Looking for a summer camp? Go to a camp fair
T.I.P.S.S. on how to choose the right program for your child
The benefits of camp fairs are numerous. Camp representatives come to a place close to your home, the event helps focus what can be a complex open-ended set of decisions, and you are afforded the opportunity to compare a number of programs in one place at one time.
However, the most important opportunity that a fair offers is the chance to get to know the camp personnel. Many times the person representing the camp at the fair is the director, assistant director or a high-level administrator. Meeting the person who directs the staff that will be caring for your child and setting expectations for the camp is key.
Choosing a camp is a lot like choosing a babysitter. You get recommendations from friends, then meet the person who will be caring for your child to evaluate their skills. In the same way, it is vital to get a sense of what a camp is like through the personality and values of the people leading the program. Only then can you determine whether or not it's a good fit.
Talk with your spouse or partner and your child about what you are looking for in a camp. Overnight or day camp? Are you looking for a specific skills focus or a program with greater freedom to explore new activities? Do you need a longer program to be the focus of your child’s summer or a shorter stay that fits in between other summer plans?
Investigate the programs that will be at the camp fair before you go. Become familiar with what makes each one unique. Depending on the type of camp you are searching for, you’ll soon realize each camp has its own defining characteristics. Many overnight camps, for example, offer similar activities, but their philosophies and values set them apart. Find a camp that is in line with what you value as a parent. You can find links to many camp websites at www.parentingnh.com/Summer-Camps.
Plan to spend time at the camp fair talking with representatives from each camp you are interested in. This is an aspect of your process that you do not want to rush. Don’t walk around simply taking handouts. Ask questions based on your research. Let each representative talk about their camp and listen carefully to what they emphasize. Does the face-to-face experience match up with what was projected online? See how your child reacts to this person; are they at ease?
Stay open-minded. As you walk through the fair consider other programs that may not have been on your list. You and your child will have grown during this process – you now know more about what’s out there, and may be ready for a more challenging “away” experience.
Sit down one more time after the fair and talk with your child and spouse or partner again. Choose a camp together and allow your child to have age-appropriate input on what camps they will attend. This will ensure a higher level of buy-in through ownership of the decision-making process, which will lead to greater success in the selected program.
There are very few wrong choices but there is definitely the best answer for your family and your child. Good luck in your search and remember to have fun with it. If you do, your child will, too.
Garrett Colgan-Snyder is the owner and director of Camp Hawkeye in Moultonborough.