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Top 5 Things Camp Counselors Will Never Tell You About Summer Camp

Updated on May 3, 2013

What You Should Know Before You Send Your Kids to Summer Camp

Have you decided where your kids will spend summer camp this year? Whether you have or haven't, you're likely looking forward to having a few weeks without the kids. So before you start packing their things, getting several emergency contact numbers together and get everyone in the car to head out toward a summer camp, you should probably be aware of a few things.

Now, I'm not one to be an alarmist and you should know that most kids do have a wonderful and safe experience at any number of summer camps around the country every year. However, being part of a family that has run summer camps for many years, I see a side of this business that most people do not see. One of the biggest concerns for any parent is knowing you can trust the people at a camp with your precious kids.

Before you read the rest of this article, you should know there is a website where you can go and check out the people who work for the camp where you may be sending your kids. With this website, you can determine if anyone working with or around your kids at camp is a convicted sex offender.


National Sex Offender Public Website ( has been created by the U.S. Department of Justice and is free to use. This website provides information on every convicted sex offender in the country. Click here.


1) Check Out the Camp First

The very nature of a summer camp is the classic "melting pot." You have kids from different backgrounds, religious beliefs, ethnicities, value systems, experiences and geographic locations all coming together to live in the same small area for a time. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.


The good experience that can come from this "melting pot" environment is your child's mind is opened and is exposed to the positive experiences associated with different types of people, new ideas and foreign cultures.

The bad camp experience has all those things, too - but with a negative spin on those experiences. Sadly, there are some camps that are run like a boarding house for bad kids. Yes, some parents just want to dump their misbehaving kids in a camp to get away from them for a few weeks.

Administrators or owners of these camps are not likely to share this type of information with you. You're gonna have to do some research - ask other parents whose children have attended the camp, speak with children who have attended or get online and check out some reviews.

Sadly some of the more affordable camps may attract some kids with the worst behavior problems. Check out the camp before you make a selection.



2) Camp Accreditation

When you and your kids start considering which camps to attend, the decision making process can seem a bit overwhelming. Obviously, some camps spend a great deal on flashy brochures that really don't truthfully convey the reality of what a camp may actually be.

Some camp brochures tout lots of educational programs, exciting activities, high cleanliness and health standards when, in fact, they simply don't deliver on those promises.

There is a group known as the American Camp Association (ACA) which certifies camps to be safe, up to current health standards and provide quality programs for your kids. Let me be clear - not all camps have this ACA certification and there are some really good camps that are run perfectly well without it. The ACA accreditation merely gives you a bit more peace of mind about the camp and people with whom you entrust your kids.

Certification could mean the difference between a few adult volunteers trying to corral several hundred kids in the woods or a really good summer camp experience.



3) High Kid-to-Counselor Ratio

The key to any good camp experience relies heavily on the number of counselors and training of these counselors. You're going to have to make a judgment call here but there are standards that the ACA has developed to be acceptable kid-to-counselor ratios.

Even if your summer camp is not accredited by the ACA, these kid-to-counselor ratios should give you a good idea of what you san expect.

According to the ACA mandate:

• For kids between the ages of 15 and 17 years, the ratio is one counselor for every 10 children.

• For kids between the ages of 9 and 14 years, the ratio is one counselor for every eight children.

• For kids between the ages of 7 and 8 years, the ratio is one counselor for every six children.

Remember, these counselors are with these kids providing guidance and supervision all the time. That's a tall order for anyone. The worst case scenarios at summer camps may typically involve situations that develop because counselors are poorly trained or there are simply not enough of them. Counselors that are too young, under-trained and over-worked may not be capable to handle every possible situation.



4) Unwelcome Sex Education

This is related to my previous point about the "melting pot" aspect of summer camps. If the camp to which you're sending your kids is a co-ed camp - and many are - then you should do several things to prepare them. First, understand that they will likely return home with a different understanding of the opposite sex.

In some of these summer camps, the boundaries between male and female campers may not be stressed. Even in camps where strict enforcement of policies to keep kids separated exist, it's very easy for two kids to sneak off into the nearby woods or plan a late-night get-together.

Even younger children will likely be exposed to other camper's "knowledge" of sex regardless of how slanted or misinformed that knowledge may be. Regardless of what they promise, camp counselors and administrators have little control over this.

The best defense is a good offense and a pre-emptive strike on your part. As a parent, I have always tried to keep my relationship with my kids open. From the time they were very young, we decided to provide an environment in which truth-telling was encouraged. Our kids knew they could tell us anything and we would not become angry or unreasonable (Yes, it was very difficult at times!).

Before your kids go off to camp, have an age-appropriate discussion about sex. I'll leave the details of that discussion to you. Just be aware that if you don't take the opportunity to talk to and teach your kids about sex, someone else - probably someone you don't know with a different idea about sex - will do it for you. I say strengthen yourself and get in there - talk to your kids about sex.



5) Questionable Meals

Parents are typically concerned about the food that is being consumed by their kids and that is no exception at summer camp. Sadly, most camps serve what amounts to cheap, salty. fattening, poorly nutritious, junk food.

From a strictly economic perspective, camps are looking to cut costs everywhere they can and meals seem to be a favorite place to make these cuts.

Typically, camps tend to prepare and serve the meals that cost the least and require the least amount of preparation. Combine that with a child's tendency to eat junk food anyway and you have a potentially bad situation all around.

What this means is that summer camp menus will offer a lot of burgers, fries, chips, hot dogs, cookies, cake, etc.

It's not always the camp's fault either. As a kid, if you could choose between a hamburger or a piece of grilled chicken, which one would you take? Kids also tend to consume a lot of sweets and sodas/soft drinks as well. As much as you would like to make nutritious decisions for them, they are away from your supervision and care and will probably eat what they like.

Unless you have sent them to a weight-loss camp, the best thing to do is prepare for them to crash hard from the inevitable sugar rush and help them get back to nutritious eating once they're back home with you.


The Bottom Line on Summer Camps

Carefully consider the specific personality and needs of your child before considering to expose them to a summer camp experience. Not all kids are going to have a positive experience. If your child is extremely introverted, socially awkward or shy, they may not do well in the summer camp melting pot. Some kids just don't like the outdoors or may experience extreme separation anxiety when away from their parents.

Forcing children to do things that they don't want to do is not helpful in this case. You may need to visit your child at camp once or twice during their stay. I believe you should always listen to your kids, especially when they're trying to tell you something. You know them better than anyone and you know the difference between your kids trying to pull something over on you and when they're really scared or uncomfortable.

I had wonderful summer camp experiences growing up but that does not mean my kids will have the same positive experiences. Even so, there were some negative things that happened and I never told my parents about them. All kids are different. If your kid doesn't want to go to camp or wants to come home from camp, seriously consider what is best for them. There may be a really good reason.



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    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      Thanks for reading and for the kind compliment, Sue!

    • Sue Bailey profile image

      Susan Bailey 

      5 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      The camp thing isn't so big in the UK. Mine are grown up now but they never went. Good article which I discovered on writers social.

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      Seafarer Mama - Thanks for the comments. I have not tried the family camp option. I have heard good things about the concept.

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen A Szklany 

      5 years ago from New England

      Thank you for this wise article that encourages parents to look below the surface and ask more questions about their children's summer camp experience. Very comprehensive cover of the issues that parents are concerned about.

      I will most likely give her a girl scout day camp experience over the "sleep away" type.

      Oh...have you ever had a "family camp" experience? My family and I are thinking of a UU family camp option...and wonder if you have explored it...and if there are some consistent advantages over sending children away alone? At such camps, I'd imagine that it is still possible for children to enjoy some independence from their parents during the day.

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      RobertHewettSr - thanks for taking the time to stop by and read this article - and thanks for your support!

    • ROBERTHEWETTSR profile image

      rOBERT hEWETT SR. 

      5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Good advice, all parents of camp bound kids should do their homework. You have provided them with a plan.

    • MKayo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Texas

      gingerka - well then my mission is successful - I actually caused a reader to think - I love that! Thanks for the compliment.

    • gingerka profile image


      5 years ago from Colorado

      I appreciate this. I did not think about these things when my children went to camp. You have given me some things to think about.


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