Questions to Ask Camp Directors

You’ve gone online, asked everyone you know for recommendations and searched for sleepaway camps for your kids. How do you find the one that’s just right? Here are the most important questions to ask camp directors.

The Camp

Is the camp accredited, how old is it, and how long have you owned or managed it? It’s a good sign if the camp is licensed by the American Camp Association (ACA). To earn accreditation, a camp must satisfy 300 industry standards for health, safety and program quality. Every three years, the ACA visits the camp to verify that it’s in compliance. It’s also a good sign if the camp has been in existence for many years (kids are coming back year after year), and if the director is experienced at running camps.

What’s your philosophy? Camps can be very different. Some camps, especially ones focused on specific sports, can be quite competitive. Other camps are more aimed at instilling certain values, such as comradery, cooperation and conflict resolution. Make sure that the camp’s philosophy matches your own values and that it’s a good fit for your kids. 

How do you build community? One of the most satisfying parts of being at camp is to feel a part of a larger community. Ask about community-building activities, such as nightly camp fires or sing-alongs for the entire camp. 

What are the accommodations? Ask whether the kids sleep in cabins or tents, whether there are bathrooms and showers nearby and, most importantly, whether your kids can request to room with friends from home. Whether your kids are first-timers or seasoned campers, it’s always comforting and great fun to room with a friend. 

How much does it cost? You probably don’t need any reminders to ask about the camp fee. But don’t forget to ask whether that fee is all-inclusive or if there are additional costs for day or overnight trips, transportation to and from camp and special activities. 

Also ask if there’s a refund policy should your kids get sick. What is the deadline is for registration and, in case you missed the deadline, if there’s a waitlist? It’s also a good idea to ask if financial aid or needs-based scholarships are available, perhaps a sibling discount. Ask if you need to pay up front or if you can pay in installments. Finally, don’t forget to get the camp’s tax ID number. The camp fee can be tax-deductible. 

The Program

How long are the sessions? Can they be lengthened or shortened? How long do most campers stay? Most camps offer sessions of a specific length, often two, four, or eight weeks. However, if you have other things planned for the summer, it can be useful to either shorten or lengthen a session to fit your schedule. Most kids like to stay a similar length as other kids, assuming they’re having a great time. Most kids don’t want to leave p before everyone else. 

What do the kids do on a typical dayTry to get a sense of what your kids will be doing on a typical day, including how much time is devoted to indoor and outdoor activities. What will they do in the evening?

How do you handle discipline and conflicts between campers? Ask questions that help you decide whether the camp’s parenting philosophy and practices agree with your own. You also want to make sure that your kids are aware of who they’re supposed to speak to in case they have conflicts with other campers, and what kind of behavior can result in serious consequences, up to and including dismissal. 

What’s the camp’s communication and visiting policy? It’s always a good idea to find out how the camp prefers that you communicate with your kids. By phone or email? How often? Also, ask how many care packages you’re allowed/encouraged to send, and whether there are designated visiting days.

How do you accommodate special needs? A high-quality camp is one where all the campers’ varying needs are met. Ask how the staff accommodates special needs with respect to activities, behavior, learning and dietary restrictions. 

The Staff

How do you hire, train and supervise camp counselors? What’s the counselor-camper ratio? One of the best signs that the camp is of a high-quality is that it has strict procedures for hiring, training and supervising counselors. This includes criminal background checks, first aid training and regular feedback sessions. It’s also a good sign if most of the counselors return for several summers (they’re obviously enjoying the experience). The APA recommends that the counselor-camper ratio should be relatively low (between 1:6 and 1:12, depending on camper age).  

Is there are a medical facility with qualified personnel? A high-quality camp will either have a licensed physician or nurse on the premises, a well-stocked supply of commonly-used medications and procedures in place for dispensing medication to kids who need them. 

Ask the distance to the closest hospital, doctor’s office and dental clinic. How will the kids get there, if needed?

What are your emergency procedures? Ask who will contact you in case of an emergency, and who you should contact in case an emergency occurs on your end. 

The Campers

How many campers do you have, and how many return every year? Generally speaking, the larger the camp, the more activities, and the smaller the camp, the more intimate it feels. The higher the return rate, the more satisfied the kids are with the camp experience. 

How do you deal with homesickness? Even the most seasoned campers can get homesick. Ask how the camp deals with it. Do they encourage campers to call home? Do you get to visit outside of official visiting days? 

How can your kids stay in touch with their counselors after camp ends? Kids often develop strong bonds with their counselors. Ask whether they’re encouraged to stay in touch after the camp has ended (A favorite counselor could end up being a babysitter). Some camps also host events throughout the year for counselors and campers. It’s a great way to keep in touch until next year’s camp. 


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