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Choose the best camp for your kid

Find your child's best fit with these tips

Choose the best camp for your kid

A past Hudson Valley camp supervisor and father of two, Archie Morris of Walden recently shared a moment with his daughter and said, when looking at camps, choose a program that best fits your family’s budget and lifestyle. 

These days, there's a summer camp for every imaginable interest young person has, and nowhere is that truer than the Hudson Valley. Whether a budding athlete, artist, scientist, or other specialty, there are sure to be one or more local summer camps that could be a perfect fit for your child.

But with so many options, how is a parent to choose? Below are tips on what parents (and kids) should consider this winter and spring when choosing a summer camp or activity. 

Cost. Kingston resident, Laura Nordstrom, a former youth development director and mother of two with experience in running local summer camps, said first-and-foremost, consider whether the tuition of camps of interest are affordable. Additionally, she said, that while many camps offer financial aid, requisite paperwork typically needs to be submitted early in the year.

"Be sure to sure to pay attention to what types (of financial aid) are available along with their application deadlines," said Nordstrom. "Planning is key."

Duration. Former Hudson Valley camp supervisor, facilitator, and father of two, Archie Morris of Walden, advised parents to consider how long their children will be away at camp, and choose a program that best fits not only their family's budget, but also their lifestyle. 'Stay-away' camps keep children on premises for several days or weeks at a time, while 'day' camps have campers arriving in the morning and departing in the afternoon or evening. Some camps also offer half-day options. Nordstrom said that for parents who need extended camp hours to accommodate work schedules, they should check on whether the camps offer wraparound care and its cost.

Philosophy. Parents, said Morris, should learn the mission statement of the organization being considered for summer camp and decide if they support it. This line of thinking also extends to a camp's discipline policy.

READ MORE: Things to know before the first day of camp

"Behavioral expectations should vary by age group, as 5-year-olds should not have the same expectations put upon them than 10-year-olds," said Nordstrom. She also suggested that parents inquire about how a camp handles incidents and accidents, along with its overall discipline policy.

Staff training and qualifications. Seek information regarding the quantity and scope of a camp's staff training practices to paint a more complete portrait of the folks you will be entrusting to your child's care. Also, many parents may find it important to know if camp staff is subject to background checks before being hired. Additionally, if a program has been running for many years, Nordstrom recommended looking into whether the camp supports the hiring of former campers as counselors, which she considers a great practice.

"They know firsthand what it is really like to be a camper," she said.

Facilities. Seeing is believing, said Morris, so be sure to tour any camps of interest.  "In the case of a stay-away style camp, I can understand that a level of rustic living can be good for building character, but at the same time, there can be such a thing as too rustic," he said. "And regardless of style, parents need to ask themselves, (if the camp has) adequate facilities to meet the needs of my child."

Size. Morris recommends that parents find out about the number of campers typically present during a given session, how much supervision they're given, and how closely campers are looked after during different points of the day. Camper-to-staff ratios typically can be requested via phone or e-mail to the camp organizations' director, as there are state laws that summer programs must follow in this arena. When regarding camp size and group numbers, Morris said parents should consider if their child will receive a personalized experience or end up lost in the shuffle.

Activities. Look into a camp's activities before enrolling your child in a program, said Nordstrom. For instance, if a program is academic-based and your child is a reluctant learner, make sure he or she has 'bought into' the camp's focus and is willing to take part in activities. Similarly, if your child doesn't like dirt, bugs, and the outdoors, perhaps a nature camp isn't the best choice for him or her. As well, if your child isn't sporty, pick something other than an athletic- or sports-focused camp.

"It all boils down to planning ahead, researching the camp options, and having reasonable expectations all around," said Nordstrom.

READ MORE: Hudson Valley Summer Camp Guide

Schedule. See a sample of a camp's schedule (often it can be found on a camp's website), said Nordstrom, and decide for or with your child if most of activities appeal to your child. For instance, is there a lot of free time? If so, does your child need unstructured time or thrive with a more planned-out day? Additionally, it may be important to find out how much 'outside time' campers get on an average day at through a program, as many specialty ones take place in classrooms, and parents need to decide if their child can handle that. Basically, Nordstrom said parents to know what is happening, and discuss the camp activities, schedule, and structure with their child so you are all aware and happy with what he or she will be doing.

Demographic dynamics. Flexibility, acceptance, and an open mind can result in long-lasting summer friendships and the fond memories, some of the best parts of a camper's experience. With that, Nordstrom said parents should be sure that their children are aware that they may have to make new friends in their group because individual friend requests cannot always be accommodated.

"Prepare your child to interact appropriately and respectfully towards other campers who may be different from themselves and/or their friends," said Nordstrom.

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator, and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley.