Choosing a summer camp program for your child should involve some critical research, as the care of your child is so important. Some parents may send a child to a camp they attended though the needs of their children may differ from their own. In other cases, children choose a camp because their friend attends, even though that does not guarantee their own enjoyment.
While there’s no easy way to find the best camp for your child, this section will provide you with some basic guidelines for making this very important decision.
WHAT DO YOU AND YOUR CHILD WANT?
The camp should meet the needs of both parent and child. A good way to begin is to sit down as a family and respond to the following questions:
- What do you and your child want to gain from the camp? (e.g. Learn new skills, develop more self-confidence, become more independent)
- What are the special interests that your child wants to explore?
- Are there any physical, intellectual, or social limitations that should be considered?
- What kind of environment will your child benefit from the most? (e.g. level of structure, co-ed or single-sexed, etc.)
- Is your child ready for an overnight or a day camp experience?
- What type of camp fits best with work schedules and family vacation times?
- What are the total costs of day or overnight camps?
It is also appropriate to look at some of the specific characteristics that should be considered in determining what you and your child want. These characteristics include:
- Type of Camp
- Lunch Program (Day Camps)
- Programs and Activities
- Additional Needs
TYPE OF CAMP
Overnight camps may be co-ed, all boys, all girls or family camps. Overnight camps provide a residential program where campers enjoy daily and evening activities. A session can range anywhere from one week to an entire summer. Some OCA Camps offer both Day and Overnight experiences for campers in their programs and require onsite overnight staff supervision. For example, Camp Katonim, Camp Robin Hood, Camp Green Acres and Camp Arrowhead Day Camp.
Day camps provide a summer day program where campers enjoy daily activities. A camp experience can range from one week to an entire summer.
Specialized camps cater to a variety of needs and interests such as: specialized activities, academic programming, travel, or serving a population of children with additional needs.
Further guidance can be found in the OCA Camps Guide on the home page.
As a parent you have to make a careful assessment of your family’s financial position regarding camp costs. You may want to calculate the following to help you in this regard: How much would you have to pay to feed, entertain, provide childcare, and so forth, if your child stays home for all or part of a summer?
Second, there may be extra costs above and beyond the registration fee such as: transportation, laundry, lunch program, tuck (candy shop) or outtrips.
Fees for each camp vary based on such things as if they are a private or public camp, the activities offered and the facilities. You should take some time to consider what you can reasonably afford.
Most overnight camps supply transportation at the beginning and end of each session from a central pick-up / drop-off point in the closest major city. Some camps include a transportation cost in their registration fees while others have an additional transportation charge. If you live outside of the country, the camp may provide a pick-up at the airport (you should inquire with your individual camp). You may also have the option of dropping your child off at the camp if you so choose.
Day camps vary in their provision of transportation. Many do offer transportation (either door-to-door pick-up / drop-off or from centralized pick-up / drop-off points). Most day camps charge an additional fee for transportation, though there are some that include it in their fees. There are some day camps that require families to transport their campers to and from camp.
LUNCH PROGRAM (Day Camps)
The provision of lunch varies from camp to camp, so it is important that you inquire with your individual camp. The three models for lunch at day camps are: all campers bring their own lunch, all campers are provided with lunch (therefore, lunch would be included in the camp fees); there is an optional lunch program at an additional charge. If the camp is providing your camper with lunch it is important to remember to share any information on allergies or dietary restrictions with the camp so that your camper’s needs are properly met.
Camps may vary in size from under 100 campers to more than 500. Smaller camps may foster a very special environment where campers and staff really get to know each other, and where individual needs can be quickly met. Large camps are often organized into small units thus making it possible to receive the same kind of attention offered by a smaller camp. In a good camp there may be little correlation between size and the quality of the total camp experience.
Many parents needlessly limit their search for a camp by looking in one area or by choosing an arbitrary distance from home. More important are the related questions involving environment, safety, healthcare, programming and accessibility.
Keep in mind that there are excellent camps all across Ontario, and that if your child is having a good experience distance will not have a great impact. Which is more important – choosing the right camp based on your child’s interests/needs or the comfort of knowing your child’s camp is close to home?
PROGRAMS & ACTIVITIES
Camps have all kinds of program offerings! Some camps may specialize in one activity while others will offer a wide array of programs. Camps where the majority time is devoted to 1 activity with specialized staff and facilities are called Specialty Camps (e.g. arts, sports, horseback riding, gymnastics, computers, photography, wilderness trips). Typically, these camps have other facilities and activities that provide campers with additional experiences. A more traditional camp program tends to be broader in terms of what it offers.
Most traditional camps will provide a wide vareity of programs ranging from team to individual sports, the arts to waterfront activities, and some nature options . Many of these camps also provide campers with some elective periods to focus on the activities that they particularly enjoy.
- Will the camp encourage campers to try new things or things they are not skilled in?
- What is the philosophy regarding competitive vs. non-competitive programming?
- Which activities are mandatory?
- Is instruction given in each activity?
- How structured is the program? Are there electives (choices the child can make)?
- Is your child mainly interested in focussing on 1 activity for a major portion of the day?
It is appropriate to try to pin down some of the program preferences you and your child have. A list of the common camp activities follows:
• Team Sports
Baseball, Basketball, Field Hockey, Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, Softball, Volleyball, Roller Hockey, Ice Hockey
• Individual Sports
Archery, Fishing, Golf, Gymnastics, Martial Arts, Wrestling, Biking, Horse Back Riding, Tennis, Figure Skating
• Water Sports
Canoeing, Kayaking, Sailing, Scuba, Snorkeling, Swimming, Waterskiing, Windsurfing
Rope Courses, Camp Crafts, Rock Climbing, Outdoor Cooking, Overnights, Hiking
• Creative Arts
Drawing, Jewelry, Leatherwork, Metalwork, Crafts, Painting, Cooking, Photography, Sculpture, Copper Enameling, Stained Glass, Woodwork, Film/Video, Ceramics
• Performing Arts
Drama/Theatre, Magic, Dance, Singing, Music, Instruments
Geology, Biology, Nature, Astronomy, Rocketry, Ecology, Computing, Archaeology, Radio, Aviation
Foreign Language, Remedial Tutoring, Academic Enrichment
Traveling Camps, Brigantine Camps, Wilderness, Inter-camp Travel
There are many factors to consider if your child has an additional need. There are some camps that cater to a specific need, some that cater to a variety of additional needs, and others offer an integrated program that can accommodate a variety of additional needs. Please review our OCA Camps Guide for a list of camps and the additional needs that they aim to accomodate.
DECIDING ON A CAMP
Now that you have identified you and your child’s desired criteria for a camp, it is time to generate a list of camps that meet your needs. Take the OCA’s “Find Your Perfect Camp” Questionnaire.
Once you have developed a list of possibilities the most difficult task remains: how do you compare camps so that you can ultimately choose the best one for you and your child?
CHOOSING THE BEST CAMP FOR YOUR CHILD
Review the website, brochures and videos with your child. Then you can choose the ones you’re most interested in and arrange to meet with the camp directors. They’ll give you more details and you can ask specific questions like:
- What is the director’s background? How long has the director run this camp?
- What are the camp’s goals and philosophy?
- What kind of camper is most likely to have a good experience at this camp?
- What facilities does the camp have?
- What is the schedule like? Is it structured or is their more individual choice?
- What is the camper-counsellor ratio?
- What kind of staff training is provided?
- What percentage of campers return each year?
- What is the total cost of the camp including extras?
- What are the sleeping arrangements and what toilet and shower facilities exist?
- What is the swimming instruction program like?
- How does the camp insure the safety and security of its campers?
- What is the food like?
- What is the policy about food from home, mail / email, cell phone use and so forth?
- What Health Staff and facilities are available are on site?
- Is there a refund policy if the camper leaves early for illness or other reasons?
- Will the director supply references? (e.g. of current families that attend the camp)
- What happens when the weather is bad?
- How does the camp program meet individual needs and differences?
Don’t feel self-conscious about asking questions. A good camp will pay a lot of attention to parental concerns and should be eager to respond to them.
Be careful to focus on the philosophy of the camp (i.e. community, staffing, safety) vs. just flashy facilities and equipment.
Finally, ask for references of families who have had their child attend the camp. Speaking with these families can give you valuable insight about the camp and the families that send their children there.