Caring For Our Kids

Tips for choosing the best summer camp

Children have amazing times. Photo: christina care / flickr

As soon as we get to March, it starts to feel like a sprint to the end of the school year, which can only mean summer is right around the corner. I am reminded of this from the barrage of fliers and e-mails I have already received about summer camp. This year, I told myself I was going to get an early start on planning and try to find a few new experiences to mix it up a bit for my kids. As a result, my husband and I spent a morning in February at the Summer Resource Fair put on by San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco Recreation and Park, and the San Francisco Department of Children Youth Services. There were over 150 vendors to tell you about all the unique summer experiences they can offer your children. It was informative and overwhelming. There are so many incredible options it can be hard to choose. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your family’s summer break:

Cost: The cost of a week of summer camp can vary dramatically, so do your research and decide on a family summer camp budget. Remember, after a few weeks it can really start to add up. The cost of the camp is usually based on the camper-to-counselor ratio; a smaller ratio is usually more expensive. This doesn’t always mean it is the best — Recreation and Park and the YMCA have put on some of the most memorable camps my children have attended. They are relatively inexpensive and they have some great options for children of all school ages. We found a great skateboarding camp for our son this summer at a nearby recreation center. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask for a sibling discount — many camps accommodate families with more than one child.

Convenience: When thinking about which camps to sign up for keep in mind the location and times, especially if you have more than one child or younger ones at home with a nap schedule. Depending on your family situation, it may be best to find something close to home or if you work outside of the home, make sure the camp has an all-day program or extended care. For younger children, don’t overdo it. A half-day program is more than enough and will still give them some time to rest in the afternoon. Take into account where the camp is located and what time it starts in the morning — you don’t want to be battling traffic trying to get to the other side of town by 8 a.m. Many camps have multiple sessions with each week a different theme or focus. This is another great way to keep things interesting for your child but convenient for you. Often, there are also discounts for booking multiple weeks at the same place.

Due diligence: Before you commit or pay any money for a summer camp, make sure you have talked to someone at the organization who can answer all your questions. For me, because my son has a severe peanut allergy, it is imperative that I talk to someone and find out the nut policy for the camp if there will be food or snacks there. I also like to ask if there is a registered nurse on staff in case he needs to use his Epi-Pen. You may also want to ask about the background of the camp counselors — have they been background checked and are they trained in CPR/first aid? For me, it is also important to have details about what kind of supervision they will have during camp. Last year, my children attended a camp where they could bring money to buy snacks from a vending machine but they were all sugary snacks and there were no limits set by the counselors.

Another part of due diligence is asking around to find people who can share their experiences with that camp. Look for friends, neighbors, or classmates who might have previously attended the camp you are considering. Our children are some of the best resources — they will honestly tell you what they did or didn’t like about a camp. This is a much more realistic review than a glossy flier in your mailbox.

Regardless of what summer program you choose, with the right level of research, there’s a good chance your child will have some amazing experiences. Camp is about having fun and experiencing new things. Just make sure to bake in some downtime. Summer is supposed to be a break from the hustle and bustle of the school year and a time to enjoy a more relaxed schedule. So don’t forget to take time to enjoy those simple joys that make summer so special.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]