7 tips for finding the right summer camp

iD Tech in action

Summers are magical, right? School is out, the days are long, and free time abounds.

Yet after a month or so, boredom sets in, and kids and the couch start to become inseparable. Glued to smartphones while binging on Netflix, or just mindlessly mashing buttons as they play video games for hours on end.

Where’s the magic in that?

If only there was a way for kids to design video games instead of just playing them. Or perhaps encourage them to take the summer months as an opportunity to create the next must-have brand or start-up business, rather than simply being a consumer.

Good news—that’s where summer camps come in.

Great for balancing out the unstructured, school-free months, summer camps are fun, build character, and provide opportunities for campers to meet new friends and reconnect with former classmates. Plus, kids can discover new interests - like game development or app design - and stay intellectually engaged. (See more summer camp benefits.)
 
girls at photography camp looking at camera

So, where do you start?

The good news is, with today’s overabundance of camps, there’s literally a type of camp for every child. On the flip side, with so many options, choosing can make you feel a lot like Goldilocks on the hunt for a camp that’s just right.

How to choose a summer camp

Here are seven tips on how to make the summer camp selection process a little more manageable—sending your brood on their merry way to months of that so called summer magic. (And when you've found the perfect option, here are summer camp tips to help kids make the most of their experiences.)

1. Set your expectations.

Before you can pick the right summer camp, you need to first define “right;” and you do so by setting expectations.

Start by asking one simple question—what do you want your children to gain from their experience? You send them to school so they can get smarter, and off to baseball practice so they can become a better hitter or pitcher. Sending them to camp shouldn’t be any different.

Is your goal to connect your children with kids who share similar interests? Try a specialized camp that focuses on something they're passionate about, like becoming the next great YouTuber.

Looking to keep your kids thinking throughout the summer months, especially after a chaotic school year? With a commonsense balance of fun (it's important to take a break from typical K-12 routines, after all!) a fun camp with academic connections will keep them intellectually stimulated.

In carrying out your camp conversations, don’t forget to cater the discussion to your audience. Tween summer activities look a little different, and teens for instance might immediately shut down at the mere uttering of “summer camp.” But, maybe they’d be interested in a pre-college summer program, or a sports academy with like-minded peers?

The goal is to get kids excited about summer by finding programs that speak to their current interests. By starting the process with you and your child on the same page and speaking the same language, you’re more likely to find a camp you both love.

 
boy at computer camp looking at screen

2. Select the right genre.

Once you’ve established what you’re hoping your child will gain from camp, it’s time to narrow down the types of programs that can meet those needs.

Here’s what you can expect from today’s most popular summer camp genres:

Traditional: Think back to your own summer camp experiences; campfires, archery, time in the great outdoors; these co-ed and single-gender camps build self-confidence and character in a traditional outdoor setting.

Academic: Your kids can keep learning even when school’s out. Academic camps like iD Tech provide a fun balance of hands-on education and upbeat extracurricular activities. The best part is, such camps revolve around topics most schools don’t or can’t teach, with skill-building in in-demand and lucrative course areas.

Another bonus? The rise of Virtual Tech Camps make this specialized expertise instantly accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. 

Plus, academic camps are a great way to supplement education for students who don’t like traditional instruction. Academic camps give students the chance to focus on one particular academic activity or skill and develop it over the length of the camp session. Many camps provide math, writing, theater, or computer-focused areas of study

Art: Art camps offer students the chance to explore their artistic interests in a group setting outside of school. Kids sometimes focus on painting, drawing, or the visual arts, while other camps provide the opportunity to learn more about computer-based design and 3D printing.

Adventure: Fun, engaging, and high-energy—these camps are great for exploring new experiences. Think of it like a traditional outdoor camp, but with a specialized expedition or exploratory component.

Athletic: Athletic camps are perfect for sporty kids who are looking to learn new skills during summer. And, sports camps are great for kids and teens who want an outdoor camp experience at the same time!

Special Needs: These camps create a summer camp environment for students who, due to physical, mental, or emotional challenges, might not have the option to attend typical summer camps or activities. Camper-to-staff ratios are lower to provide individual attention and create an environment that is comfortable and tailored to the campers’ needs.

3. Decide on virtual camps, day camps, or overnight camps.

In addition to providing a wide range of topics and tailor-made content for kids' interests, virtual camps are a great option for parents exhausted by a year of "what if's," delays, and other difficult decisions. Plus, if you're looking at your family's schedule is looking action-packed, virtual camps are a wonderful way to keep kids engaged without worrying about the logistics involved in getting them there!

Depending on your child’s age and comfort-level with being away from home, (and of course, pending when they are safe to resume in-person) day camps can provide the opportunity for kids and teens to socialize, learn new skills, or play sports, minus the overnight commitment.

When they can safely reopen, overnight camps (also called sleepaway or residential camps) provide much of the same, with the key difference being kids sleep at camp, and don’t return until the camp’s completion, whether that’s a week or a month, etc. Such experiences give students a taste of independence in a supervised setting, and are a great option for students who are comfortable being away from home for longer periods of time.

4. Consider camp setting, tone, and vibe.

Some academic, sports, arts, and technology camps team up with unique experts and cultivate a particular vibe in the hopes of inspiring kids. This is definitely something to look out for as you check out different options; never underestimate the power of the camp setting and tone! 

So, keep an eye out for the little things that will make all the difference to your child: think fun, quirky traditions, the verbiage you notice on the website, how the program appeals to kids vs. teens, and where/ how camps take place. Trust us on this, these details make a HUGE difference to your child's experience! 

5. Find instructors your kids will adore.

In the same way that a stellar teacher can turn a boring subject into something magical, the right summer camp instructor will make your child’s camp experience unforgettable.

What makes a good camp instructor?

To start, they should be passionate about teaching kids. We’ve all seen the instructors who are attached to their smartphones; that’s not who you want supervising your children. Instead, instructors should be fun, upbeat, and both passionate and knowledgeable about the subjects they’re teaching.

Determining the quality of instructors before attending camp is difficult, but doable. Many camps provide an instructor section on their website, explaining the various qualifications they require from potential instructors. They might even offer instructor profiles, blog posts dedicated to interviews with staff, or other in-depth editorials.

You can also look for first-hand accounts of the instructors by reading student and parent reviews, or even call the camps and ask if they provide parent references, so you can talk to other parents about their experiences.

Last, look for low student-to-instructor ratios (no more than 10 campers per teacher, and that goes for learning in-person or online) and be sure your that your camp runs background checks on all instructors. Safety first!
 
Awesome Summer Camp Instructors

6. Determine your budget based on your desired outcome for your child.

Summer camp prices vary drastically—and for good reason. But don’t let sticker shock keep you from the camp of your (kid’s) dreams. Instead, evaluate price as part of the bigger picture, as much as budgets allow. Here’s how:

Think of camp as an investment. Kids and teens gain so much by attending summer camp. They build self-confidence, meet new friends, and gain independence in an inspiring setting. Sure, some camps are expensive, but when you look at the lengthy list of short-term and long-term benefits, you’ll realize they’re almost always worth the cost.

Also, keep in mind that cost is typically reflective of all that goes into camp, and could be correlated with what your kid will get out of it. Some sports camps for instance might be relatively cheaper given the fact that they might only need equipment and an open field in order to run camp. Tech camps on the other hand might be more expensive given the type of hardware and software required for a complete learning experience, though virtual camps are a great option for cutting down on those costs.

And don’t forget to determine what’s included in the final price of camp, since most added benefits can bump up your total cost. Does the camp provide lunch? Offer early pick-up and drop-off? Make sure you’re paying for the things that are most important to you and your family.

Last, look for discounts. Many camps offer year-round multi-week and sibling discounts, along with seasonal savings. Contact the camp directly - and early -  to see how you can save.

7. Don’t be afraid to research. A lot.

By registering for camp, you’re investing time and trust into the summer camp provider, and you’ll undoubtedly have questions. So don’t be afraid to research, research, research, to ensure you make the correct decision. Here are 102 summer camp questions to get you started.

Luckily, there are many ways to learn more about camps that catch your kid’s interest. You can attend a local camp fair, browse websites, take a tour of the camp facilities, read customer reviews, or discuss the programs and courses with a service rep.

You can even tap into your own social group for suggestions. Ask around and see where other friends have sent their kids to camp. A personal recommendation is often a great indicator of what your student’s experience will be like. Plus, kids always have a great time when they get to attend camp with a few friends.
 
iD Tech Camps Photo #3

Benefits of summer camps

What makes a summer camp a summer camp? Or, in other words, what are the big-picture qualities that make it possible for kids and teens to enjoy the different benefits of summer camp? I know we’ve already gone into a lot of detail, but I think it’s also important to step back and look at the big picture. 

Summer camps help kids build new and unique interests. Meaning, even when camp used to only be about archery and building campfires, the appeal of such activities was the fact that these were things kids couldn’t or didn’t do in their everyday lives. 

And now, especially, with more and more specialized summer camps, a big beneficial piece is that kids can spend a week or more in the thick of building a new skill; something they don’t have the opportunity to do during the school year. 

Summer camps help kids build new and strong relationships. It’s weird to think about, but many kids walk away from a week of camp with lifelong friends. Five days of companionship, more or less; that’s it! That’s all it takes for a child and another child to go from complete strangers from different walks of life to best friends. 

Why? How? Most importantly of all, what should you look for in a summer camp? What stand-out qualities make for a memorable, fun experience? 

What to look for in a summer camp

At a high-quality summer camp, you’re also going to have kids working together, competing together, and learning alongside each other- all while having an absolute blast. 

Each of these elements can easily boost any relationship to levels more than that which would come from kids simply going to school together and seeing each other in the same class or at lunch, etc. Not to mention that at camp, it’s the first taste of independence for many kids.

All of that said, it’s important to identify key qualities in a summer program or camp during the research stage. Many of us might just assume that friendships are made, confidence boosted, and skills acquired are par for the course and an inevitable part of camp programming.

Let’s not jump to those conclusions just yet! Instead, let’s do a little due diligence to finish the process we’ve started. 

The best summer camps allow for independence and empowerment while balancing fun experiences and opportunities to make new friends. A summer program could check every box on a parent’s list in terms of safety, organization, and the appearance of a good time for kids and teens -- but here are three quick elements you should also be able to identify right off the bat. 

Incorporate socialization

One of the main benefits of summer camps is that kids have the opportunity to interact with new and different groups of people. So, when planning your summer activities, think about how kids can interact with others. 

Will kids be sharing cabins? Competing on teams? Are they encouraged to collaborate? How will camp leaders ensure all kids are included and encouraged to make connections? All of these are great questions to ask. 

This includes the camps in the digital space too! For instance, with something like the different types of online learning, it’s easy to settle on a “point and click” option where your child sits at a screen and keeps themselves occupied for an hour. Doing so might help them with their independence depending on how they go about their problem solving, but it’s really not doing much for their socialization. 

Same goes for things on the other end of the spectrum—if your child is in an online summer camp with 20, 30, 60 other kids, it’s tough for them to really socialize, right? They’re most likely on mute as everyone watches what’s unfolding in front of them. 

So, consider options and activities that include other kids, but also allow for interaction between them all. 

Incorporate independence

That’s right: group activities are great (that’s a no brainer), but stand-out camp programs will also incorporate elements of independence and emphasize individuality. These qualities will not only help kids build relationships with each other as mentioned above, but it also allows for personal growth.

Solo projects, activities, and competitions can help kids feel empowered to the point of “I can do this” when it comes to taking a leap into a brand new challenge. With the right independent elements, kids will also increase their ability to entertain themselves and become self-reliant in managing their time and setting goals for themselves.

So, be on the lookout for programs that include solo projects, crafts, or even time in a kayak as opposed to a canoe full of kids. These experiences can be formative, and positively reinforce kids’ self-esteem and willingness to step outside their comfort zones. 

Incorporate relevant skill-building

One thing many parents forget or haven’t yet even thought about is the fact that summer camp can be used as a springboard for their kids into a new interest or passion. 

That could be sports, the arts, the outdoors, technology: whatever your child is passionate about. Think about what skills your child will emerge from a week or more, and how those skills will help boost their long-term development. 

For the record, I’m not against ice cream socials, tie-dye, and ghost stories. All fun stuff. But just look at the summer camp landscape. Coding camps, 3D printing camps, and more provide a wealth of valuable skills that go above and beyond having a wonderful time. 

Fun stuff AND relevant to the skills needed to traverse the current and future job landscape, so why not get started during the summertime?  

At iD Tech, we designed our in-person summer camps with your kids’ creativity in mind. That’s why we hire awesome, tech-savvy camp instructors and provide a commonsense balance of indoor and outdoor camp activities. Our hands-on courses are taught in small groups of just 5-10 students per instructor on average, so your kids will receive personalized instruction, whatever their skill level.

There’s never been a better time (or place!) to meet new friends, learn awesome tech skills, and have a blast. For 2021, check out our virtual summer programs for kids and teens, or give our Camp Specialists a call at 1-888-709-8324 for help selecting the perfect course.

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!