How to Make Sure a Camp Is Right for Your Child
Doing the necessary summer camp research, asking camp personnel (as well as ourselves) the right questions to determine a good fit for our children and then making the best decision possible about where to send them is how our children become happy campers.
Find out as much as possible before the interview. Filter your search results, narrow down your list of camps and review camp materials before interviewing begins. To narrow down your search, filter camp options by the most important search criteria for your child and family (philosophy, program/activities, session length, geography, etc.). Once you’ve ruled out camps that don’t meet your essential search criteria, begin exploring the details of each option you like. Sometimes the filtering process yields too many camps to interview personally; sometimes it doesn’t yield enough. Adjust key variables, such as location and session length, to narrow or expand the number of options on the results page.
Prepare for your interviews by reviewing the way each camp on your list presents itself and what it emphasizes. In today’s world, camps have many marketing choices. How does the camp convey who they really are and reflect the world they’ve created exclusively for children’s benefit? Camp seekers can learn so much from a close look at camp websites, brochures, photos, videos, FAQs, newsletters, social media and camper or parent testimonials. In fact, many camp websites are a gateway to most pieces of camp information on this list, from video content to downloadable brochures and forms, all reflecting the camp’s culture.
• Expect to find answers to some of your questions without having to ask. Camps try to anticipate what families need to know and provide this information online. You’ll want to use interview time to ask questions that haven’t already been answered – questions that explore the fit for your child.
• Learn from existing interviews, which may be posted on the camp website or on social media in video or Q&A format. Look for an interview with the director, owner or key administrator. What they have to say is important! You may also discover interviews with campers, staff and alumni.
• Base some of your interview questions on what you see, or don’t see, in camp materials. For example, you might see photos on the website or on Facebook showing the salad bar or a cabin group sitting around the table with food served family-style. This might spark a question about camp food and how your child’s dietary needs can be met. Perhaps reading the director’s blog from last summer or looking at newsletters might give you some insight into the camp’s philosophy and culture.
• Base other interview questions on your child’s needs and interests. What aspects of his personality might affect the camp fit? (The child is shy and cautious in new situations. Or the child needs to have a certain amount of time to practice music, sports or academics.)
For questions to ask camp directors and counselors, go to the next page!
Interview a few different people about the same camp. It’s important to get as many different perspectives as possible before you make your final decision.
• Interview the director, owner, key administrator or camp personnel charged with recruitment.
• Ask for a reference list – a list including more than one family if possible – who sent a first-time camper around your child’s age to the camp last summer. Conduct an interview about the camp on a parent-to-parent basis.
• Look for opportunities to observe and speak with camp staff during open houses or other events and watch carefully as they interact with your child or others.
• Interview people you know who have a connection to camps that interest you – neighbors, friends and co-workers. Ask them if they know others you should speak with. Word of mouth is still a key way for families to discover a best-fit camp. You’ll find that people love to talk about camp! The success of your conversation hinges on asking questions that really matter.
Look for honesty and authenticity in the answers to your questions. Families choose camps they feel they can trust – camps where they believe their children will thrive.
Lucy Jackson Norvell is director of public information for the American Camp Association, New England.