Q. There are many camps and programs that my children can attend this summer. How do I choose the best place to send my children?
A. While summer camps may put out glossy brochures to convince parents that their camps are the best place for children this summer, there is more to camp than sing-a-longs and campfires.
The Better Business Bureau reminds parents that they should look beyond the sales pitch if they want their children to be safe and well-supervised.
While summer camp helps children build social skills and self-confidence, today's programs are diverse and can include teambuilding programs or community service involvement. When choosing a camp for their children, parents should use care and evaluate each facility's programs. They should look for a camp that provides activities that are of interest to their child and appropriate for the child's age and skill level.
Parents should be guided by their child's interests and personality when choosing a program. There are many different types of summer camps, including specialty camps that meet a child's specific interests, travel camps for adventurous children, preschool camps for younger children, special-needs camps for children with disabilities and traditional camps with wide ranges of activities for children.
According to the American Camp Association, parents rate fun and safety as most important to the camp experience. When considering a camp for their child, parents should ask how long it has been in business and check with parents of past and returning campers. They can check with BBB to find out about the camp's handling of complaints and its trustworthiness and consider:
• Visit the camp before making a decision. Check its location and view the living, eating and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures (particularly for water activities, archery and out-of-camp trips).
• Assess the quality and commitment of the staff. Find out the camp director's background, as well as the criteria used for hiring staff. It also is important to know the ratio of staff to campers. Parents sending children to specialty camps should inquire about the staff's level of expertise in the specific area.
• Know the fees. What is the total cost of tuition? Is your deposit refundable? Are there extra charges for any activities? Are meals and transportation included? Is financial aid available?
• Understand the safety rules. Find out what the rules are and how they are enforced. Ask about the camp's insurance coverage. Check the condition and safety of the facilities and equipment. Note any dangerous areas, like cliffs, swamps or water zones.
• Ask about the medical care. Check out the medical facilities to be sure they are adequate. Find out if a nurse or doctor is on site. Inquire about the procedures for transporting injured or sick children to nearby medical facilities.
• Be familiar with the camp philosophy. Know what the camp's goals are and how each program offered meets those goals. Are family visits or other communication with campers allowed? How is homesickness handled?
• See a typical daily schedule. Note the camp hours, the variety of activities that are planned, the age range of the campers, what type of food is served, the pace of the day and any transportation that is involved.
• Get references. Ask parents of repeat campers about their child's experience and why they recommend the camp. Find out the camper return rate as well as the counselor return rate. Look for camps that are certified by the ACA -- their accredited camps have met up to 300 nationally recognized standards.
Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.