April has arrived! The month brings showers, flowers, and sunshine, as well as information (and deadlines) about summer camps. We've put a few resources together for our readers this week about various summer camp programs around the country, along with tips for choosing great camps for kids.
Erin McCool-Delong is the Manager of Outreach and Family Programs at the Philadelphia Zoo, home of the Wildlife Warrior Camp. She offers advice for parents on how to pick the right summer camp for your child.
What are some good ways to help make the decision about the kind of summer camp for a child? Encourage strengths? Encourage weak areas they need to work on?
In a world of strict academic standards and testing throughout the school year, summer camp is an important experience for children. Camp offers an opportunity for kids to grow emotionally and develop social and critical thinking skills in a unique setting. Most importantly, summer camp provides memories to last a lifetime. I often hear from adults who still remember their days at Zoo camp years ago.
When choosing a summer camp, remember that we will be responsible for your children and much like any other childcare setting; camps should adhere to safety guidelines. Things to consider:
Who are the camp counselors?
Ask about the counselor experience and training. Look for camps with counselors who have subject matter experience and a strong training program. We train counselors for several weeks prior to camp, focusing on safety, informal science education, and special needs. Also, make sure there are enough counselors! Only choose camps that require criminal background and child abuse clearance for their counselors — this should be required in any reputable camp.
Get the camp procedures in writing.
This is important. If procedures are not well thought out, it could mean trouble during the summer. This includes information about everything from refund policy, discipline policy, security for drop off and pick up, camp philosophy and mission statement, and camp curriculum.
What is the camp's reputation like?
Word of mouth recommendations often prove to be invaluable. Ask your friends and neighbors if they have had prior experience with a particular camp or organization.
What are some tips for parents on finding summer camps with educational value?
Ask your children!
Find out what their interests are. Camp is a chance for your children to explore different interests and learn about themselves.
Look up the curriculum.
A reputable camp should have their curriculum available to you months before camp begins. We provide our curriculum and a sample "day in the life" of camp within our camper handbook that is posted on our website.
Find out if your children will interact with experts.
Look for camps that encourage campers to learn from the experts. Wildlife Warriors will meet experts from every area of the zoo, from our curator who traveled to Canada to study polar bears to our amphibian biologist in Haiti and zookeepers who work with animals on a daily basis. Campers will benefit from more than 150 years of experience working to conserve wildlife.
What kinds of skills and values can children learn in a zoo camp with a focus on wildlife, animal care, conservation, etc.?
Many traditional outdoor summer camps focus on wildlife and animals. These subject areas are popular among kids and remain a favorite year after year. Camps that get kids outside and learning in an outdoor setting is quite different from a traditional classroom that kids are used to during the school year. Campers learn about animals but they also learn values like good citizenship, advocacy and empathy towards animals.
Participants in Philadelphia Zoo's Wildlife Warrior Camp have the opportunity to meet exotic animals, learn about training animals, and see the hard work behind running a zoo. For more information about the program, visit the Wildlife Warriors page.