Choosing the Right Camp for Your Child
Published: January 29, 2021
By: Paige Townley
There are many significant milestones in the life of a child, and one of those is attending camp. For many children, going off to camp is a rite of passage. It’s something they look forward to, and it’s (hopefully) somewhere they make incredible memories that will last a lifetime.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the largest association serving in the organized camp industry, more than 14 million children and adults attend camp in the United States each year. The ACA’s Youth Outcomes Study reveals that 96 percent of those campers reported that camp helped them make new friends, while nearly three-fourths of parents said that camp helped their child gain self-confidence.
“Camps are so important for kids in their development,” says Elizabeth Klespies, Camp Juliette Low recruiter. “For many kids, camp is the first place that’s their own because everything else up until that point they have typically done with their family or parents. Camp is 100 percent theirs, and it’s where they develop so many skills.”
Here’s an explanation of two different kinds of camps:
Resident (Sleepaway) Camp
Camp Juliette Low is a private, nonprofit summer camp for girls (age eight and up) founded by Juliette Gordon Low, who also founded the Girl Scouts. Camp Juliette Low is located on Lookout Mountain in Cloudland, GA, and campers can choose between one-week or two-week sessions. “Our camp is really focused on giving girls independence and teaching them how to live on their own, make friends, and do it outdoors,” Klespies explains. “We’re very authentically an outdoor camp as campers have no electricity in tents and learn things like archery, how to build fires, chop wood with axes, and tie knots.”
For those campers not quite ready for overnight camp or roughing it in the wilderness, there are day camp options, such as the summer day camps offered by the YMCA of Greater Birmingham. Open to any child that has completed kindergarten through rising eight graders, the YMCA summer camps offer flexibility as parents can choose the week (or weeks) that work best for their family. “Parents can choose the weeks they need, but typically they sign kids up for the entire summer,” says Rhonda Elmore, YMCA of Greater Birmingham executive director of youth development. “But if a family doesn’t want the entire summer, our program does have flexibility so they can do what works best for them.”
While daily activities of the summer camp have changed thanks to COVID-19 – camp is modified to ensure safety and social distancing and plans will feature STEM activities, arts and crafts, virtual guest speakers, and virtual field trips – the YMCA summer camps focus on three distinct areas: building health relationships, achievement, and belonging. “We’re very intentional about focusing on these three factors,” Elmore says. “If kids can benefit from those three things at camp, it impacts other skills that are needed for them to grow into successful adults.”
From day camps to resident camps to religious camps to all-girl or all-boy options, there are a plethora of camp options available, each offering its own benefits and challenges. But with so many to choose from, selecting the right camp isn’t always the easiest of tasks. How do parents go about identifying the right type of camp for their child? And just as importantly, how do parents know when their child is even ready?
Start With Your Child
According to the ACA, it all starts with your child, considering their interests and personality. Do the child’s interests jive with the offerings of the camp? Beyond understanding the interests and personality of the child, it also means understanding the child’s maturity level. It’s extremely beneficial if a child has been in a structured environment, such as kindergarten, before ever attending a day camp, Elmore says. For resident camps, it’s also critical for kids to be able to handle basic hygiene by themselves, Klespies adds. “Kids need to be able to take basic care of themselves, like fixing their hair and taking a shower,” Klespies says. “[For a resident camp], it’s important to make sure the child is a little more self-sufficient.”
Include Your Child in the Conversation
The decision-making process, notes the ACA, should include a conversation with your child. As you explore the camp offerings, include your child. That provides an opportunity for your child to express interest, what they don’t like, and become better acquainted with the camp eventually selected.
Understand the Emotions
For many kids, being away from home at resident camp for the first time can be too much. Klespies recommends that if considering a sleepaway camp, the child should have spent the night away from home without their parents prior to camp to ensure they can handle it. “If they’ve spent the night at a friend’s house before, then they are a little more comfortable with being away from their parents,” she says. “That’s good practice and preparation for camp.”
Parents should also remember to show excitement in front of children about going to camp, since children will play off of the emotions being exhibited to them – and prep their child about how to handle emotions. “It’s so beneficial to talk with the child ahead of time about being away from home,” Klespies adds. “Also talk about ways to handle being homesick. Prep them on how to handle those emotions when you’re not there to help them.”
Try a Practice Run
If you’re thinking about a resident camp but just not quite sure, try a practice run with a parent/child weekend. Camp Juliette Low offers a parent/daughter weekend each spring, which allows parents and child an opportunity to check out how it works and the types of activities available.
Once a camp is selected, be open and honest with the camp staff. The more information they know about a child, the better, Elmore says. “The more a parent can tell a provider about their child, such as what might scare them, the best way to console the child if he or she gets upset, what makes them happy, and what they dislike, the better,” she says. “The more that we can know ahead of time before camp even starts, the better our team is equipped to help.”
Going Virtual: Benefits of a Virtual Camp Expo
With so many unknowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online options for most everything are now available, and that doesn’t exclude camp. Many may ask if online camp expos are worth it, and thanks to today’s technology, the answer is a definite yes. Here are a few of the reasons why:
By continuing to offer services, even in the midst of a pandemic – a company or organization can add serious value to its brand. And with so many events being canceled, interested participants will see a lot of value in still being able to attend the virtual event.
Increases Potential Attendees
There’s no better way to potentially expand the audience of your event than creating a virtual option. Oftentimes traveling time or budgeting may prevent interested parties from attending an in-person event. However, a virtual option makes it easier for anyone interested to attend no matter where they live.
It’s common for there to be conflicts that would prevent even those that desperately want to attend from actually attending a one time, in-person event. A virtual event is not only easier for attendees to fit into their schedule, but also something that can be livestreamed and then posted online for others to view later, potentially doubling the viewership.
Planning and paying for an in-person event can get expensive. Logistics of laying out the venue space are typically a nightmare, and food and beverage prices can break the budget. That’s not even mentioning the cost to rent the space and hiring staff. With a virtual event, those problems disappear.
Paige Townley is a freelance writer.