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Choosing A Summer Camp for Your Kids

Tips To Help Ensure Your Child Has a Positive Camp Experience

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Summer camps provide an excellent learning opportunity for young minds. Besides giving kids a chance to burn off a little extra energy in a fun and entertaining environment, camps also serve as a place where kids can release some pent-up stress while simultaneously acquiring valuable life skills—tools that will most likely remain with them long after camp has concluded. However, just as all children are unique, so are the camps that cater to them.

There are literally thousands of camps available to kids and the list seems to grow longer with each passing year. Between camps specifically for military kids and those which are open to all children, military and civilian alike, parents have the opportunity to be more selective than ever.

To help ensure that your child has a positive camp experience and to minimize the chance that you'll find yourself on the receiving end of any unpleasant surprises, here are a few tips that you may want to take into consideration when deciding which camp your child will attend. After all, once your child arrives at camp the last thing you want to be thinking is… "We never signed up for this!"

Types of Camps
Determining which type of camp your child is best suited for is one of the first things you will want to consider. Day camps last for as little as one day or as long as several weeks, and overnight camps generally range from three days to a week or longer. You know your child better than anyone, which means you can probably gauge (with superb accuracy) how your son or daughter will react to certain situations. An example of this scenario might be that your child has their heart set on attending an overnight camp, yet he or she has never spent a night away from you. How do you think your son or daughter will handle that first night without Mom or Dad present?

Background Checks
Did you know that several states do not require facilities to conduct background checks on camp counselors? Granted, for liability purposes most camps require counselors and other staff members (paid and volunteer) to undergo a background check. Regardless, for the sake of your child's safety, this is certainly something that merits looking into when you're selecting camps that your child will attend, especially those that involve overnight stays.

A quick way to learn this information is to find out if the camp has received accreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA). Why? Because in order to receive ACA accreditation, all new hires must undergo a mandatory background check and returning staff members must have a background check conducted annually. To see if a camp is listed please visit the Find a Camp page on the ACA Web site.

Communication Policy
When reading through a camp's guidelines and rules make sure and pay special attention to their policy on whether or not you and your child can have phone communication. With the exception of emergencies, many camps request that parents refrain from calling their child while camp is in session because phone calls disrupt the scheduled activities.

Some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to have contact with their child during the separation, which explains why it's a good idea to be aware of this policy before you pay an enrollment fee and drop off your child.

Free Doesn't Always Mean No Out-of-Pocket Money
Don't be surprised if you learn that a deposit is required to send your child to a free camp. This is a common practice conducted by many camps. The deposit is usually required upon enrollment and is then refunded or returned to you on the first day of camp. The reason for this policy is that most camps only have a certain amount of available slots. A deposit helps ensure that kids will not be needlessly turned away because the camp is full, only to have many vacancies on the first day due to numerous no shows.

Alternative Activities
A lot of camps offer a variety of scheduled activities with the intention of giving kids a wide range of experiences. Generally this type of agenda works very well. However, does the camp offer an alternative activity if your child doesn’t want to participate in a particular event? For instance, if swimming is scheduled for an hour every afternoon but your child is terrified of the water, can he or she participate in a different activity or will they be required to simply sit off to the side and watch the other children?

Refund Policy
In a perfect world our days would hum along in a smooth and seamless manner, but alas, emergencies happen, kids get sick, and our best laid plans can go awry in a heartbeat. Before you pay an enrollment fee or security deposit, it's important that you understand the camp's refund policy. What happens if you pay and for whatever reason your child cannot attend? Do you receive a full refund? A partial refund? No refund?

Furthermore, the same questions apply for partial attendance. Will you receive any type of refund if your child begins camp but cannot finish the program? This is especially important if the camp has just begun and you haven't reached the midway point. Many parents who've had to remove their child from camp often make the mistake of thinking they will not receive any kind of refund and hence, don't bother asking. Additionally, some camps may not have a strict refund policy and will make a decision based on the circumstances surrounding the child's reason for departure.

Information is Knowledge
Researching camps beforehand can save you and your child a lot of frustration and unnecessary stress. Whether you're looking into a mainstream camp that's open to all children or a military camp for kids—such as Operation Purple or one conducted through your local Operation Military Kids chapter—you'll be better equipped to make an informed decision regarding which camps and programs are a good match for not only your child's needs but for your family's circumstances as well.

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