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How Should I Choose the Camp I Need?

Posted by Stepio On 11:54 PM

How should I choose the Camp I Need?


One comment, take it seriously.

It should be much more than s'mores and sing-alongs -- top camps provide lifelong memories and skills.

Here is how to pick a winner -- and help your kid have an awesome summer.

General Recreational Camp

Even before I had kids, when I was studying in the States, I knew they could go to summer camps almost every long holiday.

What did camp really matter, anyway? It is a question many parents struggle with -- and one that camp professionals are eager to answer.

Camp, they say, lets kids roam and play in a way they rarely do in their own neighborhoods these days. It takes them away from computers, TV, and other high-tech time-suckers, swapping them for conversation, fun, and games in a natural setting. And perhaps most important, camps are no-parent zones (yes, that's right, you shouldn't come along!).

'Kids have to learn how to separate from their families and become resilient and independent. Camp gives them a safe way to take these steps," says Peg Smith, Chief Executive Officer, the American Camp Association.

Day camps are a good starting point: 'Kids learn about being part of a community and to cope with temporary separation,' says Smith. "They're not only a good transitional step for kids but also for parents, who often need to learn these same separation skills.'

'Camp directors say most kids are ready for an overnight option by age 12 -- especially if they have enjoyed day programs. You just might have to give your child (and yourself) a little push. Whether you are thinking about sending your child to the little day camp down the street, or an overnight outfit a few states/provinces away, follow these tips for planning a no-regrets summer.

Sports Training Camp

'Sports Camps' can range from places where kids of all ages enjoy physical activities to intense boot camps in a specific sport.

Research is the key to choosing the right sports camp for your child, and the sooner you start, the better. Camp directors advise parents and campers to investigate several camps before choosing.

What is the Goal?

'If they want to spend their entire summer playing tennis every single day, that is great and there is a camp for that,' says Susie Lupert, Executive Director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. 'If they want to have a more general experience but they are very sporty, there is also a camp for that.' Introducing younger kids to many sports allows them to find out what they like best. 

'Our day camp for 8- to 12-year-olds has 35-minute sessions where they are going to get tennis lessons, swim, play basketball, Wiffle ball, soccer and other sports,” explains Dave Szaroleta, Director of Sanford Camps in Hockessin, DE. After an introduction, many campers join one of the week-long Sanford programs devoted to a particular sport.

Questions for Sports Camps

 • How much time will be devoted to a particular sport? 
 • What other activities will be offered? 
 • Will games be played during the day and at night? 
 • Will all campers receive equal playing and coaching time? 
 • Are parents allowed to visit or attend games? 
 • What is the quality of the coaching staff? 
 • What are the facilities like? 
 • What happens in rainy weather or excessive heat?

Local colleges and universities offer a variety of sports camps. Some appeal to varsity-level high school athletes. 'Most of our coaches are going to run at least one camp during the summer where they might find a diamond in the rough or the type of kid they may be interested in recruiting down the road,' says Mike Mahoney, Director of Athletic Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. 

In addition to camp type, you must decide how many weeks to enroll your child and whether a day or residential camp is best. Costs can range from US$200 a week to US$10,000 for the summer.

Talk to the Directors

It is best to visit the camp the summer before your child will be enrolled, so you can actually see it in progress. Talk to the director about your child’s interests and abilities. When you find the right fit, don’t delay. 'There are limits on how many people can get into the camps,' Mahoney points out. If you are not able to plan a year ahead, 'Many parents will come and do a home visit,” says Lupert. 'They will show you a slide show and speak directly with your child about what the expectations are of the camp.'

Mistakes Parents Make 

Be sure your child is included in the decision-making and knows what to expect. Lupert cautions, 'We have spoken to families who sent a child to a certain camp because they thought their kid was really into sports,' but the camp was more competitive or difficult than the child expected. It is also important to think about how independent your child is and, especially for residential camps, how comfortable he will be on his own. For some children, going away with a friend is an easier experience than being alone. 'Age is irrelevant,' says Lupert. 'It really is about the maturity of your child.'

8 Major Points to Consider to Choose the Best Camp

As you are conducting your search, be sure to keep these things in mind when choosing a sports camp.

What is the Camp’s History and Reputation? There are definitely some great new camps out there. But camps that have built a trustworthy reputation for offering a quality staff and environment, and top-notch summer fitness are often worth the extra cost. A camp would not still be in business after many years if it were unsafe, poorly run, or did not deliver a quality experience.

What is the Camp’s Philosophy and Focus? There are camps where kids play sports, and there are camps where kids learn how to improve their skills. Just because the flyer says that this is a basketball camp does not mean that your child will be doing more than scrimmaging all day. If that is what you want, then go for it. But if you want your child to learn something new to help his game, find out what you are paying for.

Does the Camp Have a Well-Trained Staff? Nothing wrong with high school kids helping out the younger ones, but be sure they are well-trained and know what they are talking about when it comes to your child’s sport. Ask how they are trained and how they are chosen to be on the staff. The same goes for the adult staff. Don’t assume just because they are working at a sports camp that they know their stuff.

Does the Camp Offer Your Child Choices? Your child will feel more independent if he can choose some activities, rather than having every moment planned for him.

Does the Camp Communicate Well With Parents? Do they have a plan for letting parents know about upcoming events, and for notifying them if a child becomes sick or injured? What is their rule on camper cell phone usage? What is the Camper-to-Counselor Ratio? To make sure your child gets the individual attention and supervision he or she needs for his or her age, compare the camp's counselor-to-camper ratio to the American Camp Association standards.

For day camps, ratios range from 8:1 for 6-to-8-year-olds, to 10:1 for 9-to-14-year-olds, and 12:1 for campers ages 15 and up. For sleepaway camps, the general recommended ratio is 6:1 for 7- and 8-year-olds, 8:1 for 9-to-14-year-olds and 10:1 for campers ages 15 and up.

What are the Camp’s Rules for Behavior? Be sure your child understands his boundaries. No mobile phones allowed? No going for a walk alone? If it is an overnight camp, what are the curfews and male/female restrictions?

Does the Camp Care about Creating Community? Even sports camps that heavily focus on developing skills are a social environment for kids. Good camps try to create an inclusive experience for every kid. In 10 years of sports parenting, I sent my kids to quite a variety of sports camps. And the bottom line was that I usually got what I paid for. If you can afford more quality instruction and that is what you and your child are looking for, then go for it. But if your child just wants to play, have fun, and just get some summer exercise, then less expensive summer camps are probably your best choice.

Making Camp Affordable

How much do you have to pay for your kid to have a summer of fun? Camp costs vary dramatically among countries, from just a couple hundred dollars to more than five thousand (the latter mainly for super-fancy, international programs).

Also, virtually all STEPIO Camps offer discounts and financial aids to our athletes, previously attended and newly joined. And it is our intention to invite sponsors and foundations to support our Camps and provide camp scholarships to our athletes.


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