Summer Camp: Guidance for Parents

old-fashioned camp sign

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Millions of American children will soon be going to summer camp. But before committing their children's time and their own pocketbook to the experience, parents should ask a few questions to help make sure their kids will be happy campers.

Joshua Kirby, Ohio State University Extension specialist in 4-H older youth and camping, said parents should consider a number of things when deciding whether this year will be the one to send junior to camp for the first time. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.



"If a parent has concerns that their child isn't ready to be with other camp members, that gut feeling is the best evaluation that could be had," Kirby said. "The choice needs to be made whether the child is adequately mature and prepared to be somewhat independent and able to be away from parents."

At the same time, parents should be reassured that most camps are prepared to deal with the first-time camper, he said.

"Most camps have trained staff to work with homesick campers," Kirby said. "There are many times when children arrive at camp and think they are homesick, but through well-researched camp activities, their attention is redirected and they're fine for the rest of camp."

Parents should do some homework to find a camp that will be a good match for their child, whether it's a day camp or a residential (overnight) camp, he said.

"First, get word-of-mouth recommendations," Kirby said. "Talk with families with similar-age children who have appreciated the camp in the past. Asking a camp for references from families who are repeat customers is common in the camp industry, and that should help make decisions easier.

Parents can also search online for summer camp programs that are within their area, he said. They can also go directly to the American Camp Association's website (, which lists accredited camps by state and geographic area.

"Through their accreditation, those camps should be able to offer a program you'd be happy with, but you should definitely do some homework first," Kirby said.

Parents should also look at the type of programming offered by the camp.

"Nowadays, there really is a camp for all types of youth," Kirby said. "Of course, you have to look at the location and the cost the family is willing to pay.

"But there are camps for young people who are very active in the outdoors, for those who are sports-oriented, for those who are more studious and book-oriented, and even camps focusing on science and other specific interests."

Ohio 4-H offers camps in areas throughout Ohio, with about 12,000 kids participating in residential camps and 3,300 in day camp programs in 2012, Kirby said. If parents are interested in learning specifically about 4-H camp opportunities, they should contact their local office of OSU Extension and ask for the 4-H professional serving their county. County offices are listed at

"Camp can be a transformative experience, particularly residential camps," Kirby said. "We often get parents who say they notice that their child has noticeably matured over the course of the camp. Often that happens in the unplanned time -- the downtime with other campers, the time after lunch, the time when they find a friend or a new hobby.

"We truly try to make our camps rich experiences so campers can leave knowing they did something unique and interesting. But there's a magic X-factor in terms of a child's growth and development that comes from things we can't plan for, and we're happy to have that happen as well."


CFAES News Team
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Joshua Kirby