No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ …. (well, you know how the song goes.) But for a lot of kids, summer is a great time to stick to the books in an in-depth way not possible during the school year. Kids with learning disabilities may even make a breakthrough in an intensive camp where much of the focus is on learning.

So, how do you find the right place? We asked a few experts to help parents through the tough part of selecting the perfect camp. They helped us figure out the right questions to ask, what to look for, and what to avoid in a summer camp for kids with learning disabilities.

Dr. Meg Carroll, of Saint Xavier University in Chicago, IL says that the idea of a summer camp just for students with learning disabilities is appealing in part because kids may have opportunities to address the social aspects of having learning disabilities as well as building a core of academic competencies.

She says that the key factors parents should look for when considering a camp are:

  • Training of the personnel. Are the teachers certified for work with kids who have LD? Don’t be afraid to ask for the teachers’ credentials.
  • Attention to all aspects of the experience. Has the camp’s administration planned activities that are appropriate for students with LD? Are there opportunities for campers to learn and practice social skills? What is the plan for dealing with the difficulties kids may face with the demands of life away from home and experiences outside of their regular routine?
  • Appropriate staffing. Learning disabilities are often considered a mild disability because the students have adequate intellect. However, learning disabilities affect children in different ways. Sometimes, ordinary activities (such as sharing toothpaste or navigating a cafeteria line) can be difficult. Is the ratio of staff to campers sufficient to give campers guidance as needed and supportively monitor their activities? A ratio of one counselor to four campers is recommended.
  • Preparation prior to activities. Often, kids with LD don’t like surprises. Find out how the camp presents new activities. Will they give adequate thought to experiences that will be new to campers? Will there be a preview (perhaps a video or role play) of the activity, along with instruction about what to expect? At the end, will there be a chance to talk about what they did?

Anastasia Gavalas, a parenting education consultant from New York, says that parents should keep these things in mind when choosing a camp, whether it’s for kids with LD or not:

  • Keep it fun and diverse. Make sure the camp offers more than just academics. Kids need to play, discover, and explore to learn.
  • Stay true to your child’s interests. Choose a camp with your child. If your child isn’t happy, she’s not going to learn, no matter how good the camp is.
  • Check the camp’s communication policy. Find out how and when the staff communicates with parents. You have a lot of information about your child and how he learns best. Make sure the staff is open to hearing about it.
  • Make sure it’s safe. Find out how campers are supervised. Be sure to ask specifically about time outside of academics. Is it well organized and adequately monitored?
  • Ask around. Definitely find parents of happy campers to talk to; just keep in mind that all children need different things. If your son’s classmate liked the camp, it doesn’t guarantee it will work for your child.

Where to look

How can you find these camps in the first place? Shannon King Nash has been sending her 12-year-old son to summer camp for the past 8 years. She’s an old hand at finding the right place.

“Finding camps when he was younger was a lot harder and took a lot more leg-work on my part,” she says. “But thanks to the Internet and social media, it’s actually pretty easy in 2011.”

She recommends checking local magazines and newspapers that print camp directories in the spring. Many will include a section for children with special needs. She also notes that many national organizations (such as the Learning Disability Association of America) keep a directory of camps.

“I still would advise parents to use a good old word-of-mouth approach by asking other parents. But finding those other parents is certainly made easier on Facebook, Twitter, etc.,” she adds.

For children with autism and other developmental disabilities, she also recommends checking with your state’s agency in charge of children with special needs. These agencies can often point families to scholarship money for camp.

“Parents really need to join local support groups to get the best information for their area,” she says.