Where to Start When Looking for a Summer Camp

How to narrow down hundreds of possible summer camps to just a few top choices.

Spring is finally upon us which means our favourite season is just around the corner!

This time of year is always a bit hectic for parents as Spring sports begin, end of school parties need to be planned and there is always plenty of help needed with the neighborhood Spring Fair. For many families, summer camp planning took place months ago when the previous summer had barely come to a close; but for many first time camp families, the thought of choosing a summer camp is just popping to the top of their To Do Lists. So, with so much on your plate, how do you make a really important decision, in a relatively short amount of time?

Here are a few suggestions on where to start and how to narrow down hundreds of possible summer camps to just a few top choices:

1. Make a list of goals:
Before you talk to anyone, make some notes on what you want out of a summer camp. Is it simply to get your child out of the city and playing outdoors? Do you want them to gain skills in one particular activity? Do you want them just to gain a little independence and make new friends? Once you have some goals on paper it will be easier to narrow down your choices and then you may not be overly swayed by other's opinions.

2. Research:
Do a bit of research on your own, without the influence of your child, particularly if they are under the age of 10. It's great to get a few names from friends, but then take a step back and do some of the research on your own, away from peers who may not share the same goals or expectations for their child's summer camp experience.

3. Talk to the directors:
You can learn a lot about a camp by calling and simply chatting live with the Directors and Owners. If they are the people running the camp, you'll get the best feel for what the camp is all about and the values they attempt to instill. Every camp has activities and fun things to do but who are the people behind the place and what do they stand for? What do they want to do for YOUR camper? Many camps will also make home visits or schedule a few Open House events during the off season so whenever possible, try to meet up in person.

4. Prepare questions:
It's easier to compare camps if you ask a few similar questions. Common topics to cover are:
-Do campers choose their own activities for part or any of the day?
-Are there any activities that are mandatory?
-What makes them different?
-What is the staff to camper ratio (supervision and safety is always key)
-What sort of communication is there for both campers and parents?  
-Is the camp more traditional or are they high tech with the latest and greatest activities and gadgets?

5. Go with your gut:
My last bit of advice is to go with your gut and do what feels right. Just because everyone else is doing something it doesn't mean it's the right choice for you. There are a lot of camps out there with great things to offer, but not all of them are right for everyone. Camp Directors have a lot of expertise on helping you figure out if this is the right time for your camper to start and they can help navigate the waters, but at the end of the day, you know your child best, you know when they might need that gentle push or when they might need just a little more time.    

Sending your child away is a daunting decision and something that should not be taken lightly. Take your time and make a choice that feels right for you but most importantly, right for your child.  Not every camp is the same but, in general, sending your child away to overnight camp is truly one of the greatest gifts you can give them and an experience that will change them for the rest of their lives. They will grow, they will mature, they will make new friends, they will learn how to live with others, they will learn how to tackle some of life's challenges on their own, they will gain soft and hard life skills you never thought possible and most importantly, they will HAVE FUN!

About the author: Margot Perlmutter is a Camp Director at Camp Tamakwa, a residential summer camp in Algonquin Park Ontario. With one of the most diversified outdoor recreational programs available, Tamakwa campers and staff members enjoy 80 years of rich traditions, core values, family atmosphere, and camp spirit, all in a beautiful Algonquin Park setting. Margot first attended Tamakwa as a camper in 1986 and continued for 10 years. After a decade in the advertising world, Margot decided to fulfill her passion and returned to help provide a new generation of campers with the same wonderful memories she enjoyed as a child. Margot is passionate about the environment and promoting a healthy lifestyle with good quality food for all campers and staff. 

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