Parent to Parent: Shopping for summer camps
The Roanoke Times

By: Betsy Flagler

Parents, get out a shopping list. It's time to investigate camps for your kids.

"It's never too soon to start researching summer camps," says Nancy LaPook Diamond, founder of www.kidscamps.com, an online directory of more than 10,000 summer camp programs. "There's a program for any interest your child might have."

From soccer to cooking to rock and roll, there are more than 7,000 overnight and 5,000 day camps to choose from across the United States, according to the American Camping Association.

Before you bring your child into the decision, narrow down the choices, suggests Diamond, whose two children went to summer camp.

"As a parent, you know your child. Look at the possibilities first, the length of the camp and your budget, before you ask your child," she says.

Ask the camp director several questions, including how the staff is hired and trained. "You're giving up your most prized possession, and you want to make sure your questions are answered," says Diamond.

Before booking a camp, ask for references. Also find out if there are extra fees for uniforms, for example, and what the refund policy is, Diamond suggests.

Alan Saltz is a former camper, a counselor and now the director of a program that serves about 1,500 children at summer camps just outside New York City. He agrees it's important for parents to try to match their child's interests and abilities with the right setting. He suggests parents talk to other parents, teachers and child-care professionals about their recommendations.

The long list of questions, Saltz says, should include:

To do some of the legwork for parents, consultant Jill Tipograph visits camps and interviews directors. She says her evaluations focus on safety, well-being, family values and personality fit between kids and programs. Tipograph keeps records on more than 500 camps for kids and teen programs around the world. For more information or to order her updated summer camp advice guide, the Web site is www.everythingsummer.com.

The Web site www.smartmoney.com includes a list of what "your kid's camp won't tell you." Pointers include:

Another resource to find camps and information on what to look for is the American Camp Association Web site at www.acacamps.org. The site offers a "Find a Camp!" database of programs accredited by the organization. Accreditation is a voluntary process in which the camp meets more than 300 standards.

Another camp prep book is "The Summer Camp Handbook: Everything You Need to Find, Choose and Get Ready for Overnight Camp -- and Skip the Homesickness" (Perspective Publishing, $14.95) by Christopher A. Thurber, Ph.D., and Jon C. Malinowski.

Can you help?

Q. "My 15-month-old twins take turns getting up every hour during the night. I am getting no sleep, and I am at my wits' send. They were premature, so developmentally they are about 12 months old. My daughter cries and is difficult to settle back down, but my son goes back to sleep after reassurance from me. They are good nappers, sometimes two to three naps a day for an hour each."

-- A mother in Atlanta

If you have tips or a question, please call our toll-free hotline any time at (800) 827-1092 or e-mail us at p2ptips@att.net. Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., teaches preschool and is the mother of a teenage son.