[Editor’s Note: This article will be updated with Questions for Virtual and Remote options.]
It’s the time of year when you’re trying to figure out your child’s activities for the summer. Sure, you need to keep them busy, but you also want them to have more than just be a string of days spent doing one thing or another while they’re out of school.
No. It’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s especially true in Boulder County where there’s an astounding variety of summer camp options available to us. Do your kids want to play with swords and have historical adventures? It’s here. Do they want to make the most of their screen time and get deeper into coding than their peers? We’ve got that too. Kids can also run around a soccer field, hike up a mountain, learn about farm animals, and experience art, drama, music, gardening, or crafts.
As you’re figuring out what you want to choose, there’s one thing that can help – a list of things that you want to ask camps so you can compare one to the other.
That’s where we come in.
Below, we’ve got 120 questions – one for each day of the summer – and some bonus questions related to virtual camps that kids can still attend even if the stay at home order remains in place. We didn’t just come up with these questions on our own. We talked to the staff at some of the best summer camps in the area who have been working with parents for years.
Take a look at what they’re telling us.
28 Questions To Help You Get the Basics Down
As you’re initially looking at any kind of summer camp, you’re going to want to know you’ve got the basics covered. As we talked to camp staff and managers, just about all of them identified questions to help you to narrow down your list and focus on what works for your family.
- What are camp dates and times?
- What is the camp location?
- What are the costs?
- Are there discounts if you pre-pay?
- Are there discounts on the per-day rate if you commit for weeks at a time?
- When is drop off and pick up time?
- If I arrive later than pick up time, what are the charges?
- Are there any holidays when you’re not in session?
- When is the first day of camp and the last day of camp?
- What is your cancellation policy for a single day or if we need to miss camp?
- Has camp fulfilled its licensing requirements?
- What kinds of things are you doing all day?
- How much time is spent outside as opposed to inside?
- Do I need to pack lunch and snacks?
- How are children organized throughout the day?
- What are the staff to child ratios throughout the day?
- How is discipline handled?
- How are staff trained so that they contribute to kids’ experience in the program?
- How are kids with special physical, intellectual, or emotional needs accommodated at this camp?
- How will camp help my child to integrate with kids they don’t know?
- If my child has friends they want to stay with, can this be arranged?
- What is the process for keeping any used equipment safe and clean?
- How can you reach me if there’s a problem with my child?
- How will kids’ belongings be kept safe during camp?
- If kids are using sunscreen during outdoor activities who will provide it and how is it administered?
- What is the process for how things will be handled if my child gets sick or hurt?
- What is the process for keeping and administering any medications for my child?
- Can parents be involved in any of the activities if a younger child needs them?
7 Questions About Virtual Camps If COVID-19 Stay-at-home Order Continues
Since the stay at home orders related to the COVID-19 virus have been issued, we’ve also taken a look at the kinds of things parents need to know related to online camps or to ways that traditional camps are offering online versions that help parents find something to occupy their kids during their own work hours.
- Ask the camp you’re interested in if they’ve preparing an alternate, virtual version
- Are there pricing differences for the virtual versions?
- Is the curriculum or timing different for the virtual version?
- Is there a start and end time for the camp? Are the times flexible or are they coordinated
with other campers?
- What kind of technology will you need for the virtual version? Will they be using Zoom?
- Is there any equipment or supplies you’ll need to order for your home? For example, an
art-focused camp may need art supplies.
- Could the virtual camp transition into a real-world camp if the stay at home order is
Long days and great Colorado weather are the perfect combination for outdoor activities. Kids can hike in the mountains and learn about plants and wildlife or spend their days at a farm interacting with animals or gardening.
To understand more about how to evaluate options here, we’ve talked with Emile Hilgers, Director of Preschool Age Programs at Sunflower Farms. She told us that, because of the variety of animals that kids have access to, their program is never the same day to day and no camp session ever repeats itself exactly.
According to Hilgers, “parents’ biggest question is for us to tell them what the day is like and we don’t have a set answer for them. It depends on what’s going on at the farm. Things like animal births, fruits and vegetables that are ready to be picked, or other farm care needs can change what our groups will do that day. That makes it more interesting for everyone.”
We also asked about questions that parents may have about kids’ proximity to the animals. She said that, based on asking their initial questions, prospective parents are aware that their camp has fulfilled their licensing requirements and have appropriate staff training and what the camper-to-staff ratios are. These reassure parents that kids will have a positive experience.
Regardless of the type of nature-based camp, here are some questions to focus on:
- How long are you going to be outside?
- Is there a place for shade?
- How available is water and does my child need a reusable container?
- What kinds of activities are available?
- Are activities organized by age group?
- How are activities different for each age group?
- What kinds of clothing should kids wear?
- How are weather cancellations or poor weather conditions handled?
- If camp involves gardening, what kinds of food will be grown?
- What kind of tools will kids use and how will they stay safe around those tools?
- If camp involves animals, how are kids kept safe around animals?
- If camp involves animals, what will kids be taught about treating animals with respect?
- Are there other kinds of skills and lessons kids will learn? Lessons about problem solving or teamwork, for example.
- What kinds of things will campers learn about the animals/plant life/gardening?
- What kinds of activities will happen if it is raining?
- Do kids need to know anything in advance to help them succeed in camp?
Once school is out for the season, families often turn to active and sports-focused camps where kids can burn off energy and develop skills. Andrew Burch, Customer Experience Manager at Avid 4 Adventure says that when it comes to evaluating the active kinds of camps his group offers, “we encourage parents to talk to camps about how they’ll train their staff. That way, parents can be comfortable with whoever is working with their kids during some pretty demanding activities.”
He explained that this is especially important because these staff are often the ones who are with kids as they struggle with physical challenges. Staff need to know how to help kids deal with risks safely.
Other questions Burch inspired us to suggest that parents ask when considering active camps include:
- How much are kids running and being active as opposed to resting?
- How are more difficult injuries handled? Make this question specific to the type of camp you’re looking at.
- What level of proficiency in an activity should kids have before attending camp?
- Are there tryouts for camp?
- If there are tryouts, what are the dates and times?
- Are there any pieces of equipment that kids should bring to camp?
- What are kids taught about sportsmanship?
- How are kids encouraged to take on new challenges?
- If kids aren’t participating well, how is it handled?
- How are coaches trained in their sport?
- How are coaches trained specifically in your program and philosophy?
- What is the conflict resolution process if there’s a disagreement with kids on the field or in an activity?
- If my child is hurt during camp and can’t attend any longer, are a portion of the fees refunded?
- How are poor weather conditions or weather cancellations handled?
- Does this camp connect to similar sports that are held during the school year?
16 Questions For Studio and Performance Art Camps
The right creative summer camp gives kids the chance to spend time with others who are as passionate about art and performance as they are.
We talked with Tamar Hendricks, the owner of Longmont’s Crackpots Art Studio. They run a series of art-focused day camp sessions at their store and Hendricks said that staff get a lot of questions about the age appropriateness of activities. “People want to know if they can really participate in our projects,” she told us. “As a result, we specifically design work so that a 6 year old can do it but a 14 year old can take it to a different level.”
This principle of being able to scale projects applies to performing arts activities as well as it does in studios. It’s worth parents asking about regardless of the type of art camp.Here are other questions you should consider asking:
- What is the specific type of art, music or performance that kids will be doing?
- Can kids of any age do the work?
- Will they need to do anything at home to supplement what’s happening during the day?
- What kinds of skills will they be expecting to bring into the camp?
- How will their skills have developed over the course of the camp?
- What tools will kids be using?
- How will kids stay safe around any kind of dangerous equipment, such as a firing kiln, or sharp objects that are used to make sculpture, or ingestible materials?
- For visual art camps, will anything be available after the camp that needs to be picked up several days later?
- For performance camps, how are kids occupied when they’re not performing?
- What are the dates of rehearsals and shows?
- Can guests attend performances? If so, how?
- Are parents needed to help as volunteers for stage setting or costume development?
- If a child gets stage fright, how is it handled?
- Are there any other charges expected for stage settings or costumes?
- Are donations needed?
- Are there ways for kids to extend their experience after camp is done?
Once May rolls around, educators start to talk about the summer slide, where students lose a degree of the ability that they gained during the school year. With academic camps, kids can keep their skills fresher, but in a fun way.
No, these camps don’t have to be another version of the summer school you remember with hot, stuffy rooms and endless lessons taught in a droll monotone. These camps can actually be fun.
Pam Federer, Program Manager from Renaissance Adventures noted that she wants parents to ask questions that get to the heart of what a more academically focused camp can do. She notes that her camp offers kids some life-skills and a lot of concepts beyond what they’ll gain academically.
She also made the point that perhaps due to the academic nature of the camp, “her program’s parents want to know about the program staff’s ability to work with kids that have certain challenges or may be on the spectrum.” These questions are asked right along with the typically boring questions related to schedules and program content.
Given what Federer told us, here are some questions we think parents might want to ask when looking at academic camps:
- What, exactly, is the goal of the camp? What will kids be exploring?
- Will the kids have a chance to have fun? How is the day broken up so that it isn’t stressful?
- Is there a skill level kids should have before camp so they can make the most out of their experience?
- What is the training for the teachers working with students?
- If kids get frustrated by a challenging concept, how is this handled?
- Is there any work kids need to do at home to prepare for the day?
- Can this camp connect to any online activities that kids can do at home after camp hours?
- How can the program reinforce concepts beyond academics? Skills like conflict resolution, critical thinking, and problem solving?
- How will this camp help during the school year?
- If it is technology or robotics, are there extra charges for the supplies?
- If it is a technology or robotics camp, will there be products they can take home with them?
- Are there ways to customize the materials if something is too easy or too challenging?
- If it is an active camp, are there field trips?
- If there are field trips, where are they to?
- What is the supervision like on field trips?
- How is transportation managed on field trips?
- If there are field trips, how are problems handled?
- How are the camp lessons connected to the school year?
- Are there other activities kids can do in the school year to extend what they learned at camp?
25 Questions To Help You Learn About Overnight Camps
Even though they may be directed towards a specific subject, some camps may offer a single or multi-overnight experience for kids. Both Burch and Federer’s companies host overnight camps and they talked about how the kinds of questions parents ask for these camps is different.
Burch mentioned that when parents are looking at overnight camps they often focus on both staff questions and food that will be available. This may be especially true because his camps can include kids as young as 1st grade. But he also mentioned that “overnight camps can help kids grow their comfort zones.”
Federer reiterated that parents need to understand the food and food allergies when talking to staff about overnight camps. In addition, here are some things you may want to think about when considering overnight camps:
- What are supervision structures going to look like?
- Where are pickup and drop off locations and times?
- If the overnight requires a drive to a location, what are transportation arrangements?
- If the overnight requires a drive to a location, how do we verify license and insurance are in place for the vehicle used and the appointed drivers?
- If volunteers are used for the overnight, verify how volunteers are screened and trained.
- What clothes should campers pack for the overnight?
- Do kids need to bring their own food/snacks for camp?
- Do kids need to bring their own equipment for their overnight?
- If kids need to bring equipment, what are the specifics for what they need?
- If they’re bringing food, is there a kind of food that isn’t allowed?
- What kinds of food will camp provide for main meals?
- Can the trip accommodate for allergies or medical conditions?
- What are sleeping arrangements and overnight supervision like?
- What will the evening schedule be like?
- What time is bed?
- How are kids assisted if there’s a problem overnight?
- How are kids monitored while they and staff are sleeping?
- How will kids be woken in the morning?
- How will kids’ belongings stay safe on the trip?
- If medicines are needed how will they be administered or managed?
- If my child has behavioral/learning/stress issues, how will they be managed at a distance?
- How will homesickness be handled?
- How can my child and I reach each other during camp?
- Are there regular times on the overnight when my child and I can connect?
- Are kids allowed to bring phones or electronics to overnight camp?
Sure, there are a lot of questions to consider, but that breaks down by camp type so it’s easier to manage. It takes time to figure it all out but the work will be worth it. Your child will get to build on their passion in an intensive and extremely fun way and they’ll make memories. Even better, they’ll have a summer that lasts well beyond the warmer months and into the rest of their life. Ask all the questions, get all the answers, and you’ll be able to sleep soundly and enjoy your time away from the kid(s) knowing they’re in the best of hands, having the best of times.