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Five must-read tips for summer camp parents

For most people, the time frame between taking down Christmas decorations and the first buds of spring is pretty uneventful. But parents of elementary school-aged children know better. It’s summer camp registration season.

For me, summer camp is like an old friend who keeps turning up. In the days before the turn of the century, I was a YMCA summer day camp counselor for three years. Since 2002, I’ve marketed summer camps at Morehead. And now, I’m the parent of 7-year-old who will be spending most of the summer at one camp or another.

So I’d like to share some of my insights with parents who might not have quite as much experience with camp scene. I hope it helps you stay sane and keeps your kids a little happier this year.

Here are my top five tips. These definitely apply for Morehead’s camps but are meant to be applied across the board.

1.    Figure out if your favorite camps have fixed or variable enrollment. What does that mean and why does it matter, you ask? Some camps, like Morehead, can only handle a certain number of campers at any given time because of space or staff limitations. If the camps are good, they’ll fill up fast, and you’ll be out of luck. Don’t delay in registering for these camps. You have a bit more flexibility registering for camps that can easily adjust when demand for spaces in camp increase.

2.    Give your kids some variety. When I was a camp counselor, some parents would enroll their children in every session of Y camp. That approach seldom went well for the camp or the camper. If you do this, your camper will start to get bored by the “Dog Days” of summer. And when they get bored, they start to find new ways to amuse themselves – not always within camp rules. That’s one big reason why Morehead structures its camps so that a child can spend no more than three weeks a summer here. We want kids to love Morehead camps – not complain that camp is boring.

3.    Plan on specialty camps costing more. Bargain camps usually have a simple curriculum that scales easily. These camps can be great. However, they usually don’t have to hire staff with special skills, invest significantly in developing curriculum or buy specialized supplies. Usually science camps fall somewhere in the middle of the range of camp fees. Science camps require staffs that know science and some special supplies. Cooking camps, foreign language camps and certain sport camps can get pricey. But trust me when I say very few people get rich running camps. I won’t say no one gets rich only because I’m sure there is some exception to the rule out there.

4.    Not all camps are for everyone. Be honest with yourself when selecting camps. If a camp offers programming from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will you really want to/be able to  pick up the kid at 2 p.m. every day? I’ve run into that. If your child hates being outside in the sun and the camp brochure says campers will be outside most of the time, move on. It’s okay. There are plenty of other camps that will work for you and your child. 

5.    There are discounts to be had.  At Morehead, members get a nice discount. Do the math: it pays off. At some camps, you get a discount for registering early. At others, you get a multi-kid discount. In yet others, you get a discount for paying up front rather than delaying payment. Read the websites and the brochures. If you read and plan, you can usually save yourself some money.

Finally, I encourage you to begin your camp planning for next year early – really early. When your child is in camp this summer, talk to them about their day. What did they do? Did they have fun? Did they make new friends? Would they want to go to that camp again next year? Use that information to make notes about the camps you want to keep for the next year and the ones to eliminate from the schedule. If you wait until registration time rolls around again to ask your kid these questions, you may have a hard time prying them away from “Minecraft” long enough to give you much useful information.

To learn more about Morehead's Summer Science Camps click here.

Camp registration for Morehead members is open as of Feb. 2, 2015. Registration for the general public opens Feb. 9, 2015. Jeff Hill is Morehead’s Director of Advancement and has worked at Morehead since 2002.