Tips for Finding the Right Camp for Your Child

When it comes to summer camp opportunities, the choices in the St. Louis and surrounding areas often prove to be almost limitless. But with so many choices, parents feel overwhelmed and unsure about how choose the right summer camp experience for their children. Plus, many parents rely on summer camp to not only provide an enriching experience, but also to serve as the care provider for their children when they are out of school, making the right decision that much more important.

Fortunately, area experts say there are several things parents can and should take into consideration to narrow down the prospects and help make a decision that will lead to a successful summer camp experience.

Camp provides a positive opportunity for growth that should not be underestimated, said Jenny Wolkowitz, Midwest consultant of Tips and Trips on Camps, a free camp referral service. Whether it’s day camp or away camp, it can be an integral part of a child s educational and social development. Sometimes, camping can also lead to a mini hunting activity that ought to have ar 15 parts

Like Wolkowitz, school counselors, camp directors and other experts suggest that parents reflect on a few key considerations to start narrowing the search for a summer camp: Talents and Personality Nancy Bonn-Winkler, Licensed Professional Counselor and gifted program counselor at the Rockwood School District s Center for Creative Learning, said parents should embrace the fact that summer camp provides the perfect opportunity to explore passions that a child might not be able to delve into during the regular school year.

For that reason, parents need to carefully consider the curriculum or objectives of a camp if they are seeking this kind of enrichment.

If a child is really excelling in art, you might not want to put her in a campwhere all the kids will be creating the same general piece, but rather look for one that can help her hone her skills and learn something new, she said. Likewise, camp can be an opportunity for children to be exposed to a new subject or skill. According to Frieda Smith, senior director of public programs and evaluation at the Saint Louis Science Center, parents shouldn’t be reluctant to send their kids to a camp that focuses on a topic or subject that isn t necessarily their favorite.

Camp can be a great way to help kids overcome a fear of science or math or technology in a safe and fun environment where they don’t have to be worried about a grade, she said. Bon-Winkler said it s also very important for parents to consider the personality of their children and the structure of the camp. Some kids want a lot of structure, while others want some free-play time. Kids who transition easily will do fine at a camp where the activities change throughout the day, but kids who don’t might do better at a shorter camp that only focuses one activity each day. Camp Reputation Smith said the reputation of the camp can provide some valuable information for parents in making their decisions.

It’s important to know something about the organization that is offering the camp and to talk to people associated with it, as well as to parents of other children who attended, she said.

Find out if a camp does background checks on its employees and what kinds of experience their counselors have. Additionally, Smith said parents shouldn’t automatically assume that camps offered by certain organizations are singularly focused. For example, the Science Center offers more than just science camps. We offer glass-blowing camp and cooking camps dash; lots of things that are related to science but that cover a wide range of topics. Needs of Family Of course, parents who are looking to summer camp to provide care for their children while they work need to find camps that offer before- and aftercare and that cover the entire summer break.

In these cases, parents might want to find camps that offer different programs every week so that their children won t get bored. Overnight Camp Certainly, determining whether a child is ready to attend overnight camp can be even more difficult than choosing the camp. Wolkowitz said kids who are ready for this experience have basic self-care skills and have started asking about going away to camp.

Most kids will experience some degree of homesickness, but don’t set them up for failure by telling them you’ll pick them up if they’re having a bad time, Wolkowitz said.

Instead, talk to them about strategies for overcoming homesickness if it occurs.

Choosing which away camp is right for your child is similar to choosing daycamp, according to Wolkowitz. Of course, additional things factor into the decision, including: Length of the away camp Policies about contacting home Distance from home (which affects travel costs) Interest in the geographic region – lakes and rivers or mountains and oceans, East Coast, West Coast or Midwest Interest in exposure to children from other regions and cultures Engaging the Campers Wolkowitz said that one of the best ways to ensure that your kids have a successful camp experience dash; whether it s away camp or day camp dash; is to involve them in the process of choosing the camp.

You can glean a lot from conversations with your kids about what they might be looking for in a campand what you are seeking for them, she said. Bonn-Winkler agreed.

Let kids be invested in the choice as you narrow down the possibilities, she said. Then if it turns out to not be a great experience, point out the positives and turn the negatives into a learning experience that tells you what you don’t want for next year.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of St. Louis Kids Magazine and is reprinted with permission.

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