Tips for finding the perfect Maryland day camp

Day CampBy Denise Yearian

Summer day camp is a place where children can stretch their minds, exercise their bodies, develop new interests and create lasting friendships. But preparation is key. So how can you help your child make the most of his day camp experience? Here are 12 tips to get you going.

1. Options and offerings. Day camps offer a variety of options that include everything from concentration in one activity to a variety of traditional camp experiences. Talk with your child and consider what he wants from camp. Then follow his lead.

2. Ponder program length. Day camps range from several hours to a full day and can run from one-week long to an entire summer. How long your child participates in a program will depend on your schedule and his developmental level.

3. Consider camp location. If you need a camp because both parents work, it may be convenient to find one in the path to your job. But if your child has a specific interest and there isn't a program en route, it may be worth driving a few extra miles to get what you are looking for.

4. Ask about structure. Find out how the children are divided up into ages—same age or similar grades? What activities will they be doing? How long will each activity run?

5. Inquire about staff and facility. Ask about counselors' training, experience, how they are selected and if background checks are performed. What is the camper-to-counselor ratio? If your child has health conditions, can they accommodate issues such as asthma, allergies and/or dispensing medicine? Also find out about the facility. Is there enough space indoors for the children to play during inclement weather? How often are outdoor equipment and grounds maintained? Are the children's swimming skills tested before they enter the water? Is the staff trained in lifesaving and present during all water activities? Is the camp program certified? Although not required, the State of Maryland issues certificates to camps that adhere to a certain health and safety standard. This ensures all checks and balances are in place.

6. Check out cost. Find out exactly what is included in the cost. Some camps have a base price but charge extra for special activities, materials, food and before- and after-care. Also check on the refund policy if there is an illness or family emergency.

7. Arrange a visit. Camps often have open houses prior to the season. This is a good time for newcomers or first-time campers to see the facility and meet the staff. If an open house is not an option, look online. Most camps today have a website so families can check out the facility and get more information.

8. Fill out forms. When filling out medical and emergency contact forms, be thorough and specific. Share pertinent information, such as if your family is going through a divorce or has experienced a recent death, as this may affect your child's personality or temperament.

9. Discuss policies and procedures. Take time to read and discuss the camp's policies and procedures with your child. In recent years, some day camps have developed strict policies about bringing along technology and other valuable items. If you and your child know what to expect and what is expected of you, camp will run smoother.

10. Gather supplies. This may include food and/or snacks, water bottles, sunscreen and bug repellent. Make sure that whatever clothes, backpack and towels your child brings in, it's okay if it gets wet, soiled or ripped. Before sending items along, label them with your child's name using a permanent marker.

11. Wear appropriate dress. Make sure your child is dressed for comfort, safety and appropriate temperatures. Avoid dark colored jeans and t-shirts on a hot day, as well as clothing with strings attached that may get caught on play equipment. Shoes are a challenge too. Most camps have at least one physical activity so tennis shoes are the best option.

12. Talk it over. Keep the line of communication open and talk about camp before it even starts. Reassure your child of the positive experience he will have. At the end of each camp day, find time to listen as he shares his adventures. Ask what he liked about camp and if there were any things he didn't like. Above all, encourage your child to always do his best, obey the rules, be respectful of others and have a great time.

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.