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The 5 Questions to Ask About Summer Camp

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William Van Ornum - published on 06/03/13

It's not overprotective to ensure a camp will be safe and appropriate for your child

What could be a better time for everyone – parents and children alike – than a week (or even more) at a sleep away camp? Time for the parents to recoup and re-energize while kids swim, hike, climb trees, and become experts at soccer, tennis, and maybe even rugby. And the possibilities are endless, from the traditional Girl Scout and Boy Scout camps to hundreds of others.

But there may be a fly (or even a tick) in the ointment. Many children do not want to go away to summer camp. Others would prefer a camp oriented toward art, music, crafts, or sculpture instead of athletics. A camp like this may be harder to find. In the climate of 2013, caring parents will have concerns, not only about the food and schedule, but maybe the staff as well. Parents who home-school their children may wonder if the socialization and competition will be too forced, making it difficult for their children to handle. And is there a Mass celebrated somewhere nearby on Sunday? What can a parent do? What is, for lack of a better word, due diligence?

First: Research the camp thoroughly. If many children from the area have attended any given camp, talking with their parents can provide first-hand data. For many camps affiliated with churches or schools in the community, ample information should be available. For private camps, it may be harder to obtain such information. Hopefully, one can visit or speak with directors and parents of children who have gone there. There is also accreditation by the American Camping Association; their website can help you assess any camp.

Second: Understand the behavior guidelines of the camp. Parents may find that these are as well thought out – or even more thorough – than schools or agencies in the community. There will be a policy against bullying; no crude language will be allowed; teasing or humiliation will be confronted. College students serving as counselors may bring positive energy to their leadership and become role models for the campers. Kids who may be shy or not as popular at school may find themselves making new friends and developing undiscovered talents.

Third: Work out one’s own family rules. These may include the camp rules, and even a few more. What will the “contact schedule” be? Many camps frown on or prohibit cell phones. In any case, calling will be limited. What are some valid reasons to call home apart from scheduled times? Is there a designated staff member who can help your son or daughter hold not-so-important calls until later?

Fourth: carefully review any medical issues. If there is an ongoing medical condition, consultation with the pediatrician is helpful, and most camps require a full medical exam. Medications and other prescriptions will have to go to the camp medical staff. A bit of extra checking on this is not being overprotective, and an immediate call from your son or daughter if medications are not given (or if they are very late) is a reasonable request to relay. There should be an expectation of zero medical errors while your child is at camp.

The hardest task for some parents may be to let go and trust the staff. Your due diligence should have allowed you to rule out any camps not up to your standards. Camp can be a great experience – I know this from being a camper for four years, and a counselor for three. It’s something your child may look forward to every summer. “Remember the lilies of the field…” If even sparrows don’t fall to earth unknown, imagine the care and guidance Providence will give to campers, parents, and staff alike.



In college, I was a hiking and trip leader at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts – a site that is nearly a century old and which is considered one of the best camps in the USA. A look at their website might give parents a sense of how a good camp is run. 

William Van Ornum, Ph.D., is a parent, former camper and camp counselor, and clinical psychologist. He is full professor of psychology at Marist College.


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