Judging the best camp for your child

Are you thinking of sending your child to camp for the first time? Here are some questions you should get the answers to before you make a choice:

* Is the camp kept clean?

* Are campers sufficiently supervised?

* Do camp activities fit well with the interests, abilities, and needs of my child?

* Is the food my child will eat prepared properly and are the meals ample?

* What is the underlying philosophy of the camp and is that philosophy acceptable to me as a parent?

* Will my child receive proper care while at camp?

When seeking the answers to these questions, remember that the camp brochure shouldn't be your only source. It has been designed as a sales tool, meant to emphasize the good points about the camp and to ignore or deemphasize the bad points.

By all means study brochures. They may give you clues to camp philosophy, and they will describe the kinds of activities available to the child. But don't stop there.

Once you have narrowed your choices to a few camps you wish to investigate, learn if they are accredited by the American Camping Association. ACA members are camps that voluntarily submit to a review by independent evaluators.

The accreditation team examines the camp against ACA standards of cleanliness , supervision, and counselor suitability, among other things. Make sure the camp is recently accredited and is not just resting on past laurels.

ACA's Parent's Guide to Accredited Camps, published annually, gives a current list of accredited camps. You can find the book in many libraries or can order it directly for $5.95 from the American Camping Association, Bradford Woods, Martinsville, Ind. 46151.

ACA should not be your sole criterion for selecting a camp as there are a number of fine camps that are not members, but it is a help.

After you check accreditation, a telephone interview with the camp director can be helpful.

This can be a good opportunity to learn what the camp's philosophy is.

Does the camp emphasize certain kinds of skill development such as outdoor camping, the arts, horseback riding, sports? Is that what your child wants and/or needs? Does the camp have qualified personnel? Are you and the director in agreement about what are appropriate activities for your child to be involved in?

Before you conclude the interview with the camp director ask for the names of some parents and campers who can talk with you about the camp. This should not be insulting to the camp director because you are trying to make the determination whether the camp is right for your child and not whether it is a good or bad camp.

Try to talk directly to the campers as well as parents. Find out what they did at camp. Did they like their activities? What about the food? Was it good? Was there enough of it?

What didn't they like about camp? What did they gain fom the experience? What were the counselors like?

Listen carefully to what is being said. Does the camper mention wild and unsupervised activities or other disturbing factors? Let your child talk to the camper too. If you can, include your own child actively into the decisionmaking process.

Once you have narrowed your choices to two or three camps, visit each camp if possible. The ideal time is when camp is in session so you can see the campers and counselors in action. Don't be put off by primitive accommodations. Most camps don't provide ''all the comforts of home.'' But the camp should be clean and campers should be adequately sheltered.

After you have been given the standard tour of the camp, ask to see more. Ask to see inside the kitchen - is it clean and orderly? Ask to see other cabins than the ones you've been shown. Ask to see the bathrooms or latrines.

If your child will be emphasizing swimming or boating, take a close look at the waterfront facilities. Ask about safety practices. Are the swimming instructors certified by the American Red Cross? The standard tour will take you to the best places in camp. You have to ask to see the others.

If camp is in session, you will be able to get some answers to your questions through firsthand observation. Do the campers look happy? Are they clean and do they look well fed? Watch a few activities in session. Do the counselors seem knowlegeable? Are activities under control?

Talk to some of the counselors. Do they seem mature? Do they set a good example for campers? How do they discipline the campers?

Once you have evaluated all the information you've been gathering, a clear picture should emerge of the right camp. Then. . . relax, and feel confident your child will have a rich, rewarding summer experience.

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