Camps for Kids
An Age-by-Age Guide
Questions to Ask
The older children get, the more variety of camp experiences open up to them. Day camps are still a great option, but residential camps become an appropriate option as well. While many residential camps offer experiences for children as young as seven, not all seven year olds will be independent enough to enjoy this experience. It is common for the younger end of this age group to experience homesickness, and disorientation. These feelings are normal, healthy and in general, allowing children to face these emotions and learn a measure of self-confidence and independence is can beneficial. Remember that camp staffs are trained to handle these emotions, but parents should also consider whether it is appropriate for a young child’s first camp experience to be an extended residential experience. There are weekend and week long residential which may be more appropriate for the young first-timer. Parents should NOT plan on taking their own vacation during the camp time and should be available to soothe fears via the telephone, or in extreme cases, in person.
Older children may have more independence and the ability to handle the natural stresses of being in a strange environment for a prolonged period of time, but it is most important that you evaluate your child’s individual needs before making this decision.
As your child gets older and expresses more focused interests, specialty camps become an excellent option. The older the child, the more he or she should be involved in the decision-making process, and the more that the individual interests of your child may play a role in determining whether a specifically focused specialty camp or a general camp experience is more desirable.
Children of any age who have special needs have many camp options as well. Many camps have appropriate accommodations, experience and agendas suitable to integrate special needs children into a more general camp population and experience. Parents of special needs children should also look closely at camps that specialize in meeting the needs of these children. At camps equipped for disabled or ill children, there is a better sense of security for parents because the camp staff is specially trained, but these camps also offer a chance for special needs children to interact with other kids facing the same challenges that they do.
According to the ACA, “selecting the right program often boils down to knowing your options and asking the right questions.” Here are a few good ones to ask:
- What is the camp’s philosophy?
- What are the camp director and staff’s backgrounds?
- How are counselors and staff hired, and what background information on them is collected?
- What is the history of the camp – how long has it been in existence?
- What are the medical and safety systems in place, and what are the emergency procedures?
- What is the counselor to camper ratio (the lower the better)?
- How many campers return for subsequent summers?
- Can you talk to a family who has had children at this camp in the past?
- Can you tour the facilities?
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