8 things to consider when choosing a summer camp

Now that the clocks have moved forward an hour, longer days and warmer weather are just around the corner. Even though most kids are focused on spring break, this is the best time for parents to start thinking about summer camps and activities for their children.

Summer camps provide structured group activity during the weeks of vacation out of school. This may also mean more exercise, less screen time, and an opportunity to learn new skills outside of a traditional classroom setting. For working parents, this may also allow for supervision during the workday. Keeping child safety and well-being at the top of your list, here are eight other things I recommend parents consider when discussing summer camp plans:

1) Start looking early! While most camps are opened for signups in the spring, many popular summer activities and camps open their enrollment as early as January or February. Asking friends, neighbors, teachers, and colleagues for summer activity recommendations is a great place to start. Most cities have a Parks and Recreation department that will often sponsor summer activities as well.

2) What does your child enjoy? While school schedules, distance, availability, and finances may affect the choice of camps, these activities should be fun! Summer camps have wide offerings – sports, cooking, acting, computer coding, swimming, music – use this as an opportunity to allow kids to do something they love or try something brand new.

3) Ask about safety and supervision. Ask about the ages of camp counselors, and the ratio of staff to campers. Though ratios required may vary by type of camp, the American Camp Association recommends the following ratios for day camps:
– one staff member for every six campers ages 4 and 5
– one staff member for every eight campers ages 6 to 8
– one staff member for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14
– one staff member for every 12 campers ages 15 to 17

ACA also advises that staff minimize any one-to-one camper/staff interactions when out of sight of others.

4) Inquire about how camps deal with medical emergencies. Are camp staff CPR and first aid certified? What training and certifications are the staff required to have to supervise campers? Can medications be administered if needed? Can the camp accommodate children with special needs? Licensing requirements for day camps and resident vary by state – check out California’s requirements here.

5) Ensure water safety laws and regulations will be followed. Camps with swim and water activities are a great way to cool off and stay active in the summer. Organizers of these activities should be taking extra steps to ensure the safety of children around water. Is it a camp that offers water safety and swim instruction, or is it expected that your child is a competent swimmer? If it is a camp that offers water sports such as boating or paddleboarding, make sure all children will be provided a well-fitting life jacket. Ratios of staff to campers should be smaller to ensure adequate water supervision. Many camps with water activities may require a swim test prior to participation.

6) Ask about sun protection. Most day and resident camps have protocols for how often sunscreen will be reapplied, frequency of water breaks, and access to shade.

7) Planning during a pandemic: while case rates of COVID-19 are decreasing in most states, the pandemic is certainly still a factor in planning activities. All camp staff should be fully vaccinated prior to starting camp, and it is encouraged for eligible children over 5 years old to also be vaccinated against covid-19. Ask camps how illness is handled, and if there are masking requirements for indoor activities.

8) Complete required medical release forms or pre-participation physical exam requirements: ensure your child is up-to-date on their yearly physical exam and vaccinations! If your child has medications that need to be administered during the day or needs emergency medications nearby such as inhalers or injectable epinephrine (such as an Epi-Pen), ask the camp how they will store and administer the medication.

If you have specific questions about whether a certain type of camp or activity is developmentally appropriate for your child, consult your CPCMG pediatrician. Day or overnight camps are a wonderful way to keep children active and engaged during the summer, and with a little research you can rest assured your children will be kept safe while having fun!