Important Questions to Ask a Camp Director
Most parents start planning their kids’ summer activities months before school lets out for summer, whereas some tend to wait until the last minute. Although there are some benefits to waiting to the last minute, I highly recommend taking some time to plan for next summer, right now! It may seem crazy, but now is really the perfect time. If you start looking at camps in the winter, they’ll all be closed, and you won’t be able to visit. But when the camps are open for the summer, you can arrange to stop by and take a tour, see the campers in action, and decide if this camp is right for your kids.
It seems like such an enormous decision to pick out the right camp for your child when there are so many options to choose from. How do you even get started? From the American Camp Association (ACA)
A camp may be described in nothing less than glowing terms in its brochure. The setting may be absolutely breathtaking, and activities may run the gamut from racquetball to modern dance. In the end, however, it’s the human equation of how those activities are operated and conducted that determines the quality of the camp program.
Get to know the camp director as a person through telephone conversations, correspondence, and a personal visit. Have the director describe the camp’s philosophy and how the staff implements it.
Questions to ask the director include:
• What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis? Each camp has its own method of constructing programs based on its philosophy. Does it complement your own parenting philosophy?
• What is the camp director’s background? ACA minimum standards recommend directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director.
• What training do counselors receive? At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior and specific procedures for supervision.
• What is the counselor-to-camper ratio? ACA standards require different ratios for varying ages and special needs. Generally, the ratios at resident camps range from: One staff member for every six campers ages 7 and 8; one staff member for every eight campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff member for every 10 campers ages 15 to 17. At day camps the ratios range from: one staff member for every eight campers ages 6 to 8; one staff member for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff member for every 12 campers ages 15 to 17.
• What are the ages of the counselors? ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the counseling/program staff be at least 18 years old. Staff must be at least 16 years old and be at least two years older than the campers with whom they work.
• What percentage of the counselors returned from last year? Most camps have from 40 to 60 percent returning staff. If the rate is lower, find out why.
• How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled? This is where the director’s philosophy comes through loud and clear. Positive reinforcement, assertive role modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp counseling and leadership. Rules are necessary in any organization and the disciplinary approach taken should be reasonable and well communicated. If penalties are involved for violations, they should be applied quickly, fairly, calmly and without undue criticism to campers.
• How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues? Again, the camp’s philosophy on helping children adjust is important. Be sure you are comfortable with the camp’s guidelines on parent/child contact.
• What about references? This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Directors should be happy to provide references.
• For overnight camps: Does the American Camp Association accredit the camp? This does not guarantee a risk-free environment, but it’s some of the best evidence parents have of a camp’s commitment to a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
For more information about summer camps, visit www.acacamps.org.