Summer Camp Season Starts…Now

In the middle of December, my friend Alicia Danyali started emailing me with questions about which summer camps our kids should attend next summer.

Is the holiday season too early to debate whether to invest in two or four weeks of children’s sailing camp? Not for us. Alicia and I are planners by nature, and we work outside the home. For us, summer camp constitutes summer childcare. Every year, summer is an eight-to-11-week puzzle: Once you start fitting the pieces, the overall picture starts to appear. Our husbands, who take a more laid-back approach to summer planning, call our camp discussions crazy. Alicia and I know better.

There is no shortage of summer camp options in the Baltimore area, so how does one choose the right camping experience?

The American Camping Association may be able to help. Sam Hunt of the ACA recommends his organization’s website, acacamps.org. It features an interactive “Find a Camp” tool that allows parents to select criteria important to them. The ACA accredits around 2,400 camps nationally, and requires camps to meet health and safety standards to earn accreditation.

Before you start looking, however, keep in mind the following five factors. Only you can decide how much weight each factor carries. But ranking them to match your family’s needs and interests may help ease the decision-making process.

Interests: your child’s and yours

There are camps devoted entirely to Minecraft, Alicia has discovered. And although her son is devoted to the game, Alicia is not as devoted to paying for Reuben to “do something he could sit around and do at home.” Alicia wanted Reuben to go outside and move around. Her brainy, imaginative son who loves to design and build wasn’t going to be happy spending all his time outdoors or playing sports, so Alicia was happy to find a camp that offered a variety of activities during the day, rather than solely focusing on one. Lego Camp at the Jewish Community Center, which provided swimming and outdoor play, as well as Lego time each day, fit the bill for her son.

Cost: the listed price, and the real one

There’s more to the cost of camp than just the price listed online or in the brochure. Will you need after care and/or before care? That’s usually extra. Are there additional fees associated with the activity? Sometimes camps provide meals, but they may cost extra. Investigate before you buy, and decide ahead of time how much you’d like to spend per week.

Cost can get complicated when outside obligations interfere with a camp schedule. Cheryl DeLuca found that her son’s filmmaking camp started during her extended family’s annual trip to the beach. She asked the camp if she could pay just for the weeks her son was able to attend. This camp said no. She sent her son anyway: His pre-professional interest in filmmaking and the quality of the camp were more important factors than cost to her. Always ask, as camps’ policies on missed time vary widely.

Routine

Does your child respond well to a fixed routine, or does she want choices in how she spends her days? My son was stunned to learn, at his first day of nature camp, that he had a choice. He’d been so accustomed to following an agenda of planned activities his whole life, he didn’t know what to make of the laid-back life in the woods of Gunpowder State Park. He figured it out quickly though, and ended up loving his days of hiking, swinging, and swimming.

Location, location, location

Two long commutes for pickup and drop-off might be doable for week-long or several-weeks-long overnight camps, but a twice-daily haul to a far-off camp site can drain time out of your summer schedule. Some camps offer carpooling, or bus pickup. Check into these options before you commit to driving two hours a day. It may be worth it, but know going in what it will cost time-wise.

Safety

Safety is a consideration, especially for families with children who have a medical condition. The ACA recommends asking what training counselors receive, and whether water activities are supervised by lifeguard-accredited staff. They also recommend finding out the counselor-to-camper ratio, and the ages of the counselors. When in doubt: ask.

As I plan my son’s camps each year, I find myself wishing I could attend some of these camps, too. But once the camp plans are settled, I get to plan for my fun: vacation. I ask my husband each January: where do you want to go? What do you want to do? His answer makes the planner in me cringe: “I’ll decide in May.”

Not if I can help it. BC

 

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