How to pick the right summer camp

When choosing day or overnight camps, parents need to ensure that the programs fit the family's goals and values and also meet their child's needs and interests.

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Cathy Downs (Carolina Parent contributing writer)

The goal for Carol Schneider and her husband, Bruce, of Raleigh, is for their daughter, Alexandra, 7, to have a fun camp experience that’s not stressful and to learn something new.

“The school year revolves around academic learning. So, during the summer, I want Alexandra to learn skills that she wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn during the academic year,” Carol Schneider says.

When choosing day or overnight camps, you want to ensure that the programs fit your family’s goals and values and also meet your child’s needs and interests.

Tuning into your child’s interests, abilities and personality is crucial to finding the right match between your child and a specific camp. The most important factor for a successful camp experience, according to Darcy Lewandowski, associate director of Family and School Experiences at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, is whether or not the child is interested in the camp’s theme or topic.

“If a child who doesn’t like sports goes to a sports camp, it probably won’t make for the most enjoyable week he or she could have had,” Lewandowski says.

“Nothing is worse than having children placed into a camp they have no interest in simply because Mom or Dad thought it would be ‘cool,’" says Julie Luecht, assistant community center supervisor at Bond Park Community Center in Cary. "This can create discipline problems and adversely affect the other campers who do want to be there.”

Working with your children to make camp decisions gives them ownership of their choices. Luecht recommends that parents ask their children what they are interested in doing, perhaps giving them the option of several different camps. You also may need to ask yourself if a particular camp truly matches your child’s interest or is it something you’ve always wanted to do instead.

You and your child need to be on the same page when it comes to what benefits you each want to gain from a camp.

“The parent and child really need to assess what type of camp they are looking for – what goals and interests they have,” says Kim Patterson, business director for Camp Oak Hill in Oxford. “Then seek camps with these same objectives.”

To do this, identify what you and your child want in a camp and what your shared expectations are, says Cindy Kelley-Deaton, program executive for the Girl Scouts - North Carolina Coastal Pines.

“No matter the quality of the camp or its program, unidentified expectations can possibly lead to dissatisfaction,” Kelley-Deaton says.

Depending on your family’s flexibility, mixing and matching a variety of camps, including full- and half-day options, can spice up the summer and broaden your child’s horizons.

“Some families like to balance activities of camps by choosing different camps each week,” says Christina Schaffer, an educator at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. “Remember, it might not be a bad idea to suggest something new to your child.”

Although it may sound contradictory, sometimes parents need to push their children to learn new skills, but in a situation that accommodates the child’s range of tolerable activities.

Schneider adds variety to the summer by enrolling Alexandra in full- and half-day sports, creative or religious camps. She schedules outdoor camps for either morning sessions or early in the season when it may not be as hot.

Most, if not all, camps are committed to combining fun and learning in a setting that gives children the rest they need from the intensity of school.

Schaffer notes that, no matter how much education you are trying to build into your child’s camp program, it should be a fun experience.

“It’s important to remember that whether your child is tracked-out or on summer vacation, it is still a break from school,” she says.

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