Common wisdom dictates that you and your child choose a summer camp early. If you have not already done so, now is the time to sign up.
But, you ask, how do I begin? What do I look for?
1. Identify your and your child's expectations
Is your child interested in a specific sport or activity, such as soccer or acting? Do you think your child would benefit from a wilderness experience? Or are you and your child looking for a general, all-around camp?
2. Decide on the size of the camp. Should it be coed or single-sex?
A small camp is good for children who need extra attention, although large camps often are broken into small units. What's important is to determine if your child will get individual attention, despite the size of the facility.
For young children, whether a camp is coed may not matter, but if they continue to go to the same camp year after year, it may become an issue. Does your son or daughter need exposure to the opposite sex? Would he or she do better in a single-sex environment where his self confidence is bolstered?
3. Choose several camps
Books, Web sites, and camp associations are good resources for finding camps. Surf the Web and scour the library and bookstores. Talk to friends, teachers, coaches, and others who might know about camps.
Send away for brochures and videos. Look in the papers for announcements of camp fairs in your area. Make up a list of questions and then call the director.
4. Interview the camp director
This may be the single most important exercise when choosing a camp. Once you have narrowed the field to four or five camps (or fewer), arrange to meet the directors or schedule lengthy phone calls with them.
Ask the director about his philosophy for the camp, as well as numerous other questions. Any director worth his or her salt should happily answer questions such as these that follow:
What will my child get from this program?
How will my child be challenged?
What kind of camper has the best experience at this camp?
What is the schedule like? Is it structured or is there room for free choice?
What is the ratio of camper to counselor?
How is the staff trained? How many return each year?
How do you encourage children to try new activities?
How are leadership and personal growth fostered?
What kinds of skills are emphasized?
What about the child who is not athletically inclined?
How do you deal with conflict and misbehavior?
What percentage of campers return each year?
What is your policy on parental visits?
What medical facilities are available?
5. Can you afford the camp?
Summer camp is pricey. Even those run by the YMCA or the Scouts can make a dent in your budget.
As important as it is to understand the cost of camp -- and there are usually "hidden costs" beyond the fee, such as transportation, clothes, trips, camp pictures, canteen allowance -- it's not a good idea to choose a camp solely based on price.
Your child will benefit far more from two weeks or a month at the right camp than from an entire summer spent at an inferior or inappropriate camp.
6. Talk to references
Ask the camp director for references. Talk to other parents and, if possible, counselors. Arrange for your child to talk to or email an experienced camper.
If you can, visit the camp -- preferably when it's in session (this may be difficult to do!). If you can't visit, view videos and brochures and ask as many questions as you can.
Word of mouth is a good way to choose a camp, but remember that not every child is alike and your child may not like the same things as your neighbor's son or daughter.
7. Make sure your child is enthusiastic
Keep your son or daughter in the loop when you choose the camp. Report back on conversations, talk about what she wants the summer to be. Keep his interests in mind and discover new ones.
This way, when your child leaves for his summer adventure, you both will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. When camp is good, it's one of the best experiences of childhood.