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Discovering the Right Summer Day Camp for Your Child

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By Eileen M. Higgins
CEO, Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore

Summertime is just around the corner, and for parents thinking about enrolling their children in camp, now is the time to explore the wide variety of options for outdoor fun and adventure.

Yet with so many choices - and concerns about the lingering pandemic - searching for the right camp program can feel overwhelming.

To help families navigate the summer camp journey, our team at Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore has developed steps to take and questions to ask based on our insights and experience operating outdoor day camps for over 50 years, including a successful COVID-free camp season last summer.

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Map Out Your Family & Child’s Needs

Before you even begin scoping out camps, think about your child’s interests and the kind of camp experiences that will help your child thrive. Also consider your family’s needs in terms of camp hours, opening and closing dates, distance, transportation, availability of meals and snacks, and extended care options.

Establishing your needs and preferences ahead of time will help guide you and keep you focused on the best match for your child and family.

Do Some Research

Once you’ve identified the camps that you’re interested in, do some research. Visit the camp websites. Find out about tuition fees and what’s included. Do they offer financial assistance? Check out reviews and testimonials on the Internet, and, most importantly, get direct feedback from friends and neighbors whose children attended.

Visit & Explore

Next, schedule appointments for your family and future camper to visit the camps, meet the staff, and get a flavor for a typical day at camp, including the mix of activities, camp schedule, and traditions.  Find out if your child will be able to make choices about activities and interests at camp. Be sure to determine the camp’s ratio of staff to campers and whether your camper will remain with the same group all day.  

Before you head out to camp, jot down your questions. Here are several to help you gauge health and safety, staff experience, and training:

Check Out Health & Safety Guidelines

  • Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? ACA provides a seal of approval to over 2,400 camps that meet nearly 300 standards.
  • Does the camp follow current CDC, state, and local guidelines for COVID-19 health and safety protocols?
  • Is there a daily health screening for camp counselors/staff, campers, and family members at camp drop-off? What does it include?
  • How does the camp respond to a positive COVID-19 case?
  • Does the camp have a health supervisor? What are the supervisor’s credentials?
  • How does the camp accommodate children who have special health needs, such as allergies, asthma, or diabetes?
  • Do counselors and other camp staff have necessary certifications for CPR, first aid, lifeguarding, archery, boating, and other activities?

Evaluate the Camp Team

  • Does the camp conduct criminal background checks on staff and camp counselors?
  • How does the camp ensure that high-quality staff is selected?
  • Is staff trained to provide social and emotional support?
  • How does the staff handle discipline? Are positive reinforcement and redirection utilized?
  • How does the camp communicate with parents/guardians?

Finally, be sure to take notes about each camp and capture your impressions to help with your decision. Choosing a summer camp is never easy, and even more difficult with the uncertainties of the pandemic. But given the challenges our children have been experiencing with virtual learning and physical distancing, it’s never been more important for them to get outside and explore nature.   

Eileen Higgins is CEO of Girls Scouts of the Jersey Shore, which serves nearly 10,000 girls in Monmouth and Ocean counties. She oversees two outdoor day camps in central New Jersey: Camp Amity Acres in Waretown, Ocean County; and Camp Sacajawea in Farmingdale, Monmouth County, both accredited by the American Camping Association.