Finding a summer camp that meets your child’s expectations, fits your family’s schedule and stays on budget isn’t easy.
Here are some tips to help make the process go smoothly:
Begin your research now
There are numerous online camp databases, including ones that specialize in South Sound offerings at theolympian.com/camps. (Organizations offering camps also can upload information about their camps into the newspapers’ database.)
You also can pick up brochures from your city or county parks and recreation departments, the YMCA or other organizations that offer summer camp programs.
“A lot of camps have open house or camp fairs that they participate in,” said Chelsea Hendrikx, a spokeswoman for the American Camp Association’s regional office.
Another way to learn about camps is by referral, so ask friends and families about their children’s camp experiences.
Ask a lot of questions.
Specialization is one of the biggest trends in camps right now. There are programs now that cater to equestrians and sports nuts, cello players and computer gamers.
“There’s really something for everybody,” Hendrikx said. “And there are new camps popping up all the time that are fitting new interests.”
One of the first questions to ask: What do you and your child want to get out of the camp experience? Does your child want better soccer skills, outdoor survival skills or a faith-based program? Do you want a half-day, full-day or overnight program?
Once you’ve found out what your child is interested in, it’s time to interview camp organizations.
“Get an idea of the typical day,” said Kristy Gledhill, recreation marketing supervisor with Metro Parks Tacoma.
Other questions to ask: What type of training and experience do the staff members have? Is the camp accredited or affiliated with an organization that you trust? If your child has allergies, you’ll want to find out about the camp’s policies to keep your child safe.
One of the most important questions that parents will want to ask is about the program’s staff-to-camper ratio, said Tad Earley, recreation supervisor with the city of Olympia.
“Sometimes, with kids who are shy and reluctant, the camper-to-staff ratio is very important because they can have more individualized attention,” he said.
Decide on day camps, overnight camps or both.
Some families use day camps as a form of child care during the summer months. Others sign their kids up for day camp because their children aren’t ready to be away from home for multiple nights, but they still want their children to have a camp experience.
“It just kind of mixes up their summer a little bit,” said Gledhill. “It’s a great opportunity for them to try something new.”
Many day camps are now offering single-night overnight excursions as part of their programming.
One of the city of Olympia’s new camps is an Aqua Terra camp for teens.
“They’re mountain biking some days, they’re kayaking, they’re rock climbing, and there’s an overnight rafting trip near Mount Adams,” Earley said.
More places are offering “family camp” experiences too. For example, Metro Parks Tacoma has family overnight camp events scheduled at Northwest Trek and Fort Nisqually this summer. And Girl Scouts of Western Washington’s Camp St. Albans near Allyn is offering a family camp for the first time this year.
“It’s a really good opportunity for families who feel like they need to choose between a family vacation or sending their kids to camp,” said the camp’s director Zoe Rolly.
Arrange a tour.
Sending your child off to a sleep-away camp is a huge step, especially if it’s the first time or for more than one night. If either the child or the parent is anxious, a camp visit might help.
“A lot of camps have an open house early in the summer so (the kids) can see where they’re going to stay, and meet some of the staff members,” Rolly said.
Find out about financial aid.
If you’ve found the perfect camp, but it doesn’t quite fit in your budget, inquire about scholarships, sometimes called “camperships.”
“There’s almost always financial aid available,” Hendrikx said.
For example, through the “fun fund,” Olympia residents in need can apply for financial assistance for the city’s day camp programs, Earley said.
Turn those applications in early.
Once you’ve chosen a camp, it’s time to fill out the paperwork and send it in. Some fill up quickly, and you don’t want to miss your chance after working to find the right fit.
Be prepared for a stack of forms that cover everything from allergies to emergency contact information. You’ll need the date of your child’s last physical examination, vaccination records and most likely a deposit.
“By May, some of the camps are starting to fill up,” Gledhill said. “Not all of them, but some of the more popular camps. You don’t want to wait.”