For more than 100 years, summer camps have offered safe havens where children can breathe, reconnect with nature, make friends, try new things, and be part of a nurturing community that supports healthy growth and development. This summer, meaningful camp experiences will be more important than ever, as children seek ways to increase connection and decrease the anxiety of living through a pandemic.
COVID-19 can affect children and teens social, emotional, and mental health due to challenges that include changes in their routines, having to maintain physical distance from family and friends, breaks in continuity of learning, and more, according to the CDC. Yet well-run summer camps can fill all these holes and give children a sense of normalcy, while doing what camps do best - making every day fun!
The first step in giving children the gift of summer camp is finding a camp that meets each child’s needs. Some families send all their kids to one camp, select camps that match individual children’s interests, or a blend of both, perhaps choosing a traditional day or overnight camp for one or more weeks, and a specialty camp for other periods.
Whether your child is a new or experienced camper, choosing the right camp can be challenging, largely due to the abundance and diversity of summer camp programs available for children in preschool through high school. There are more than 12,000 camps in the U.S., and local communities often provide a wealth of camp programs, from privately owned and school based camps to those run by nonprofit and faith based organizations, municipal park camps, and specialty programs focused on technology, STEM enrichment, sports, horseback riding, performing arts, cooking, nature and more.
Although 70% of summer camps did not open in 2020 due to restrictions related to the pandemic, the majority of those that did run were successful in keeping children safe, with many reporting no incidences of COVID-19. These camps used data and best practices provided by the CDC, the nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA), and state and local health departments to create sensational summer programs that made camp feel like camp, even if everyone was wearing masks, moving in small groups, and sanitizing hands frequently.
For summer 2021, it appears that many more camps will run, thanks to the lessons learned from operating camps last year, plus new expert guidance. This includes ACA’s pandemic “field guide” to help camps access recommendations from specialists in pediatric medicine, camp medicine and nursing, epidemiology, infectious disease management, biological safety, industrial hygiene, organizational design, and other technical specialties, as well as new information from the CDC and state regulators.
Ask the right questions
What does this mean for parents and caregivers? ACA has always advised parents to ask specific questions of camp directors about philosophy, policies, programs, and all the things that will help families choose camps wisely. Summer 2021 will require additional questions about how camps will operate safely in environments where it is likely that most campers and staff will have not yet received a vaccine. ACA also offers educational resources to help parents make good decisions.
As you start your camp search, don’t be afraid to ask camp directors lots of questions—it’s likely that they’ve heard similar questions thousands of times, and good camp directors will gladly address even the smallest concerns. Many camps will provide opportunities to tour the camp facility, either in the off-season or while camp is in session, but always make an appointment prior to visiting and ask about safety procedures. If you’re not sure where to begin, try browsing virtual summer camp fairs, online search engines, community websites, and local newspapers and magazines, and ask for referrals from family, friends, neighbors, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, clergy, and colleagues.
Once you’ve found some camps that look good for your family, these 25 questions will help you choose:
For more educational resources about choosing a camp and preparing children for a summer camp experience, visit acacamps.org/campers-families.
Ellen Warren is Coordinator of the Bucks Camp Expo and writes about summer camp.