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This past summer I was asked by a first-year camper parent, “What makes Camp Huawni a safe place for my child?” What a great question. With all the great summer camps in Texas and in America, what things can I really check out to make sure my child is having a fun but also safe experience?

While there are no perfect camps, here are seven guidelines that help make camp a safe place to be.

1. Check for accreditation

In addition to state health code requirements, summer camps have the option to be accredited by some sort of camping authority. In Camp Huawni’s case, we are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). ACA accreditation means that a camp voluntarily undergoes a thorough (up to 300 standards) review of its operation — from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. Keeping ACA standards is a pretty arduous process, which is why it’s estimated that only about 25% of America’s 8,500 camps are ACA accredited. Another respectable camping accreditation, although not as strenuous, is the Christian Camp and Conference Association.

2. What’s the camper to counselor ratio?

The key to a great camp is and will always be the quality of the counselors. What is the camper to counselor ratio? This is the key stat you always want to know. The more counselors there are, the more time they’ll be able to invest in your child. The average sleepaway camp has about an 8 to 1 camper to counselor ratio. At Camp Huawni, we have a 3 to 1 camper to counselor ratio. Also, what is the return ratio of the counselors each summer? What is the tenure of the counseling staff? Most summer camps spend a good chunk of the off-season recruiting 50% or more of their incoming summer staff. This is a huge luxury for Camp Huawni as we have a about an 85% counselor return ratio (8.5/10 counselors were on staff last year). Likewise, many of our staff have been coming to Huawni for eight or more years- we know them, their family, and their closest friends.

3. Know the camp’s procedures

What policies does your camp have in place for safety? Two non-negotiable rules we have include:

  • Kids are always in groups with two or more counselors
  • Nearly every special event and night activity are experienced with the entire camp; counselors are assigned to specific areas and kids to make sure all campers are supervised.

4. Sanitation!

This is an easy one, but make sure your camp has a policy for everyday sanitation. Washing hands before all meals is a big deal- the last thing your child wants is to get sick and miss the 2nd and best week of camp!

5. Talk to the director

Don’t hesitate to call up a summer camp director and ask specific questions about how the camp handles safety precautions. I get calls regularly, usually from first year camper parents, wanting to know specifics about Camp Huawni’s safety procedures. I enjoy sharing how we do that. If a camp director is standoffish, short, or vague, I’d consider looking elsewhere for another summer camp experience for my child.

6. Know the owners

Who owns the camp and for how long? How long has the camp been in operation? The more consistent, the better. Less turnover in ownership may indicate a stronger “buy in” for the camp program. This likely means a “win” for your child.

7. Ask for a reference from other camp families in your area

One of the best ways to find out about whether or not a camp is a good fit for your child is to ask for references. The best references are blind references. Even better- ask the camp office for a reference from a family who did not return. What is the camp’s camper return ratio? Anything above 70% is steller. Camp Huawni had about a 90% camper return ratio for age-eligible kids in 2012.

Part of what makes summer camp so life-changing is letting them leave the house for a few weeks- this time away from home allows them to grow into that remarkable person that is waiting to be awakened. That takes trust, so being the prudent parent you should be, know that these seven tips are legitimate guidelines to checking safety and picking a great summer camp.

If you have questions about camping safety or want to know more about Camp Huawni, feel free to email me .

Happy Camping!