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4 Things Every Parent Should Know When Choosing the Right Summer Camp

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I have decided this summer my kids are finally ready for camp.

With the exception of a church camp I’d attend every summer as a teenager, I never went to camp. But thanks to the Parent Trap, I always held it in the highest esteem–from the outdoor activities, to the campfires and, of course, the mischief. I was sure I’d even run into my long-lost twin sister.

Daydream disclaimer: I was the lone girl sandwiched between two brothers.

Though my kids have done casual sports and arts camps, I wanted to wait until I felt they were the right age to enroll them in just the right camp. But I still wasn’t sure.

I have a lot of great camp/program brochures that come across my desk. The one that made me stop in my tracks was Avid4 Adventure, which offers multi- and single-sport outdoor camps in Denver, Highlands Ranch, Golden and Boulder, along with family camps at epic destinations like Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs.

Avid4 Adventure Owner David Secunda says they believe that children really learn about themselves and the world around them when engaged in outdoor activities that encourage learning, self-esteem and build friendships. “With so many choices, sometimes it’s easy to just pick the least expensive or most convenient camp,” he said. “But parents should really dig in and choose one that is best suited to help your child grow.”

He gave me some great guidelines for choosing just the right camp for your child.

1) Narrow it down:
Once you have narrowed down the sort of camp (sports, arts, adventure, religious, etc.), you’ll want to figure out which camp is best for your family. Parents should really spend time looking into the camp, get to know their website, figure out what they are all about, and perhaps call the camp director to personally ask some questions.

2. Camp Credentials:
Find out if the camp is Accredited by the American Camp Association. Accredited camps have to comply with over 300 safety and youth development standards. Also, find out if the camp is licensed by the State of Colorado Department Child Services, which has further health and safety guidelines as set by the state.

3. About the Counselors:
Figure out who will be spending time with your child. Do the counselors have experience working with children, or is the camp just a summer job? What is the median age of the counselors? Younger counselors can be outstanding babysitters in a home situation, but can be more impulsive in their judgment. This can really be an issue for adventure activities. If counselors are under 18, ask if they supervise campers alone. Also find out if they are background checked, which will include fingerprinting and hopefully personal reference checks.

Ask what the counselor-to-child ratio is, which will tell you how much individual attention your child will receive while at camp. For example, the ratio at Avid4 Adventure is 1:4, as they focus on really knowing each camper individually. They also have specialized programs that focus on a number of outdoor activities and more specialized programs such as rock climbing and kayaking camps, which require significant instructor experience and certification.

You’ll also want to look into how the counselors are trained, what certifications are required and make sure there is at least a 5-day training program. The camp needs to invest that time in their staff and give them the tools they need to create successful and fun experiences.

4. Camp Management:
How does the camp handle special needs? With this question, you’ll want to listen for compassionate answers that involve individualized plans for each camper. Every camper has a special need at some time, whether that’s nutrition, attention, rest, etc. If applicable, figure out how medications are transported, stored and administered.

Pay attention to the camp’s practice on hydration and nutrition. Proper eating practices like a morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack if camp goes late, should be set. Also, camps should always keep their campers hydrated, especially in our dry Colorado climate.

Speaking of dry, we do get our summer afternoon rainstorms and you’ll want to make sure the camp has a crisis management plan to deal with backup activities when inclement weather strikes, or an emergency situation arises.

For a full list of the Denver Post’s extensive camp round-up 2012, be sure to go to go here.

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