By Zachary Mural, Ph.D., V.P. of Education at Minnieland Academy
As the calendar turns to April, many parents begin the sometimes challenging task of selecting the right summer camp for their children.
The good news for us in Northern Virginia is there is no shortage of choices; the bad news is that with so many options, it can be difficult to know you are selecting the best option for your little ones. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few important questions and factors that can make finding the right camp program a bit more manageable.
As a parent of two young children, my number one priority in selecting any activity is knowing that the program does everything it can to mitigate risks and keep the participants safe. That being said, how can you know with any degree of certainty that one camp is safer than another?
First, ask the operators of the programs if they are licensed by the State of Virginia. Licensed providers are required to meet a variety of standards that pertain to staff qualifications, camper to staff ratios, CPR/first aid training and a range of other hygiene, maintenance and vehicle safety considerations. You might be surprised by the number of summer camps that are offered by recreation providers but are not subject to the same standards as licensed childcare facilities.
A second question to ask is if the program is accredited by an outside entity. If a program or school is accredited by a national organization such as AdvancEd, NAEYC, or NAC, that is an indication they have voluntarily subjected themselves to additional monitoring and are committed to maintaining even higher standards of safety and child centered practices.
Finally, it is important to look at the facility or camp location as well the location of any planned field trips. Does the building or camp look like a place where children will have a range of safe and developmentally appropriate choices? Is everything in good repair? If there are off site trips planned, does the program have school buses, or are they still using 15 passenger vans that are more likely roll over in an accident? Where are the trip destinations? Are they close? Will children be swimming in private pools, which are more easily controlled and monitored, or will they be at public facilities?
By asking these questions, and by taking the time to visit the facilities and have a look for yourself, you will find yourself in a much better position to determine how seriously a camp takes camper safety.
A second consideration when looking at all of the options is what is included and what is an additional cost. Are lunch and snacks included? What about field trips? If you will be working, what are the camp’s hours and is there a cost efficient option for extended care?
Again, you might be surprised how quickly a camp that appears to be a few dollars cheaper quickly becomes quite expensive when you add up all the additional fees.
Another way to assess a camp’s value is to look at what types of activities campers participate in and how frequently. How often do campers have the opportunity to swim, go on trips and participate in new and challenging activities? Are there opportunities for choice and free play as well? While learning a specific skill can be great, children (especially younger children) need time to play, make choices and participate in a variety of experiences.
A final consideration related to value is convenience. What are camp’s hours of operation, and what does that mean for getting campers to and from the camp? How far away is the camp, and how long will it take to get your child there? What does that mean for your work schedule and other commitments? All of these should be considered when choosing a summer camp for your child that meets your family’s needs.
And, of course while safety, value and convenience are all critically important, how much fun your child will have at the camp cannot be overlooked. Does the camp program sound interesting and engaging? Will there be opportunities to do new things as well your child’s preferred activities? Is there a balance of indoor and outdoor time? Are any of your child’s friends or neighbors likely to attend the camp?
The reality is that if your child isn’t excited to go to camp, then no one is going to have a good summer. On the other hand, if you put in a little extra time in choosing a camp, you can provide your children opportunities and experiences that will build their confidence, encourage healthy choices and growth, and leave them wanting more. You’ll know that you’ve got it right if when you come to pick them up at the end of the day, they ask to stay just a little bit longer.
Have a great summer!
Dr. Zachary Mural is The Vice President of Education for The Minnieland Academy Family of Schools, an executive-level leader in early childhood education, youth-development professional, and father of two. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, is the owner of Youth Development Consulting, and is an ExpertOnlineTraining faculty member.
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