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How to Choose a Summer Camp for Gifted Children

Updated on July 25, 2007

Almost every major university now offers some sort of summer program for gifted and talented children. There are many things to consider when choosing a program so spend some time thinking about the kind of experience you want your child to have. Do you want her to make new friends with similar interests, explore a new study area, or delve deeply into an academic favorite? Will the atmosphere be competitive or cooperative?

You also want to consider safety. Choosing a camp that is accredited by the ACA, American Camping Association can help you to know what you're getting.

What's the Focus?

Even brainy kids need a break once in a while. A good camp will provide a balanced mix of academic, social, and yes, athletic fun. Kids need some unstructured time as well, to integrate what they've been learning and interact with other kids.

A good camp has clearly defined goals and all the activities support those goals. You want challenging instruction, but not overwhelming expectations. It is summer after all! You certainly don't want to pay big money for information or ideas that are simply a duplication of what the child is already learning in school. Look for that something special that sparks so much interest in your child that she's begging to go.

Look for interactive instruction methods, hands-on experimenting, and the chance to work in small and large teams. Another big advantage to the summer camp experience is the lack of grading. This means your child can take risks she may not feel comfortable taking in school. The best camps encourage this type of fearless learning.

Other Kids

You'll want to know how kids are selected for acceptance into the program. It's one thing to have an interest in an academic area, but you want to make sure kids are somewhat well-matched with their classmates. If there will be a wide variety of skill levels in the camp, individual instruction should be available for more or less advanced students.

Sleep Away Science Camp?

Many programs are residential, which means your child will be away from home a week or more. You'll want to consider his maturity level as well as prior experiences away from home. If your child has his heart set on one of these camps, but you fear he's not ready you may want to try some ‘test runs' with friends or family closer to home. Residential camps offer the advantage of meeting a more diverse group of students as they usually come from a wider geographic ranger. Also, your child spends more time with the other kids on a social level. This can make for more bonding and longer lasting friendship, however, they may be difficult to maintain once camp is over.

The largest barrier to most families will be the cost of these programs. While scholarships are available to most, these are limited and price tags range in the thousands.

Independent Study

You may want to look into a mentorship or independent study program for your child. These courses of study require a high degree of responsibility and self-motivation. They also lack the social interaction with other kids. However, if your child is advanced in a certain field, spending one-on-one time and receiving individual guidance with an accomplished academic could be priceless.

Teachers and Other Resources

Make sure whatever camp you choose employs teachers who are highly capable and knowledgeable in their fields. They should also be experienced specifically with working with kids your child's age. And they need to be specially trained to work with gifted children. Inquire about their credentials, training, and supervision. Also, what is the ratio of teachers or counselors to students?

Make sure the camp has sufficient resources such as computers or scientific equipment to keep the children engaged.

A high quality camp will provide some sort of evaluation of how your child has performed as well as self-evaluation.

Look over all the printed materials of camps you are considering, do some research on the teachers, and talk to anyone you can. The best indicator of a great camp is the number of returning campers, and the camp administrators should be able to give you a number.

For more information on resources for gifted children check out


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    8 years ago

    As someone who has run an academic summer program for 30 years, I agree with some of your thoughts but disagree with two. First, though ACA accreditation makes it easy for a parent to see that the program meets health requirements and has proper ratios, it doesn't mean the program is the best for your child. I think too many parents see the ACA logo and decide their job is done. On the contrary, the parent should still ask questions, ask for references and check to be sure the program provides what their child needs. The parent can also check to be sure they are inspected by their state for proper health code and that they follow the regulations for boys/girls camps in their states (requirements for nurses, cooks, bathrooms, etc). As a small program, the thousands of dollars it costs to be accredited by ACA is better spent being sure we are up to standards. Positive word of mouth from students and parents is much better advertising for me than the ACA logo.

    Secondly, I don't encourage my students to return too many times since an academic program could become repetitive, especially for the gifted learner. Many of my students will return to participate in the different programs we offer and then I encourage them to move on to new learning adventures. I provide them with an extensive list of other programs and internships to further their education. I think the sign of a strong program is not so much that you have a high percentage of returning students but rather returning staff. Many of my teaching staff have been with me for 10-20 years... the sign that they like their jobs and the kids they teach.


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