In the midst of the snow and ice, the season of sunshine might feel light-years away. But believe it or not, now is the time to start making plans to give your kids a summer they’ll never forget.
It’s summer camp registration season and for parents here in southeast Michigan, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. Local kids can explore science, immerse themselves in nature, hone their athletic abilities or do a little of everything at cool camp programs in the area.
But with registrations opening and many camps known to fill up fast, how can you be sure you’ll choose the right summer opportunity for your child? It takes careful consideration – plus an eye for some of the telltale signs of truly awesome camps.
We asked all-around summer camp expert Weston Outlaw, director of special and summer programs at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, to weigh in. A former camper himself, Outlaw has spent 18 years working in summer camps throughout the Midwest and is a member of the American Camp Association.
In addition to the logistical details like whether transportation, lunches and extended care are available (at Cranbrook, it’s a “yes” to all), also keep in mind these important considerations.
1. What are your goals?
Sure, your kids have ideas about how they’d like to spend their summer – but that’s just the beginning of the conversation.
“They have to consider what their child is interested in but also what they want to accomplish during the summer as a parent,” Outlaw says. “Are they focused on an activity or are they focused on a learning experience?”
If you’d like your child to pick up a new hobby or practice something they already enjoy, then a specialty camp could be the right choice. If your goals are more broad, try a traditional camp.
“They can do a sport one week, arts and crafts the next week and robotics the following. Or, which is just as positive of an experience, is to have a long session in a traditional camp,” he says. “If you’re really focused on this life-changing experience rather than activities, having the longer session is going to help build those friendships.”
Remember that camp is “an opportunity to face challenges,” Outlaw explains. “The way I always describe camp is that it’s like a laboratory for children to succeed and fail in new opportunities.”
2. What are the camp’s goals for your child?
One of the questions you should ask while scoping out camps is what the program’s goals are for its participants. Again, is it all about the activities? Or does the camp focus on helping kids gain confidence, independence or leadership skills?
It’s what Outlaw considers the “old, traditional way of what summer camp has to offer,” like “building friendships and overcoming obstacles.”
And speaking of obstacles, be sure to ask how the camp addresses problems.
“(Parents and camps) should be open to the ups and downs of camps because that’s how life is. The parents should notice that the camp is prepared for something like that,” he says. “You have to allow both challenge and success to happen at camp.”
3. Is the camp accredited?
It can be tough to remember all the right questions while interviewing potential camps – not to mention the ones you didn’t know you should be asking. But there’s a shortcut to help: look for whether the camp is accredited with the American Camp Association, a designation held by top local camps like Cranbrook.
“They are the leading organization of our industry and they provide national standards for training, safety and program development,” Outlaw explains. “There are over 300 accreditation standards that a camp would have to go through. They are very particular.”
4. How do they communicate?
Pay careful attention to how the camp communicates. Take a tour if possible, and ask how they’ll stay in touch with parents during camp season.
“If it feels corporate, that probably means there’s a lot of kids and not as much one-to-one interaction with parents,” Outlaw notes. In that case, “it’s probably going to be more focused on email blasts and (social media) posts.”
Communication is key, though.
“If you want your child to be focused on interactions with people, which is really important these days considering the rise of technology, then you yourself as a parent should take that same effort into communicating directly with someone at the camp,” he adds. “If you can’t get that at the place that you’re considering, then I would say look somewhere else. Worst case scenario, if you get into a problem, are you going to be able to talk to somebody about it?”
5. Does the camp show signs of progression?
“Week after week or summer after summer, what signs of progression are they providing?” Outlaw emphasizes, such as awards or increasing challenges. “(At) the camps that offer the same thing over and over again with no progression, the child is going to just age out and leave … If you’re setting up goals and achieving and progressing, you’re creating a wonderful foundation for your child.”
Also consider staff training and professional development – not just whether it happens but how it’s implemented.
“How do you train them to interact with children?” he says. “My seasonal administration attends a regional conference every year and it keeps their minds open to current trends and issues.”
Camps tied to an educational community, like Cranbrook, also tend to offer additional benefits. Cranbrook’s camps are located on a 319-acre campus featuring schools, museums, outdoor trails and more.
“It’s a community that’s focused on architecture and the arts. It’s a beautiful backdrop for a child to go to camp,” Outlaw explains. “We have a lot of options, specialty and traditional camps, in a wide range of activities. And then we have that personal feel to it.”
Find more information on 2018 summer camps at Cranbrook Schools here or call 248-645-3674.