Finding the Right Camp


Step One

Why am I looking for a camp program for my child?

  1. I want them to Make friends
  2. I want them to Learn new skills
  3. I want them to Learn life skills
  4. I need an affordable substitute for daycare or a caregiver
  5. I want Someone qualified will look after my camper
  6. I want my child with special needs to have an inclusive experience
  7.  I want my child to attend a specific special needs camp

Just by answering the questions you’re in good shape! This is what most camps will be able to offer your camper. You can focus your search based on secondary choice selection items such as schedule, location, hours of program, activities and price.

If you circled D:

You probably want to ensure that you are looking for a camp with a subsidy program or you can apply to the list of organizations offering financial assistance (financial assistance applications should be submitted early in the January or February due to the number of people applying and limited funds). Most camps offering financial aid may still require you to pay a portion of the fees.

If you circled F:

We recommend that you look for an inclusionary program with the percentage of children with special needs being less than 10%. Consider whether it matters to you if the campers with special needs all have a specific challenge or not.

Step Two

What kind of program do I want for my camper?
A day camp program
Why you would choose a day camp program:
  • Your child is not ready to spend a lengthy time away from home
  • My child has sleeping issues
  • Similar structure/routine to a school day or daycare
  • Usually closer to urban centres
  • Usually less expensive
Why you would choose  an overnight (“sleep-away”) camp program:
  • Campers have an opportunity to apply more life skills like independence
  • Expose campers to new environments, communities and ways of interacting
  • Often vast amount of programming and waterfront experiences
  • The camper has an away from home experience
  • You get a longer re-charge period (professionally referred to as “parental respite”)
What programs does the camp offer?

Are you looking for a traditional and varied camp program, or a camp where campers hone a particular set of skills/talents?

How do campers choose their programs at camp?

Asking for a description of a “typical day at camp” will give you a good idea of the campers’ schedule. You can also use this information to prepare your child for his/her time at camp.

What does the camp want campers to take away with them from their experience?

The Camp Director’s answer to this question will reveal the overall values and philosophies of the camp.

What is the camp staff:camper ratio?

This ratio indicates the overall level of supervision. It is a good idea to also inquire about the number of campers under one counsellor’s care, as this may be a different ratio. According to OCA Standards, counsellor: camper ratios should be no larger than 1:6 for children under 5 or 1:10 for children ages 6 and over.

What safety measures does the camp take for high risk programs?

You should ask about the qualifications of the staff and the camp’s protocols for supervision and risk-management (e.g. equipment inspections), and the rules set for campers (e.g. always swim with a buddy).

What kind of health care facility and staff is available to campers?

Healthcare should be of the utmost importance at any camp. You should have confidence that the camp is equipped (on-site) or has a strategy in place to ensure quick and competent emergency response and everyday wellness.

How do the camp deal with issues like homesickness, bullying and campers with additional needs?

Many camps have written resources and policies in places concerning these issues. Staff should be trained in such areas as age-appropriate needs, behaviour management, and methods of inclusion.

What training has been completed by the camp staff?

All camps provide training on leadership, programs, child development, problem solving, confidentiality, reporting, and camper safety. Find out the type of training, and qualifications required by your camp by contacting the camp director.

What is the camp director’s background and what are his or her qualifications?

The camp director’s experience, education, and character will determine her/his ability to run the camp safely, smoothly, and interact appropriately with staff and campers. The camp director is the person ultimately responsible for the care of your camper.

What is the camp’s staff return rate?

A high rate of staff returning to a camp indicates dedication to the camp and a high level of tradition. Happy staff makes for happy campers. High staff return may also point to sound training, including team building and professional development.

Questions to ask experienced campers and parents:

It is often helpful to speak to campers’ parents and campers to get their opinions of the camp you are considering. At your request, a camp director should be able to connect you with several current camp families. Often children have different questions to ask about camp. We encourage you and your child to ask the following questions of campers:

  1. Did you like camp?
  2. What were the counsellors like?
  3. What kinds of things did you do at camp?
  4. What were the other kids like?
  5. Where did you live?
  6. Did you like the food?
  7. Are you going back to camp this summer?

It is important to ask if you can visit the camp. Often seeing the camp, the living accommodations, the activity areas, and meeting some of the staff will give you and your camper a solid understanding of what to expect from a camp experience.

A family camp program
Why you would choose a family camp program:
  • The whole family has fun together!
  • Usually there are times when campers have their own age appropriate programming and you have your own programming (or personal time)
  • You can connect with other parents/caregivers who you can exchange ideas and share experiences
  • You remain the caregiver at all times

Step Three

Final Questions
How are campers transported to camp?

Camps may have buses, others can connect you to cab companies that specialize in transporting children or you may choose to drive your child to camp. If the camp offers transportation, it should provide detailed information about pick-up and drop-off points, costs, and the quality and amount of supervision.Choosing a camp just because it’s the closest to you isn’t always the best choice if you’re looking for camp staff with specialized programming or staff with specific training and experience.

Which camp session should I choose?

It is really up to each individual family and their schedule to determine which dates to select.  It may be difficult to get your exact dates so register early and be prepared to be flexible with your dates especially if it’s a specific program you want.

How much will camp cost?

Camps will range from $0 (subsidy, scholarship) to $1,000.00 plus per week. Research your camps of choice online and call the camp for information and meetings before you register so that you can make an informed decision. Some camps charge additional fees for such things as one-on-one workers for campers with special needs, meals, transportation and other incidentals. If you are looking for financial assistance please ask if it is available! If the camp itself doesn’t offer assistance, please refer to our subsdies page for funding options ** or call our office at 416-485-0425.

Camps Working Towards Inclusion For Campers With Special Needs
Questions to ask the camp:
  1. What is the percentage of children with special needs within the camp population? True integration should be around 10% of the population.
  2. Is my child fully included into a group or are they assimilated into the general camp program?
  3. How will the camp support my camper’s needs?
  4. What training do staff receive who are working directly with my child?
    OCA Standards recommend a minimum of 16 years of age for a day camp staff member and 17 years of age for a residential camp staff member.
  5. How are transitions between programs managed?
    Does each new camp session have brand new campers or can campers register multiple sessions throughout the summer?
  6. If my child requires additional strategies such as visual reminders/PEC’s will these be available or will the family have to provide them?
  7. How often do the staff communicate with parents and how is this managed (e.g. communication book)?
Specialized Special Needs Camps
Will the camp be able to support my camper and his or her needs?

A specialized special needs camp probably is the best option for a child who requires a lot of additional care. Camp is a very social setting and campers may need even more support than school to get the most out of their camp experience. Camps will work hard to ensure that the option of extra support can be provided and/or programs and staffing are tailored to your camper’s needs.

Specialized special needs camps offer activities/programs within an environment specifically designed for children with particular challenges. For example, there are camps specifically for children with autism and others specifically for those with physical challenges.

Additional Suggestions For Campers Who Have Additional Needs

Ensure your camper tours the facility ahead of time. This will let you know areas of the facility which may be of concern.

If your camper is non-verbal or low verbal, send your camper with a small plastic photo album with photos of common items that he/she will use at camp (e.g. swim area, toilets, showers, change room, dining hall, lunch shelter, playground). The camper and staff can use this album to communicate. Some campers may do well if you get the actual photos from the camp ahead of time.

Create laminated charts with words and Velcro to help the camper and staff with the steps or schedule of the day for instruction (e.g. first “change room” then “swim”). Some campers will comprehend a more complicated laminated page with multiple instructions.


You’re ready to search for a program that meets your campers’ needs.

Final Checklist

Remember that you and the camp are both working towards a successful camp experience. Review the checklist below and ensure that you have addressed these items with the camp:

  • What makes my camper happy?
  • What makes me happy with the camp experience?
  • Goals of experience
  • Communicating with my camper and camp staff
  • Behaviour management/de-escalation
  • General camp information
  • Transportation
  • Emergency contacts
  • What to bring
  • When visiting camp, what not to bring? coming with a friend? sibling?
  • Concerns
  • Will my child be outdoors or indoors all day
  • Fees, taxes, payment, subsidy
  • Healthcare facilities and professionals on site
  • Wellness
  • Medication/medication dispensing
  • Severe allergy management plan
  • Sun safety
  • Healthcare management
  • Dietary preferences/allergies/concerns
  • Personal support (eating, bathing, bathroom, etc.)
  • Time alone
  • Bringing personal toys, electronics, etc.
  • Program expulsion. What will make my camper be removed from the camp program?
  • Program withdrawal. What contractual responsibilities and/or processes are in place should my camper be removed from the program by the camp or by me?

Program Activity Success Suggestions

Review the program activities outlined in your camp’s brochure and consider if any activity may require more or less support than usual for your camper due to his or her individual needs.

Non Program Activity Success Suggestions

Consider the times in-between structured programming including changing, walking to the other programs, quiet times, bed time, meal times, and other unstructured times. Consider if any of these activities may require more or less support than usual for your camper due to their individual needs.