Summer camp is a powerful experience for a child- one they’ll hopefully remember with fondness for years to come. You want to be sure that you choose the right Camp for your child and for your family, one that’s safe, healthy, and will have a powerful impact on the life of your kid.
Finding the right camp might seem daunting; we're blessed to have so many options available to us! With a few tips and some intentional planning, I believe that you can find the right fit for any child.
The Right Focus:
The type of camp you choose will depend on the experience you’re looking for. There are so many different types of camps- sports camps, adventure camps, community camps, volunteer camps, and religious camps, like the one where I work.
If you’re looking at a Bible Camp, you will want to make sure that the beliefs of the camp align with your own. Check out the camp's mission statement and statement of faith (many camps will have this up and available on their website).
The Right Program:
Most camps have several different programs to choose from, and you’ll want to make sure that you choose the program that works best for your camper.
To start, the length of the program is important. Some programs are day-long, some are week-long, some programs fall somewhere in between. If your child is apprehensive, a first-time camper, or is going without a friend or sibling, it may be wise to start them off with a shorter length of program, or a program that isn't an overnight camp.
Different programs provided by a camp may have different activities attached (like a horse camp, or an outdoor adventure camp, or a drama program). You'll want to check out all the options available and see which activities spark an interest in your child. If you're not sure, a more general program may be the right place to start.
The Right Staff:
Different camps have different structures for how staffing is provided. You'll want to know some of the details of hiring and decide how comfortable you are with entrusting your child to them.
Some camps are staffed by week, so the counselors change from week to week. Others are staffed by volunteers from the churches who are bringing campers. Others hire staff for the entire summer.
No matter how staffing is done, you'll want to find out how staff members are screened. Are background checks part of the screening process? How rigorous is the application process?
How involved are the full-time staff members (like the executive director or CEO), and how often do they interact with their summer ministry help? A very involved full-time staff means that any small issues can and should be addressed before they become larger issues, and improves the quality of the staff overall.
Training is a vital part of staff readiness, as well. How long are the staff trained? What does the training incorporate? Are safety trainings (such as CPR) included? How are specialty staff (like lifeguards, high ropes instructors, boat drivers) trained and inspected?
The Right Price:
Let's be honest, some of your decision will probably come down to the cost of the program.
And honestly, camp can be expensive. Part of the expense is due to providing the great programs, paying the great staff, maintaining the buildings and grounds, feeding all the campers (they eat a lot), and just keeping things running. Many camps (especially Bible Camps and camps run by communities), are non-profits... which means that the majority of funds come from donations and not from the camper fees, but even still, the costs of camp can be daunting.
Here are some ways to reduce the cost and get your child to camp.
Take advantage of discounts- especially early registration deadlines, member church discounts, and anything else that the camp may provide. Don't be afraid to ask!
Consider a shorter program- Most of the time, a shorter program means a less expensive experience.
Don't do it all- Your camper may be gung-ho to sign up for the rock wall, paintballing, the boat ride, and the high ropes course all in one summer. While all those experiences do sound like fun, your child doesn't have to do it all this year. Save some activities for next summer! Your camper will stay nice and busy with only one extra activity, trust me.And, if you're still strapped for the funds, ask for a scholarship. The ministry where I work has a policy where we never turn away a child for camp because they don't have the money. We're in this thing to make a difference in the lives of kids. A lot of camps operate this way, and many have special funds set up for campers who need a financial support.
Camp changes lives. I believe it. I see it every year. And I think that your child should go to camp. But I'm a little biased.
If you're still not completely sold on a camp, contact other families who have sent their kids. Ask your church what camps they support. Read reviews. Check out the camp's Facebook page (most have 'em) and website.
And of course, call the camp with questions. Ask lots of questions-- (especially if your camper has food allergies or special needs). The camp staff understand that you're entrusting your most prized possession to them for a week of the summer- and we know that you need to feel assured that your camper will be safe, be healthy, will have a great time. We know you need to find the right camp.