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8 tips for choosing a summer camp

Ask these questions to find out if an arts camp (or any camp) is right for your child.

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Whether you’re looking to keep your little one busy for a couple of weeks or planning to send your tween to sleep-away camp for the season, you’ll want to make sure schedules, activities, and policies align with your family’s vibe. Here’s how to find the best fit:

1. Is the camp accredited?

All camps need to meet state standards for safety and health, but a stamp of approval from the American Camp Association shows that a camp goes above and beyond the basics. If a camp you like isn’t ACA-accredited, don’t panic. “It’s not necessarily a bad camp,” advises Bette Bussel, executive director of ACA New England. Ask why it’s not accredited, then ask all your other questions, too.

2. Who’s on staff?

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Background checks are important, but they don’t tell the whole story. Inquire about employment history, how a camp trains its counselors, and what the ratio of campers to staff is.

3. How intense is the program?

Experience isn’t always necessary, but interest may be. “I always ask parents if their kids are passionate about theater,” says Kate Mullen of Triple Threat Theater Camp, “because we have a pretty intensive approach.”Beginners are often welcome to join; just make sure your child really wants to be there.

4. Will there be a final show or project?

Finding out what kids will bring home or when they’ll perform is an important part of upfront communication. Don’t be disappointed by what you don’t know.

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5. How much technology and social media are allowed?

Kids can’t be in the moment if they’re attached to their devices, and many camps restrict access. Turns out this can be harder on adults than their offspring. “Parents are used to having direct contact with their children,” says Bussel. “But most camps in New England have policies limiting cellphone use.”

6. Is financial aid available?

Don’t count your kid out due to funding. Many camps offer tuition assistance or financial aid. At Boston Children’s Theatre, for example, no one is turned away because of financial need. At Beam Camp, 40 percent of kids attend free or for reduced tuition.

7. What’s the best way to start looking?

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Bussel recommends visiting camps — especially overnight ones — the summer before you plan to send your child. If that’s not possible, hit open houses often held on-site in the spring, or just pick up the phone and ask lots of questions. Keep in mind that your region’s private schools, colleges, museums, and arts centers frequently have day camp programs.

8. What’s my family’s goal?

Just because your neighbor’s child loved a camp doesn’t mean it will be the right fit for yours. Do schedules and attitudes match up? Does it reflect your child’s learning style? “The great thing about camps,” says Bussel, “is that they’re all over the spectrum. Figure out what your child really likes and where you feel comfortable.”  

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