GAINESVILLE — It’s only February, but many parents are already thinking about their child’s summer vacation plans. Summer camp is often high on the list.
But before picking a camp, parents should consider a few important questions, said Neva Baltzell, Florida 4-H state camping program coordinator with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
- What opportunities will my child have?
Find out how a camp can have a positive impact on your child, Baltzell said. “Florida 4-H camps are unique in that they offer not only the traditional recreational camp activities, but also educational classes that are based on research,” she explained. “4-H has four essential elements: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. Our camp team works to incorporate these elements into every aspect of camp programming.”
For teenagers, camp can be a chance to take on leadership roles, Baltzell said. “Each county 4-H program offers camp counselor training. These teens act as cabin leaders, help teach classes and design programs,” she said.
- Day camp or overnight camp?
Day camps and overnight camps each have their own pros and cons, Baltzell said.
“Overnight camps offer a greater chance for building life skills, specifically independence,” she said. “For many of our campers, it’s the first time they spend an extended period of time away from parents and family. Not only are they away from their parents and making choices for themselves, but they are also learning how to make friends and sometimes handle interpersonal conflict with the help of adult camp staff.”
Cons? “Often it’s the parents who have the hardest time being away from their children,” Baltzell said.
Day camps, on the other hand, can help parents and children get more comfortable with being apart, she said. “These camps are great initial steps to gain independence. They are also great opportunities for youth who may not be old enough for residential camps.”
“However, there are fewer growth opportunities, especially for independence, at day camps,” Baltzell said. Campers may also have less flexible schedules and fewer activities to choose from.
- What safety measures are in place?
“Safety is a primary concern for parents,” Baltzell said.
Parents should find out the ratio of supervisory staff to campers, as well as how much and what kind of training staff receive. Certification in first aid and CPR is important for all staff members, and waterfront staff should be lifeguard certified or trained in relevant programs. Parents should also ask whether all camp personnel—not just supervisory staff—have had background screenings, Baltzell said.
Finally, make sure that activities are age appropriate, Baltzell said. “Our 4-H activities are designed specifically for youth attendees eight to 13 years of age. We divide classes into age groups to ensure that campers have the best learning experience.”