The early bird gets the camp

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Even though it’s cold outside, now is the hot time to sign up your kids for summer camp.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association based in Martinsville, Ind., has loads of reasons why the early bird gets the camp.

The American Camp Association, which accredits more than 2,400 camps nationwide, recommends researching and visiting camps the summer before and signing up in early winter. She added that 31 percent of camps in the United States start signing kids up between September and November, with January being the most popular month for registration.

According to a camp enrollment survey conducted last spring, the ACA found that:

1. Parents want to make sure they get the best camp selection and the camp their child wants to attend.

2. Returning campers usually get priority, so the camp fills up quickly.

3. Parents want to be sure their child gets into the camp they want by committing early.

4. There is a lot of competition for a child’s attention during the summer, so camps like to get parents to commit early.

5. Before committing to a camp too early, make sure it is going to be the right camp for your child. Be prepared.

Don’t know where to start? Using ACA’s “Find a Camp” database at, families can search through the nearly 3,000 listed camps by location, price range, activities (including intensity levels of activities) and by camps for those with physical or mental special needs. In addition to camps, the database includes an exhaustive listing of programs and sessions, if shorter durations or even one-off events are preferred.

Early sign-up can have the twofold benefit of saving money and time if the camp of your (and your child’s) choosing offers an early-bird discount. According to the ACA, nearly 60 percent of camps do this.

Once you’ve narrowed down where to go, be sure to ask the camp director the following important questions, or research them on your own:

What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis?

How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues?

What is the counselor-to-camper ratio?

How does the camp handle behavioral and disciplinary problems?

How does the camp handle special needs?

How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues?

Does the American Camp Association accredit the camp? Why or why not?

“Accreditation is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to health and safety — assuring parents that the camp has had a regular, independent safety audit that goes beyond regulations in most states,” Smith said.

To become ACA-accredited, a camp must meet up to 275 health and safety standards.

Need a more holistic idea of what camp is all about? The ACA’s sister site,, hosts an array of articles, newsletters and resources about whether camp is the right choice for your child.