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Do your homework when choosing summer camps

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

From fairies to fashion to football, themes for summer day camps abound. But how do you go about choosing a camp for your child?

An important factor beyond cost, dates, safety and location is what other parents say about last summer’s experiences. Were their kids happy and eager for the next day or hot and miserable at pickup time?

“Get a recommendation from another parent,” suggests a mother of three boys in Asheville, N.C. “And sign your child up with one of his friends.” Last summer, this mom relied on information in a camp brochure. It turned out to be inaccurate, and her usually amenable 10-year-old didn’t make it to day five.

Moms are putting out calls on Facebook: “Summer camps for second-grader in the area? Anyone have any good recommendations?” “Any peeps going to basketball camp?” And they are getting out their trusty spreadsheets to keep track of times, car pools and budgets for their busy families.

Beyond talking to friends for references, do some homework to further evaluate whether a camp is a good match for your child’s personality, interests and abilities. Ask the camp director:

• What is the camp’s overall philosophy?

• What would a typical day be like?

• How competitive are the activities?

• How much supervision is there?

• How are teachers and counselors screened and trained?

• At sports camps with broad age ranges, how will the kids be divided?

• What is the cancellation policy?

One mom says she chose her 4-year-old daughter’s first camp last summer because of an art teacher with whom her child was familiar. Mom will choose the same camp this summer with the same instructor. For younger kids especially, the bond with a teacher or coach can make all the difference.

Other advice from parents:

• Schedule camp weeks so they are not back to back. A mother of three kids says she learned early on not to overdo summer camps, especially full-day ones. And it may sound obvious, but don’t register your children for camps in which they have no interest, she says.

• With only 10 weeks off from school, three weeks of camps, including scout and church camps, will be enough, says another mother who wants her three children to have plenty of downtime and outdoor time. In looking at whether a camp is worth the cost, she’s opposed to paying for a week when one day is a field trip to the movies.

• Be careful of camps where the kids are on the move all day with no downtime and little time spent indoors in air conditioning, warns a mom of two boys. “Those kids look miserable,” she says.

• “Choose what they’re interested in and not just any old camp for a particular week because you want them to have something to do,” says a mother of two girls. “If she’s a writer, a writing camp; if she likes basketball, basketball camp. Look for more than just someone to watch your kids for four hours.”

One mom lets her kids choose a camp or two to follow the passions they don’t have time for during the school year. Now her goal is to find something that all three of her kids can do together.

For a family with four children in Davidson, N.C., it’s all about tennis camp, because it’s in the neighborhood. Each child gets to pick one other camp, but with their large family, affordability is tops on the day camp checklist. The right price beats out individual preferences and where other friends are going. Much of the children’s summer will be spent at the neighborhood pool.

Betsy Flagler is a mother and preschool teacher. Email her at p2ptips@att.net.

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