Turn eyes to summer camp

It may not feel like it, but now's the time to plan
BY JOHN JOHNSTON | JJOHNSTON@ENQUIRER.COM

Plummeting temperatures. Sub-zero wind chills. Piles of snow towering over your kids. Yep, it's time to make plans for summer camp.

The Enquirer's camp guide goes online today with a multitude of options for families looking for day or overnight camps in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

People searching in this region and beyond can tap resources such as the American Camp Association (www.ACAcamps.org). Its Resource for Families (www.CampParents.org), has a database of more than 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that are searchable by location, religious or cultural affiliation, specialization, cost, age, gender or special needs.

Another option is www.KidsCamps.com, which debuted in 1995 and claims to be the Internet's most comprehensive camp directory. It's published by Florida-based Niche Directories. President and founder Nancy LaPook Diamond answered questions by phone.

Question: When is the best time to search for a summer camp?

Answer: It's never too soon to look. In fact, many families use the summer before as a way of visiting the camps and getting a first-hand look. It's important to see how they're actually functioning. For overnight camps, a lot of families schedule their vacations to visit summer camps much like how people do with summer college tours.

You get a sense of the activities and how the camp is run, and a feeling for the environment and the staff and the other children.

But now is certainly not too late.

Q: I know you're not a psychologist, but you probably hear the question: When is a child ready for camp?

A: I really think the best answer is, as a parent, you know when your child is ready.

Q: Besides basics such as cost and duration, what goes into the selection of a camp?

A: You first have to decide what kind of experience you want your child to have. Why are you sending your child to camp? What do you want your child to get out of it? You can use a directory ... to help narrow that down. You have to (understand) it's your child who is having the experience, and not you.

Q: After narrowing down the choices, then what?

A: What's key is parents must take time to speak with the camp director. Ask what is the camp's philosophy? How is the staff selected and trained? Do they background-check their staff? What are their policies for situations such as bullying or if a child becomes ill? Is there a refund policy? It's really good to get a reference of a family who has attended the camp. And if you're able to visit, that's always a great thing.

Q: Do those tips apply to both day and overnight camps?

A: Yes. If it's a day camp, why wouldn't someone visit and sit down with the director and make sure it's the right fit for your child?

Q: What are other pertinent questions?

A: Ask about the camp's risk-management (or emergency notification) system, as unpleasant as that might be. What do they do to maintain the campers' health and safety? ...