Picture this: complete excitement about starting a fun week at camp, a seamless drop-off, non-stop chatter about how fun/cool/awesome the day was! This can be your life! You just need to do a little bit of discovery, investigation and grocery shopping (see #6).
Check out these tips and you’ll be on the right track to making your kid’s summer camp experience a raging success.
Tip #1 Start now
Summer Camp schedules have been out for weeks now, if not months, with the most popular programs already on Wait Lists. Don’t miss the opportunity to sign up your child for the camps that fit your criteria by getting on the horn, like, yesterday. If a camp you’re interested in is already full, definitely sign up for the Wait List. Many families change plans (and minds) before summer arrives and cancellations allow for you move on into the programs you really want.
#2 Sign up with a friend
Many kids aren’t exactly joiners and don’t find heading off for the day with a group of strangers rewarding. However, send along a buddy and it’s game on. Contact a few parents of your child’s friends and propose registering the kids together. It will eliminate the awkward “first day of camp” feelings and make kids feel more at ease with someone familiar by their side. Most likely, they’ll make new friends super quick, but it’ll make the morning drop-off a whole lot easier with a buddy in tow.
#3 Choose their interests, not yours
You may have really great memories of that archery camp you took one summer as a kid, but if your child has no interest in that sport, you might as well set your money on fire if you sign them up for it. Sit down with your kids and talk about what type of camp interests them—they may surprise you with something new and they won’t be shy about telling you what’s off the table. Many camps have a central focus but also incorporate related (or non-related) activities so chances are, they’ll get a well-rounded experience no matter what.
#4 Start slowly
When you’re learning to ski, you don’t start off at the top of the mountain, right? If your child has never attended a summer camp before, don’t sign them up for a full-day, week-long camp unless you want to experience full-tilt separation anxiety. There are tons of summer camps that offer a half-day or 3-day type of schedule. If you start early in the summer with an abbreviated schedule, you’ll be fine by August to sign up for the full-day version.
#5 Verify indoor accommodations in case of bad weather
Have you ever watched the show Survivor? You know when it starts monsooning for days and they’re all huddled under a leaky thatched roof made up of s’mores and broken promises? Ya, that’s what camps mean when they say they have a “covered outdoor area” in case of rain. Unless your kid is auditioning for some National Geographic reality series, they absolutely will not enjoy that. Find a camp that has a true indoor option. With walls and a real roof and indoor plumbing.
#6 Send a fantastic lunch
Most camps require kids to brown bag-it, so parents, here’s your chance to hit it out of the park. When you send a kid to camp with a fierce lunch box with whatever healthy food you want and then throw in a few mini candy bars, a fun drink and a plastic ring/sticker sheet/madlib, they’ll be bounding out of the car at drop-off. Here’s the key to success: don’t let them peek until they sit down for lunch. The anticipation is a blast and they’ll be smiling for the rest of the day.
#7 Choose a convenient location
Hypothetical situation: You’ve found an amazing camp, but it’s nearly 45 minutes away—what do you do? You have a few options here: 1) See Tip #2 and coordinate taking turns with another parent; 2) suck it up and commit your entire week of beautiful summer weather to being inside a car; or 3) bag the idea and find something similar that’s more convenient to home. Sometimes driving way out of your way just isn’t reasonable or feasible. Commit only to realistic options, and no, you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
#8 Accommodations for special needs
Although schools are readily equipped to handle your child’s special needs, many camps may not have the knowledge or support to accommodate those requirements. Whether it be ADHD, anxiety, Aspergers or medical needs like administering medication or allergy considerations, be sure to talk to the camp’s administrators about what they can and cannot provide before registering your child for a camp.
#9 Yelp, Facebook or ask around
There are camps out there that, because of a fancy photographer and a decent web designer, look incredible on paper but how do you really know? Take advantage of the internet and social media by investigating reviews, requesting recommendations and asking your Facebook circle for a hands-on experience report. It’s hard to get an insider’s point of view from a simple brochure. Save yourself time, money and aggravation by doing a little pre-registration homework.
#10 Fun factor
You may think an intensive academic day camp would be perfect for your child who could use a boost developing their math skills, but how much fun does that sound to your kid? Sprinkling in one or two academic camps during the summer seems ok, but don’t forget what summer is meant to be—a fun and free spirited time for your children to culminate other imperative life skills like imaginative outdoor play, peer-to-peer social interactions, catching fireflies and superior marshmallow roasting skills. You know, the important stuff.
With all of the great summer programs available in Central MA, your biggest challenge will be finding time for all this fun. Enjoy!