If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing a camp in action is worth a million! Make certain that when you tour a prospective camp you leave with answers to these questions. This will help you to best assess if the camp is a good match for your family:
Get to know this person who is in “loco parentis” (in the place of the parent). What is his/her experience and background? Do you feel confident entrusting your child’s care to this person? Does this person have skills in communicating effectively with children and serving as a positive role model?
Each camp has its own philosophy; the camp you select should be consistent with your own parenting style. For example, is the camp highly competitive or is the focus on personal best? Does the camp concentrate on building life/ personal skills along with providing fun? Is there an awareness around values such as compassion, citizenship, and integrity?
Does the structure of the camp day ensure that children have opportunities to explore all activity areas? Is it more of a group-centric camp where kids can build relationships or an elective based camp where kids focus on their interests?
Is there a sense of belonging, contributing, and caring at the hub of the camp community? Is there a consistency and expectation about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? Do campers have opportunities to build both leadership and decision-making skills?
Who interviews the staff? How involved is the process? What are the criteria for staff members? How are they screened? Are there background checks in place? Does the camp utilize best practices in these areas? What is the return rate of counselors? What are their ages?
Are staff trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communications, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision? Do they receive additional training from child development professionals?
Does the camp consider themselves partners with parents? Do they place a high importance on clear and frequent communication between camp and home? What is the visiting policy? Are supervisors available regularly to speak with parents to address any questions or concerns? Is the director always accessible to the parents?
Does the camp meet or exceed the American Camp Association (ACA) standards which require different ratios for varying ages and special needs (these generally are one staff member to the age of the children at day camp, e.g., 1:6 for 6-year-olds)?
Are the qualities of trustworthiness and dependability, along with empathy and caring for children, a priority? Does the prospective staff member serve as a positive role model for children, and is he/she able to teach and coach in a respectful manner? Does the staff member have a strong self-image, an outgoing personality, and an ability to instill constructive values in children?
This is where the director’s philosophy comes through loud and clear. Positive reinforcement, assertive role-modeling, and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp counseling and leadership. Rules are necessary in any community, and the disciplinary approach taken should be reasonable and well-communicated. Does the staff have the training to motivate positive behavior and the resources to get help from supervisors who are professional educators? Do counselors understand concepts about boundaries and developmentally appropriate behavior? Are they equipped to provide natural and logical consequences, where appropriate, to emphasize children’s ability to develop resilience and decision-making skills?
Is the camp prepared to provide for special needs? If your child has special requirements, ask the camp director about needed provisions and facilities. Are there nurses on staff? A health center? What are the protocols if a child is injured or ill? Are special foods available for campers with restricted or special diets?
Is the camp prepared to work with your child if there are adjustment or separation issues? Will the director keep you informed of your child’s progress if this occurs?
Who drives camp vehicles and how are they trained? Do they possess Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs), and do they practice driving with a camp-designated instructor? Is there a bus counselor on board? Are seat belts mandated by the camp?
Accreditation Visitors ask the questions–up to 300 of them–regarding essential health, safety, and program quality issues important to a camp’s overall operation. While this does not guarantee a risk-free environment, it is some of the best evidence parents have of a camp’s commitment to a safe and nurturing environment for their children.