BRIDGTON, Maine – Most parents are concerned about the wrong things when considering a summer camp for their son or daughter, according to Alan Ordway, owner and director of Winona Camps.
Ordway, an American Camp Association certified camp director and Yale University graduate, has owned and operated Winona, a traditional summer camp for boys, since 1969. At the camp, boys ages 7 – 15 learn how to be strong, successful adults through achievement, self reliance and outdoor exploration. In 2007, Winona will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Ordway says that many moms and dads focus on superficial things, like how modern the bathroom facilities are or how comfortable their child’s sleeping quarters will be. He cautions that a posh setting doesn’t necessarily equal a quality program, adding that a more rustic, outdoor experience can actually create a much greater sense of independence and accomplishment among campers.
To help parents choose the right summer camp for their child, Ordway has devised a list of 10 questions to ask:
- Is the camp accredited?
American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation is the most widely recognized. It is a voluntary process in which an outside team of trained professionals visits a camp at least once every three years to ensure compliance with nearly 300 standards relating to health and safety, management, personnel, programming and facilities. The ACA has a 50-year history of administering its accreditation program.
- How long has the camp been in operation?
Just because a camp is new doesn’t mean it is not a great place to send your child. However, selecting a camp with a proven track record is a safer choice. An established camp has the experience, name recognition and extensive referral sources that can attest to its quality.
- What is the staff and camper return rate?
If the staff returns year after year, it points to a well managed camp and a good training program. A consistent staff also establishes a strong sense of loyalty and helps preserve the traditions and history that make a camp unique. Return business is also an important indicator. Returning campers mean happy campers. Use this as a benchmark: A 2005 ACA survey indicated that the average return rate for accredited camps was nearly 60 percent.
- How diverse is the camper and staff population?
Most summer camps offer children the opportunity to broaden their horizons by getting to know others with backgrounds different than their own. If this is important to you, ask about the diversity of those that attend and staff the camp. Do they hail from a variety of regions and cultures, or is your child going to be spending time with the same kids they see the rest of the year at home?
- Is the camp maintained all year round?
Managing a camp properly is a full-time, year round job. It requires constant attention to the camp itself, ensuring that all facilities are well maintained and camp programs are achieving the desired outcomes. It also includes maintaining regular contact with campers, parents, staff, and alumni to encourage their involvement.
- What about staff training and certification?
In the case of a medical emergency are there registered nurses and emergency medical technicians on staff? What types of specialized certifications do other staff members hold? These might include Wilderness First Aid Responder, American Red Cross certified aquatics instructor, or Emergency Medical Technician.
- If you are interested in sending your child to a traditional summer camp as opposed to a specialized one, is there a wide array of program offerings?
Look for a variety of activities. Camps can offer everything from arts and crafts and cooking skills to archery, sailing, horseback riding and wilderness exploration. The more your child has to choose from, the greater opportunity they have to pick up new skills and interests. Another important question to ask is whether campers have the option of choosing new activities every day or if they have to select a limited number of activities and stick with them throughout their stay.
- Does the camp have any special features?
A summer camp with a clean, clear lake or pond for swimming and water sports might be more desirable than a land-locked location, particularly during the dog days of summer. In addition, a camp in close proximity to hiking trails, waterways for whitewater rafting, good mountain biking spots, and other outdoor adventure also holds a special appeal. Another feature to look for is acreage – a camp that offers plenty of room to explore is a great place to build the imagination and appeal to your child’s sense of adventure.
- What is the camper to staff ratio?
ACA standards require different ratios for different ages. One staff member is required for every six campers ages 6 to 8. For ages 9 to 14, one staff member is required for every eight campers. For ages 15 to 17, one staff member is required for every 10 campers.
- Are campers of all ages mixed in programs and activities?
Is your 8-year-old going to have to compete with 14-year-olds on a soccer field? Some camps – and parents – prefer the one room schoolhouse philosophy. However, Ordway and many of his industry peers believe that staff can deal with specific needs and challenges best if campers are divided into narrower age groups.