Summer’s Coming: Choosing a Camp
Choosing the best summer camp for your child can be an extremely daunting task, particularly in Westchester
where there are hundreds of “camps” to choose from.
These camps vary greatly from their focus and philosophy to the standards they must comply with. The following is a list of questions to help you narrow your search and choose the camp that is the best fit for your child.
What is the camp’s philosophy?
Each camp has its own philosophy; the camp you select should be consistent with your own parenting style. For example, is the camp highly competitive or is the focus on personal best? Does the camp concentrate on building life/personal skills along with providing fun? Is there a focus on values such as compassion, citizenship and integrity?
Does the camp have a permit?
The Westchester County Department of Health will issue permits and inspect programs it defines as camps. All camps that operate with a permit must comply with the New York State Sanitary Code which includes: screening all employees and volunteers against the child sex abuse registry; hiring counselors who are at least 16 years of age; meeting minimum, age-appropriate supervisory ratios of counselors to campers; conducting fire drills and maintaining working fire extinguishers; having a camp nurse or medical director on staff; submitting a safety plan and have it approved by DOH. Any summer program that is “single purpose” (for example soccer camp or swim camp) or “primarily indoors” does not need a permit to operate and can therefore evade these crucial child safety regulations.
Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? If not, why not?
The American Camp Association (ACA) is a non-profit organization that has the only camp accreditation program in the country. In order to be accredited, each camp must comply with approximately 300 distinct health, safety and program quality benchmarks. The ACA goes well beyond what is required by the Department of Health and addresses specific areas of programming, personnel, health care, emergency response, management practices and youth development. These standards are applied to all activities in camp. Of the hundreds of “camps” in Westchester only about eight are accredited by the ACA.
Does your camp have its own facility or have to go off the grounds? What is the facility like?
While some camps have their own facility including fields, courts, pools and sufficient indoor space, others have to bus their campers to other locations for activities such as swim. You should see the facility for yourself to determine if it’s appropriate for the needs of your child.
What is the camp director’s background? Is he or she a year-round camp professional or a seasonal employee?
Year-round camp professionals spend all their time making camp the best possible experience for children. They realize camp is about more than just recreation but youth development as well. Make sure you get to know the person in charge. You must feel comfortable entrusting your child’s care to this person. Make sure the director has skills in communicating effectively and being a positive role model with children.
How are counselors chosen, screened and trained?
Counselors are a vital piece of your child’s camp experience. In a good camp, most of the staff members will have been there for many years, either as a staff member or camper, or will be chosen for the interview process based on recommendations from its current staff and parent community. The screening process should include an interview and reference and background checks. Before camp begins, counselors should receive training in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communications, behavior management techniques and specific procedures for supervision.
Who will be spending the majority of the day with your child?
Are there mature, professional educators leading groups and activities? This leads to better youth development outcomes and greater physical and emotional safety for your child. Parents should clarify with the director whether the adults are actually with the children all the time or just administrators.
What medical staff work at camp?
Is there a licensed physician or registered nurse on site every day? Camp has lots of physical activities and it’s important to know who will take care of your child in case of injury. If your child takes medication, has food allergies or a chronic medical condition, be sure you are comfortable the camp will be able to hand your child’s needs.
What is the level of communication between camp and home?
Good camps consider themselves partners with parents and communicate clearly and frequently. Parents should ask if supervisors and directors are accessible and available to address concerns throughout the summer?
—Doug Volan is the owner/director of Mount Tom Day Camp in New Rochelle.
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