Summer camp planning checklist for the busy parent

girl and boy running at summer camp

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked the following question, I’d be swimming in a sea of coins:

“So, what do you guys do the rest of the year, when summer is over?”

To answer simply, running summer camp is not a breezy three-month endeavor.

When you start to think about all that goes into securing 150+ camp locations, planning 50+ courses for kids and teens, and building a beautiful and functioning website to present all that information, you start to get the idea.

Sure, we take a breather at the end of August, but we basically roll right out of one summer and into the next. In fact, as of November 1st, we already started taking registrations for Summer 2019!

Anyway, my point is, summer for us never really ends.

Which got me thinking—I know so many parents who rush at the last minute to sign up for camp… so what can they be doing to prepare for their summer camp decision before the month of May rolls around?

As a result, I put together a summer planning checklist that helps with that, containing ideas for how to prepare for the camp selection process long before summer begins (or soon after it ends!).

Fall (late September to late December)

Reflect on your child’s previous summer camp experience

Many of us tend to not dedicate enough time to reflection. I’m guilty, too. We join the rat race moving from event to event, and don’t pause to even look at what we’ve accomplished or engaged in.

The only time we give “the past” a second thought is when that same time period comes back around again, and we are forced to try and remember, “Oh yeah, how was that last year?”

So, take the time to reflect now, in the moment, or as close to that moment passing as possible.

Ask questions like:

  • How was your child’s summer camp experience?
  • What did they enjoy about it?
  • What were they not so keen on?
  • Would you send them back to that same camp?

Talk to friends about their previous summer camp experiences

Similar to the point above, try and talk to friends about their camp experiences while it’s still fresh in their minds. Ask them the same questions you’ve asked and answered about your own child’s summer experience.

Of course, many of us have a difficult time admitting when we made a wrong decision, or a decision that simply didn’t work out. So, make sure to ask friends something like whether or not they’d actually return to the camp they just completed. Their answer and reasoning can give you clues regarding the true value of the camp in their eyes. 

family at summer camp

Register for Summer 2019

I know, registering for a 2019 summer camp while on the heels Summer 2018? Some camps offer such an option. And while it seems crazy for some, there are many benefits of signing up early.

If during your reflection you’ve come to the conclusion that the previous summer’s experience was awesome enough to warrant a return, why not just make the commitment (which is usually flexible) to re-up for the next summer?

Benefits of signing up early for summer camp include:

  • Early bird savings and discounts
  • Options and availability for your top choice of dates, etc.
  • More time to prepare for camp itself
  • Peace of mind and less headache down the road

If your preferred camp doesn’t provide the option to register for the following summer’s programs, do whatever you can to register as soon as possible whenever sign-ups do become available. Some programs also offer “VIP” programs where you can “hold your spot” by getting early bird registration rights before the general public.

Join mailing lists

If you aren’t yet ready to register for camp, be sure to get on the mailing lists of the programs you’re considering for 2019.

The earlier you get on a mailing list, the less info you’ll miss—things like discounts, promotions, info on new programs, and more.

A secondary benefit is getting a feel for the camp, their culture, and the effort they put into fostering a community. For instance:

  • Do they send regular email correspondence?
  • Is that correspondence of high quality?
  • Are they sharing different aspects of camp?
  • Do they seem genuinely interested in your camper’s outcome?

You can learn a lot about a camp, or any company really, by the way they treat those on their mailing lists. Well-prepared, thoughtful communications are always a good sign.

summer camp brochure

Winter (late December to late March)

Talk to your kids about their camp preferences

By the time the winter rolls around, kids have been back in school for a few months—definitely long enough to be adopting new interests. For parents, this is a great time to assess how a summer camp can supplement what they’re not getting during the school year, either with sports teams, extracurriculars, academics, and more.

So, start to poke around—would they benefit from having a week’s worth of time to dedicate to their new passion?

Start researching and asking the right questions

Questions—and their answers—are crazy useful, but they can also drive you crazy.

To help, I’ve already plotted out 100+ questions you should be asking during your summer camp search. Running through that extensive list will help you draw the line between the areas with which you’re comfortable and the other aspects in which you need to dig deeper.

Think about giving summer camp as a gift!

Once you're armed with the knowledge from the previous steps, think about giving the gift of camp. It’s the perfect time of year! Many camps have holiday-related specials (watch for Cyber Monday!) and plus, you won’t have to worry about wrapping!

Spring (Late March to June)

Register for summer, for real this time.

If you haven’t already registered for camp by springtime, you should start giving it serious thought. It’s at this time that many of the sessions, dates, and courses you prefer will start to sell out.

And, the other benefit of registering for camp at or by this time is that you’ll be left with least a month or two to prepare for camp in order to make for the best experience possible.

Given all of the above, now is the time to actually prep for attending camp.

Depending on the program you’ve settled on, prepping might be mandatory, a good idea, or not necessary at all.

Such planning could be as simple as touching base with your child’s roommate, looking over the camp agendas, or reviewing the camp packing list.

Also, if it’s an academic camp, check for options to prep for summer course sessions. Some camps might release “curriculum” or provide guidance sessions to allow your camper to get their feet wet with course material.

Anything you can do to put your child at ease, or, to put your own mind at ease to avoid the almost-summer scramble, the better. Many first time campers are asking, “What is summer camp like?” Thoughtful prep will help to put anxiety to rest.

Summer (late June to late September)

Well, if you’re now in the summer months and you still haven’t registered for camp, this whole blog post on how to plan for summer camp has failed you.

But don’t worry, I’ll take the blame this time. Next year, though, it’s on you!

Feel free to drop any summer camp planning tips in the comments below!

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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