Summer Camp Checklist: How to Choose the Right Camp

Summer Camp Checklist: How to Choose the Right Camp

Summer camp tips for kids

Even though snow may be in the forecast, the image of our kids bundled up to head to school will be replaced with them wearing t-shirts and shorts soon enough. Summertime activities often include camp. Camp creates a special environment where kids become a community.  Every child is different — as is every camp and its offerings — so how do you choose the right one?

Representatives from local camps share the following questions and answers that every family should consider before selecting a camp.

When is the best time to think about camp?

Kate Turner, director of child care operations for YMCA of Greater Cleveland, says the best time to look for camps is right after the holidays because many summer camps begin booking as early as January. “Do your research early to ensure your child has a spot at a high-quality, fun-filled camp which meets your needs as well,” she notes.

“The best camps fill up quickly and will often offer a special early bird discount,” adds Scott Zorn, program director at the Shaw JCC. “Secure a spot at the best price available by being prepared at the time your camp accepts open enrollment. Furthermore, some camps offer sign-up incentives at the end of summer.”

Contact the camp in which you are interested to learn about special offers and enrollment dates.

How do you choose the best camp for your child and your family?

The best way to learn about a camp is to see it in action. Find out if the camp offers family fun days or another opportunity to visit.

Rachel Felber, camp director of Camp Wise, encourages families to take a summer tour. Camp Wise also offers family camp, where families spend a weekend at camp together.

Zorn advises, “Ask to see a typical daily schedule and parent handbook, which can help educate you more about what the camp is able to offer. Finally, ask around. A great camp will have a great reputation.”

What are the camp’s return rates for counselors and campers?

One sign of a great camp is high retention rates for both counselors and campers. Some camps have return rates of 85 percent, which means spots are in demand, so sign up early.

Is the camp licensed by an accredited organization?

Turner says, “Regardless of what camp you choose, it should be licensed by an accredited organization.”

Accrediting organizations include the American Camp Association, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and the Ohio Department of Education. Accreditation “ensures proper staff training, adherence to child caring standards, staff can safely work with children (no convictions, etc.) and so much more,” Turner says.

What does the camp do on rainy days?

David Faulstich, executive director of Red Oak Camp, says the camp “has a variety of indoor activities such as rock climbing, bouldering, high ropes, games, fire building, outdoor cooking, wood shop, science and nature, rocket building and more. A good rain can provide its own activity, like impromptu boat building to race down the stream — but safety first.”

What is the camper to counselor ratio?  

The camper to counselor ratio may change according to the age of the campers.

From where does the camp recruit staff and how are they trained?

Training will ideally include emergency and safety protocols; understanding child development, needs and group dynamics; understanding the mission and values of the camp program and the history of the camp; as well as customer service and creative programming.

How does the camp put groups together?   

Examples include by age or common interests.

How does the camp handle conflict between campers?

Often, conflicts can be learning opportunities for children to problem-solve. Moreover, camps may have dedicated staff, like a licensed social worker or director of behavior management, to handle relationship issues and intervene when conflict occurs.

Faulstich says, “We have a behavior code all campers are made aware of and agree to before coming to camp. Each camper is part of an age group and has specific staff who work with them and act as their advocates. The staff work within their group using positive role modeling and reinforcing appropriate behaviors.”

What happens if there is a medical emergency?

Camp staff should be certified in CPR and first aid. Some camps have nurses on site. Lastly, parents can research camps within a short driving distance from a medical center, police or fire station for added safety.

How does the camp address special situations or needs of campers?

At many camps, parents fill out a medical information plan prior to camp, which covers any special needs or requests.

Ted Rusinoff, chairman of the Camp Ho Mita Koda Foundation and the father of a Type 1 diabetic, knows first-hand that the special experience camp offers should not exclude children with special medical needs.

“So many times, parents of Type 1 children are scared to let their child go to camp; many of them have never been allowed to sleep over at a friend’s house due to the risks of having uncontrolled blood sugar overnight,” Rusinoff says. “It is for families like these that Camp Ho Mita Koda was created almost 90 years ago. Our dedicated staff and medical teams work hard to provide a medically appropriate environment for every camper.”

How does the camp experience change as a camper gets older?

At Camp Wise, as campers enter their teen years, “campers are allowed more autonomy and independence in how they plan their day and participate in more outdoor adventure trips like whitewater rafting,” shares Felber.

As campers age at the Shaw JCC of Akron, they will have more sophisticated activities, field trips, community service projects, leadership opportunities and more privileges.

How do you avoid disappointment and issues down the road?

Ed Gallagher, director of education at Beck Center for the Arts, recognizes the challenge of meeting the family’s needs. The best way to avoid disappointment part way through the camp experience is by asking many questions ahead of time so everyone knows exactly what a family is looking for.

“It is natural for campers to be nervous the first few days, but camp is costly, lasts for a long period of time and is very involved,” he says. “Be sure your child will be excited and pleased to take part.”

Other Camp Characteristics
and Considerations:

  •  Will camp hours — overnight, full-time, part-time, or flexible — meet the needs of my family?
  • Does the camp have services to watch  my child before and after camp, if needed?
  • Does the camp provide meals, transportation or other amenities?
  • Does camp administration communicate as needed and follow-up on requests in a timely manner?

About the author

Michelle Dickstein is a full-time working mom of three. Her passions include food, family vacations, and helping others live their best lives. You can read more from her at or

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