Why choose academic summer camps

Academic summer campBy Cathy Ashby

No kid wants to spend the summer sitting in a stuffy classroom  — not the child who just needs a little help with grammar and not the math whiz who wants to tackle computer programming.

That's why so many academic summer camps spice up the lesson plans with hands-on activities, real-life applications and good old-fashioned fun. By combining learning with adventure, educational summer camps engage kids in extraordinary ways. Here are the factors you'll want to consider and the questions you'll want to ask before sending your child to an academic summer camp.

The academic summer camp curriculum

What are the program's specific educational goals, and do those goals match your child's needs? Does the program cater to students who need help getting up to speed in a subject, or do the lesson plans focus on advanced topics for students who are already ahead of the curve? Will the kids spend their days in stuffy classrooms (see above) or will they explore lesson plans in other ways? How much time is spent on the computer? Does the program keep class sizes small to maximize campers' interaction with the teachers?

The instructors

What are the instructors' qualifications? Summer programs frequently hire professionals with direct experience working with the subject matter, as opposed to teachers; do they have classroom experience, as well? Do their backgrounds intersect with your child's areas of interest? (For example, did they attend a college your child may look at? Are they currently working in a career that your child wants to learn more about?)

The extracurriculars

Even the most rigorous of academic programs should offer social and recreational options outside classroom hours. Are there opportunities to play sports and get some exercise? Is there a pool? Do the campers go on field trips or watch movies? What do they do for fun?

The extra credits

Aside from the obvious benefit of continued education during the summer, academic camps frequently offer additional advantages and perks. Does the program offer high school or college credits for successful completion? Is the program held on a campus or facility that you'd like your child to become familiar with? Will the experience add value to your child's college application or resume? Does the program introduce your child to careers or skills that may take root and flourish?

The basics of academic summer camp

  • Ages: What ages are most of the campers? Will your child be the oldest or the youngest?
  • Supervison: Who is watching the campers when they're not in class? Are they on their own most of the time, or is their time managed by program assistants or camp counselors?
  • Housing: Will overnight campers be sleeping in tents, cabins, or dorms? Are the living quarters close to the classroom facilities?
  • Location: If it's a sleepaway camp, is the drive manageable? If the program is far away, do you have family or friends nearby in the event of an emergency? If it's a day camp, is the commute feasible with your existing work schedule?
  • Budget: Are there extra course fees (books, supplies, etc.), above and beyond the cost of the camp? Does the total fit into your family's summer budget?

Cathy Ashby is a former director of youth programs at Duke University and a writer.