Look outside. Winter is waning, spring is springing, and thoughts are turning to summer vacations, summer Fridays, and maybe summer camp.
That means you’ve got choices. Is overnight camp right? Day camp? What with all the options out there, we asked an expert.
Michael Rouse, co-founder and president of ESF Camps, based in Bryn Mawr, PA, knows how to help you winnow your options. Since 1982, ESF has operated summer camps in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Maryland. They offer kids aged 3 to 18 broad-based day camp experiences as well as camps focused on specialties including sports, science, technology, performing arts, fashion, cooking, and business. Michael recommends you ask these questions when looking at different camp options.
Question 1: What is the camp’s curriculum all about?
First, ask about the program. Is it value-based? Does it focus, for example, on teamwork, effort, respect, and gratitude? What values does the camp celebrate?
Question 2: What kind of people make up their staff?
A camp’s staff frames the person-to-person interactions your child will have. Does the camp hire educators who are experienced and certified, or a bunch of high-school students? “In today’s world,” Michael says, “you need to have professionals who are skilled experts in helping kids thrive in life.”
Ask about the type of training and preparation the camp does. And some idea of how they evaluate their staff. ESF, for example, tests and ranks staff at the end of every summer using a methodology based on best business practices. This ensures they find professionals who know how to take care of and inspire kids.
Question 3: How do they handle accidents or other incidents?
This is a curveball question, but it’s really important. Act as if you’re interviewing a babysitter. “You’re going to trust somebody with your child,” says Michael. “It’s important to expect transparency, and by asking this question you can definitely get information that will help you establish that decision-making.”
Question 4: What are the camp’s traditions?
“Traditions in some cases shape behavior, and so you want to know about traditions of positive things.” At ESF, one such tradition is the gratitude rock. Each camper gets it, and they’re asked to talk about what they’re grateful for. This is one of the value-based character-development techniques used at ESF.
Question 5: How does the camp handle first aid and safety?
Do they have an affiliated registered nurse or doctor? “I would think that any camp in the United States should have at least an RN and a doctor on call,” Michael suggests. “There’s a lot of camps out there that don’t.” This is especially important if your child has a life-threatening allergy or asthma, for example.
Question 6: What is the camper-to-staff ratio?
Michael suggests that a 4-to-1 ratio is good and adds that this can change as kids get older, going up to 7- or 8-to-1, depending upon the campers’ ages.
Question 7: Regarding staff, what reference and background checks are in place?
While some camps do minimal checking, others go deep enough to give you a clear picture of the people who will interact with your child every day.
Question 8: What types of kids attend the camp?
Ask about how the camp handles behavioral challenges when they occur. When campers misbehave, how does the camp react?
Question 9: What is the camp’s technology policy?
Are iPhones or tablets or other technology allowed? ESF prefers that handheld electronics go into kids’ backpacks unless campers are attending a technology-based program.
After all, camp is about experiences beyond the screen. “It’s really about trying to inspire kids,” says Michael. “It’s up to us to make sure kids really enjoy the moment, that there’s a learning moment, a growth moment, and a fun moment. When you can get those moments for kids, then it’s like a new beginning. You hear ‘Wow, I want to do that again. That was really cool.’”
Question 10: What’s right for your child?
Begin with your child. Ask them what they would really love to do. “They may love engineering, they may love carpentry, they may love sports,” says Michael. “You can find different types of programs out there that go a mile wide with different activities because kids want to do those, or a mile deep in one activity because kids really want to do that.”
ESF stands for “education, sports, and fun.”As they build programs to offer children a portfolio of new experiences, their primary consideration is how to inspire kids. They’re working to change what kids focus on, shifting the scorecard, as Michael calls it, from popularity, attractiveness, smarts, and earning money to kindness, gratitude, honesty, leadership, and respect. Not a bad way for a kid to spend the summer.