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American Camp Association tips for parents and a database to help parents choose ACA-accredited programs
Health Appraisal Guidelines for Day Camps and Resident Camps by the ACA and the American Academy of Pediatrics
Sleep-away Camps for Children on Medication by the Child Study Center at the New York University School of Medicine
Advice on Summer Camps for Kids with Learning and Attention Problems by Schwablearning.org, plus a database to search for specialized camps
By GreatSchools Staff
Once you've narrowed down your choices to those that fit your needs and budget, talk to other parents, check the local newspaper, library, parks and recreation department and community organizations like the YMCA to find out about your options. There are camp fairs in many metropolitan areas where you can meet representatives from summer programs in your area.
A Google search will show you that there are many camp advisory sites on the Web. They are free and can be helpful in showing your range of choices. But remember that sites often make money by selling advertising to the camps they list, and their recommendation isn't a substitute for you doing your homework.
"Going to any Web site is just one part of choosing a camp," says Sheets.
Check the ACA Web site to see a list of the organization's accredited camps. A camp on this list has met the organization's extensive list of standards for its site, staff, health and safety, food service, programs and transportation.
However, some very good camps choose not to apply for accreditation, acknowledges Sheets. Those with long waiting lists, for example, don't feel they need to go through the extensive process, which costs a camp money and staff time.
In any case, you'll want to see if the camp is a good fit for your child. Your best sources of information are the director and parents whose children have been there. Ask the camp director for references if you don't know parents whose children have attended.
Many camps post lovely pictures on their brochures or Web sites, but parents still need to ask detailed questions about the facilities.
"I'd be particularly interested in where the kids are sleeping," says Sheets. "I've slept in cabins, in tents and out under the stars. They're very different experiences."
You'll also want to see if your child will be happy with the camp's culture. If the brochure emphasizes the sports program, for example, a parent should ask what specific activities make up that program.
"There are great camps that are extremely competitive," says Sheets. "And great camps that are not."
The best time to visit a camp or program is when it's in session. While it's too late for that this year, you may want to factor a camp visit into your vacation plans this summer.
Bring your list of questions, talk to the director, take in the scenery, but most of all, watch the way the staff treats the campers and the campers treat each other. That will help you get a head start on your planning for next year.
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