The Camp Directors and Owners are flying around the country, OR ZOOMING, meeting and greeting potential campers and families. They are very busy, and ready to present the picture of their camp to you and your children. But you need to be armed with the right questions to make sure that you find the perfect camp for your child and family.
Here are the top 10 questions for you to ask at the meeting:
1. What is the camp’s philosophy and programming structure?
The flavor of a camp starts from the top down. The philosophy of the director will be the direction of the staff. What is the philosophy on competition, team tryouts, rules and boundaries, sportsmanship, in bunk relationships, participation when the child is interested or not interested in an activity, and methods of encouragement. Ask about the programming structure: full choice, partial choice, activities with your bunk, activities with your division, single sex and coed activities, placement by age, placement by ability….. Understand how your child will spend their days and make sure it fits their personality. Bottom line: Make sure their philosophy matches your parenting style and your child’s personality and learning style as well.
2. How is staff hired, screened and trained?
First, find out the hierarchy of staff from the top down. You are meeting the director. Understand how many people are between your child and the director, the chain of command and communications between the chain. Then, find out :
Who interviews the staff? What are the criteria for staff members i,e, age and experience? How are they screened? Are there background checks in place? How many US vs. out of country staff will there be? Does the camp utilize best practices in these areas? What is the return rate of counselors? What are the ages of all the counselors in the cabin? 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? Are there camp moms dedicated to the youngest campers? What are their roles? Knowing who will be working with your camper on a day-to-day basis will not only assure safety and happiness, but allow you to rest easy knowing that your child is in well-qualified hands.
3. What measures are taken to ensure the safety of the campers?
What is the makeup of the health center on the camp? Who staffs it? What type of doctor is in place? On premise or off? How far is the emergency room and major hospital? Can a helicopter land if necessary? In case something happens, from lice to broken limbs, what are the procedures to ensure quick and competent response. How will a parent be informed of things that may happen to your child. You should also inquire about the camp’s safety procedures, risk-management standards (buddy systems, cabin checks, curfews), and the guidelines set for campers (boundaries, water safety, etc.).
4. What type of settings and accommodations are available? How are communications and photos handled?
Bunk beds or singles? Wood or metal? Cubbies or trunks for storage? Toilets and showers – in cabin or out of cabin? How many per cabin? Who cleans them? What is the dining hall like? What food options are provided? How many campers will be sleeping in each cabin? Knowing what to expect before getting to camp will help your child adjust smoothly. And how will you communicate? Camp parents call? How often? Email both ways or just one? Are photos sent to the parents? Social media? Face recognition or no.
5. What is the camp’s return rate?
Asking this question directly will always lead to a high percentage rate. But ask it a bit differently — “how much space is there for a new 13 year old camper?” If there is lots of space, it may indicate that there is a burnout by age 13. If it is still packed, a culture of retention is established. Campers that return to a specific camp summer after summer is a reflection of the personnel, administration, overall ambiance, experience and sense of community the camp provides.
6. What type of child would succeed at this camp? And what child does not belong at this camp?
You know your child the best, so you are in the best position to judge what type of camp would best suit him or her. Be sure to know what type of camp you are looking for in order to direct your question properly. Are you seeking a traditional and varied camp program, or a camp where campers hone a particular set of skills or talents? Does your child want a summer filled with sports and physical activity, or one filled with arts and creative activity? What is the competitive nature of the camp? Some camps promote competitiveness while others focus on cooperative learning. A description of a typical day at camp can be a good tool to help you decide. Be sure to then match your child’s personality to the appropriate camp’s program.
7. What is the camps staff-to-camper ratio?
This ratio indicates the overall level of supervision your camper will receive on a daily basis while at camp. It is important to also understand the ratio in the cabin during the day as well as at night. When the campers go to bed, does a staff member stay in the cabin? on the porch? in the field?
8. Is the camp accredited?
The ACA (American Camping Association) examines the living accommodations, food service, emergency preparedness, program practices, health care, personnel, transportation, and administrative procedures of each camp that seeks accreditation. If the camp is not accredited, be sure to ask why. From personal experiences, there are reasons that make sense not to be accredited by the ACA, but you want to understand why.
9. How are disciplinary actions handled/homesickness/bullying?
There are many behavioral problems that can arise during the summer. Understanding the cause of the problem is crucial and knowing how the camp handles these issues must fit with your philosophy. If penalties are involved for behavior problems, what are they? Who can administer these penalties? What boundaries does the camp set for campers? Positive reinforcement and fair treatment are qualities parents should look for when choosing a summer camp. If a child is homesick, what is the procedure? Phone calls permitted? How are you included in the team to help your child be successful? If bullying occurs, what procedures are followed?
10. What does the Camp Director want the campers to take away with them at the end of their camping experience?
Look for the passion that starts from the Camp Director's toes, heart and soul, and projects through their eyes and facial expression. You want the passion to be passed to your child. If you agree with their passion, and answer to this question, feel good about your ultimate choice.
Remember, before you have the interview with the Camp Director, it is important to work with your Camp Expert to narrow down the best options. You should get to the stage of the interviews knowing that you will make an excellent decision no matter what. Now you are down to philosophy and qualitative feel.
For help finding the right camps to interview, feel free to contact Karen Meister at Camp Experts & Teen Summers.