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Choosing the right camp

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Leave a Comment

Are you ready for summer?

Summer camps are enough to strike fear into any mother's heart. There are so many to choose from! How do I choose the right one for my child? 
We sat down with Betsy at Altogether Outdoors to find out. You've probably seen the Altogether Outdoors  climbing wall at the Stapleton Farmer's Market, or seen the bus let off their happy kids at the F-15 pool on hot afternoons...
As a parent, you’ve probably found your mailbox stuffed with brochures for camps and summer programs. They look exciting, but how can you tell which programs are going the extra mile for your child? Here are five questions you can ask camp directors as you look for the right match for your camper. 
Is the camp Licensed by the State of Colorado?
Camp programs working with school-aged children are required to be licensed by the State of Colorado Department of Human Services. Childcare licensing mandates that a camp meets specific health and safety standards and works to keep parents well informed. If a camp is not licensed by the State of Colorado, ask why not.
Is the camp Accredited by the American Camp Association?
The American Camp Association is the only independent organization reviewing camps in the country. Accreditation is a voluntary process, encompassing over 300 standards that helps camps provide:
  • Developmentally appropriate activities and learning experiences
  • Discovery through experiential learning
  • Caring, competent role models
  • Service to the community and the environment
  • Opportunities for leadership and personal growth
ACA Accreditation reassures families that camps have made the commitment to providing a nurturing environment for their children. To find an ACA Accredited camp, visit www.acacamps.org/findacamp.
What are the staff ratios?
The ratio of staff to campers tells you how much individual attention your child will receive. Ask the camp director if their ratios include only counseling staff or if they also include administrators and other staff that don’t work directly with campers. You can also ask what the group size is, and how many staff members supervise that group. Finally, find out if these ratios improve during more specialized adventure programming including water activities, rock climbing or biking. 
Be aware that some programs have campers assigned to large groups and then “break up” into smaller groups. Inquire about exactly how the groups are split up, and the percentage of time they participate in smaller groups versus the larger group. 
How are camp counselors trained?
Most quality camps have at least a 3-5 day training program to give staff skills they will need to help create a successful experience for your child. Staff members should be trained in more than the technical skills of running a program. They should learn the camp’s philosophy and learn how to meet the developmental needs of individual children and in manage children in groups. Ask the camp director how this is accomplished in staff training.
How are specialized adventure counselors trained?
Specialized adventure counselors take the lead in supervising safety, equipment, and instruction for the more technical activities. It is important that these staff have advanced training in their specialty beyond personal hobby experience. 
With so many options for summer camps, you are sure to find the right match for your camper. Brochures, the Internet and personal references are a good place to start your search. Be sure to call camp directors and ask them these questions. As an informed parent, you will be prepared to select a camp that meets your standards for staff, programs, and safety and strives to promote the well being of your camper.
Betsy Strohmaier has been in the working with, and loving summer camps the past 16 years. She is the Director of the Altogether Outdoors Camps in the Stapleton area www.aocamps.com, or 720-249-2997 or betsy@aocamps.com. Follow AO Camps on twitter:  @OutsideWithKids. Be sure to check out the FAQ on Altogether Outdoors' site!