personal growth.  Unfortunately it’s also why a careless decision could have lingering negative consequences for your son or daughter. 

With that in mind, do your research when evaluating camps.  Go ahead and ask about activities and daily schedules, but don’t leave out questions about hiring practices, and staff goals for camper growth.

Consider asking the following questions:

“Can you tell me about how you screen your staff members?”

“What is your camper-to-staff ratio?”

“Is your camp ACA accredited?”

“Is there a counselor that I can meet or call on the phone before signing my child up for camp?”

Camps should welcome these questions.  Most camps can’t wait to tell you about their staff because they work hard on developing great people and want you to be aware of their results.  If a camp resists telling you about their staff, than look elsewhere.  Staff members are at least as important to your son or daughter’s experience as activity choices.  Realistically, they’ll be the ones your child remembers even more than that time they went on the zip line (or the orchestra stage). 

As you choose a camp for your child, just remember that you can and should be particular about that choice.  There are camps that both offer the activities you want, and develop responsible role models.  It’s camp.  Of course you can have the forest and the trees. 

 Photo Credits: ACA Accredited Farm & Wilderness Camps