Questions to Ask in Your Summer Camp Search

By: Mollie Shauger | Thursday, February 20, 2020 | Summer Camp

A young girl smiles under a netting.

Finding the right summer camp for your child requires some thought. There are several things to consider such as activities, costs, and staff qualifications. Whether you’re leaving your child for a few hours or a few weeks, you want to know they’re safe, learning new skills, and becoming more independent. 

To help you decide which summer camp program is the right fit for your family, the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges has created a list of questions to ask directors when comparing programs. 

What are the program’s qualifications?

You’ll want to make sure the summer camp program is licensed to operate by the proper governmental bodies. Is the program accredited or pursuing any accreditations? Programs that are accredited by the American Camp Association meet standards beyond just state-licensing requirements. 

What are the staff qualifications? 

What ages are the staff, and what experience do staff have in working with children? How are they interviewed, screened and trained? Also, do staff members return from previous years? ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the counselor/program staff be at least 18 years old. Staff must be at least 16 years old and be at least two years older than the campers with whom they work. Also, most camps have from 40-60 percent returning staff, according to the ACA.

When are the operating hours?

One of the first things to know is how early you can drop off your child and how late you can pick them up. Also, does camp operate on holidays and what happens during inclement weather?

What are the costs?

You’ll want to know the tuition and how often it’s billed. There might be extra fees for early drop-offs or late pick-ups, or for meals. Ask if the program offers any type of financial assistance or scholarships to qualifying children and families. If you have multiple children in camp, you may also qualify for a sibling discount.

How will my child be supervised?

How many staff members are supervising a group of kids? While the recommendations vary based on age and needs, the ACA has its own standards for ratios of staff to campers:

  • 5 years and younger - 1 staff for each 5 overnight campers, and 1 staff for each 6 day campers
  • 6–8 years - 1:6 for overnight, and 1:8 for day
  • 9–14 years  -1:8 for overnight and 1:10 for day
  • 15–18 years - 1:10 for overnight and 1:12 for day

Also, does the program have a plan in place if a staff member is out sick?

How will you keep my child safe?

One of the first things you’ll notice if you visit a camp is how people come and go, and if the facility or property itself is secure. What are the procedures for drop-offs and pick-ups and how do the staff keep track of kids who are there? Also, are staff trained in CPR and other first-aid? Ask about the screening process for staff. Have they undergone background checks and are they trained in spotting and reporting signs of child abuse?

What opportunities does my child have to learn and grow?

Does the program have a sample daily schedule they can provide so you know what a child’s day might look like? What kind of opportunities do they provide for outdoor play? Also, does the program have a policy on technology use?

What are the accommodations like?

Especially if you’re considering a sleepaway camp, you’ll want to know the sleeping arrangements, such as who your child will be sharing a cabin with and what amenities are provided. Questions to ask might also include: What’s the camp’s policy on sick campers and staff as well as vaccinations? How are the facilities kept clean? 

How are my child’s individual needs met?

Children have varying developmental needs, and those who are new to a program require extra attention and comfort. As a family, it’s important to identify what your child’s unique needs are and discuss them with the camp director before making a decision. Also, how does the program handle allergies or other dietary restrictions?

How are cultures and customs honored?

Camp provides a unique opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. How does the program respect cultures and customs? Also, what is the primary language used by staff and are they able to communicate in other languages?

How do I know how my child is doing?

You’ll want to know how your child is adjusting to camp and be able to discuss any concerns. How does the director communicate with parents? Also, how do they contact family members in emergencies? Some programs also offer opportunities for parents to visit their children and join them in activities.

What is the discipline procedure?

What happens if your child misbehaves? It’s good to ask about the specific ways in which good behavior is encouraged and how bad behavior is punished.

How does my child get to camp? 

Some camps offer bus transportation so that children who live further away can still attend camp. Does the camp provide transportation to and from the camp site, and where are the drop-off and pick-up locations? 

How is homesickness handled?

For new and returning campers alike, being away from the comforts of home can be challenging. How does the camp staff respond to a child who is homesick or having trouble adjusting? Are campers in a sleepaway program able to communicate with family members? 

Do you have references?

Some camp programs will keep a list of testimonials or contact information for people who can provide feedback. It’s always helpful to hear from other families who’ve had children in the program.

Find out more information about day and resident summer camp programs offered through the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges.

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