by Christina DiMartino
Time flies, and there’s no better time than the present—two adages that should be taken as fact when it comes to choosing a summer camp for your child. It's especially apt because the cold and snowy season is the best time of year to go to a camp fair. These fun events will give both you and your children a valuable head start on choosing a camp that will produce a great experience for your individual needs.
Peg Smith, chief executive officer for the American Camp Association, told Parent USA City that the organization’s regional offices often participate in camp fairs in their region. “These are usually sponsored by local publications or organizations, and they involve many camps and camp related organizations,” says Smith. “A camp fair is a great way for families to get information on different camps.”
The camps, Smith says, participate in the fairs independently, as the ACA does not own or operate camps. Rather, they serve as a resource for the camp community.
Where and when?
“Events are held nationwide,” says Smith.
Camp fairs are typically held during the months of January, February and March, culminating with the ACA’s Annual Summer Camp Fair in New Jersey on March 27.
Most camp fairs are advertised through local parenting publications and websites. ACA’s family resource site, CampParents.org, has a listing of camp fairs at acacamps.org/camp-fairs. “Families can also search for camp fairs by state,” Smith adds. Families can also contact one of ACA’s 24 local offices.
Why camp fairs?
“These events are primarily to help families learn more about the camp experience and gather information on camps,” Smith continues. “It’s a great way for parents to learn more about the camp experience and get a better idea of what kind of camp they are looking for. Camp fairs are also a great way to gather a lot of information from a lot of camps in one location and in a fairly short amount of time. And, they give parents an opportunity to ask questions face-to-face with camp staff.”
Attending a camp fair can also be financially beneficial to parents. Many camps offer early-bird discounts. It’s important for families to talk to the camp director and ask if there are any early registration incentives.
Camp fairs also have an emotional aspect. Parents who have sent a child to camp in the past get an opportunity to reconnect with counselors, and some report that the event is more like a “camp-family” reunion. It’s a fun time for camp directors, counselors and parents to reminisce, share stories, and cement bonds. Of course, it’s also a perfect time to discuss any concerns or problems your child may have experienced the last time he was at camp.
The ACA promotes child development through the camp experience. Camps, it says, are a building block and a bridge to the successful development of young people. Parents of campers have documented that as a result of camp, their child felt successful, made new friends, gained new skills, learned to get along better with others and found out what he or she was good at.
It takes courage to send your child to camp. If you've ever been a camper, then you already know the value of a camp experience. If you have not had that fortune, then you probably need a little more support to understand that it's the greatest gift you can give your child. When you’re parenting children, you could say that camp is an important thread in the fabric of child and youth development opportunities. And attending a camp fair is a great way to learn about the benefits that a camping experience can offer your child.
Children experience numerous positive changes with a camp experience:
Camp is one of the few places that provide a positive community for kids to practice growing up. They gain a sense of competency, a feeling of connectedness, a belief in their ability to make decisions and a stable identity by learning skills and getting helpful feedback. Kids also learn to navigate on their own by developing social and coping skills, responsibility and engaging in sensible risk-taking. The life skills and behaviors learned at camp become habits of the heart.
ACA works year-round
The ACA doesn’t stop attending to details when camp sessions draw to a close in late summer. The organization works year-round to insure that camp staffs continue to provide parents and their kids with ways for the camp experience to be great. The annual ACA National Conference, scheduled for February 8-11, 2011 in San Diego, CA, offers symposiums, conferences, keynote speakers, standard courses for camps seeking ACA accreditation, and much more. The conference hosts more than 1,000 camp and youth developmental professionals.
“The ACA National Conference is an event that brings camp professionals together for the very best in professional development and networking opportunities,” says Smith. “Through workshops, panel discussions, and networking with peers, camp professionals are able to stay up-to-date on industry trends, regulations and improvements in programming and camp operations. This is the largest national gathering of camp professionals each year, and has been since the 1940s.”
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.
Photo courtesy of ACA New England