Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids and Checkbook

Choosing a summer camp wisely will result in happy children like these in the pictureAs parents begin to sort out summer camp options for young ones, this year the Better Business Bureau cautions families to look beyond a glossy brochure and friendly sales pitch to make sure the camp they have in mind is safe, well-supervised, and not a money trap.

"Many parents don't know that there is no government oversight of camps. It's important that they are vigilant," said Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing for the Bureau, in a statement.According to the BBB, the key to a happy summer for all is: Do your homework. Dig deeper than initial questions about whether a camp has a lake to swim in or arts and crafts activities. Find out if the facility has a history of complaints, and assure yourself it has been in business long enough to prove its claims.

The Bureau offers the following tips to help you make the right choice for your young camper while protecting your pocketbook in the process.
  • Look for camps accredited by the American Camp Association, a national nonprofit of camping professionals who work to ensure quality of summertime programs. Accreditation means the camp meets up to 300 nationally recognized standards of operation. Search for a camp's accreditation at the ACA's website, and tap into their additional resources and tools for choosing a camp.

  • Visit the camp, paying careful attention not only to living, eating, and recreational facilities, but also ask to see a daily schedule, even if it's from last season. Ask about staff-to-camper ratio, counselor-hiring criteria, and whether there will be a doctor or nurse on site. Ask about the camp's insurance coverage.

  • Be sure to cover matters financial up front. Know all the fees, from tuition to extra activities charges, to whether meals and transportation are covered in the camp's base price. Get the menu of charges in writing, including information about the camp's deposit and refund policy, should something change about your camper prior to or after the start of the season.

  • References, references, references. Get several from parents of repeat campers. Make contact with people who can describe their experiences with the camp, and why they'd recommend the location. Also, find out from the camp what is the camper, and counselor, return rate.
In your state, the Better Business Bureau can answer questions about an individual camp. Call them, or check their website for contact information.
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