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As summer inches nearer, many parents are already making plans to send their kids to a sleepaway camp, many for the first time. Here’s 5 simple guidelines to use when picking a summer camp for your child.

1. Match Your Child’s Biggest Need with the Camp

What is it that your child needs most? A self-esteem boost? Confidence? A refreshed understanding of what it means to be responsible and independent? A older role model? Just to be a kid and have fun? My biggest recommendation to you parents is to answer this question first before even hopping on Google to search for a sleepaway camp. You may have other “wants” for your child, like learning a skill, learning to clean their room, etc., but don’t lose focus of the primary question: “What does my child need most?”

At Camp Huawni, we specialize in a couple of things; we are really good at relationships and really good at having ridiculous amounts of fun. Doing so with above-average counselors results in our campers getting an extraordinary experience in life skills and leadership. Campers can certainly learn useful skills, like advancing in our archery, canoeing, or tennis academy programs. In the world that is Camp Huawni, reaching level 4 in archery is definitely celebrated, but our aim is ultimately to build up a camper’s self-esteem and confidence that will follow them around the whole year.

Ask yourself the question – “What camp is the best at [my child’s need here]” and you’ll do you child a huge favor.

2. Look at Session Size & Camper-to-Counselor Ratio

Would you rather your child be with 800 other kids, possibly optimizing their chances of making more friends, or with 180, possibly giving them a smaller, more intimate setting to spark a friendship? Also find out about the camper-to-counselor ratio. Is is 8:1 or 4:1? More counselors should mean more devoted time and investment in your child. The only downside to a lower camper-to-counselor ratio is that sessions can fill up fast; so if you find one you like, take advantage of early sign up. Many camps offer discounts for signing up early, so ask about that too.

At Camp Huawni, we reach capacity at 130 campers, which affords our 50 or so counselors the opportunity to legitimately get to know each camper. This also allows your child to get to know each counselor. Our camper-to-counselor ratio in 2012 was 3:1.

3. Think Safety

What policies and procedures does the camp have to make sure your child has a fun, but more importantly, safe summer? Check for accreditation. Camp Huawni is a member of the American Camp Association, meaning we comply with policies and procedures that ensure safety in all phases of camp and that, in many cases, go above and beyond what is required by state regulations. For more details on safety, check out 7 Things That Keep Camp Safe

4. Look at Counselor Return Ratio

Counselor return ratio can tell a lot about a camp. Do counselors working at camp enough to return? What does this say about the camp’s culture? You may also want to ask what the average tenure is for each counselor. We’ve found that our counselors want to pay their experience forward because they got LTK’d (love the kids) as a Huawni camper. Huawni counselors are highly invested, which is super important for your child’s experience. 8 out of 10 Huawni counselors returned to be on staff this past summer and each of our counselors averaged 7.4 summers at Camp Huawni.

5. Look at Camper Return Ratio

The ultimate test of whether or not kids love their sleepaway camp is highly reflected in their returning back to camp the following summer. Find out the camp’s camper return ratio. Consider talking to a friend whose child went to that camp. Did they return? Is this their 7th consecutive year or did they go just go one summer and never return? Camper return ratio is a number I take full responsibility for; in a way it’s a very transparent picture on the job we do for our families. I’m happy to report that 90% of our two-week campers returned this past summer.

What other tips do you parents have when choosing a sleepaway camp?