How do I choose a day camp?

Parents have a lot to consider before selecting a day camp for their child—cost, location, hours, transportation, the program’s activities, the quality of the program, their child’s interests, his friends, and the availability of after-camp day care. Since some camps fill up rapidly, parents may have to make camp decisions long before they feel ready to think about summer.

      Urban and suburban areas offer many choices. There are private day camps run for profit and ones run by non-profit organizations such as the YMCA. There are municipal camps. Many private schools have summer camp programs and some public schools are leased during the summer by private or public camps.

      If parents want to keep costs down, they’ll find that municipal camps are the least expensive. If transportation is a problem, they should look for camps close to home or work, or ones offering bus transportation. If parents need after-camp day care for their child, they should inquire about extended day programs.

      After considering the practical side of summer arrangements, parents will still be faced with choices. Since there are general as well as specialized day camps, you should carefully consider your child’s hobbies, interests, and personality. Would he enjoy a sports camp? arts or music camp? computer camp? Would he prefer an indoor camp? Would he be happier in a camp offering a mix of activities? Will he be unhappy without a friend along?

      Some kids are reluctant to go to camp without knowing someone, since the two- to eight-week sessions may not be enough time to form friendships. Parents sometimes make decisions based only on where their child’s friends are going. Also, some parents send all of their own children to the same camp regardless of the children’s interests, because they want the siblings to be together.

As you look for camps, ask other parents for suggestions, write for information, and check with local government recreation departments for recommendations.

      If your child’s school is the site of a summer camp, he may be anxious to go there because it’s familiar. This may be a good idea, but he may be upset if he’s expecting the summer to be like the school year. He may be troubled, especially if he’s only six years old, to see different furniture in the classrooms, different adults in charge, and different kids. If you enroll him in a local school camp, prepare him for the changes he’ll see.

      If he has special health needs, look for camp that will make the summer pleasant and successful. For instance, one child with asthma triggered by allergens did best in an air-conditioned environment. He attended an indoor camp offering arts and crafts, sports, and computer instruction.

      Your child may tell you he doesn’t want to go to camp although he will still need to be busy and productive. A summer at home may he fine if your schedule can accommodate it. However, you may be put in a bind if you work or if you feel he should be enrolled in an organized program for the summer. One solution is to look for a camp with reduced hours. You also can find out why he’s reluctant to go to camp. If he doesn’t want to take swimming lessons, is uncomfortable changing his clothes in a locker room, doesn’t want to take part in some of the activities, is generally hesitant about new situations, or has another problem, talk to him about his feelings and offer ideas and reassurance. If necessary, seek suggestions from camp counselors or directors. You should be able to find a flexible program that will accommodate his needs.

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