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Summer Camp: Choosing A Camp

There are so many different kinds of camps out there! For example:

  • "Traditional" camps that offer a little bit of everything
  • Academic camps that focus on science, math, or even creative writing
  • Adventure camps that are all about outdoor hobbies like rafting or mountaineering
  • Arts camps that specialize in theatre, music, film, or painting
  • Religious camps that focus on faith and worship
  • Sports camps that let you sharpen your skills in tennis, soccer, or baseball
  • Special needs camps that are especially for kids living with an illness, such as cancer or diabetes, or a physical disability
  • Day camps that offer the fun of camp without the sleepaway part

Every camp is unique in its own way. Here are two IML readers who had very different experiences with the camps they chose:

"I went to summer camp and it stunk!!!!! All of the people in my cabin were soooo mean!!!!! The camp I went to made it feel like school. I am going to a new camp next year. Hopefully it'll be better."
--Rocky, 12

"I had tons of fun! I got to make new friends and I got to do a whole bunch of fun activities. We played fear factor. It was so cool. I can't wait until next year!"
--Ashley, 13

So how do you make sure that your camp experience is like Ashley's, and not Rocky's? The first step is to think about what YOU want out of a camp. Ask yourself these questions:

Do I want to go to a day camp, or am I ready for sleepaway camp? There's no rule that at a certain age, you should be going to one or the other. A day camp might be a great first experience that will get you ready for sleepaway camp in future years. It's also a good choice if you or your family aren't sure you're ready to spend time apart, or if the cost of camp is an issue.

How far away do I want to go? Are you anxious to go to a camp that's halfway across the country, or would you feel more comfortable at one that's just outside of town?

How long do I want to stay? Do you think you want a camp that lasts two, four, or six weeks, or would four or five nights be enough for you? Are you ready to be away from home for a long time, or do you just want a short camp experience?

How big do I want my camp to be? Which would fit you best: a big camp with lots of cabins and hundreds of kids, or a smaller camp with just a few dozen campers? Do big groups mean that you make even more friends, or are you the type of person who gets lost in a crowd and does better in small groups?

How "traditional" do I want my camp to be? Are you looking to really get back to nature with rustic cabins and few of the luxuries of home, or do you want your camp to be up-to-the minute modern with extras like cell-phone privileges and Internet access? In other words, how "camp-like" do you want your camp to be? Remember: not all camps are in the "deep woods." Some are close to towns, and others are on college campuses!

What activities are important to me? Are you determined to go canoeing, swimming, and fishing? Then you'll want to look for a camp that's on a lake and offers those activities. Are crafts and theatre more important to you? Look for a camp that has these programs and don't worry so much about a lake. If you have a favorite camp activity that's a "deal-breaker" (in other words, you'd never be happy at a camp that doesn't offer it), make sure the adults who are helping you choose a camp know about it.

Do I want a co-ed camp? Would you be more comfortable at an all-girls or all-boys camp, or do you want a camp that has both? Sure, it's fun to have crushes and even "date" at camp, but you might decide that a single-sex camp might help you really relax, be yourself, and make the most of all the activities.

Do I want a lot of structure? Some camps fill up the days and nights with scheduled, structured activities, while others allow campers more free time. Which type of atmosphere is better for you?

Do I want a general camp, or one with a specialty? Are you looking for the "classic" camp experience with lots of different activities, or do you want to accomplish one thing, like losing weight, performing in a musical, or training in a particular sport? There will be a big difference between "general" summer camps and camps with a single theme or goal.

What can my family afford? If there's a camp that you desperately want to go to but the fees are too high for your family's budget, it's important to accept that. Camps run by non-profit or community organizations may be less expensive (and just as much fun). Many camps offer scholarships or financial aid to deserving campers, so be sure to explore this option too!

Talk about these questions with your family to decide what type of camp you want to attend. Now all you have to do is find it! Here are some tips:

Check with friends and neighbors. Try asking people you know about their summer camp experiences. Have they been to camp? What was it like? Have they heard of anyone who had a good or bad time at a particular camp? Remember: just because somebody else liked a certain camp, it doesn't mean you will. Try to get all the details (not just a general "good" or "bad" rating) so you can use your own judgment.

Check with local organizations. Does your community have a YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scout troop or Boy Scout troop? What about a Boys and Girls Club? Call or visit these organizations with your folks, and find out what they know about good summer camp programs. You can get contact info on our Help's Around The Corner page.

Surf the Web. Many summer camps have their own Web sites, and you can learn a lot about them by the photos and descriptions online. Use a search engine to hunt for a camp that seems to fit your style, or use these links to help you in your quest:

    American Camp Association

    My Summer Camps

When you find a camp that you like, you and your family need to do a little more digging to make sure that it meets your needs and is going to give you the camping experience you're looking for. You can help by printing out our list of questions for parents to ask the camp staff.

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