Parents have a lot to consider before selecting a day camp for their child, cost, location, hours, transportation, the program’s activities, the quality of the program, their child’s interests, his friends, and the availability of after-camp day care. Since some camps fill up rapidly, parents may have to make camp decisions long before they feel ready to think about summer.
Urban and suburban areas offer many choices. There are private day camps run for profit and ones run by non-profit organizations such as the YMCA. There are municipal camps operated by cities and counties. Many private schools have summer camp programs, and some public schools are leased during the summer by private or public camps.
If you want to keep costs down, you’ll find that municipal camps are the least expensive. If transportation is a problem, look for camps close to home or work, or ones offering bus transportation. If you need after-camp day care for your child, you should inquire about extended day programs.
After considering the practical side of summer arrangements, you’ll still be faced with choices. Since there are general as well as specialized day camps, you should carefully consider your child’s interests, skills, and personality. Would he enjoy a sports camp? Arts or music camp? Computer camp? Would he prefer an indoor camp? Would he be happier in a camp offering a mix of activities? Will he be unhappy without a friend along?
Some kids are reluctant to go to camp without knowing someone else who’s going. Parents sometimes make decisions based only on where their child’s friends are going. Also, some parents send all of their own children to the same camp regardless of the children’s interests, because they want the siblings to be together.
As you look for camps, ask other parents for suggestions. If your child’s school is the site of a summer camp, you may decide you want him to go there because it’s familiar. This may be a good idea, but he may be upset if he’s expecting the summer to be like the school year. He may be troubled, especially if he’s only three or four years old, to see different furniture in the classrooms, different adults in charge, and different kids.
If he has special health needs, look for a camp that will make the summer pleasant and successful. For instance, one child with asthma triggered by allergens did best in an air-conditioned environment. He attended an indoor camp offering arts and crafts, sports, and computer instruction.
Your child may tell you he doesn’t want to go to camp; a summer at home would be fine if your schedule can accommodate it. However, you may be put in a bind if you work or if you feel your child should be enrolled in an organized program for the summer. One solution is to look for a camp with reduced hours. You can also find out why he’s reluctant to go to camp. If he doesn’t want to take swimming lessons, doesn’t want to take part in some of the activities, or is generally hesitant about new situations, talk to him about his feelings and offer ideas and reassurance.
If necessary, seek suggestions from camp counselors or directors so that your child can have a fun camp experience. As much as possible, try to enroll your child in programs you know will be of interest to him or ones his friends will be going to. Four and five-year-olds are often happiest going to a camp where their friends are.