April 16 2014 12:00 AM

How to choose the best summer camp for your child


Summer vacation 2014 is only two months away and summer camp slots are filling up fast. In this section, you’ll find the first-ever City Pulse Summer Camp Guide, detailing a wide selection of camps specializing in sports, nature and science in mid-Michigan. But how do you know which one is right for your kid? And what exactly should your kid expect from a good camp?

“Camp is an excellent opportunity for expanded learning,” said Becky Pasman, executive director of the Michigan Field Office of the American Camp Association. She said when choosing a summer camp, frontend preparation can ensure the best possible experience for kids and parents.

She said to think of choosing a camp as a job interview: You’re looking to “hire” the best candidate to look after your child, so make sure to get the camp director’s resume, their references and qualifications. Pasman suggests getting up close and personal with the camp’s director during the selection process. A reputable camp director should be happy to provide references.

The association’s website provides a list of questions for parents to consider. Ask about the director’s background and the counselors. Most camps have a 40 to 60 percent return rate for counselors. If the camp’s rate is lower, that should raise a few questions.

She said it’s also important to consider the camper return rate.

“If you have a good community, the kids will want to return,” Pasman said.

She said homesickness is a big issue and suggested asking about the camp’s policy regarding a kid who wants to come home early. Pasman said if you’re nervous about your child being homesick, don’t be.

“It’s one of those growth activities,” she said. “It’s not a negative, it’s a positive.”

It’s important to consider the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis over the camp’s facilities. The right camp will match your child’s personality, interests and style of learning.

“If I’m a parent and I’m picking out a camp for my child, the key thing (I would ask) is (if) that camp fits my child’s needs and is it going to help my child grow,” said Pasman. She suggested talking with the director about any concerns you may have or any issues your child may face while away. Don’t hold back that information.

“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” said Pasman. Letting them know this information ahead of time is beneficial.

Also consider the duration of the camp and the distance from home. Younger children or first-time campers may have a harder time adjusting to being away from home at an overnight camp, so day camps may be a better starting point.

Pasaman suggested campers attend camps that are accredited by the American Camp Association. Accreditation is a voluntary process where camps undergo an evaluation based on 300 nationally developed standards to ensure the camp will provide a safe and nurturing environment.

There are over 2,400 accredited camps in the country. Accreditation is different than licensing because it goes a step further to analyze the camp’s programming, management practices and more. To determine if a camp is accredited, the association’s logo should be listed on the website.

Pasman says one of the biggest differences between association and state standards is that the association stresses the whole aspect of the program being intentional and developmentally appropriate.

“Camp needs to be a mutual decision,” she said. “Make sure your child is ready for camp and make them a part of the selection process. Just the parent should not be going through it alone.”

Pasman said this will help get the camper excited about this learning opportunity. Suggest that they keep an open mind about the experience; but you should be flexible too. Ultimately, however, choosing the right camp should come from your gut.

“You know your child best,” she said. “Go with that instinct.”