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Choose A Summer Camp | Spring 2005 Out Here Magazine

Sending your child to a summer camp the neighbor's son or daughter enjoyed could be a recipe for disaster

By Vicki Brown

When her 15-year-old daughter wanted to go to camp four years ago, Maryann Kellogg of New Fairfield, Conn., consulted her neighbors, but didn't think their suggestions were right for her teen.

Indeed, the old-fashioned method of sending your child to a summer camp the neighbor's son or daughter enjoyed could be a recipe for disaster, says Jeffrey Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association.

"The right camp for one child may be the wrong match for another," Solomon says. "What can happen is … my next-door neighbor's kid is a jock, but if my kid is more into nature or art, he won't like the athletic camp."

So, with about 10,000 camps to choose from in the United States, including team and individual sports, creative and performing arts, science, and special needs camps, where does a parent start?

First, figure out cost (prices range from $350 to more than $1,000 a week), goals, objectives, and geographic considerations, says Solomon, whose association offers a guide to choosing a camp.

And, ask around.

"The wise parent will certainly use their friends as a resource, but won't select solely on what a friend or relative says," he advises.

Kellogg began searching the Internet for camps suitable for her daughter, Katherine, and found NCA's free advisory service.

"They really did a lot of the legwork and narrowed it down for me," Kellogg says. She checked references and talked with camp directors before finally selecting a theater camp in Pennsylvania that her daughter loved.

Solomon advises making sure the camp is accredited — that means certain basic safety and health standards have been met. You don't have to visit, but talk to the director and ask for references from other campers, Solomon says. Read the brochures and websites and watch videos. Find out about staff credentials and the percentage of campers who return each year.

Include your children or teenagers in the search. "Younger kids often don't know what they want, anyway, but as kids get older, what teens and parents want can vary greatly," he says. "They are the ones going to camp, so their input is important."

Adam Boyd, director of Camp Merri-Mac for Girls in Black Mountain, N.C., says much of his business comes from the Internet.

"More and more we have campers coming who have no connection with any other camper," he says.

But the fun remains timeless. "We have third-generation campers," he says, "singing the same songs their grandmothers sang."

Vicki Brown is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.