The American Camp Association (ACA) reports that more than 11 million children in the U.S. attend camp every year, and there are more 12,000 day and overnight camps in the country, offering programming geared to most every imaginable interest.
With so many options available, how do parents identify the right camp for a child?
A sensible first step in setting up a positive camp experience is determining the type of camp the child will attend. Options include:
• Resident camps
Most resident camps (overnight camps) offer a variety of programming for children starting at age 7, but some focus on a particular program, such as horseback riding, music, performing arts, etc. Some resident camps are coed; others are only for boys or only for girls. Sleeping accommodations vary and include cabins, tents and teepees.
• Day camps
Like resident camps, day camps can offer a variety of programs or focus on a particular interest. Many day camps are open to very young children, and all campers return home each day.
• Camps for children with special needs
There are many camps for children who have a physical, medical or mental disability. Some are designed to serve specific groups, such as children with diabetes, cancer, a speech or hearing impairment, or cerebral palsy. Others are mainstream camps that integrate children with special needs into the total population of campers.
Next, families will want to consider the length of time the child will be attending camp. Possibilities range from a few days or a week to several weeks or the entire summer.
Cost is another consideration and varies considerably from camp to camp. According to the ACA, the average resident camp fee is $85 per day, and the average day camp fee is $43 per day. Many camps and organizations offer need-based financial assistance.
Naturally, a child’s interests are a key factor in choosing a camp that will provide a successful camp experience. The ACA and many camp professionals recommend that parents include the child in the camp selection process. Most camps have websites that enable families to explore their options. When possible, it is helpful to visit the camp in advance, especially for young or first-time campers.