How do I choose a summer camp for my child?

Choosing a summer camp for a child can often be difficult, but it becomes especially demanding when your child has mental health challenges or special needs. Here are some recommendations from Jane Bourke, our program’s coordinator and family therapy specialist.

“First consider your child’s needs and interests. Many camps have thorough websites you can explore that provide camp options, programs, schedules and menus, in addition to information on the camp’s directors and staff,” recommends Jane. Below are two checklists to help better prepare you for summer camp options for your child.

Questions to ask for sleep away camp:

  1. Is my child ready to be away from home for the chosen period? Does he or she suffer separation anxiety?

    Homesickness is a normative experience that can range from gentle to severe. It is defined as distress or impairment caused by actual or anticipated separation. This can be predicted, prevented, and treated.

  2. What is the location and topography of the camp? Is this an area my child is familiar with; and is the topography known?
  3. What about the setting – how many children will be attending the camp? What size is best for my child? Are they in tents, cabins? How rustic is it? Will my child benefit from the setting?
  4. How structured is the schedule? Children who have mental health challenges benefit from knowing the routine, lessening anxiety during the transitions.
  5. What is the ratio of counsellors to campers?

    The American Camp Association guidelines suggest the following counsellor to camper ratios for overnight camps: 1:6 ratio for 7-8 year olds, 1:8 ratio for 9-14 year olds, 1:10 ratio for 15-18 year olds, and recommends 80% of staff be 18 years and older.

  6. Is there a medical professional available to the camp? If your child takes medication, has food allergies, or a chronic medical condition, can the camp handle your child’s needs? Will the camp meet your child’s dietary and physical needs?
  7. What is the camp’s approach to discipline? Are they proactive or reactive? How will they handle conflict between campers?
  8. What does a typical day’s schedule look like? How much freedom, structure and choice is there?
  9. What is the camp’s philosophy? Look to their mission, philosophy, and the children they serve.
  10. How well does my child take instruction? If this is a difficulty, do not hesitate to contact the camp and ask how the staff will handle this.

Questions to ask for a day camp:

  1. Where is the camp? Will there be transport (and if so, how long of a ride will it be to the camp?) Depending on your child, a long bus ride may start off the day poorly.
  2. What training does the staff receive? How old are the counsellors?
  3. Who should I speak with if I have a concern? Would I have regular communication with my child’s counsellor?
  4. Is there an opportunity to speak with my child’s counsellor before camp begins?
  5. If before and after camp care is available, who will supervise?
  6. What activities will my child be participating in? Should my child have difficulty participating in any activity, how will the camp handle this?
  7. Is lunch served, or will my child be expected to bring a snack and boxed lunch?
  8. Are campers with the same counsellor all day, or does my child move from one activity to another?
  9. Can my child visit the site of the camp before it beings, and possibly meet with the camp counsellor?
  10. Can we have a daily schedule of activities so I can prepare my child for any transitions that may arise during that day?

Don’t forget: a camp experience should provide opportunities for growth and self-esteem building for your child. This is also a good chance for both you and your child to relax, and the camp should help you achieve this in a collaborative effort. Enjoy your summer!