Summer Camps: Ask Questions Now

Choose the best summer camp for your child by asking the right questions, right now.

Summer Camps: Ask Questions Now


It may be the middle of winter, but now’s the time to start looking for a residential summer camp for your child(ren). Programs are already being offered and spots fill up surprisingly fast. If you wait too long, selection will be limited. And that would be a shame because selecting the right camp for your child is crucial to making the experience a success.

Residential camping allows kids to forge new friendships, try out new skills and feel a part of a close knit community. A camp experience can provide a child with his most cherished and important memories. The right summer camp will help him gain self-confidence, improve social skills and connect to the natural world. But the wrong camp can make a child feel lonely, socially awkward and out of place.

Selecting a summer camp that’s suited to your child takes a bit of work, but it is well worth the effort!

Camp must suit the child

Sometimes parents forget the most important consideration in creating a worthwhile summer camp experience. And that is your child’s interests, characteristics, needs and desires. Sending your child to a camp that you went to as a child, or to one recommended by the neighbours, is no guarantee of success.

So start by asking your child what she is interested in and what sort of camp she’d prefer. Rely on your own knowledge of your child too.

There is an amazing diversity of camps to choose from, specializing in music, religion and adventure, to arts, sports and everything in between. Some camps are highly structured, others offer more free time. How would your child feel in a big camp with hundreds of campers (and more activity choices) versus a small and intimate camp with fewer choices? Would she feel comfortable being away from home for a week, two, or four?

Make sure  your child is involved in the entire process. Search the internet together for the most promising camps and ask them to send out a brochure or a video, if available. Some summer camps offer comprehensive tours. There is nothing quite like a first hand visit to help your child feel more comfortable about the prospect of leaving home. If a tour is not possible, contact the camp’s director or representatives to find out more.

Find out philosophy

Use this checklist to delve deeper into the camp’s philosophy, approach, culture, programs and suitability for your child.

√ How long has the camp been in operation? Running a summer camp is a complex operation. A well-established camp has had time to refine its approach, to work out kinks and to develop unique programs. That is not to say that new camps can’t also be a wonderful experience for your child, just that there may not be a proven track record for you to examine.

√ What is your camp’s philosophy? Beware of the camp that answers “fun.” There is a lot more a summer camp should be striving for while having 

your child in their care, including building self esteem, encouraging teamwork, demonstrating inclusion and developing a sense of community and fellowship. Make sure the camp’s philosophy and approach are in line with your own way of thinking – and your child’s!

√ What kind of camper is best suited to this kind of camp? Each camp has a distinct culture. And for many camps, this has evolved, becoming more refined over the years. It may involve chants, songs and special campfires. Camps do organize a whole series of activities to foster a sense of belonging and community for their campers. How would your child respond to this camp’s culture?

√ Tell me about “a day in the life” of camp. To get a feel for how the summer camp operates, ask the director to describe a day in the life of camp. Is there enough structure, choice of activities and variety to interest your child?

√ What is the camper to staff ratio and what training do staff receive? Don’t be shy about asking this one. You need to know if there is adequate supervision and if staff is properly trained to deliver the programs the camp offers. In Ontario, camps should be accredited members of the Ontario Camping Association. Find out what types of training and qualifications staff should have by going to the OCA website at

And finally, don’t forget to ask for references! A good camp will not hesitate to provide references from parents whose children attended the camp.

When it comes to summer camp, take the time to look and look well. After

Author: Jacob Rodenburg

Jacob Rodenburg is the executive director of Camp Kawartha and the Kawartha Outdoor Education Centre. He also teaches part time at Trent University.

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