|Wednesday, June 19, 2013|
|Wednesday, June 19, 2013|
FAQs About Summer Camp: Something for Everyone and Every Budget
If you think you missed the boat on sending your child to camp this summer, your ship may have just come in. The fact that the majority of families already have made their selections for summer camp doesn't mean there aren't some good opportunities still available, says Jeffrey Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association (NCA) in New York. The NCA is a free guidance and referral service that helps families find appropriate sleep-away programs for their children.
Camp planning ideally should start in mid to late fall. January, February, and March are peak recruitment months, but come late May and early June, plans change for some families and last-minute cancellations occur. A child that was signed up for camp may now need to attend summer school, or maybe there's a family illness. There might be a bunk in sleep-away camp for your child after all.
The NCA defines sleep-away camp as a residential experience for children that may or may not be recreational. Camps run the gamut of variety; what they share in common is that the children are having an independent experience--independent from their parents. The national average length of stay for traditional sleep-away camps is four weeks but can range from one to nine weeks. Some children also attend traditional "day" camps, returning home each night.
How do we get started?
The first step in choosing a sleep-away camp is self-evaluation, says Solomon, who attended sleep-away camp from age seven to 18. Think about what you want for your child; what goals and objectives do you and your child have?
When is a child ready for sleep-away camp?
More often than not the question is, When is the parent ready?
Children can go to sleep-away camp from age four through 18. On average, children start going at age seven or eight. According to Solomon, surveys done with thousands of families show that the younger the child, the easier time the child has and the more successful the camp experience. Often the reverse is true of the parents of these younger children. For younger children, there is less of an issue of "cliques"--those age seven or eight have less chance of being at camp with kids who have been going for years as opposed to children in their teens.
"One option that may intrigue parents who aren't quite ready to send their child away for a week is a starter camp," says Kate Mace, Wisconsin section executive for the American Camping Association (ACA). Starter camps are for families that aren't ready to send their child away for a long time or for families that don't want to make the big financial commitment but would like their child to have that "camp" experience. Camp Start in Wisconsin, for example, is for two nights and three days and costs $125.
The ACA is a community of camp professionals that accredits camps and has educational programs to help camps provide quality programs. ACA accreditation assures parents that camps have had regular independent safety audits that go beyond regulations in most states. ACA assists parents with information about selecting an appropriate camp for their child.
Take advantage of organizations such as the NCA and the ACA to screen and evaluate the programs you're interested in and match the programs to the child. All camps that the NCA and ACA recommend must meet standards and criteria that are re-evaluated yearly. Camps must meet health and safety standards, staff standards, and program and facility standards.
How do I know if I'm selecting a good camp?
It's a matter of appropriateness. What might be an appropriate camp for one child might not be appropriate for another.
"Camps don't survive because they have big budgets," says Solomon. "They survive based on word of mouth. If word of mouth is positive, they stay in business.
"One of the best ways to evaluate a camp is to talk to other parents who've sent children to the camp you're interested in," Solomon says. You'll not only learn what the family did and didn't like about the camp, but also will gain insight into the type of child that attends the camp.
It's important to learn how long the camp has been in existence; equally important is how long the current owner or director has been at the helm.
Return rates for campers and counselors are also important. Happy staffers are going to be good staffers, and happy staffers are going to want to come back year after year. Kids who enjoyed a summer camp likely will choose the same camp in the future.
Camps are required to keep a certain staff-to-camper ratio so there is constant supervision of the children. If your child has special needs you may need a camp with a one-to-one ratio. Age is also a factor in staff-to-camper ratio--younger children need more staff.
Camps that the NCA recommends are required to have an infirmary on the grounds and must have medical staff available. Often a doctor lives right on the grounds. If not, the doctor and the hospital must be in a reasonable distance of the camp.
How many camps are there and how many children attend?
There are about 10,000 camps in the U.S., including day camps, sleep-away camps, and travel camps.
In summer 2002, 6.2 million children attended camp; 65% of those attended sleep-away camp. "There's a phenomenon that is unique to sleep-away camps," Solomon says. "They are developing somewhat of an international flavor." Day camps draw a homogeneous group from one area, whereas sleep-away camps are more diversified in terms of drawing attendees from a broad geographic area.
In recent years there has been a 20% growth in the international market--children from other countries are coming and experiencing this uniquely American phenomenon. This has had an impact on U.S. "campers." Now, a child from New York returning from camp may not only have made a friend from California, but also may have made a friend from Italy. The Internet helps these kids maintain relationships year round until reuniting at camp the next summer.
Do I need to visit the camp before sending my child?No. More than 90% of families that send their children to sleep-away camp do not visit the camps in advance of attendance. Most families simply don't plan more than a year in advance and that's really the only time to visit a camp--when it's in session.
How much does summer camp cost?
"The cost of the program is going to be, for many families, a critical and determining factor that will impact the length of session considered," Solomon says. If parents are on a tight budget, they might need to consider something shorter in length.
Independent and for-profit camps generally range in cost from about $400 a week to about $1,500 a week. Nonprofit camps range in cost from $200 to $350 a week. There's great variation in cost, and within price ranges a great variation of what's offered. That doesn't mean that a $200 camp is a bad camp or an inferior camp, and parents shouldn't think they're getting an unsupervised or an unsafe camp if they choose a less-expensive one. Typically, the more expensive camps can offer a higher level of instruction and usually a more expansive array of activities.
"The best advice to parents is to work within your means," Solomon says. Work within your budget and know your limits. Be realistic with your price range as well.
Nonprofit camps such as camps through local YMCAs typically will be less expensive. These camps usually are high-quality organizational programs.
The price tag of $400 a week may seem extravagant, but parents often fail to stop and assess what it might cost to pay a babysitter for that same amount of time. Keep in mind that sleep-away camps are round the clock and provide 24/7 medical care and three meals a day. When you break this down, a week at camp might cost less than keeping a child home for a week.
Planning early also can help families save for camp by setting money aside each month in a special savings account.
Some camps give you the option of paying along the way, says Mace. You either can prepay or send in money throughout the year. Some camps also have scholarships for families that can't afford the cost of camp.
"Nonprofit camps are often subsidized by the organization, have lower fees, and charge less than the real cost of the experience," Mace says. Examples would be camps that do fund-raising such as a church camp, a camp for inner city kids, or a camp for children with disabilities. This is important to know so that parents don't assume that the camp is run cheaply. For example, one director of an agency camp said that the cost for his one-week camp is $700, but the cost to the family of the child is $350.
What types of camps are out there?
Years ago camp was thought of as just for kids who loved the outdoors or loved sports, Solomon says. Today that's no longer the case. Kids don't have to be athletic or nature-oriented to enjoy a camp. There are science, computer, and academic camps that all would be attractive to kids who wouldn't necessarily want a sport or wilderness experience.
Today's wilderness camps offer rock-climbing, rappelling, and rafting. Ironically, as much as these camps are challenging and adventurous, they tend to be among the safest programs because so many safety protocols are in place--staff qualifications and equipment quality are high.
Other camps may offer community service programs in exotic locations where kids can work on an environmental project, such as in a rain forest in Costa Rica. Or kids may work on an Indian reservation in the southwestern United States.
"There is a camp for everyone," Mace says. There is such a variety religious-based; specialty-based such as computer or drama; and tripping camps, where campers canoe for three weeks. Trip camps sometimes can be more expensive because they have more staff and require more equipment. One trip camp in Wisconsin reports a cost of $1,800 for 10 days.
What will my child gain from the "camp" experience?
"There are so many profound benefits that children gain from camp," Mace says. "Camp is a respite from the world. There is a safe place to go where the point of each day is to be happy and have a good time. Camp improves self-esteem and social skills, builds confidence, makes learning fun, and helps children perfect the joy of living," adds Mace. "There is a camp for every single child and to have the opportunity is life-changing."
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