There are so many different summer camp options available to today’s families. How do you sort through them all and find the one that is the right fit for you and your child? Jill Makkay, chief operating officer at the Hamilton Area YMCA and long time co-chair of the New Jersey YMCA Day Camp Network, has more than 26 years of experience with day camp. Her most important piece of advice: do your homework!

Visit the camp. Don’t send a child out to camp sight unseen! Find out if the camp has an open house, or make an appointment to visit the camp with your child. Meet the staff in person. Take a tour and ask your child how the camp feels. Is he or she excited!? The first day of camp will be much easier if your child has been there before and can find a familiar face in the staff.

Find out the camp philosophy. Some camps are based on fun and friendships, while others are more intense and focused on helping your child build a specific skill. Every camp should have a set of values and learning outcomes that guides their activities. Make sure it’s in line with what you and your child want.

Ask about health and safety. Is there a full time nurse at camp? There should be! Also, ask if the staff is trained in basic first aid, CPR, and AED. Chances are you won’t need it, but as we moms like to say “better to be safe than sorry.”

Choose an established camp. You don’t want your child to be a new summer camp’s guinea pig. The staff may be more focused on working out the kinks than on developing your child, and that’s not going give your child the best experience.

Make sure the staff is well-trained. Summer camp counselors are teachers, mentors, and role models. They will spend a lot of time guiding your child each week, so make sure they know what they’re doing! Staff should be trained in the basics of group dynamics, child development, and conflict resolution. All camp staff should also be trained to spot the signs of bullying and know what to do about it!

Know the camp schedule. Many camps allow you to reserve one week at a time, but there are still others that require two- or even four-week registrations. What if you are going on vacation? Look for a week-to-week camp to be sure you’re not paying for weeks of camp you’re not using.

Choose a camp that is convenient. If you are a working parent, the camp hours need to match your schedule. Also, does the camp run all the way through Labor Day? You’ll need that unless you’re planning to go on vacation the week before school starts.

Look for “specials.” This is what keeps a whole summer of camp fun! For children who are at camp all summer, special events (like Color Wars) and/or weekly special classes or visitors keep the summer exciting.

Talk to your child! This sounds so simple, but often parents skip this step. Have a conversation with your child about how he or she wants to spend the summer. Does he want to hone his skills in a particular sport or talent? Does she want an academic environment? Or is summer a time to relax and unwind from the stress of the school year? There are summer camps that fit both ends of that spectrum and everywhere in between. A conversation with your child will help ensure the summer is stress-free and fun for everyone!

For more information on summer camp at the Hamilton Area YMCA Sawmill Branch, contact Rich Clayton at 609.581.9622 ext. 21105 or richclayton@hamiltonymca.org.

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