Thinking about signing your kid up for day camp this summer? Choosing the right day camp, and heck, feeling confident about sending your kiddo off on his own, can be tough, especially if it’s for the first time. So we asked Lauren Wexler, director of 92nd Street Y’s Camp Yomi located in Rockland County, to answer some of your biggest questions about picking the right summer camp for your kid. Read on to see what she had to say.

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Red Tricycle: What’s better, day camp in the city or out in the country – how do we decide?

Lauren Wexler: Forget about what you are comfortable with for a moment and ask yourself a question: which camp offers your child the most in terms of self-development and summer fun? That should be your starting point.

A summer in the country has some distinct advantages, namely The Great Outdoors – lots of trees, lakes, ball fields, wide open spaces, more room to run, not to mention more room for your kid’s imagination to run free. And there’s just something about getting on a bus and going out to the country for a day that lends itself to exploration and risk taking – and that first true taste of independence.

City camps offer other great things— the magic and wonder of Prospect Park, for example, outings to zoos or museums  – and the comfort of knowing that home is just a stone’s throw away.

Red Tricycle: Will our child be in activities with her best school friends?

Lauren Wexler: Camp offers two choices: the potential to make a new set of friends or to turn school classmates and neighbors into life-long “camp friends.” Many camps allow you to make a “group request” – which ensures that your child will know someone on the first day of camp, whether it’s a good school friend or a neighborhood friend.  By not making a group request, you’re essentially giving the camp the freedom to choose your child’s group – which provides opportunities to make new friends, and gives your child a break from school friends. And that can be a good thing; absence makes the heart grow fonder, and September is just around the corner.

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Red Tricycle: What happens at day camp?

Lauren Wexler: Sending your child to camp for the day can be very anxiety-provoking, and it will put your mind at ease knowing exactly what goes on at camp. There’s only one way to find out – ask the camp director lots of questions before you sign up.

Find out how many hours of the day are spent at the pool, or how much time is devoted to sports versus, say, arts and crafts. And find out how many chances there will be for activities like archery and zip line; or maybe the camp has a vegetable garden and your child happens to love gardening.

While camp is about your child developing, growing and discovering what he likes, you want to have a handle on how his time will be spent. If a camp director tells you that swimming takes up about two hours each day and your son isn’t much of a swimmer, it may not the right camp for him. Or, perhaps you can negotiate with the camp director and try to build in more time for basketball, jewelry making or archery.

Red Tricycle: What if our son/daughter is having a problem – how does the camp deal with that?

Lauren Wexler: You’re sending your child to camp for a positive experience (both social and emotional). As a parent, you want to ensure that your child is thriving, but that doesn’t always happen. You should know exactly how the camp’s staff deals with any kind of incident — bullying, homesickness, illness, forgotten lunch, etc., before your child attends. Does the camp have a have policy in place for bullying? And if there’s a major behavioral issue or an ongoing conflict between campers, and a truce can’t be brokered, do they involve parents?

What if your child is having a health issue that’s preventing him from enjoying the summer? Does the camp give refunds? Or is there a policy for that? Be sure to get answers to all of these questions before enrolling your child at camp.

Red Tricycle: What’s the transportation like?

Lauren Wexler: Camp literally starts on the bus. And different camps not only have different kinds of buses, but different activities happen on those buses. From motion sickness to peanut allergies, the bus ride can be problematic. You should find out if the camp uses coach buses or school buses, if there are bathrooms on the bus, if there’s air conditioning and if there are rules for eating.

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Red Tricycle: How can we get our child ready for camp?

Lauren Wexler: Camp should give you the daily packing list prior to the first day including whether or not they offer towel or lunch service. If your camper is young and prone to accidents, find out if you need to send a change of clothes.

In any camp setting, it’s important to label everything you send with your child to camp, especially if you want to see it again! Also, make sure to  leave your child’s nicest, most expensive outfits at home.  From arts and crafts projects to sports, you want your child to experience their activities fully and not be nervous that you’ll be mad if they come home covered in dirt.

Red Tricycle: What’s the staff to camper ratio?

Lauren Wexler: A high staff to camper ratio can be a factor in whether a child has a positive or negative experience at camp. Providing a generous number of counselors indicates that a camp has a commitment to safety, supervision and quality of experience. Ask the camp about the composition of its staff. Are the counselors high school or college students (or older)? What kind of  training do they get? How many counselors work more than one summer? And what are the specialty instructors’ backgrounds? The more you know, the better.

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Curious about Camp Yomi and all the photos you’ve seen in this post? Located in Rockland County, New York, Camp Yomi welcomes about 500 kids ages 5 to 12 each summer. Days there include a zip line, climbing wall, ceramics, soccer, a vegetable garden, science activities from Liberty Science Center experts and more. Find out more here.

What other questions do you have about finding the right camp for your kid?

–Julie Seguss

Images courtesy of 92nd Street Y’s Camp Yomi