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Ready, Set, Camp! Finding the Right Camp for Your Child

You are considering a summer camp, but how to choose? There’s a camp that is ideally suited for every child, providing a summer of growth and fun whether your child attends a day or overnight camp, a specialized or traditional camp.

With a little help from the camp professionals at the American Camp Association, here’s some sound advice that helps parents sort through the choices and benefits that camp delivers. As spring approaches, parents and children can look forward to planning for the future — a future that includes the opportunities for exploration and discovery that arrives with summer camp.

Check out our SoCal Summer Camp Guide to find the best local Camps!

Kids enjoying summer camp fun Photo credit Lisa Phelan, Tom Sawyer Camps, used with permission
The joy of Summer Camp for kids! Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps in Pasadena, CA. Reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association.

How to Decide When Your Child Is Ready for Camp

Children are ready for new experiences at different stages. Parents know their children best and these questions can help gauge whether this is the summer your child will start camp.

What is your child’s age, and what is your perception of his or her readiness level?  Children under 7 who have not had overnight experiences may do better with a day camp as their first camp experience. If you think your child might not be ready for an overnight camp experience, consider the day camp experience to prepare him or her for future overnight camp.

  • How did your child become interested in camp? Does your child talk about camp on a sustained basis? How much persuasion is necessary from you?
  • Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home? Visiting relatives or friends? Were these separations easy or difficult?
  • What does your child expect to do at camp? Learning about the camp experience ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.
  • Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp? Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious.

Pandemic Summer Considerations

This summer, always look for a camp following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and using ACA’s Field Guide for operating during the pandemic. Ask to see a camp’s plan for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and implementation of ACA’s Field Guide in a camp’s policies, practices, and procedures this summer.

Related: Summer Camp – Our Antidote to Pandemic Living

A Camp for Every Child — The Perfect Fit

Camp can last for just a few days or stretch to all summer long. It’s well worth the trouble to investigate the variety of choices offered by camps before your child packs a backpack. These questions help you consider the options.

Near or Far?

Where do you want your child to go to camp? Locally or far away? While each camp experience has something unique to offer your child, this is an opportunity for families to assess what they value for their campers.

Benefits of Camp Nearby

  • Easier to evaluate and visit
  • Friends and family are likely familiar with camp
  • Minimal travel costs
  • Likely contact with classmates or children from same region

Benefits of Camp Far Away

  • More choices
  • Different experiences, different geography, e.g., mountains or oceans — even different languages
  • Promotes independence, particularly for early and late adolescent campers
  • Diversity of campers
  • Chance for family to visit and vacation at close of camp

Session Length Offers Another Choice

Camps offer widely varying options to help parents and children reach their goals for summer fun and exploration. Talking with your child about the goals you both share helps determine which choice is right for you.

Benefits of Short Sessions (one-three weeks)

  • First-time or younger campers have a chance to learn new skills
  • Bonds develop with other campers and staff
  • Great exposure to camp experience with less expense
  • Minimizes homesickness

Benefits of Longer Sessions (four-twelve weeks)

  • Strong sense of belonging to camp community
  • Chance to learn new skills
  • Development of specialized skills
  • Multiple opportunities for learning and enrichment
  • Lifelong friendships
  • Opportunities to contribute to camp culture

Related: Sleep Away Camp 101

Boys Only, Girls Only, or Co-ed?

Now may be the opportunity to explore the choices and benefits of all boys, all girls, or co-ed camps.

Benefits of Single Sex Camps

  • Breaking gender stereotypes — girls interact with women in position of authority and boys interact with men who act as nurturers
  • More opportunities to “be yourself” without impressing or competing with the opposite sex
  • Camp philosophy may be tuned into gender strengths and weaknesses
  • Brother or sister camps may share activities

Benefits of Co-ed Camps

  • Breaking gender stereotypes — girls interact with women in positions of authority and boys interact with men who act as nurturers
  • Mirrors and prepares campers for everyday living in a co-ed world
  • Allows families with a boy and a girl to attend the same camp
  • Offers diverse points of view
  • Breaks through rigid divisions set up in school when campers participate in equal footing

Related: Top Ten Things You Never Knew About Camp

special needs summer camp 2 kids in a kayak Photo credit Victor Chasteen, Camp Spearhead, used with permission
There’s a camp for every child. Photo courtesy of Camp Spearhead in Greenville, SC. Reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association.

A Camp for Every Child — Traditional, Specialty, and Special Needs

Choices abound when it comes to camp programs. One may highlight a wide variety of activities geared to campers of all ages and skill levels, others, because of their setting and expertise, may concentrate on one or two activities while providing traditional activities as well. Parents of children with special needs are pleased to learn about the range of camp activities that help kids be kids first.

Benefits of Traditional Camps

  • Wide variety of activities
  • Chance for campers to try new activities
  • Exposure to more campers and staff at varying activities

Benefits of Specialty Camps

  • One or two specialized activities (often combined with traditional offerings)
  • Expectation for increased proficiency during camping session
  • Deepens knowledge and skill in particular area of interest or ability

Benefits of Special Needs Camps

  • Activities geared to campers’ abilities
  • Knowledgeable staff with expertise to understand campers’ strengths and challenges
  • Supportive and fun atmosphere to share with others

Related: Special Needs Camps in Los Angeles

The Value of Camp for Every Child

What happens when you make the decision to choose camp? You open up a world of discovery and learning for your child, a world that values children for who they are and who they will become. Camp gives each child a world of good.

This article has been updated to include additional considerations for choosing a camp amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reprinted from Camping Magazine by permission of the American Camp Association © 2015-2023 American Camping Association, Inc.

About American Camp Association

The American Camp Association® (ACA) is a national organization serving the more than 15,000 year-round and summer camps in the US who annually serve 26 million campers. ACA is committed to collaborating with those who believe in quality camp and outdoor experiences for children, youth, and adults. ACA provides advocacy, evidence-based education, and professional development, and is the only independent national accrediting body for the organized camp experience. ACA accreditation provides public evidence of a camp’s voluntary commitment to the health, safety, risk management, and overall well-being of campers and staff. For more information, visit? call 800-428-2267.

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