To be licensed, a campsite has to meet state health and safety standards. Licensing and accreditation are two different matters, however. You may feel better about your child attending a camp that is periodically inspected by an independent and knowledgeable organization, as well as by authorized inspectors. In some places, short-term camps, such as one-week sports camps or day camps run by city recreation departments, are not required to have permits or licenses.
Generally speaking, camps that cost more are probably going to provide more physical comfort and more activities. But many of the less expensive camps run by scouting organizations, churches, and the YMCA will offer the opportunity for your child to meet children from different cultural and economic backgrounds.
TIP: Make sure you understand exactly what the camping fee covers. Many camps charge extra for such things as laundry and equipment use.
Staff ratio is important. For campers under the age of 12, there should be a counselor-to-camper ratio of about 1 to 6. For campers older than 12, a l-to-8 ratio is fine. Ask how the camp figures the ratio. Some include office and kitchen staff to lower their ratios. You should be specific and ask what the ratio is at night, when a higher ratio might be acceptable, and for activities such as swimming, canoeing, and hiking, where a lower ratio might be desirable.
You probably will not be able to meet your child’s counselor if you visit a camp off season, but you should be able to meet the camp director. It is a good sign if the director asks you and your child a number of questions about what you want and expect in a camping experience. A good director should address any concerns you and your child have about such common camper worries as what will happen if the child becomes homesick, what kind of food the campers will eat, or what happens if a child doesn’t want to participate in a certain activity.
It’s a good idea to take a list of questions with you to the camp for the first visit. Questions that parents commonly ask are:
■ Where do most of your campers come from and how many of them are repeat campers? The more repeat campers, the better.
■ How do you hire and train the counselors?
■ What are the age range of the counselors? Some camps have counselors as young as 15 or 16. Many employ college students. Again, the ratio of younger to more experienced counselors is worth checking; the more experienced counselors, the better.
■ What is the camp philosophy? Does it jibe with your expectations for a camp? Does the camp philosophy tend toward wanting campers to learn skills or just have a good time? Do the staff seem to want to fit the camper to the philosophy or the philosophy to the camper?
■ Do you have any medical staff onsite at the camp?
How sick does a child have to be before you call the parents? Are all staff trained in the essentials of first aid and CPR?
■ Can my son bring his favorite stuffed animal?
■ Can my daughter be in a tent with her best friend?
■ How do you train your staff!? Some camping professionals worry about camps that outsource training of their staffs. These professionals believe that with outsourced training, neither the camp director nor camper parents really know about the type or quality of training.
■ How many of the staff return year after year? Again, the more the better.