5 Steps to Choosing the Right Summer Camps for Kids

You’re just trying to get through the rest of the school year and a summer schedule barely has crossed your mind yet. But remember last year, when summer camps were already booked up by the time you got around to it?

Here’s your friendly reminder to get your kids’ camp spots secured now. Your summer self will thank you.

  1. Choose Your Type

Summer camps are like ice cream – variety galore (and they’re a sweet escape for Mama).

From local day camps, often run by parks districts, to week-long sleep-away camps, chances are there’s a summer camp experience for your kid—especially with the growing trend in specialty camps that cater to specific interests like sports, academics, music, arts and crafts, cooking and performance arts.

First thing’s first: Decide whether you’ll be shipping junior off to a full-on sleep-away summer camp or just staving off the boredom with some day camp activities.

Most communities have a variety of options for summer day camps for younger children. Some programs are morning or afternoon only, while others run all day. Many local Parks and Recreation departments offer affordable, fun camps, often staffed by energetic high school and college students, providing your child with a variety of activities ranging from sports to crafts to touring the local fire department.

Your child’s friends may already be signed up for some of these day camps. They’re a great way to introduce children to the fun world of “camp” experiences – being a part of a community and having trial “separations” from mom and dad.

But if Miss or Mr. Independent is ready for a sleep-away camp, it can be a great experience and an opportunity to make lifelong memories. Many camp directors feel most kids are ready for sleep-away camps by age 12, but some children are emotionally ready as early as 6! And not all sleep-away camps last for several weeks—in fact, many run week-long camps.

The benefits of sleep-away camps are plentiful. They’re fun. They help your child gain a sense of independence. They usually require children to “disconnect” electronically. They help your child learn how to make new friends. They expose your child to new skills. They let your child shed stereotypical roles they play at home or at school. And perhaps the biggest benefit of a sleep-away camp is that it’s a healthy way for your child to learn to separate from – and depend less on – you!

  1. Cater to Their Interests

Got a young Lebron James on your hands? He’ll love basketball camp!

Does she spend hours in front of the mirror, singing into her hairbrush? Look into a drama camp.

Camps exist for virtually any area of interest, from general sports to specific sports, from hands-on art camps to performing arts camps. There are cooking camps, academic camps, church camps and science camps. And then there are the good old-fashioned summer camps you and I remember that offer activities for kids with varying interests.

  1. Do Your Research

Before you hand over your hard-earned cash and ship that precious cargo off to camp, invest a little time and effort into finding the right one. After all, you want your kids to have fun and be safe at camp!

Talk to other parents and friends about camps they have used – but don’t let your research end there. The American Camp Association’s Find a Camp search engine is fantastic for narrowing down a list of possibilities. You could also try SummerCamps.com, KidsCamps.com, Camps.com and Certifikid.

Once you narrow your list of camps, call the camp and ask questions using this list of questions from the American Camp Association. See if the camp you are interested in has camper reviews on MySummerCamps.com

  1. Look for Ways to Save

Find yourself a little strapped for cash? Whether you’re considering a day camp or a sleep-away camp, inquire about financial aid or scholarships (often called camperships). You’ll be amazed at the amount of discounts and support available if you ask. In the meantime, explore some of these avenues offering affordable fun for your kiddo:

  • Your local YMCA. One of the largest providers of camping experiences in the country, the Y offers some of the most affordable camping opportunities you’ll find. Go online for information – but don’t hesitate to call someone to inquire about pricing flexibility.
  • Local Police and Fire Departments. Many offer free summer “day camps” for children in the community.
  • Organizations like the Fresh Air Fund. Many organizations like this provide free summer camps for inner city children.
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Running camps across the country, many are very affordable. Researching local camps near you will likely turn up great options.
  • Specialty causes. For example, Camp Kesem provides 100% free summer camp to children touched by a parent’s cancer at over 100 camps around the country.
  • Local schools and places of worship. Mostly day camps for younger children, many churches and schools offer affordable options.
  • Multiple-child discounts. If you are sending more than one child to a camp – talk to the camp director about sibling discounts!
  1. Above All – Plan Ahead!

You’ll read with regularity that many camps (both day camps and sleep-away camps) fill up early. That’s why it’s so important to get a jump on things sooner rather than later (read that as NOW)!

As you narrow down your list of possibilities, speak to the camp director and find out if they expect to fill the session you are interested in. If they do, that will give you good information to act on regarding registration. If a camp session is already get on the waiting list. You’ll be amazed at how many children get moved from the waiting list to a summer of fun!

Don’t forget to inquire about refundable registration fees. After all, things happen. If you’re not 100% sure about sending your child to a camp, sometimes your best strategy is to sign them up early—as long as your registration fee is refundable, of course.

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