Photo credit: Kali Nine LLC/ iStock/360/ Getty Images
Contributed by: Katie Herrick Bugbee, Senior Managing Editor and Global Parenting Expert for Care.com
First things first, will camp be a shock to your child — or a welcomed source of fun? If your child already loves school and doesn't mind being away from home for chunks of time, camp won't be too earth-changing. But if you're delving into overnight camps (usually start at age 7) or trying a full-day experience for the first time, you need to make sure the camp's structure and theme will keep him stimulated and engaged.
2^Structure and theme
Does your child have particular interests or athletic-development goals you want to grow? If so, a specific camp geared toward these hobbies and skills will help her meet like-minded people — but you might not want to focus all eight weeks on this theme or she could hate soccer by the time school starts. Try to find a balance of the general camps that cover all sports and activities with a week or two at say, equestrian camp. Then, when going general, look into what classes they offer. How will they challenge her and what new things can they introduce her to: sailing, high ropes, archery? How exciting is a sample day — and are you getting your money's worth?
How will you shuttle your child to and from camp? Can you create a carpool, or do they have a bus (and what is the additional cost of this bus)?
If you have two working parents, you'll need the camp to have a schedule similar to the school day — or you'll need a summer sitter to handle pickups.
If you're thinking this summer is a chance for your child to break away from some of the more "toxic" friendships he's formed, camp is a great way to broaden his friend-circle while boosting his self-esteem (and hopefully give him the power to veer away from the not-so-great friends come next fall). Think outside of your town. Sure, you won't have carpools to rely on, but seeing your child grow in a new way and with "summer friends" could be worth the commute. Overnight camp might also be a great option to build this independence — if your family is ready.
When touring or talking to camp directors, ask about the core values and mission behind the camp. How will they get to know your child? How do they impart this philosophy in their counselors? (And what is the counselor return rate?) How do they feel their camp helps develop self-esteem and confidence? Compare this philosophy with what your own goals are for your child this summer — and see if they line up.
Everything always comes down to price in the end, right? Of course, you can apply the camp's fee to the childcare tax credit, but even with this $5,000 tax incentive (if you don't already use toward your nanny, daycare or preschool), paying up to $600 a week can be daunting. Start with how much you can afford — and then find the camp or camps that work within that budget. Even if it means cutting back from eight weeks to six. But then you have to figure out what the childcare plan is for those missing weeks.