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How to Choose the Best Day Camp for Your Child

How to Choose the Best Day Camp for Your Child

Day camp is undoubtedly important for kids' development, but how do I know I'm choosing the right day camp for my child?

It’s hard to know when to send your kids to day camp—are they ready to be away from home, join a community, engage in new activities? Renee Flax, director of camper placement for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, who has been helping parents navigate camp for more than 20 years, offers her advice for choosing the best day camp for your child. 

RELATED: Find the perfect camp for your child!

What’s so great about day camp?

Camps are one of the last unplugged environments—which is invaluable at a time when kids spend so much time alone on electronics without communicating face-to-face. Day camp is a place where kids can socialize and work together as a group.

And while counselors are on hand to help them, children learn how to handle situations on their own, and consequently develop confidence in their ability to make decisions and solve problems. Camps also teach practical skills—like swimming—and psychological skills—like learning to share and listening to directions.

Day camp encourages healthy competition and safe risks—jumping in a pool, singing on stage, climbing a ropes course, meeting a new friend. With perseverance, kids learn they can conquer their fears and learn to love activities they would never otherwise have been exposed to. 

Why not just go to the pool?

While lazy days at the pool or even half-day sports classes are certainly fun, they don’t offer the valuable experience of being part of a close-knit group of people. Camp is more than just individual activities; it provides a family of friends and a home-away-from-home. Events like carnival or color wars, where kids have to work together, inspire a sense of comradery. Learning songs and cheers together gives young children the feeling of belonging. It’s a tremendous growth experience and teaches kids to believe in themselves.

What should I look for in a day camp?

Asking friends and neighbors about their experiences is a good start but do your own research at open houses and camp fairs. Choose a camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association, which means it is living up to the highest standards. And consider the following questions:

  • Inquire about the director: Is she seasonal or full-time? Make sure you have a good rapport. 
  • Do you need a full-day camp with transportation and extended hours, or is a half-day camp enough for you and your child?
  • Does the camp offer activities your child will enjoy?
  • Are you comfortable with your child on a bus or are you looking for a closer option?
  • Consider the cost: Does it fit within your budget?
  • What kind of program (elective or structured) is offered at the camp?
  • What is the staff like: How old are the members? Is there diversity? Are they experienced?
  • Are you looking for a small, nurturing camp or a larger camp with a wider range of activities?

What should I keep in mind if camps open this summer after the COVID-19 quarantine?

The American Camp Association, NY and NJ is optimistic that summer camps will run this summer, however no final decisions have been made for many camps at this time.  Unfortunately, some summer camps in the Northeast have already had to make the difficult decision to not open this summer, ahead of any state or local agencies mandating them closed.

The ACA is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an outside consulting firm who are convening with public health experts, doctors representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, experts in epidemiology, and camp health experts to develop operational recommendations and resources for camps during COVID-19. Once these guidelines and protocols are complete, they will be shared with state and local agencies who will ultimately decide whether camps operate this summer.

When choosing a camp, it’s important that parents choose an ACA-accredited summer camp or at a minimum, a camp that is licensed by the Department of Health. Accredited and licensed summer camps must adhere to important safety regulations, including reporting of any communicable diseases to the Department of Health and having medical staff available.

Even if you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, it’s a good time to start exploring options—there are so many great day camps in the New York area that will provide your kid with an exceptional and meaningful summer.

RELATED: The Ultimate, Must-Read Camp Guide for Every Family

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Author: Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. She believes every child should have a summer camp experience. See More

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