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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Feb 24, 2019 12:00AM

By Tanni Haas

It's no exaggeration to say that the one event kids really look forward to all year is summer camp. But how do you choose the right one? Based on my experiences as the parent of a 15-year-old boy, as well as conversations with other parents, I've figured out the top seven things to consider.

Cost It goes without saying that cost is an important factor, especially if you have more than one kid. Summer camps can range widely in price, depending on whether they're bare-bones camps with a limited number of activities, or camps that offer a lot of expensive activities like overnight trips. But don't just consider the price of the camp. Also consider how much money you'll have left for other summer activities like family trips. Kids' summer vacations are long and can feel even longer if the whole family has to stay home for many weeks because you didn't have any money left to do other things. I learned this the hard way the first time my son went to a summer camp. The camp was so expensive that we ended up not having money for our planned family vacation.

Geographical Distance Another aspect to consider is the distance of the camp from your home. If the camp is far away, you may end up spending a lot of time and money driving to and from camp. This issue is made even more challenging if you have kids who go to different camps.

Day Camp or Sleepaway Camp One of the biggest choices every parent faces is whether to send their kids to a day camp or a sleepaway camp. In my experience it's best to start with a day camp until your kids express interest in going to a sleepaway camp. If your kids haven't said they'd like to go to a sleepaway camp, it's probably because they're not ready yet. It can also be a good idea to send your kids to both day and sleepaway camps. While sleepaway camps give them a chance to experience real independence and to make new friends, day camps let them come home in the late afternoon and spend some time with their regular friends.

Indoor or Outdoor Activities When choosing a camp, consider the types of activities in which your kids would be engaged. Some kids enjoy sitting quietly inside focusing on arts and crafts; other kids prefer being outdoors doing sports. You could choose to simply follow your kids' preferences and let them decide, or you could use the summer camp as a chance to challenge your kids to step outside their comfort zones and try something entirely different. My spouse certainly prefers the second option. Since our son first began going to summer camp, my spouse has insisted that he try activities that we can't offer him, such as canoeing, water skiing, and zip-lining.

Single Activity or Multiple Activities Find out if the camps you might be interested in are specialized and focus on one activity, or if they offer multiple activities. Many camps are geared toward one specific activity, such as chess, coding, writing, or more sports-oriented activities like basketball or soccer. Other camps offer kids a range of activities, from sports to crafts to performing arts. Camps that focus on a single activity typically aim to strengthen kids' abilities in that particular area. Camps that offer many different activities try to introduce kids to different things. So ask yourself--and your kids--whether the goal is simply to have fun and try new things, or whether the goal is to enhance some particular skill.

Single or Multiple Camps Finally, ask yourself whether you want to send your kids to one camp for all or part of the summer, or whether your kids will go to multiple camps. There are good reasons for either choice. On the one hand, sending your kids to a single camp can save you time and money. It would also let your kids cultivate friendships for a longer period of time. On the other hand, sending your kids to several camps would let them explore different interests and make more new friends.

Research Options Come to Sonoma Family Life's Family Expo and Camp Fair on April 12, 4-7 p.m., in Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa. You can collect information about, and talk to representatives from, camps all over the area. There will be free family-friendly entertainment, too.

Tanni Haas, Ph.D., is a communications professor and freelance writer.