You’ve gone online, asked everyone you know for recommendations, and otherwise searched for sleepaway camps for your kids. How do you find the one that’s just right for them? When you’ve narrowed down the options to a handful or less, it’s time to speak to the camp directors by phone or email. Below is a list of some of the most important questions to ask.

The Camp

Is the camp accredited, how old is it, and how long have you owned or managed it? It’s a good sign if the camp is licensed by the American Camp Association (ACA). To earn accreditation, a camp must satisfy 300 industry standards for health, safety and program quality. Every three years, the ACA visits the camp to verify that it’s in compliance. It’s also a good sign if the camp has been in existence for many years (kids are coming back year after year) and if the director is experienced at running camps.

What’s your philosophy? Camps can be very different. Some camps, especially ones focused on specific sports, can be quite competitive. Other camps are more aimed at instilling in kids certain values, like comradery, cooperation and conflict-resolution. Make sure that the camp’s philosophy matches your own values and that it’s a good fit for your kids. 

What’s the accommodation like? Ask whether the kids sleep in cabins or tents, whether there are bathrooms and showers nearby and, most importantly, whether your kids can request to room with friends from home. Whether your kids are first-time or seasoned campers, it’s always comforting and great fun to room with one or more of their regular friends. 

How much does it cost? You probably don’t need any reminders to ask about the camp fee. But don’t forget to ask whether that fee is all-inclusive or whether there are additional costs for day or overnight trips, transportation to and from camp, special activities, etc. Also, ask if there’s a refund policy should your kids get sick, what the deadline is for registration and, in case you missed the deadline, if there’s a waitlist. It’s also a good idea to ask if financial aid or needs-based scholarships are available, perhaps a sibling discount, whether you need to pay everything up front, or whether you can pay in installments. Finally, don’t forget to get the camp’s Tax ID number. The camp fee can be tax-deductible. 

The Program

How long are the sessions, can they be lengthened or shortened, and how long do most campers stay? Most camps offer sessions of a specific length, often two, four or eight weeks. However, if you have other things planned for the summer, it can be useful to either shorten or lengthen a session to fit your schedule. Most kids like to stay as long as the other kids: assuming they’re having a great time, no kid wants to be the one getting picked up before everyone else. 

What do the kids do on a typical day? Try to get a sense of what your kids will be doing on a typical day, including how much time is devoted to indoor and outdoor activities and what they’ll be doing in the evening. This will help you decide whether it’s the right camp for them.

What’s your communication and visiting policy? It’s always a good idea to find out how the camp prefers that you communicate with your kids. By phone or email? How often? Also, ask how many care packages you’re allowed/encouraged to send and whether there are designated visiting days.

How do you accommodate special needs? A high-quality camp is one where all the campers’ different needs are met. Ask how the staff accommodates special needs with respect to activities, behavior, learning and dietary restrictions. 

The Staff

How do you hire, train and supervise your camp counselors, and what’s the counselor-camper ratio? One of the best signs that the camp is of a high quality is that it has strict procedures for hiring, training and supervision of camp counselors. This includes criminal background checks, first aid training and regular feedback sessions. It’s also a good sign if most of the counselors return for several summers (they’re obviously enjoying the experience). The APA recommends that the counselor-camper ratio
be relatively low (between 1:6 and 1:12).  

Is there a medical facility with qualified personnel? A high-quality camp will either have a licensed physician or nurse on the premises, a well-stocked supply of commonly-used medications and procedures in place for dispensing medication to all the kids who need them. Also, ask how far away is the closest hospital, doctor’s office and dental clinic and how the kids will get there if needed.

The Campers

How many campers do you have, and how many of them return every year? Generally speaking, the larger the camp, the more activities, and the smaller the camp, the more intimate it feels. Likewise, the higher the return rate, the more satisfied the kids are with the whole camp experience. 

How can your kids stay in touch with their counselors after camp has ended? Kids often develop strong bonds with their counselors. Ask whether they’re encouraged to stay in touch after the camp has ended (who knows, your kids’ favorite counselor could end up being their babysitter). Some camps also host events throughout the year for counselors and campers. It’s a great way to keep in touch until next year’s camp.