A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.

Start on your end, considering the following.

Summer schedules: Do you have to work full time or part time? Does your child have ongoing commitments that run through summer? Is there a family vacation happening? What about custody arrangements? Sometimes it helps to draw up a big calendar, whether on a dry erase board, a piece of paper or the computer, and see how everything fits together.

Summer childcare: Are you using a nanny or babysitter? Is he or she capable of chauffeuring your child around to various activities? If not, can you or another designated adult? If your child is in a care setting for the summer, is she already getting a variety of activities at that program? Will it be disruptive to pull her from programming there?

What does your child enjoy doing? It might go without saying, but make sure you're picking options that will build on your child's strengths and be something he enjoys, not something you think he should enjoy.

Once you have a few options, call each camp to ask questions. Start with the obvious: "Is the camp licensed by the state of Wisconsin?" And then: "Are there still openings available?" Ask next about costs and cancellation policy. Is any of the fee refundable should something happen, like illness or a family emergency?

Sharon Baldwin, director for the YMCA of Dane County, recommends parents ask the following questions about staff:

  • Are staff backgrounds' checked?
  • What are the ages of camp counselors?
  • How are camp counselors chosen?
  • What is the camper-to-staff ratio?
  • What kind of supervision do campers get from staff?
  • What happens if my child gets sick?
  • How are campers' medications handled?
  • What kind of food is served?
  • How do you handle food allergies?
  • Are staff trained in first aid and CPR procedures?
  • What are safety procedures for offsite field trips (if applicable)?
  • How do you handle challenging behaviors if they occur?

Lastly, Baldwin suggests asking "What is the rate of campers returning to your summer camp?" to get a good idea of overall satisfaction.

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