The Guide to Finding the Perfect Summer Camp for Your Child

Feb 26, 2020

With summer fast approaching, many parents begin to look into what their children are going to do during these months off from school.  One of the most popular answers to that question is summer camp.

Although summer camp can be an excellent option for both children and parents, there are so many choices out there that it’s difficult to know which camp is best for your children.  So how do you make sure you are choosing the right summer camp for your toddler, preschooler or young child?

Regardless of the type of summer camp you choose or how old your child is, you’ll want to look for local summer camps that have impeccable reputations, dedicated staff members, safe and accessible facilities, and a warm and welcoming environment. Of course, your summer camp of choice should also offer activities that are both educational and fun. What better place to find all of those features than a school that’s already well-known and highly regarded in the community?

Having run a successful summer day camp in New Jersey for many years, we are very familiar with the challenges and questions that are most important to parents when choosing a summer camp for their children.  So we decided to share some of our insights and break down the key questions for you to ask when searching for the perfect summer camp for your and your child’s specific needs.

Day Camp vs. Sleepaway Camp – which to choose?

One of the first things you’ll want to nail down is whether to choose a day camp or a sleepover camp for your child.

Day camps are great for the younger kids like toddlers & preschoolers, providing parents with some free time but the ability to still see their child every day.  If your children are on the younger side, day camps will likely be your best bet. Many older children enjoy them too, particularly if they specialize in certain areas that line up with their emerging passions.

Overnight sleepaway camps are generally geared for somewhat older and more seasoned campers who want to experience a different assortment of exciting new camping activities.  Sleepover camps are typically appropriate for children ages seven and up as the child (and parent) need to have a comfort level with sleeping in a different environment. Some day camps offer an overnight opportunity during their weekly sessions to give younger campers a taste of what this experience is like.

There are many factors when considering which type of summer camp to choose for your child’s needs:

  1. Proximity: If you have to pick your child up every day, you’ll want to find a place that’s relatively close to home.
  2. Age: Knowing how old can a child be for summer daycare or summer camp is important. A toddler or preschooler will not likely be ready to stay overnight somewhere so a local summer day camp can be the perfect fit.
  3. Activities: Check out what activities the summer day camp provides and see if they align with your child’s interests.  For example, some camps will offer swimming lessons which you may want your child to partake in, both for safety and of course for fun (swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States, after all!)
  4. Comfort level: Most parents worry about their kids when attending overnight camps, so make sure both you and your child would be ready for this.  Picking the right camp can help alleviate that worry.
  5. Ask questions: Be sure to talk with some of the counselors and caretakers. It’s important to know who will be taking care of your child. Make sure these are the right people for the job.
  6. Talk with your child: While it’s important for children to gain experiences that will empower them, it’s also important to be sure they are comfortable with the concept.

What ages does the summer camp allow?

It’s important to consider age appropriateness when choosing a summer camp for toddlers, preschoolers, grade school children, and teenagers.

The age of your child will often play a part in determining which programs are appropriate and what the cost will be.  Some summer day camps for young children will accept even newborns as young as three months.  This is often more of a daycare type setting, but allows you the simplicity of a single facility if you have more than one child to drop off and pick up each day.

For camps that do accept a wide age range of children, it’s a good idea to inquire as to whether summer camp activities are split up into specific age groups. Will your child be with other children of the same age group or mixed into a larger group that includes older children?  You’ll want to make sure you are clear on the answer to this important question.

At our summer camp, all of our age groups follow the same routines but tailored for a wide age range. Whether your child is three months old or they’ve just celebrated their eighth birthday, our summer camps will be an excellent fit.

How much does summer camp cost?

Ah, one of the most critical factors – cost.  Affordability will certainly play a substantial role for many families when deciding on a summer camp.

Day camps typically offer the most cost flexibility. According to the American Camping Association, the average day camp in the U.S. costs just over $300 per week.  Some camps cost as low as $100 a week, while some charge upwards of $500.

Though the specific costs can vary greatly depending on numerous factors such as the child’s age, the number of days/hours/weeks attended, add-on programs & services etc, these are some general ranges for you to be aware of when shopping around.

Some day camps will have ways to make costs more affordable, as day camps tend to offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and pricing options to accommodate your budget and fit your vacation plans. You may save a bit by signing your child up for a full month rather than single-week sessions. Other camps may offer payment plans or give discounts to families with multiple children.

Most camps can offer packages and experiences that won’t break the bank, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your family’s budget and the camp’s reputation.  Plan out how much you can afford and begin looking within those parameters. There are many options out there that tailor to just about everyone’s needs.

How flexible is the scheduling?  What are the days & hours of the summer camp?

The Center For American Progress estimates that fewer than one-third of children today have a full-time, stay-at-home parent.  So flexibility is key when choosing a camp, so that working families can find a summer camp that fits within their schedules.

If your child can attend only one week of camp or you require extended hours, you will need to ensure the summer camp can accommodate this.  Most camps – especially day camps – will offer a number of flexible options, such as mornings only, half-day, and full-day hours.  They may also offer the option to enroll just for a number of weeks, rather than having to choose an entire month or the whole summer.  You may also want to ask for a detailed schedule of summer camp activities in case your child needs to leave early on certain days.

Bottom line, you need your camp to be adaptable, especially in the summer months.  Don’t settle for a situation that won’t meet your needs.

What activities do the children participate in?

Some summer camps are more general, offering a variety of activities to try. Others specialize in certain subjects, such as space camps, science camps, art camps, or theater camps.

For older children or those specializing in a certain athletic or creative track, a specialized camp can make sense.  But for young children, general camps are often a good place to start. It’s a way for participants to discover the summer camp activities that excite them while maintaining a diverse and engaging approach.

A well-rounded summer camp program will offer the opportunity to partake in sports (soccer, yoga, lacrosse, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming lessons), as well as focus on music, arts and crafts, science, reading, math, and more.

Many camps also provide snacks and even meals free of charge to keep kids engaging in healthy habits throughout the day. Other camps may offer an affordable alternative to paper bag lunches that focus on nutritious elements. This will ensure campers stay energized throughout the day and will eliminate parental concerns about food quality. If you’re looking for a camp that provides food, make sure your final choice is health-focused and affordable.

What are the qualifications of the staff and counselors?

Summer camp counselors, teachers and staff can make all the difference in your child’s experience. There should be a relatively low ratio of students to counselors and they should also meet your criteria in terms of age and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how staff members are hired and vetted.

Some summer day camps that are affiliated with a preschool, like ours, may actually be staffed by full-time teachers.  This gives an added free benefit, as their experience and educational training is a huge advantage in maintaining your child’s intellectual development during the otherwise “tuned out” summer months.

What security and safety measures are in place?

Camper health and safety should always be a priority, especially when swimming lessons are part of summer camp activities.  Make sure that all full-time counselors, teachers and administrators are certified in CPR and First Aid.

Check if the summer camp provides video camera security in all facilities, classrooms and outdoor locations, as well as security measures like coded front-door access and other safety measures.  More modern operations, especially day camps for younger children, may offer parent cams which allow you to “peek in” from your smartphone to observe your child periodically throughout the day.

It may also be important for parents to ensure that their child’s allergies will be taken into account. If your child has a nut allergy, for example, it’s pivotal for you to ensure that your choice in summer camp is a nut-free facility. In the interest of protecting every child enrolled at Lily Pond, our classrooms and camps are 100% nut-free. No matter what, it’s crucial for staff members to receive training on what to do in the event of allergen exposure or another emergency.

For that reason, you’ll also want to ensure that you discuss your child’s healthcare needs with the administration and staff members at a given summer camp. If your child takes certain daily medications, for instance, you’ll want to have a plan in place that will minimize disruption to your child’s routine and will guarantee that they receive the treatment they need when they’re away from home.

Can I visit or take a tour?

The best way to get the answers to these and many more questions about the safety and quality of a camp is to simply make the time to visit.  During that visit carefully observe the tone of the school and the people who are in charge. If you sense that the children are happy and the staff and leadership are upbeat the odds are the camp experience will be excellent. If you do not get a sense of fun, caring and safety just…move on!

What is the summer camp’s reputation?

In today’s internet age, learning about a summer camp’s reputation is not very difficult.  While nothing beats direct word of mouth from a past or current customer, sometimes that is not possible.  By taking a look at the camp’s online reviews, website and social media channels, you can learn a lot about both the organization itself and people’s general opinion of it.  This will help give you peace of mind in knowing that you are sending your child to a highly reputable place.

Recap and Takeaways

Choosing a summer camp is similar to selecting the right daycare – you must make sure it is a perfect fit for both you AND your child.  To recap, these are some of the considerations you will want to look at when making your summer camp decision:

  • Day camp or sleepaway camp?
  • What is the age range of children?
  • Are the children grouped by age?
  • How much does the camp cost?
  • Is there a discount for more than one child?
  • What are the scheduling options?
  • What activities do the children participate in?
  • Does the camp offer additional options such as swimming lessons?
  • What is the reputation of the summer camp (word of mouth, online reviews)?
  • What are the qualifications/training of the supervisors?
  • What are the security & safety measures in place?
  • Is the camp accessible to me on a smartphone, iPhone, etc?
  • Can I tour or visit the camp?
  • Are there lunch options?

A great summer camp is truly a lifetime of wonderful memories for the children.  Although there are many camps that will provide the social and intellectual stimulation your child needs to keep growing and learning throughout the summer, not all summer camps are created equal. By keeping this reference guide in mind, you can feel confident about making a final choice. We wish you the best of luck and happy summer camp hunting!

Looking for one of the top summer camps in New Jersey for your infant, preschooler or grade school child?
We invite you to take a look at the Lily Pond Summer Day Camp in beautiful River Vale, NJ.

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