Finding the best specialty camp is all about finding the best match for your child’s interests and abilities. Consider first the pros and cons of the type (single sex vs. coed) and setting (day vs. resident). These categorical decisions will help narrow the field and here’s what will help you target a high quality camping experience.
- Collaborate with your child. In addition to providing you with surprising insights about interests and abilities, involving your children in the camp selection process gives them the self-determination that will reduce homesickness later on. Children who feel forced to go to camp are more likely to experience severe homesickness.
- Request local references. Beyond the promotional materials camps produce lie the veteran camper families who can share actual experiences that give you an accurate sense of what the camp is like. Camp directors can give you the names and numbers of returning camper families who live near you. Get together-with the kids-to talk candidly about their camping experiences.
- Research retention rates. The highest quality camps have staff and camper retention rates that top 50% or more. Some camps even have internal leadership development programs that enable them to hire all their full-fledged leaders and staff from among their own leaders-in-training. Generally, the higher the retention rates, the stronger the camp.
- Beware the shooting star. Many specialty camps sell themselves by touting the name of a star athlete. In reality, this celebrity may only show up for a few hours on one day of the session. Put your faith in a specialty camp whose instructional talent runs deep and wide.
- Spice it up. The highest quality specialty camps offer a variety of other activities from which campers can choose. Not only does participation in other non-specialty activities provide mental and physical cross-training, it helps ensure that campers don’t get burned out doing the same thing all day, every day.
Finally, remember that the choice to attend a specialty camp must be put in the larger context of your child’s activity schedule. Some child development experts believe that children are specializing too intensely at too young an age, in all domains: athletic, academic, and artistic. While there is great merit in discipline and the devotion to a single pursuit, such as playing piano or soccer, there is also value in sampling a range of activities. If your child is already a specialist of some sort, perhaps a traditional, non-specialty camp is the perfect complement.