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It's camp fair time!

You and your child can explore dozens of camps. Here's what to ask.

Science Explorers instructors Carol Ingram and Keri Painter demonstrate for Sejal Akerkars of Wynnewood, PA at the 2010 MetroKids Super Camp Fair.

Lauren Golden

Science Explorers instructors Carol Ingram and Keri Painter demonstrate for Sejal Akerkars of Wynnewood, PA at the 2010 MetroKids Super Camp Fair.

January marks the start of camp fair season, when camp directors annually criss-cross the country to introduce families to their summer programs.

“Camp fairs give parents an idea of the wide range of offerings in the summer camp world,” says Michael Knauf, marketing director for French Woods, a residential performing arts camp in Hancock, NY. “Parents and children new to summer camping may not be aware of the many options you can find at camps, from traditional day and overnight programs to camps that have a special focus.”

For more info:

MetroKids Camp Fair
Sun., Jan. 27, 1-4pm
Conshohocken Marriott

► Regional camp fair schedule

► Camp fairs are for kids too

In the Delaware Valley, parents can find a camp fair on many weekends from January through March, including the MetroKids Super Camp Fair on Sun., Jan. 27, 2013. (See sidebar.)

At fairs throughout the region, families can speak with camp representatives, from local summer programs to overnight camps and worldwide adventure/travel tours. A fair exclusively for families of kids with special needs will take place on Jan. 26 hosted by Valley Forge Educational Services in Malvern, PA.

Matching Your Child’s Interests

Don Wacker, owner/director of Camp Watonka, a science-themed boys overnight camp in Hawley, PA, says, “At camp fairs, children can get a feeling of what they would like for the summer. It’s important to focus on what the child, not the parent, likes doing, and to recognize that children are different. Siblings may not enjoy the same kind of camp program, so camp fairs can help parents find programs that will best serve each of their children.”

Andy Pritikin, director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, NJ adds, “Camp fairs allow parents the chance to gather information and speak with directors or senior staff from perhaps 30 to 100 camps in an hour or two. Twenty-first century children cannot be stereotyped into categories like the 1950s. Girls want to play sports just as much as boys. Boys want to do music and arts just as much as girls. Children should have some input on their program and the ability to enjoy their days participating in activities that they enjoy.”

Many Choices

ACA estimates that there are more than 10,000 summer camps nationwide, of which about 2,500 are ACA-accredited for safety and operations. Add to that the thousands of local summer programs run by schools and community organizations, and it’s easy to see how parents can become overwhelmed by the process of choosing a camp.

Michael Chauveau, executive director of ACA’s regional office for Pennsylvania and Delaware, says that as summer programs proliferate, more parents are turning to camp fairs and online search engines like the camp directory at www.metrokids.com/camps or ACA’s Find-A-Camp at Campparents.com to learn about programs and streamline the selection process.

“Families can learn a lot about a camp from its website, DVD and brochures, but a camp fair allows parents to ask specific questions and get more detailed information,” says Wacker.

“Particularly at traditional camps, the personality and philosophy of the owners and directors is the biggest difference between one camp and another. Regardless of what programs you are considering, there’s no substitute for actually talking to someone from that camp,” adds Knauf.

Planning Ahead

“Parents can maximize their camp fair experience by considering their children’s needs for this summer and beyond,” Chaveau says. “The best time to visit a camp is always when it is in session, so parents of even very young children may wish to gather brochures and visit some day camps this year, and families considering overnight camp in the future may do the same.”

“To get the most out of a camp fair, do your homework,” says Knauf. “Many fairs list the camps that will be attending in advance, so look at their websites and know which ones you want to meet. Large fairs can be especially overwhelming, so plan ahead to visit a few that you are considering. Of course, you still want to allow time to learn about new programs as well.”

“In today’s day and age, camp is more important than ever before,” says Pritikin. “It’s hands-on, real life, social, athletic, nature and arts education — and fun!”

Questions to Ask

Wondering what to ask a camp representative? Here are questions to choose from:

How long:
• has the program been operating?
• have management and senior staff been at camp?
• are camp sessions?

How much does the camp cost? What are the lengths and dates of camp sessions?

• Is the camp accredited by ACA or another oversight organization?

• Is the owner/director on-site during the summer?

• What is the camp’s philosophy?

How many campers and counselors return each year?

• What is the counselor to camper ratio?

• How old and experienced are counselors?

• Do you run background checks on staff?

• What medical staff is on-site? How close are hospitals?

• What are your policies on tuition refunds, care packages and electronics?

• What is a typical day at camp like? How much choice do children have in picking their activities? Are children supervised during free time?

• What meals do you offer? Can you accommodate special diets?

• How does the camp resolve problems and disciplinary issues? What are your policies about bullying, drugs and alcohol?

• Do children from our community attend your camp?

• For overnight camps, how are children housed at camp?

• For day camps, do you provide transportation or extended hours?

• Do you have an open house or may I arrange a tour of the camp?

• May I speak to current camp families for references?

Ellen Warren is a program associate for ACA Keystone Section, which serves camps and camp families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

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