How to Choose the Right Summer Camp

How to Choose the Right Summer Camp (Yes, in January!)

Right about now, parents across the country are feeling the pressure. It’s not because their New Year’s resolutions are beginning to slide, or that the neighbors are starting to notice that the holiday decorations are still up. It’s because summer camp registration season is about to start.

As a pediatrician and a mom, I am all too familiar with the fact that booking summer activities has to start in the dead of winter. Even though there may be snow on the ground, with more than 11 million kids in the U.S. attending summer camps each year, these programs can fill up fast.

Before you start planning the perfect summer of fun, here’s what you need to look for when choosing a camp.

ACCREDITED & LICENSED. The program or camp you select should be state licensed, which requires a baseline of safety and quality standards. Camps that are also accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA) have voluntarily met criteria that the ACA developed with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Red Cross to ensure an even higher level of safety and quality.

KID COMPATIBLE. Find a camp whose philosophy and program emphasis will be a good fit for your child. If your child has special behavioral, dietary or medical needs, make sure you are selecting a camp that not only knows how to manage these needs, but does so in a way that is healthy and supportive. A well-organized camp will have a clear policy on how they discipline kids, or handle adjustment difficulties.

SAFETY MEASURES. Make sure the camp follows state laws regarding car seats, booster seats and seatbelts when transporting children. Camps should also provide and require the use of safety equipment such as life jackets and helmets for horseback riding, cycling, football, skateboarding and other activities. Ask about procedures they may have to help kids stay hydrated and protected from the sun – and importantly – how they handle emergencies.

FIRST AID. Camps should have written health policies and procedures that have been approved by a physician, including clear rules about how medication is handled. Camp staff members should be trained in CPR and concussion recognition and management. Ask about an illness policy – do they require kids with a fever, vomiting or diarrhea to stay home/leave camp? Do they have a consistent policy on notification of parents?

STAFF CHECK. An ACA-accredited camp will require that camp directors and staff have a background that includes a certain level of education and training, especially important for kids with special needs. It’s good to know the counselor-to-camper ratio, the average age of the camp’s counselors, and importantly, what type of safety training they receive. The staff should be background-checked, including a criminal records search.

ASK AROUND. Check references of the camp you are considering. Asking other parents in your community via social media (like Facebook) is a good way to find out what people have heard about a particular program. Some camps may even be ranked online with reviews. Sites like CAP4Kids contain great resources for gathering information.

The good news is that the risk of injury at camps is about the same that kids have playing sports or on the playground – so, fairly low. By doing your homework now your child will have a better chance of getting into a camp they’ll love and one that makes their safety a priority.

Emily Decker, MD
Dr. Emily is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Urgent Care and Primary Care Clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has a strong interest in child advocacy, and serves as the medical director for CAP4Kids Columbus, a website that connects families with resources and opportunities in Columbus. Her energetic toddler twin girls keep her busy in her personal life, and her interests include traveling throughout Africa and Asia. She is an avid U.S. soccer fan as well and has been to the last four World Cups. Follow Dr. Emily on Twitter @CAP4Kids for local resources and opportunities for kids.

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