Navigating Summer Camp Fairs
The Internet has made finding summer camps a lot easier, but relying on a Google search to locate the perfect camp has its downsides as well. A website or directory can't show you what the atmosphere is like, whether the staff are friendly, or how smoothly the program is run.
Before the Camp Fair
Start by locating fairs in your area. The American Camp Association has a list filtered by state with event locations, dates, and details (http://www.acacamps.org/camp-fairs). You can also check with your school, library, community center, community college, fitness center, parks and recreation department, and similar organizations that offer public services. Hotels, shopping centers, conference centers, and other places of business might host a fair, so ask around. Finally, speak with friends, neighbors, teachers, church members, other camp families, and anyone else you know who may have heard about a fair.
Each camp fair should have a list of camps attending or at least a description of the types of programs the event will focus on. Some fairs host only overnight camps, athletic camps, fine arts programs, Christian camps, or other niches, while some fairs cater to everyone. Likewise, some fairs are massive, with booths for every camp in a wide geographical region, while others are small and selective. If your child doesn’t know what kind of camp he or she wants to go to, a large, popular fair may give you more options. On the other hand, if your child wants to attend a certain type of camp or if you’ve already narrowed down your options, a smaller fair will be easier to navigate.
At the Camp Fair
It’s easy to get lost in the sea of brightly painted banners, elaborate décor, lively demonstrations, and enthusiastic counselors competing for your attention. To get the most out of a camp fair, you should focus on a few programs you’re interested in rather than accumulate brochures for every single camp. Decide beforehand what kinds of camps you’ll be looking at—whether basketball, cheerleading, wilderness, overnight, out-of-state, or any other parameter—and stick to those. You may not gain exposure to the wide selection available, but you will gain a deeper knowledge of the sites you do visit.
When you stop by a booth, take the opportunity to chat with a staff member. A polished brochure will give you the basic facts, but one-on-one time with a counselor will give you a feel for what the camp is really like. Take note of everything you observe. Are the staff friendly and energetic? Do the other kids visiting the booth seem like they would get along with your kids? Does the camp seem well organized and professional? Did the staff go all out in designing an awesome, informative station? It’s also a good idea to take your kids to the fair. They might immediately click with a counselor, or they might decide that a certain camp doesn’t look very fun after all.
Don’t feel shy about asking a lot of specific questions. The representatives are there to help you. Address any concerns you have, such as homesickness, medical issues, or safety, and find out what steps the camp will take to ensure that your child will be well taken care of. Ask about the camp’s environment, mission and vision, staff training, food and lodging, activities, and logistics. Discuss what the average camper is like, what the typical day involves, and why the counselor thinks this camp would be a good fit for your individual child.
Share your personal information only with the camps you are definitely interested in, but do get contact info from all of them. You may want to wait until after the fair to register so that you can review all your options and discuss them with your family, but realize that some camps offer special discounts and early bird perks if you sign up in person.
Choosing a summer camp can be difficult, especially if you have a lot of fantastic choices or if your child doesn’t know where he or she wants to go. Fortunately, camp fairs enable you to get a good vibe for each camp months ahead of time, taking much of the guesswork out of deciding.