Summer Camp – it’s already time?

In the dead of winter is when summer camps are born.  While many families are just getting over the Christmas holiday festivities and the first of the holiday bills are starting to arrive in the mailbox, summer camp directors are thinking about the hot days of summer. For the purpose of this article, I will be dealing with what’s known as Day Camps as apposed to Away Camps.

There are several problems with early camp planning;

1. it’s cold outside now but it will be very hot during the summer.  Often what seemed like such a great idea in January, quickly evaporates with the summer heat.  One year we thought it would be great to have our kids spend more time outdoors.  This was during January of course.  But when an unusually hot summer rolled around (many days in the 100s) we quickly abandoned many of our outdoor plans.

2. It’s also hard to plan field trips too far in advance.  Often, new opportunities pop up between January and June.  In Memphis, we have several new adventures that are still in the works – including the new Bass Pro Shop and bowling lanes and the new high ropes course at Shelby Farms.

3.  It’s also hard for parents to make plans this far in advance.  They (unlike camp directors) have given very little thought to spring much less summer.  But parents are definitely advised to start thinking earlier about camp.  Many of the summer camp guides (Parent Magazine) come out in February and many camp spots could easily be filled by March or April.

4. Also, you never know if the schools schedules will change due to upcoming inclement weather.  This could delay the end of the school year and the start of camp.  Not to mention that the Fall of 2015 school calendar has not even been announced yet which may change the ending date of summer camps.  Being flexible is the key to any good camp program.  Our website and brochures always clearly states that all posted activities, schedules, and events are due to change if needed.

Summer camps have changed over the years.  Now days, everyone seems to have one.  Putt Putt golf courses, museums, parks, churches, schools, etc.  Parents must use a variety of methods to pick and choose not only the right summer camp but often several summer camps to fill a variety of needs and interests.

Summer camps may be chosen based on two factors – the needs and interest of the child or the needs of the parents.  There are plenty of camps that specialize in a particular activity such as horseback riding, art, basketball, tennis, computers, the list goes on. These camps are usually taught by professionals or experts in their field, they tend to be pricey, and usually only cover half days. Other camps are more geared for child care needs.  Parents tend to use them more for their child care services rather that the activities provided by the camp.  They are more parent-centered than child-centered.  These camps tend to have longer hours and are more affordable.

Camps can also take on many other characteristics such as Christian based programs (often offered in church settings), Themed programs that provide different weekly themes to make each week fun and exciting while offering a wider range of variety, and field trip driven programs that spend a portion of almost daily activities away from the camp center on field trips.

Parents have a lot to choose from and a lot of homework to do in planning their child’s summer experiences. They also have less time than they think. Many of the smaller more niche camps fill up early.

Regardless of the camp program or style of camp(s) you choose, parents need to be aware of certain basic criteria that all camp programs should meet.

1.  Safety.  Is the site secure from other programs or outside groups?  The camp program should maintain exclusive use of the facility.  We use to have our fitness center located in the same building as our camp program. However, we found that this opened the doors to too many non-campers in the building.  We quickly relocated our fitness center to a different building.

2.  Longevity. There are a lot of pop-up camps all over the community.  Not only do they not have a proven track record, they might not even be opened by the time summer rolls around – leaving you with very few options at the last minute.

3. Satisfaction.  Will YOU and your CHILD enjoy the experience.  How were you treated as a customer.  Is the registration process easy to follow and to complete? Do they meet all of your child care needs with extended care and services?   Do they have plenty of activities and facilities that your child will enjoy.  Do they provide both indoor and outdoor opportunities?  Do they provide meals and snacks?

4. Affordable.  You really do get what you pay for with summer camp.  Beware of camps that are extremely inexpensive.  A quality camp will provide well trained and a good ratio of staff to kids – look for at least 1 staff for every 18 campers.  Look for camps that divide campers into appropriate grade groups. Camps should be well equipped for a multitude of activities and able to accommodate a number of kids at the same time. A camp should be clean and well maintained.

5.  Fun.  Summers should always be FUN.  Yes, you can have an educational element, a fitness component, and develop specific skills.  But a good camp allows kids to also relax and enjoy plenty of free time and leisure.  We have almost relegated the word leisure to something with a negative connotation.  As adults, we are busier than ever and we often place our children in program after program and on team after team.  We have lost the true value of the ability to enjoy recreation or the ability to RE-CREATE.  A summer camp should offer a lot of structure but also leave time for socialization, imagination, day-dreaming, and unwinding.

Summer Camp is just around the corner and camp planning for both camp directors and parents is here.  By planning early, you will avoid the last minute rush to find remaining camp spots and also many camp programs offer early registration discounts.  In the coming weeks. keep your eyes open for camp guides and advertisements.  Google ‘summer camps memphis’ to see existing programs.  It’s not uncommon to scroll down 10 to 15 pages to get a good look at the many camp offerings on Goolge search.  One of the best ways to find a camp is word of mouth, ask other parents where and why they send their child to a particular summer camp.  Happy camping.

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