Friday, April 23, 2010

How To Pick The Right Summer Camp For Your Kid

Barbara Rowley recently wrote an article for Parenting Magazine on how to pick the right summer camp for your child.  As a former camper and staff member herself, Rowley knows the ins and outs of sleepaway summer camps fairly well and her insight can be very valuable to families considering a sleepaway camp for their child.

Some of her key points for selecting the best camp for your child include the following-

A History
While Rowley knows there are some great new camps out there, she knows some experts and families believe that camps that have been operating for decades, especially with the same staff, has significant meaning.  Camp Anokijig has been in operating since 1926 and our core group of staff members- Jim Scherer, Darin Holden, Don Hill & Scott Stewart all grew up as campers at Anokijig and have more than 100 combined years of adult working experience at Anokijig.  Rowley states that in today's world, a camp simply couldn't stay in business for generations if it were unsafe or suffered from poor leadership and management.

A Philosophy
Rowley thinks it's important to know the philosophy of a camp before sending your child there and she's absolutely correct!  If you are looking for a camp that focuses on sports, there are hundreds to choose from, but Anokijig isn't one of them.  The week many children spend at Anokijig will be the most active week of their year, but it won't be spent on our soccer field or baseball diamond, because we don't have either.  We do play earthball and no one plays scatterball like we do, but they aren't the focal point of our activities.  We like to tell folks anything your child can do at Anokijig, they probably can't do at home and anything they can do at home, they probably can't do at Anokijig. 

An Emphasis on Creating a Community
Rowley believes good camps think about how they place kids together to create the most inclusive experience for all.  Anokijig has more than a dozen different tent sections and cabins, which allows us plenty of flexibility for assigning bunk space for campers.  Three years may not seem like a long time to adults, but we know it is an eternity for kids.  The social experience of camping is important and we know the differences between nine year old campers and 12 year old campers, because we see them every year.  While there are plenty of opportunities for all campers to interact, we do our very best to make sure kids are comfortable with the bunkmates in their sections and part of that is grouping kids appropriately by age.  Our size still allows us the flexibility to accomodate many requests for bunkmates.

A Well-Trained Staff
Rowley feels it is important for camps to be adequately-staffed and we couldn't agree more.  She suggests low ratios of 10 to 1 for kids ages 8 to 14.  Even during Anokijig's busiest weeks, our capacity is about 315 campers.  If we were at Rowley's low ratio, we'd only have about 32 staff members to monitor all those children.  Our actual ratio is far better than Rowley's, as our cooks feed more than 400 people during our busy weeks.  Rowley also feels it's important for staff to be background-checked and have plenty of references as well.  As an ACA-accredited camp, we follow all of those procedures for staffing and have known many of our current staff members, since they were campers at Anokijig.  We also run two weeks of staff training before the first summer camper even arrives at Anokijig.

An Element of Choice
One of the great things about a summer camp experience, is that a child is free from their daily, pre-set schedules.  When they arrive at Anokijig, we evaluate their swimming ability and then ask them to select two skills, from a wide variety of program areas.  Examples could include archery, arts & crafts, woodworking, fishing, trail crafts, and sailing.  Anokijig campers will devote time each day to their two choices, but we also leave plenty of unstructured free time, allowing campers the opportunity to try out other program areas as well.  Rowley believes this structure (or lack thereof) will help your child to feel more independent, especially if they are making the choices for which activities they participate in.

A Communications Plan
Rowley believes a consistent policy on camper phone use is important, as well as making sure there are procedures in place for contacting parents about upcoming events or if their child becomes sick or injured.  Safety comes first at Anokijig and a good portion of our camper orientation focuses on safety and emergency procedures.  Although cell phones are not allowed at Anokijig (and most don't work anyway), we always have staff on duty at all hours of the day and always have the ability to contact parents whenever needed.  We do encourage our parents and campers to write letters to each other throughout the week, but we know that frequent phone conversations can actually make it harder for both parents and children to be away from each other.

A High Standard of Accreditation
Rowley encourages parents to ask camps if they are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), which conducts on-site visits and reviews programs, facilities, and hiring and safety policies.  Rowley claims only the most professionally run camps qualify and we're proud to tell parents we scored a perfect 100 on our most recent ACA inspection.

Choosing the right camp can be a challenge for parents, but the experiences their children will have can last a lifetime and are well worth the effort.  If you'd like to read Rowley's entire article, you can find it here-

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