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Getting Ready For Summer Camp

It hardly seems like spring in many parts of the country, but parents are already signing their children up for summer camp. If you think it's too early for that, you're wrong; it's actually a little late.

But there is no need to panic, parenting reporter Dana Lowey Luttway visits The Early Show Monday with tips on finding the right program for your child and meeting the different camp application deadlines.

Things to consider are sleep away camps vs. day camps as well as camp certification and safety.

Here is a checklist:

Consider your children's needs - Do they have special needs? Health concerns? Would they thrive in a small camp or a large camp? Are they athletic? Would they be happier at an art camp?

Check the dates of your family vacation - That way you know when your child is free to be enrolled in camp. You don't want it to conflict with the trip to the beach or the grandparents' house.

Know your budget - Once you are aware of how much money you can spend, you'll be able to narrow down the list of camps. Also, parents should know there are such things as "camperships," scholarships for kids in need.

Once you've done that, Lowey says, the most comprehensive resource to find the right camp for your child is the American Camping Association. It is a community of camp professionals who ensure the quality of camp programs.

Their program accredits over 2,200 camps all over the country. ACA accredited camps meet up to 300 standards for health, safety, and program quality. All camps listed on its Web site meet industry-accepted and government-recognized standards. So, that's a great place to start.

She notes that some older, established camps choose not to be ACA accredited. So there are reputable camps that don't have the accreditation.

Many camps offer videotapes as a way of getting information; but remember these are just another form of advertisement. If you are considering sending your child far away, don't rely just on what the video tells you. If you can't visit the camp, find out from others who have been there.

If you're looking into day camps or camps close to home, the parks department is a great resource. Get their local phone number and ask to speak with a Parks & Recreation director. He or she will be able to tell you about camps sponsored in area parks and public spaces, for example, tennis camp or baseball, arts and crafts, or anything that can be done in an outdoor space.

The health department in your county will also have a listing of camps as well. And since it's the health department, you know they're endorsing these as safe/healthy environments for kids.

Don't forget to check public information facilities for camp ideas. Public information facilities are things like museums, libraries, science centers, anything that provides information to the public. You may have an aquarium in your town that offers a science camp or a library that does a reading program. These kinds of places are great resources for day camps, Lowel says.

Word of mouth is also one of the greatest resources for parents. Ask around. Take a poll at the local playground. "Where did your kid go to camp last summer? Did she like it? Would you send him back?" Anytime you hear a positive story about a camp, ask for phone numbers so you can remember the information and follow up.

The Internet is another great resource; just type in the word "camp" on a search engine like Google and you'll get a hundreds of camp Web sites.

If you have a child who really thrives in a familiar environment, but you want him to have a camp experience, Lowell says, go into the front office of your child's school and see what they offer for summer camps. That way, your child is riding the same school bus and walking through the same familiar hallways, but is getting a summer version of the school-year experience.

Once you've done all your homework, and you think you've narrowed it down to the camp of choice, there is, yet again, more homework to do!

  • Be sure you talk to the camp director in person. They set the tone for the camp. They hire the staff. They are ultimately responsible for how the camp is run.
  • Ask Questions. Questions to ask might be: "What is the child-to-staff member ratio?" "Do you do background checks on the staff? "What is your safety policy?" "Do you have an international staff?" "Can your child call home if he wants to?" If they won't talk to you. Go to another camp.
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