An interesting brochure arrived in my mail recently.
It was promoting a youth camp in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. The multi-page flyer had colorful photos of beautiful scenery and happy kids.
“120 different activities in a variety of areas!” the type read. “Learn the importance of friendship. Become more independent. Develop greater self-confidence. Understand the value of teamwork.”
Wow, where do I sign up?
My 12-year-old son, Connor, has never been off to summer camp, but I’ve thought this might be the perfect year. He’s old enough not to get homesick, I think, but not so old that he might think camp was uncool.
But choosing a summer camp, I’m discovering, isn’t easy.
How far away do you want to send your kid? How much do you want to spend? What activities are you seeking?
Summer camp has long been a rite of childhood. But like many decisions facing parents these days, the options have multiplied.
Selecting the proper camp
“Choosing a summer camp program for your child involves some important research,” says SummerCamp.org. “Because the camp experience will have significant impact on your child’s life, it’s important for parents to learn to choose a camp wisely.”
The site urges parents to consider these criteria:
- Type of camp
- Programs and activities
- Special needs
Camps vary from fewer than 100 campers to more than 400, according to SummerCamp.org. The cost? From $500 to $2,000 per week, the site says.
I’d better get a second job.
For parents like me who are already paying private school tuition, camp costs seem like a heavy burden.
But, like me, you’re probably tired of seeing your kid play video games and watch TV. Get outside! Summer camp, despite the expense, might be a tremendous investment because it could encourage your child to become more active and love the outdoors.
“Kids grow at camp,” says Better Homes and Gardens. “At overnight camps, in particular, boys and girls learn something about themselves, their environment, and even about their parents, by spending a few weeks away from home … Camping fosters independence in its participants, while giving your child a feel for group living.”
The American Camp Association offers tips on selecting a camp and planning for a safe, enjoyable time.
“The camp experience enriches lives,” it says. “For years, campers’ parents have reported that when their children return home from camp, they are more caring, understand the importance of giving, are more equipped to stand up for what they know is right, and are willing to be more responsible.”
My camp memories
I went to summer camp as a kid. I remember having a lot of fun – canoeing, hiking and horseback-riding – and I probably learned some important values along the way. That’s the beauty of camp: Kids have fun and learn.
I can’t imagine letting Connor grow up without at least a taste of one. It’s going to take me a few weeks, however, to research the subject and choose a summer camp. Then he and I have to narrow down which activities interest him.
The choices are dizzying. For instance, the Arkansas camp I mentioned offers water activities, extreme sports, shooting sports, horseback riding, creative arts, media arts and performing arts.
Is this summer camp or college?
I’d encourage all parents to investigate summer camps. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, it’s a hassle to select one, plan the trip and coordinate the logistics.
But your kid is only a kid once. As a parent, you have a responsibility to do all you can to make give them a rich, rewarding childhood.
It’s not too early to start choosing a summer camp. Some of the most popular places fill up quickly. Do your homework. Determine your child’s interests, then look for a camp that’s affordable, has a good reputation and isn’t too far away. Your research will pay off in positive, lasting memories for your child.