It’s Camp Fair time!
Putting away the holiday decorations means it’s January—time to start planning what your children will do this summer. Luckily for you, it’s also the start of camp fair season, when camp directors annually criss-cross the country to introduce families to their summer programs.
“Camp fairs give parents an idea of the wide range of offerings in the summer camp world,” says Michael Knauf, Marketing Director for French Woods, a residential performing arts camp in Hancock, NY. “Parents and children new to summer camping may not be aware of the many options you can find at camps, from traditional day and overnight programs to camps that have a narrow specialty focus.”
The nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA) estimates that there are more than 10,000 summer camps nationwide, of which about 2,500 are ACA accredited for safety and operations. Add to that the thousands of local summer programs run by schools and community organizations, and it’s easy to see how parents can become overwhelmed by the process of choosing a camp, which experienced parents often compare to that of choosing a college.
Michael Chauveau, Executive Director of ACA’s regional office for Pennsylvania and Delaware, says that as summer programs proliferate, more parents are turning to camp fairs, virtual camp fairs and online search engines to streamline the selection process. ACA offers a user-friendly Find-A-Camp search engine at www.campparents.com.
Pittsburgh Parent magazine goes virtual on www.pittsburghparent.com to present their annual Summer Activities and Camp Fair during the months of February and July online. With all the information just a few clicks away, parents will have 24/7 access to pictures, videos and direct links to camp websites.
As Director of Programs for Shady Side Academy, Dave Chottiner runs the school’s summer camps and, like Knauf and Greitzer, he is an experienced camp fair exhibitor. In addition to attending local fairs, Chottiner advises parents to search online resources like www.summercamps.com and www.kidscamps.com, and to talk to people in their community. “Talk to the parents of your children’s friends and to parents at your school or church. When parents like a camp program, they are happy to advocate for it. And if they don’t, they’ll tell you that, too. Our campers’ parents are our best ambassadors.”
While families can learn a lot about a camp from its website, DVD and brochures, a camp fair allows parents to ask specific questions and get more detailed information, says Greitzer. On the other hand, large expo crowds may make it hard for a camp director to spend too much time with any one family. Greitzer typically allows for more quality time by inviting families he meets at the fair to a slide show at a local venue a few weeks later.
“To get the most out of a camp fair, it’s important to go in with a plan,” says Joe Greitzer, Executive Director of Camp Rim Rock, an all-girls, traditional overnight and horseback riding camp in Yellow Spring, WV. “Know if you are looking for a day or overnight, traditional or specialty program, but keep an open mind. And don’t be distracted by bells and whistles. A camp may bring something exciting like a live animal to the fair, but that doesn’t tell you about the quality of their staff or program.”
Chauveau says that parents can make best use of camp fairs by considering their children’s needs for this summer and beyond. “Parents of young children who may attend day camp this summer can start collecting information and plan to visit overnight camps for future summers. The best time to visit a camp is always when it is in session, so even parents of very young children may wish to gather brochures and visit some day camps this year.”
Knauf says, “At a camp fair or online, the best thing a parent can do is ask the right questions and look for a program that fits their child.”
Whether you speak to a camp representative at a camp fair or by phone, these 20 questions will help you find the right camp:
- How long has the program been operating?
- Is the camp ACA accredited?
- Is the owner/director on-site during the summer?
- What is the camp’s philosophy?
- How long have management and senior staff been at camp?
- How many campers and counselors return each year?
- What is the counselor to camper ratio?
- How old and experienced are counselors?
- What medical staff is on-site? How close are hospitals?
- What are your policies about tuition refunds, care packages, and electronics?
- What is a typical day at camp like?
- What types of camp programs and activities do you offer?
- Are children supervised during free time?
- What meals do you offer? Can you accommodate special diets?
- What are your policies about bullying, behavior, drugs and alcohol?
- How does the camp resolve problems and disciplinary issues?
- Do children from our community attend your camp?
- For overnight camps, how are children housed at camp?
- For horseback riding camps: does the camp own its horses?
- May I speak to current camp families for references?
Ellen Warren runs the ACA Bucks Camp Expo for ACA Keystone Section, which serves camps and camp families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.