Make choosing the perfect summer camp a family affair

Proper research will lead to a full night’s sleep come July

“If I have to be remembered for something, I want it remembered that I really liked children and was a good camp counsellor.” — Francis Ford Coppola

“At camp you are accepted for who you are, not only accepted but honoured.” — Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO


WHEN IT WORKS, summer camp does what Eisner says and counsellors are like Coppola. Children find their best selves and their dreams take flight.

Parents’ challenge is to choose the camp that can do that for your child. Fit matters. Summer camps, like schools, are not one size fits all.

You need to find a camp that meshes with your philosophy of parenting and makes you feel safe about trusting relative strangers with your child, and that camp needs to fit your child.

It’s no good choosing a fabulous sports camp that you love if your kid is a klutz and always gets chosen last. Or vice versa.

Your first step is the trust equation: Interview the director! Camps have gorgeous brochures and seductive videos that showcase great scenery and cool programs.

But if the director can’t (or won’t) explain the camp’s philosophy and how the staff makes it real, then they’re not walking the walk.

As part of the interview, ask about the directors’ background.

Ask how (and for how long) they train their staff and what they teach them. If you don’t hear about nurturing campers, behaviour management and supervision, the director hasn’t earned your trust.

Find out the camper/staff ratio. Ask how old the counsellors are, and what percentage of the staff returned from last year. If it’s under 60 per cent, ask why.

Ask the director to explain how they handle bullying, campers who refuse to participate and homesickness.

Listen for a balance of loving support for children, both individually and in relationships, and clear boundaries with consequences for repeated misbehaviour.

Get references from parents of children who go to the camp. Call and ask them both what’s wonderful about the camp and what they don’t like about it.

Then check for fit. It may be a great camp, but if its program and philosophy doesn’t fit your child, it’s not the right camp.

Think about two things: First are your child’s emotional needs: Does he/she do best in a laissezfaire environment or thrive with more nurturing?

Think activities: Does your child enjoy more sedentary indoor activities or prefer outdoorsy and active? Is your child a natural participator or needs to be coaxed or forced to do things? If the latter, does the camp require participation, or are kids allowed to just chill? Does that matter to you?

Include your child in the research. The best camp decisions (with the most positive outcomes) are a joint effort by parents and kids.

Making the camp decision a family project grows closeness and helps kids learn to be smart decision makers. So the growth and development that camp fosters begins already!

Most of the fit questions should be the child’s. It might help to sit down together and make a list of all the factors that matter to both of you and check off the two or three camps you’re considering for each factor, pro or con.

Even a seven-year-old can participate in that — and having worked together on the campchoosing project, a child will feel empowered.

Empowered campers get through homesickness faster and more easily.

As for you, if you have done your due diligence researching two or three camps and you’ve made a careful, thoughtful choice, you may sleep a little better in July when, just like your camper, you get a growth challenge: letting go!


Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO