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Picture this: little-five-year-old-future-camp-director Dani approaches her mom and dad one day and makes a request. She asks them to send her to sleepaway camp. Dani’s mom and dad look at each other, perplexed. Where did little-five-year-old-future-camp-director Dani learn about summer camp?
It’s remained a mystery to this day. And while that fateful question undoubtedly put me on my current career path, it’s what my parents did next that really shaped my future. Having not been summer campers themselves (besides some scouting and family camping), my parents knew that they had to do a little research. This was back when Google was in its infancy, so they turned to their friendship networks and asked for camp recommendations. Church friends suggested Camp Donegal – a Presbyterian, co-ed overnight camp in southern York County. After checking out their website and visiting the camp in the spring, little-five-year-old-future-camp-director Dani and her parents were sold.
Today, most camp research begins online. You can simply search “summer camps near me” or you can be more specific and search “overnight soccer camps in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” The American Camp Association has a great online web tool to help parents find camps, too. Their “Find a Camp” site utilizes filters to show you exactly what kind of camp you might be looking for (overnight, day, co-ed, sports-focused, faith-based, special needs, etc.). Pro tip: when googling, be sure to note which results are sponsored. Companies can pay a fee to show up first in your search results, even if they’re not relevant to your search. While some results are relevant, it’s a good idea to just be aware of those sponsored results.
A camp’s website can tell you almost everything you need to know about the camp, but you will need to click around and do some reading. A camp is more than just their program offerings; you should check out their mission, read about their staff and the people they hire, and a camp’s history tells a great story about its beginnings and past. You can find even more information on the camp’s social sites and YouTube channels. Calling the camp and talking to a director can be helpful, too. The final step would be seeing the camp in person, and a tour or open house is a great way to do that.
If I were embarking on the camp-seeking process now, I’d start by taking a look at a large number of camp websites, then selecting 5-7 and taking a deeper dive into their websites and social sites. After that, you can probably choose a Top 3. See about visiting the camps sooner rather than later; most camps open registration in the fall or in January, so spots can fill up quickly. Talking with a camp director or other staff member at the camp may help you decide, and you can ask any questions that weren’t answered on the website. Soon, you’ll be helping your kiddo pack their bags in preparation for a summer experience they’ll never forget.
Now, the only thing more powerful than a hearty internet research session is genuine, person-to-person, word of mouth. Real people talking to each other is more powerful than the internet will ever be, so I really encourage parents to ask other people about the summer camps in their lives (yeah, some families engage with multiple summer camp programs each summer!). If you’re reading this and your kids have had amazing summer camp experiences, tell your friends! Tell your coworkers! Tell your siblings! Many families never seek summer camp experiences for their kiddos, but you can help plant the seeds of interest, which really helps the camps you love and the summer camp industry as a whole.
And if you are reading this because you’re in the camp-seeking process now, or you might be someday, then go and ask your people if camp ever impacted their lives and how. You’ll hear some amazing stories and you’ll get a glimpse of what makes camp so special. Like how camp is all about family, even if you’re not actually related to anyone there. And that it’s a place where kids can be their authentic selves and realize the possibilities of their own potential. And just how darn fun it is. And these things are what you’ll really be looking for when you read their mission statements, watch their videos, and attend their Open Houses.