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How to Choose a Summer Camp

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Excluding Camps from Your Short-List
Once you have created your short-list of camps, you should gather as much information as possible. Visit the camps' websites, request brochures, send the camps email, call them on the telephone, find out if the camps will be participating at local camp fairs, etc. Before examining all of this material create a list of “things to look for” and “questions to ask.”

Does the Camp Appear Professional
Does the camp's website look like it was put together by a high school student? Does their office staff answer the phone - “Hey?” Do they take a week to respond to an email inquiry? While professional demeanor might not be the same as a well-run camp, the opposite is often true. Dealing with prospective camp families is far simpler than hiring and training staff, running a large kitchen, dealing with homesick kids, etc.

Is the Camp Licensed
Most states require some form of licensing for residential camps (usually from the health department). Day camps may or may not require licensing and may be licensed as day care centers. Requirements and enforcement vary greatly by state. For example, Massachusetts has vary detailed requirements that cover staff training, medication, and on-site CPR availability. California, on the other hand, has no statewide requirements but delegates authority to individual counties.

Is the Camp Accredited
Camps can apply to the American Camping Association (ACA) to receive an accreditation. As part of the process, the ACA requires them to meet a set of requirements and performs a once every three years site visit. While it is nice to see a camp have accreditation, lack of accreditation does not indicate a poor camp. Usually camps do not have accreditation not because they failed the process, but because they never bothered to apply. This is particularly true of day camps, camps for teens, and specialty camps. For example, out of all the academic camps throughout the country, the ACA only shows about 20 with accreditation.

Is the Camp Part of a Larger Organization
Another organization can often provide the same type of quality assurance that accreditation does. For example, a summer academic camp run by an established private boarding school is probably going to be of a high quality even if it is new. Similarly, the YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, etc. provide their own organizational standards. Some camps are franchises where the parent company will provide some level of quality assurance. Universities that allow private camps to be held on their campuses will often provide some degree of oversight.

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