Spring is here, and students are already focusing on summer. Weeks of sleeping in, lazy days and no homework. Parents, on the other hand, don’t want to see their children lose momentum for learning and waste away weeks from June to early September. How can these two worlds come together? They meet through the wonder of summer camp.

Campers can enjoy the camaraderie and fun of making new friends and hanging out with old ones. Parents can relax knowing that their child is spending part of her summer learning, being challenged and being entertained.

As you prepare to make your summer camp decisions, consider these points, listed from A to Z. Some are more challenging issues, others are just the details, and they all merit your consideration to ensure a great summer experience for your camper.

Ask About Accreditation. Organizations like the American Camp Association (ACA) offer accreditation to camps as a way for parents to know the camp has met appropriate standards and counselor/camper ratios.

Begin at the Beginning. Talk to your daughter about what interests her. Find out what type of camp she wants to go to and how long a day she’s able to put in. If she’s always wanted to learn tae kwon do, summer camp may be the perfect time to let her sample this sport, before making a longer commitment.

Choices. Specialty day camps give children an in-depth introduction to something new that interests them. Camps may specialize in everything from drama to sea life to soccer. Children could be filling their summer days doing things like playing the violin or learning to place a corner kick. Your child might be a natural on the uneven bars or the balance beam. In Washington Parent's Camp Guide you’ll find lots of information about camps near and far.

Don’t Despair. Even though there are hundreds of options for day camps (not to mention sleep away camps), you’ll make a great decision. With just a few minutes of research, you can find great choices for your campers.

Education. Send your child to a summer camp geared toward academics. Summer could be a great time to help your child catch up or leap ahead before the next school year begins.

Focus on Fun. As parents, we want every experience for our children to be worthwhile and educational. “While camp can certainly be a wonderful time to improve grades, remember that it’s summertime,” says Y camp counselor Shawn. “Fun should rule during June, July and August.”

Get Acquainted. Many camps have brochures that are free for the asking. These may help you narrow the field to maybe one or two choices.

High-Tech. Technology changes every day. Summer camp can be a good opportunity to get your child up to speed. Some camps offer hands-on experiences in technology to enhance what’s being learned during the school year. “Kids can be filming and editing digital movies, programming robots and creating their own 2D and 3D video games,” says Karen Thurm Safran, vice president of marketing for iD Tech Camps.

Information. There’s lots of online information. Most camps have their own websites geared to answer your questions. For a more general start, visit the American Camp Association’s site, acacamps.org or the National Camp Association, summercamp.org.

Jump, Run, Skip. Use summer camp as a chance to move your child away from the video games and off the couch. See if your child can develop a jump shot at basketball camp or put on her ballet shoes and learn to pirouette.

Keep It Simple. It’s not necessary to have every minute of the summer break scheduled with activities. Allow your child to choose a few she especially enjoys, and leave some time for just hanging out.

Look ahead. Save the information and research you did this year. You’ll be looking for new, exciting opportunities for next summer before you know it.

Museums. When it’s summertime, a visit to the museum takes on a different character than a school field trip. Museum camps can turn kids on to archeology, astronomy and the prehistoric world in ways that no sixth-grade teacher can. Don’t miss this chance to have your child dig for dinosaur bones or experiment with chemistry, all under the guise of summer fun.

New Friends. “We find that parents want to give their children opportunities to build friendships and make connections with others. Summer camp is the perfect place to do that,” says a local camp director.

Outdoor Offerings. Horseback riding, water polo and bird watching may be unique ways for your child to experience the great outdoors. Take advantage of the inviting summer weather, and choose a more traditional day camp where the program reflects an outdoor educational experience.

Play to Your Strengths. Camps give children an opportunity to hone an existing skill or talent. “I really like the way my son and daughter were able to improve their soccer skills,” says Diane, mother of 8-year-old Joshua and 10-year-old Brittany. “We sent them to a sports camps last summer. It really broke up the long summer and gave them a place to run off that extra energy,” she says.

Questions to Ask. Here are a few questions to get you started: How far am I willing to drive to take my daughter to camp? How much of a budget can I dedicate to camp experiences this summer? Do I want to send her to a camp that has lots of kids? Do I want her day to be completely structured, or would she prefer a mix of structure and free time?

Role Models. Parents continue to look for ways to enrich the lives of their children; camp offers that opportunity in a safe, fun atmosphere. It’s also a way to be exposed to positive role modes, both male and female, and reinforce good values like caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

Schedules. The daily schedules of each weeklong day camp vary. Some run from early morning until late afternoon (with extended care, if desired). Others offer a combination of half-day or full-day sessions. You can send your child for the entire summer or select a few weeks here and there.

Think Themes. Day camp keeps up with the trends and newest interests of their campers, too. Some novel camping themes you’re likely to see this year include scrapbooking, forensic science and movie themes like, Harry Potter.

Unique Memories. Your camper has never rapelled down the side of a rock wall. She talks about wanting to see what it’s like to balance on a wakeboard. Maybe she wants to try her hand at magic. Camp takes unusual learning opportunities and turns them into unique summer memories.

Variety. Here’s a chance to sample lots of different activities, sports and disciplines. If your child isn’t hooked on any one topic, a camp that has a different theme each week may be just what you’re looking for.

Water, Water Everywhere. Surfing, snorkeling, kayaking and swimming are just a few of the water-related camp experiences available for kids. Summer can be the perfect time to introduce your child to the wonders of the ocean and make sure she is water-safe as well.

eXamine and eXplore. Summer camp is a chance for children to exercise their inquisitive sides. Being in an environment different from home and school gives kids a chance to examine and explore new surroundings.

Your Choice or Your Camper’s. “Too often we get kids in camps that their mom or dad wanted them to attend,” says camp counselor Shawn. “I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing camp activities that your child is interested in. If you daughter doesn’t want to play soccer, you’re better off enrolling her in a different camping experience. Everyone will be much happier by the time the end of the summer rolls around.”

Zoo and Beyond. Summer's a great time for your child to learn more about the animal kingdom. Their quest for learning about creatures great and small, on the land or in the sea, is encompassed in a perfect setting.

 

Making a decision about which summer camp to have your child attend may not be as easy as ABC. As long as you keep your goals in mind—entertainment, education, fun—you’re certain to make the best selection for your camper. So, sit back and relax. Once again June will quickly turn into September. You can take some comfort in the fact that you’re providing your child with a challenging summer. And you won’t be listening to any complaints about being bored. But you’re still likely to hear, “Hey mom, where’s my backpack?!”