'Hello mudder, hello farder'

Forget macram and bunkhouse pillow fights. At summer camp these days, youngsters are as likely to be honing leadership skills, testing science experiments, or practicing musical instruments as doing traditional activities. Now is the time to start applying for summer camp. Web sites such as the American Camping Association's (www.acacamps.org) and InterCamp's (www.InterCamp.com) can help sift through the more than 8,500 summer youth camps in the US. Other suggestions:

*Ask around. Your children's friends may have great suggestions.

*Decide how much, or how little, structure your child needs during the camp day.

*Have the child participate in the search.

*Visit the camp if possible and talk to the director. Ask about the camp's philosophy, daily routine, and how staff members handle emergencies.

*Contact references.

Source: American Camping Association

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