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There's a great camp for your child

Finding it can be a fun family project.

Summer camp is not just a way to keep children busy when school is out. Camps aren’t “one size fits all.” The more time you put into choosing a camp that fits your child, the better your chances to gain peace of mind and a happy camper.

Choosing the right camp can be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. Involving children in the process can create fun family activities.

Start with a family meeting to discuss options such as day or overnight camp, coed versus a boys’ or girls’ camp, and whether a specialty camp or traditional camp experience will best suit your child.

“Traditional camps are great for children who have varied interests or are trying camp for the first time,” says Andrew Yankowitz, director of Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, NJ.

He adds, “Once campers have been exposed to many activities, sometimes they like to focus on one specific sport or activity at a specialty camp. Consider a camp that engages and develops children from the earliest age —  one that can meet the long-term needs of your family.”

Choose candidates

Where to find camps

Once you’ve identified your basic needs, it’s time to find camps that meet your summer schedule and family budget.

• Visit the MetroKids Camp Guide.

• Visit the American Camp Association’s  FindACamp search engine or call 800-428-CAMP, ext. 526 for free personal assistance.

• Ask family, friends and school counselors for recommendations.

Keep a log of camp websites that look interesting, and request free brochures and videos by mail if available. Then include your child as you look at brochures, visit camp websites  or watch DVDs.

Once you’ve identified programs that seem like a good match, schedule camp visits to meet the director and tour the camp facility, if possible. “Ask about the staff’s qualifications, backgrounds, and training, particularly if your child wants to pursue a special interest,” says Greg Ackerman, director of ESF Camps, which operates specialty and traditional camps, in southeasterm PA and Moorestown, NJ.

Special factors

“Many specialty camps are founded by people who want to pass on their enthusiasm for a particular sport or activity,” adds Neil Corbett, program director of Camp Watonka, a science-oriented overnight camp for boys ages 7 to 15 in Hawley, PA.

Sending your children to the same camp is convenient and may even provide sibling discounts, but this choice works only if the camp matches both kids’ needs.

 “It is important that each camper fits with the camp program and philosophy and can function appropriately in a small group, particularly when living communally for up to a couple of months,” says Corbett.

Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone regional office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at Acacamps.org/keystone and Campparents.org.

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