How to Choose Your Child’s Summer Camp

By Brian Brandt

Have you recognized the signs?  You just looked at the calendar and the first three months of the year are gone!  Your child is tired of school and trees are turning green…summer is fast approaching.  Before you randomly fill the summer’s days, stop and ask yourself this question.  How do you want your child to develop this summer? Millions of Americans will choose summer camp as a meaningful way to invest in their child’s life.  But, choosing the right camp is a serious decision with great implications, not a game of chance.  And, now is the time to take steps to be certain that your child is ready and that your spot is reserved at the right camp.

Begin by asking your kids what they would like to do this summer. It’s extremely important to include your child in the process of selecting a camp.  Whether it’s asking friends about their choices, discussing it while running car pool or searching the internet together, discover the right camp with your child.  If you look at the wide range of what’s available, there’s a camp that is sure to catch your child’s interest and meet your desires and goals as well.

In selecting a camp, parents should look at four primary areas: staff, activities, facility and content. If these four meet your inspection, you increase the odds that your child will have the rewarding experience that millions of others enjoy for a lifetime.  Additionally, you’ll be confident that you’re making a good investment into their overall development.

The most important aspect to consider is the camp staff.  What is the experience of the Camp Director? What is the camper/staff ratio? How are the counselors selected and trained? How does full-time staff invest in the lives of the counselors throughout the summer?  The counselors have the greatest ability, and responsibility, to impact your child. Hearing about life from college-age role models, rather than just parents, gives children an undeniable vision for navigating their youthful years. Jeremy, now a 12-year old, 3-year camper at Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, MO says, “I love all of the fun activities and the friends that I make each year, but the counselors in my cabin really make my time at camp awesome!”

Then, check out the activities. Ask the question, “Will there be enough activities that my child will enjoy?”  There are a wide range of camps with activities including sports, adventure, computers, Oceanic studies and more.  You’re sure to find one that has events that your child will enjoy.  For some families, they make their summer camp decision to improve a passion or skill, while others look at it as an opportunity to be a part of something new and different.  Consider Rockin’ C Ranch, an East Texas camp on a working ranch.  There, campers will enjoy camp favorites like swimming, canoeing, horseback rides, jumping on The Blob and a zip line high in the pine trees combined with cattle drives, collecting eggs, digging holes for fence posts and building picnic tables. With fewer and fewer children having any experience with rural life and farm animals, it opens up a whole new world.   Founder and Director Matt Clapp says, “People don’t get out in the country and get a feel for that good life.  We get kids out of their element and give them some super role models and lessons that might not be heard in their normal settings. There are countless teachable moments that arise as you work and play along side these young people.”

Next, look at the facility.  Does the property look well kept?  How are the activities inspected for safety?  Are the facilities adequate in the event of inclement weather?  While most camps aren’t going to rival a resort, they must provide an environment that is conducive to a good, safe experience. A visit to the property or exploring the camp’s website, talking to friends and a few questions of the staff should help establish a good understanding of the amenities.

Finally, consider the content that might be taught.  Some camps are focused on fun, while others also emphasize developing character or leadership.  Does the camp teach principles and are they in agreement with your beliefs?  Who writes the curriculum?  Is the teaching age appropriate? This is the kind of “homework” that you can do that will help you feel you made a great choice.

Once you’ve selected a camp and have followed the camp provided packing list, there’s still one thing not to forget.  Be sure to send notes while your child enjoys camp, but leave out the “I miss you soooooo much and we’ll pick you up right away if you don’t like it.”  Comments like these have good intentions, but tend to short circuit the process of the staff helping the child past the unlikely homesick incident.  You know your child better than anyone; so communicate with the staff about what to watch for and what will be helpful to making this a great adventure for your child.

You’ve now invested a lot of time and resources towards a great camp experience for your child.  Be certain you get all you can out of this summer ritual that so many enjoy.  Before you drive out of camp on closing day, ask the counselors about what they saw in your child.  It’s amazing the new insights you might gain from someone who spent a lot of time with your child in a completely different setting…away from you. Summer camp is a wonderful experience with personal growth and the making of lifelong friends for millions of children and young people each year.  If you’ll follow these guidelines, you’re likely to hear “Can I come back next year?” when it’s time to pick your child up on closing day.  They’ll appreciate you for sending them and you’ll be confident that you didn’t gamble with this adventure that will last a lifetime! Resources

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Brian Brandt has 15 years of experience in senior leadership positions with two of the largest camps in the world.  He now consults, trains and coaches with senior leaders of camps, non-profits, and corporations on effectiveness, strategic thinking and leadership. Additionally, he often speaks and writes on a variety of topics including: parenting, leadership, mentoring, behavioral styles (DiSC), team building, effective communications, media relations, marketing, and bringing a vision to fruition. To contact Brian, go to