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Choose the Summer Program That's Right for Your Child

Setting your priorities first will help you sort through the specialty programs and camps to find the best ones for your child.

By GreatSchools Staff

As any busy parent knows, summer isn't what it used to be. It often means replacing the routine of school and after-school care with a patchwork of camps, lessons, temporary child care arrangements and family vacations. It's also a chance for your child to learn and grow by sampling a new activity, developing her talents and becoming more independent.

Making the right choices for your child is a balancing act, says Dr. Judith Myers-Walls, a child development expert at Purdue University. "You have to balance your needs with your goals to give your child new experiences and your child's needs."

Camps Come in All Shapes and Sizes

In many communities, there is an abundance of choice. There are 12,000 camps in the U.S., according to the nonprofit American Camp Association, which accredits about a quarter of them. The programs are operated by private companies, local parks and recreation departments, and nonprofit community or religious organizations. They fall into these general types, although there are programs that combine a number of elements:

Special interest programs

These focus on a sport, the arts, science or technology. They can be half-day or full-day programs and are often called "camps" although they don't involve camping.

Day camps

These can be a good, relatively low-cost introduction to camp for younger children. They typically include the hiking, swimming and crafts programs of a traditional camp without the overnight stay.

Sleepaway camps

Ranging from very rustic to downright posh, these overnight camps typically offer a two- to eight-week-long outdoor experience for a range of ages that includes sports and arts and crafts. Many offer a one-week option for first-time campers. Some sleepaway camps focus on a particular activity, such as music.

Camps for children with special needs

The Americans for Disabilities Act requires that camps make accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps, for children with special needs. But there are also a number of camps especially tailored to children with learning or behavioral problems, chronic illness and developmental disabilities.

Here's how to get started finding out what's right for your child and family.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/2/2009:
"Do you know of any camps for learning disabled children or children with disabilities in the Flint Michigan area? How do I go about finding these types of camps?"
05/7/2007:
"This information is very helpful. I found the camp for my child that she and he will love. If your child loves to sing then next year send them to American Idol Camp that is where my children are going and i think they will have the time of their life."
05/2/2007:
"Most Michaels Art and Crafts store offer a summer camp program...its just for a couple of hours each day. But if your child loves to draw or do crafts this is the place for him or her...its only $8.00 a day for either 9:30-11:30 or 12:30-2:30!"
04/25/2007:
"Great article. I'm a year away from looking into camps for my young son. As many concerned parents it's a juggle to determine what would work best for your child and our schedules. One of the last options would be to hire a teenager to care for a young one. I remember my teenage years and looking back as a babysitter I wasn't the most attentive nor would I have known what to do in case of an emergency. It's always best to do your research way ahead of time."
03/28/2007:
"I am a stay at home mom and have 5 year old and 2 year old who will be staying home for summer from school. Any suggestions on what I could do with them?"
04/14/2006:
"Good day, I was interested in reading this as I operate a fashion design camp! Westchester Fashion Academy for Children! Quite different. The interested children select from 1-4 weeks of portfolio design, pattern making,sketching their creations in preparation to visit the fashion industry to share their work with the behind the scenes real pattern makers and boutique owners ! We also offer textile design, where they can create their very own textiles, to create a design using their fabric! This camp is for ages 9-17, we are located in White Plains N.Y.914-428-1047"
04/13/2006:
"I am so pleased to have access to this type of information. I am now a bit more informed on how to make a summer camp choice for the little ones in my life. Thank You."
03/10/2006:
"Hello, Thank you for this article. It was very informative and easy to read. I work away from home and reconized the need to have my son's summer plans set preferably as early as April and no later than mid May. It definitely brings peace to one's mind and lifestyle. One thing I did not feel comfortable with was the suggestion of hiring a teenager to watch a child or group of children. Granted my son has participated in a theater program that involved several young college students and older teens as the 'team leaders'. This was done under the supervision of qualified adults. I don't have Dr. Dobson's book in front of me to quote, but his suggestion to not hire teenagers, especially teen boys to care for children for long periods is worth considering. Please don't take this wrong, the article was very helpful. "
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