When the summer camp guide from a local arts center arrived in our mailbox, my daughter paged through it eagerly. She then proudly pointed to about 13 different camps she planned to sign up for this summer. From circus camp to acting camp to a camp where you make your own ice cream, she had visions of attending them all.

For kids, the world of summer camp is filled with excitement and possibility. For parents, it can be a bit trickier to navigate. The options seem endless, the costs add up and those darned kids insist on having their own opinions and making choices that differ from your own.

The good news? With so many quality summer camp options, it’s easier than ever to find a camp that will meet the needs of your entire family. You just need to follow a few simple guidelines.

  1. Determine Your Priorities

Every family approaches summer camp with their own unique goals. Many working parents, for example, rely on camps to provide much-needed childcare over school vacation, so scheduling options become top priority. If a tight budget is your biggest concern, you’ll need to focus on limiting your search to camps within your price range. Camp costs can range from as little as $100 up to $1,500 per week.

It’s also important to consider what sort of an impact you expect summer camp to have on your child. Do you want it to be strictly educational? Provide an enrichment opportunity that is lacking during the school year? Build character and self-esteem? Offer lots of physical activity? Or maybe be just plain fun?

  1. Know Your Options

Summer camps have exploded in popularity in recent years, with an estimated eleven million kids and adults attending camp each summer. This means that half-day, full-day and sleepaway camps are all readily available. Not sure where to begin your search? Austin Family magazine hosts its Camp Fair on Jan. 21, when potential campers can explore their options by talking with camp representatives in person. Austin Family also provides a Camp Guide in each issue and a searchable guide online at austinfamily.com. For camps outside the Austin area, the American Camp Association offers a searchable, online database at www.acacamps.org.

  1. Know Your Child

When it comes to choosing a camp, children usually benefit from some parental guidance. Respect their interests and ideas, of course, but help them figure out how to translate those interests into a camp that will meet both your criteria and theirs.

At our house, we’ve settled on a popular church camp for fun and games and are looking into a day camp at the Humane Society as a way for my daughter to explore her love of animals—without me having to adopt yet another pet.

  1. Do Your Homework

Once you’ve selected your ideal camp, there are a few key things to do before you register. Ask about the ratio of staffers to campers, and find out if background checks are performed on potential staff members. If the camp is away from home, it’s a good idea to determine if it has received accreditation through the American Camp Association.

And no matter what type of camp you are considering, don’t forget to ask around for recommendations before making a final commitment. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to uncover the information you really want to know.

Summer camps can provide kids with valuable opportunities to make new friends, expand their horizons, and most importantly, enjoy summer vacation. Once you’ve done your homework, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a camp that your child will love—and one you will feel good about too.

Alyssa Chirco is a mother of two who writes about parenting and family life for publications across the country.

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