Here are some lessons learned in picking summer camps. I am talking about a specific type, since that is all I have experience with so far — namely a general day-camp for kids who are (at the moment) 6 and 9. Not overnight. Not specialized. We’ve experienced 4 different camps so far and talked with friends about 3 others. So here goes:
1. Established. Organized. Not a mess. This is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how disorganized some town-run camps can be. Not all. Just noting my experience. Go with the camp which has been around for 40 years and with the same director and very low counselor and CIT turnover.
2. Must have buildings. This will rule out great awesome camps but so be it. When the thunderstorms are threatening, you don’t want camp cancelled or for kids to be bussed off-site. Trust me. You do not. It leads to complications and disorganization and inability of parents to work.
3. Kids must want to go. Duh! If after a day or 2 your kid doesn’t want to go to camp, then AS WITH SCHOOL, this should be a clear sign to you that it’s time to choose a new camp. Sorry, just stating the obvious… but camp and school should be FUN! We are not warehousing kids here!
4. Freedom. I am sorry, but kids like to be FREE. I know you might not believe it, but yes, even 4 and 5 year olds like to play completely on their own (with adults available if need be but not leading or structuring things). So it might be hard to find, but trust me… the more options and freedom at camp the better.
5. Cost vs Driving. Remember your driving. So if there is an awesome (but expensive) camp closer by, it is probably worth it. Not even including your time, driving costs roughly $0.50 per mile overall. Including your time, well… forget about it! Choose the closer camp! Skip the school bus options and pre- and after- care options if you can. Try hard!
6. Mix it up. Ideally do a few different camps. Even with the best camp in the world available, it’s fun to mix it up.
7. Mix up the ages! The best camps allow total age mixing. Grouping by activities not ages. Never heard of that!? I assure you they exist! Like <a href=”http://sudval.org/”>Sudbury Valley School</a>
8. Pools trump ponds and lakes. Either are great especially with slides and diving boards. But note: Here in New England, ponds often get too hot and/or yucky. Some lakes can be too cold. If you have a sailor ask about realistic wind. Marco Polo works better in a pool.
9. Chill on the camp swim lessons. Some camps the kids have loved lessons. Others not. I am not sure how to evaluate, but I am telling you… some are better than others! Probably the ones that are FUNNER and FREER get better reviews. That’s my basic take from talking with my kids.
10. Culture. Not sure how to evaluate this, except it seems the well established camps tend to do a better job of having a camp culture of RESPECT, FUN, FRIENDSHIP etc.
OK, that’s the list for now. I might add to it below and it might change as the kids get older. I will link to updates.