Ahh, it’s one of our favorite times of the year. It’s time to pick out camps for summer. But, it’s only February, you say? Yes, but some popular camps already have started wait lists. So get cracking.
Along with our list of 10 things to think about when choosing a camp, we have inside looks at several area camps, including a dirt bike experience, performing arts at Esther Follies and a camp inspired by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. And you can find even more tips and information on the camp guide in today’s special insert and at austin360.com and austin360.com/raisingaustin.
Let’s get planning:
1. Look at your family schedule. What weeks do you need camps, which weeks will you take family vacations or ask a relative to watch the kids? I like to print out a schedule to plug in possible camps for each week. I start with a pencil and try to find a couple of camps per week in case we can’t get into a camp.
2. Look at your budget. How much a week can you afford? If your child has her heart set on an expensive camp, can you spend less on other camps? This is also a good time to have the conversation with your children about finances. They might have ideas on things they are willing to sacrifice to get the camp they want. Remember to consider more than camp fees. Do you have to provide lunch? Will they need a whole new wardrobe or sports equipment? Are there extra fees to participate in certain programs? That stuff adds up. Also, never underestimate the power of financial aid. Some camps have scholarships based on economic needs or family circumstances. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
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3. Start your research. There are a lot of guides, including ours at austin360.com. We also recommend campsloop.com. Don’t forget to look at your local parks and recreation department as well as check your school. Sometimes teachers run camps or another organization like YMCA or Extend-A-Care for Kids may have a camp at your school.
4. Ask around. Word of mouth is everything in camps. Moms know when they’ve tried out a camp and it wasn’t as advertised or their kids didn’t get a lot out of it. Ask for both recommendations and camps to avoid.
5. Are they ready for an overnight camp? This is a really important decision. Can they sleep at another house without you? If the answer is no, camp is not the time to try it out. If they can, but have never been away for consecutive days, start with a camp that has sessions that are only a few nights or a week before sending them away for weeks on end.
6. Where are their friends going? It’s always easier to try something new with a friend. Start asking around.
7. Start prioritizing. Your kid probably wants to do it all, but that’s not possible. Have him rank choices in numerical order. Also, have him exclude any camps he doesn’t want to do. You don’t want to fight about it the week he goes.
8. Check out camps. Often camps have a trial weekend. Go. If it’s a day camp, maybe there’s a one-time class she can take. For overnight camps, especially, ask for accreditation information. Ask what the staff-to-camper ratio is, especially in the cabins. Ask about lifeguard safety if there is a pool or a lake. Ask about medical care. Can they handle your child’s needs? What happens if someone gets injured?
9. Camps change. Even if you’ve been to the same camp every year, see what this year looks like. Is there a high turnover from last year? Is there a new director? What changes/improvements are being made? Also, ask your camp director or counselor how your child did last year. You might think she had the time of her life only to find out that she struggled to get along with campers or shied away from activities. If she still wants to go, this is the time to form a plan with the camp about how to make it a better experience.
10. Really listen to your kids. Camp is a great time to try something new, but if he doesn’t like sports, don’t force him into a sports camp. Try to include some variety in the summer — some active camps, some intellectual camps, some creative camps. Ultimately, let your kids have a big say for a much happier summer, but remember, you still have veto power, especially if you have safety or budget concerns.