With school ending in just weeks, the question looms: How will you keep your children busy? Camp could be the perfect solution if you find one that suits your family’s needs. In Miami-Dade County, many are funded by The Children’s Trust, with the growth of your kids (and an eye on your budget) solidly in mind. To help narrow your search, here’s what the experts say you should look for:
Counselors & Staff Members According to the American Camp Association (ACA), day camp programs should provide one staff member for every: six campers ages 4-5; eight campers ages 6-8; 10 campers ages 9-14; and 12 campers ages 15-17. And because you’re putting your trust into whomever will be your child’s counselor or counselors, be sure to ask the right questions about their suitability, advises Saliha Nelson, vice president of Urgent, a nonprofit community youth development program. Some important ones: “What training does staff receive and what are their credentials?” and “Are they background screened?” The more information you have, the greater your peace of mind.
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The Children’s Trust programs guide is available as a free app in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole! Visit the App Store or Google Play and download it today. Already have the app? Updated camp listings and feature stories went live on May 1. You can also access Trust-funded programs at www.thechildrenstrust.org or by calling 211.
Safety & Security Well-established protocols for monitoring when children arrive and leave, and with whom, are a must. If your child will be transported to and from camp via bus, ask about the driver’s credentials, and whether or not there will be a staff person riding along with the kids. Ample outdoor space should be available, as well as lots of shaded areas. “Parents should also make sure that the camp they choose schedules regular breaks, so kids don't get overheated, and that staff consistently encourages campers to drink plenty of water,” stresses Tongelia Milton, executive director of communications of YMCA South Florida. In addition, “staff should be extensively screened, trained and certified in CPR, first aid and automated external defibrillator(AED) safety to handle emergencies, should they happen.”
Special Needs Inform camp directors and staff early if your child has a disability; most will do their best to accommodate them. “Some parents prefer their children to attend camps that are inclusive – serving children both with and without disabilities,” notes Helene Good, president and CEO of the Advocacy Network on Disabilities. “Others feel more comfortable with segregated programs – those serving only children with disabilities. Whichever you choose, be sure to tell camp staff what challenges your child may experience and how to best address them.”
Swimming & Watersports Swim areas – whether pools or lakes – should have a safety-float rope separating the deep end from the shallow area, advises the ACA. “It’s also critical that there are certified lifeguards and swim instructors that not only protect and teach the kids to swim, but also teach them how to be safe in and around the water,” says Milton.
Focused Activities Looking at camps that cater to a particular passion, such as science, sports, art, music, dance or theater? “It’s a question of knowing your child and what they would want in the program,” says Rhonda Smith, vice president and founder of Fit Kids of America. “You want to make sure it’s a good fit so you don’t waste your money or time. When kids are part of the decision-making process, it makes for a better program experience.”