In this first part of this series we looked at Resident Camps.  Now we’ll take a look at Day Camps.  These are very different programs that meet very different needs. 

For Day Camps

  1. How is your program different from traditional childcare or babysitting?
  2. What is the background of your director and staff?  What are their qualifications?
  3. How long has your camp been in operation?
  4. What is the staff/camper ratio?  Is that consistent all day, or might it change for certain programs (i.e. swimming)?
  5. Are all people on site background checked?  How?
  6. How much time do campers spend outside per day?
  7. What is the average age of your campers?
  8. How many weeks or sessions do most campers attend?
  9. How does the program vary from week-to-week or session-to-session?
  10. Are you accredited by the ACA (www.acacamps.org)?

My bias toward resident camps becomes clear in these questions.  In resident camping, most directors have a year-round position to develop their programs and staff.  Resident camps often own their own facilities and have made long-term investments in offering camp programs.  That is not always the case for day camps.  In the last 10 years everyone has gotten in on the day camp game out of the belief that it is a “money maker.”  We have fitness centers, churches, schools, sports teams, art galleries, state parks, colleges, and museums all offering a variation on the traditional day camp program.  In every case listed above, day camp is not part of their core business.  It may even be an afterthought.  Parents need to probe these programs to make sure the day camp and its campers are a priority to the organization.

A good day camp is not childcare.  Sure, in both cases the health and safety of children is paramount, but the comparison may stop there.  A good day camp has developed outcomes for each child, measures the success of these outcomes annually through surveys, and is able to share all that information with you.  A day camp may have your child for 8-10 hours a day and should be able to constantly challenge and engage its campers.

Always ask the background of the director and staff in a day camp.  How long has the camp leadership been honing their craft?  Is this the director’s first attempt at putting together a day camp, or have they been developing this program over many years?  Remember, it is never wrong to ask for references (i.e. former camp families). 

Just like learning the experience of the director, it is important to know how long the day camp has been in operation.  Day camps have low start-up costs and can be here today and gone tomorrow.  Make sure the organization is committed to running camp.  Is it a 30-year, family-run program?  Does it own the property it operates on?  Is it part of your community in a tangible way?

I wrote about staff/camper ratios and the background checks of staff in my post on Resident Camp, and I won’t belabor those points here.  Understand, however, that your potential day camp program may be offered in a public place – making it difficult to background check every adult who could come into contact with your child.  Day Camps held in fitness centers, museums, and public parks cannot control or screen every person that uses their facilities.  Now that I have scared you, please know that plenty of quality day camp programs operate in public places.  It’s simply one of many factors you may want to consider when choosing a day camp for your child.

Tomorrow I will post some research on children and the great outdoors.  Take my word for it, kids need to be outside.  Your fitness center day camp may make the pitch that at their facility it’s “always 72 and sunny,” but that does not take the place of spending time in nature.  On the other hand, there is plenty of research that tells us to limit the amount of time children and adults spend in the sun.  A day camp that offers both indoor and outdoor program space is probably the right balance. 

Like any youth development program, it is important to know if your child will have peers in the program – so ask.  Determine if your child fits developmentally with the other children in the program, as well as with the demands of the program.  Along the same lines, ask how many sessions or weeks the typical camper attends.  Some programs (good ones), are designed to change and challenge across an 11 weeks summer.  Other programs are built to be a one-week experience.  Previous parents have a feel for this and vote using their enrollment dollars.  They will send their children for 8 or more weeks if they feel the campers are still having fun and learning something new. 

Take it a step further and ask the director how week 1 is different from week 2.  Are there new field trips each week?  Does the camp utilize themes to make sure the program is different each session?  Again, match your family’s needs to what the day camp can offer. 

Finally, determine if the program is accredited by the American Camp Association.  ACA accreditation means that the camp operates at a minimum set of industry standards.  It means that the camp leadership has worked through facility, program, safety, and hr concerns – and much more.  ACA accreditation means the camp has invested in their craft.  A good camp is art.

If you have any questions about this post, please email me or share your comments and I will do my level best to answer them for you.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

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