This article appears in our February 2016 issue of Indy’s Child Parenting Magazine. Flip through it here or pick up a copy today at your local Marsh or Kroger store, YMCA, public library or community center.
Day camp is a place where children can stretch their minds, exercise their bodies, develop new interests and forge lasting friendships. To help your child make the most of the experience, consider these 10 tips:
1. Consider interests.
Day camps offer a host of options that include everything from one centralized activity to a variety of traditional camp fun. Talk with your child about what he would like to gain from the experience. Does he want an assortment of activities or to concentrate on one skill, such as soccer or art?
2. Ponder program length.
Camps range from several hours to a full day and can run from one week to an entire summer. How long your child should participate in a program will depend largely upon his age, developmental level and previous camp experience. First-time campers would do well starting in a partial- to full-week program. Experienced campers may enjoy one that runs throughout the summer.
3. Look at location.
If you choose a day camp close to home, commute time will be less and your child may already be acquainted with some of the other children. A day camp near your employer, however, would allow quick access to your child. But if your child needs additional morning or afternoon childcare, you may want to consider a program close to your sitter.
4. Ask about staff.
Find out about the camper-to-counselor ratio. Ideally it should be six campers to one counselor, as recommended by the American Camping Association. What experience and/or training do the counselors have? How are they selected? What is the camp’s discipline policy? Are they trained to take care of health concerns such as asthma, allergies and dispensing medicine?
Ask about indoor and outdoor facilities. Is there ample indoor space for children to play during inclement weather? Is the outdoor equipment and grounds well maintained? Are the children’s swimming skills tested before they are allowed to enter the water?
6. Investigate cost.
Inquire about additional fees. Some day camps have a base price but charge extra for trips and special activities. If the camp you want to send your child to costs more than you can afford, find out if there is a scholarship program.
7. Arrange a pre-visit.
Find out if the camp you have chosen has an open house. If not, make arrangements to visit. Before leaving home, jot down any questions you have. If they are not addressed during the meeting, ask to speak with someone before securing your deposit.
8. Fill out forms.
When it comes to forms, be thorough and specific. For example, if your child was taking medication during the school year but will be off of it for the summer, make sure the camp is aware as this could cause an extreme change in behavior. Insect and food-related allergies should be listed too. Also list family crises that could affect your child – divorce, recent death, etc.
When filling out the emergency contact form, make sure the person you designate to help out in your absence knows in advance her name is listed. Every year camps contact the emergency person written down and she was not informed she was “on call.”
9. Peruse policies & procedures.
Most camps have a weekly schedule so parents know the upcoming activities. Talk with your child about what is planned. If she cannot participate due to health reasons, make sure you (not your child) inform the camp. Also, many camps have strict policies about leaving technology items at home. If restricted items are brought, they may be confiscated and returned at the end of the day in hopes the child gets the message.
10. Keep communicating.
At the end of each camp day, find time to listen as he shares his adventures. If he is having a hard time articulating what happened, break it down by activities – “What crafts did you do?” “Did you play any outdoor games that involved balls or running?” “Who did you play with at the pool?” Above all, encourage your child to always do his best, obey the rules and be respectful of others, and chances are he’ll have a great time.
Writer Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.