Young campers' biggest fear may be homesickness, but BBB says parents should be diligent in their research to make sure their children's experience is safe, as well as stimulating.
Summer camps help young people build self-confidence, learn to interact with their peers and learn new skills and independence. Parents should be guided by their child's interests and personality when choosing a program, and look for a camp that provides activities that are of interest to their child and appropriate for their child's age and skill level.
Campers have many more choices than the traditional hiking, canoeing and watersports. There is a wide range of choices, including specialty sports camps, camps specializing in computer skills, leadership activities, community work, language skills, travel camps, preschool camps for younger children and special-needs camps for children with disabilities.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), parents rate fun and safety as their most important priorities. When considering a camp for their child, parents should ask how long it has been in business, check with parents of past and returning campers, and check the camp's reputation at bbb.org.
Better Business Bureau recommends parents look beyond glossy brochures and websites before selecting an appropriate camp, to make sure their children will be well-supervised and safe:
Visit the camp before making a decision - Check its location and view the living, eating and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures, particularly for water activities, archery and out-of-camp trips.
Assess the quality and commitment of the staff - Find out the camp director's background, as well as the criteria used for hiring staff. It is also important to know the ratio of staff to campers. Parents sending children to specialty camps should inquire about the staff's level of expertise in the specific area.
Know the fees - What is the total cost for the summer? Is your deposit refundable? Are there extra charges for any activities? Are meals and transportation included? Is financial aid available?
Understand the safety rules - Find out what the rules are and how they are enforced. Ask about the camp's insurance coverage. Check the condition and safety of the facilities and equipment. Note any dangerous areas, like cliffs, swamps or water zones.
Ask about the medical care - Check out the medical facilities to be sure they are adequate. Find out if a nurse or doctor is on site. Inquire about the procedures for transporting injured or sick children to nearby medical facilities.
Be familiar with the camp philosophy - Know what the camps' goals are and how each program offered meets those goals. Are family visits or other communication with campers allowed? How is homesickness handled?
See a typical daily schedule - Note the camp hours, the variety of activities that are planned, the age range of the campers, what type of food is served, the pace of the day and any transportation that is involved.
Get references - Ask parents of repeat campers about their child's experience and why they recommend the camp. Find out the camper return rate as well as the counselor return rate. Look for camps that are certified by the ACA - their accredited camps have met up to 300 nationally recognized standards. (http://www.acacamps.org/)
You will find additional consumer tips and more at http://www.bbb.org/atlanta/