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Mendo Lake Family Life

12 Questions to Ask Sleepaway Camp Staff Before You Sign Up

By Tanni Haas

You’ve gone online, asked everyone you know for recommendations, and otherwise searched for sleepaway camps for your kids. How do you find the one that’s just right for them? When you’ve narrowed down the options to a handful or less, it’s time to speak to the camp directors by phone or email. Below is a list of some of the most important questions to ask.

The Camp

Is the camp accredited, how old is it, and how long have you owned or managed it? It’s a good sign if the camp is licensed by the American Camp Association (ACA). To earn accreditation, a camp must satisfy hundreds of industry standards for health, safety, and program quality. The ACA regularly visits the camp to verify that it’s in compliance. It’s also a good sign if the camp has been in existence for many years (kids are coming back year after year), and if the director is experienced at running camps.

What’s your philosophy? Camps can be very different. Some camps, especially ones focused on specific sports, can be quite competitive. Other camps are more aimed at instilling in kids certain values, such as comradery, cooperation, and conflict resolution. Make sure that the camp’s philosophy matches your own values and that it’s a good fit for your kids. 

What’s the accommodation like? Ask whether the kids sleep in cabins or tents, whether there are bathrooms and showers nearby and, most importantly, whether your kids can request to room with friends from home. Whether your kids are first-time or seasoned campers, it’s always comforting and great fun to room with one or more of their regular friends. 

How much does it cost? You probably don’t need any reminders to ask about the camp fee. But don’t forget to ask whether that fee is all-inclusive, or whether there are additional costs for day or overnight trips, transportation to and from camp, special activities, etc. Also ask if there’s a refund policy should your kids get sick, what the deadline is for registration and, in case you missed the deadline, if there’s a waitlist. It’s also a good idea to ask if financial aid or needs-based scholarships—perhaps a sibling discount—are available, and whether you need to pay everything up front, or you can pay in installments. Finally, don’t forget to get the camp’s Tax ID number. The camp fee can be tax-deductible. 

The Program

How long are the sessions, can they be lengthened or shortened, and how long do most campers stay? Most camps offer sessions of a specific length, often two, four, or eight weeks. However, if you have other things planned for the summer, it can be useful to either shorten or lengthen a session to fit your schedule. Most kids like to stay as long as the other kids. 

What do the kids do on a typical day? How much time is devoted to indoor and outdoor activities, and what will the kids be doing in the evening? 

What’s your communication and visiting policy? It’s always a good idea to find out how the camp prefers that you communicate with your kids. By phone or email? How often? Also ask how many care packages you’re allowed/encouraged to send, and whether there are designated visiting days.

How do you accommodate special needs? A high-quality camp is one where all the campers’ different needs are met. Ask how the staff accommodates special needs with respect to activities, behavior, learning, and dietary restrictions. 

The Staff

How do you hire, train, and supervise your camp counselors, and what’s the counselor-camper ratio? One of the best signs that the camp is of a high-quality is that it has strict procedures for hiring, training, and supervision of camp counselors. This includes criminal background checks, first aid training, and regular feedback sessions. It’s also a good sign if most of the counselors return for several summers. The ACA recommends that the counselor-camper ratio should be relatively low (between 1:6 and 1:12). 

Is there are medical facility with qualified personnel? A high-quality camp will either have a licensed physician or nurse on the premises, a well-stocked supply of commonly used medications, and procedures in place for dispensing medication to all the kids who need them. Also ask how far away the closest hospital, doctor’s office, and dental clinic are and how the kids will get there, if needed.

The Campers

How many campers do you have, and how many of them return every year? Generally speaking, the larger the camp the more activities, and the smaller the camp the more intimate it feels. Likewise, the higher the return rate, the more satisfied the kids are with the whole camp experience. 

How can your kids stay in touch with their counselors after camp has ended? Kids often develop strong bonds with their counselors. Ask whether they’re encouraged to stay in touch after the camp has finished.  

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor.