Often times when asked, “What’s the best camp in LA (besides Tumbleweed, obvi)?” I struggle with helping that person pick a camp. To me, it should be a serious and personal decision. Folks, especially in Los Angeles, are not always accustomed to viewing camp as a serious commitment like that of a school or college—and it should be!

Choosing a camp for your child is equal to choosing a great school for your child. The experiences they have at camp and the relationships they build go hand in hand with the learning they do at school. For more reasons why camp is so important, head to Tumbleweed Day Camp’s blog post here.

You should be looking for a camp that your child can grow with, that they can return to summer after summer, and maybe even be their first job one day. Yes, I understand that price and convenience and location have to play a major part in choosing a summer camp, but those considerations are no more important than taking into account the values and beliefs that the camp upholds. To be truly happy at a place, it needs to be one that you and your family can align with at a core level. Just like when you looked at schools for your child or thought about college for yourself, you have to take into consideration how a camp views the world, what its values are, and how those values impact everything they do.

Around this time of year, parents are inundated with articles, emails and lists of must-have questions to ask camps. These questions are often prefaced with articles like, “5 Must Ask Questions to Make Sure That Camp is Legit” or “10 Things You Have to Know Before Choosing a Camp.” While a lot of those lists include important questions about basic safety, accreditations and their staff, almost none include questions on values and beliefs. That’s why I am putting together a list of ask-if-you-want-to-don’t-feel-pressured-not-dramatic-like-those-other-lists questions to ask camps about their values so that you can pick the best fit for your family to join for years to come.

Homework Ahead of Time

Check out each camp's website and look for pages like "About Us", "Our Values" and "Who We Are." Don't skip out on their social media and blog (if one is available) and ask yourself if what they're putting out into the world is a place where you'll want your child to grow up in. Now that you have done a little bit of homework, you can ask specifically about what is (or is not) out in the world about the camp and see if they are really putting their words into action.


Questions to Guide You

Take a look at these eight questions to help you discover which camp is right for your little one:

  • What are your guiding values and beliefs?
  • How do you teach these values to the campers?
  • How do you utilize these values when hiring staff?
  • Speaking of staff, tell me a little about your staff. Ask questions about the counselors' experiences, where they come from, what they are trained on and how the staff feels about working at camp. You can learn a lot about a camp, or any organization for that matter, by how they treat their staff and how the staff feels about the camp.
  • How do you work with a camper who is having a hard time or fighting with other campers?
  • Have you ever turned away a family or camper? Why? Have you ever sent a camper home early? Why?
  • What happens if a camper does not like camp?
  • At the end of a session, what do you hope your campers learn or take with them from their experience? Getting a sense of what the camp's end goal is for their campers helps you understand if this will be a good fit for your child's growth.

Remember that camp directors or staff should be jumping at the opportunity to talk to you about their camp's beliefs and values and experiences. You should feel comfortable asking any question you want and be prepared to hear some answers that don't quite fit with your family's values. That's ok! Not every camp is for every camper, but every camper has a camp out there somewhere.

Your Checklist for Registering for Camp

Below is an easy-to-follow checklist that you can use when signing up for a new day camp. Use the questions and considerations above when you do your research and set some time aside for this project. Remember: Choosing a great day camp is going to feel a lot like choosing a great preschool or elementary school because ultimately, you are looking for a new community for your child to join.

  1. If you do not already have a list of great camps to choose from, utilize credible sources to build a list. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. These websites will have pre-vetted day camps, usually sorted by type or location, in a camp guide usually starting around February or March.
  2. Do your homework - use the “homework” section above to start to get a feel for these camps even before you give the director a call. This will also help to weigh other considerations like location, price, hours, and registration requirements.
  3. Check availability first. Many great camps already have waitlists at this time of year. Take a look to see if there are spots open for your camper and what the waitlist situation looks like. Just because there is a waitlist doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get in, but it should be the first thing you discuss with the camp director when you call.
  4. A note about not getting in and waitlists: Since my approach to choosing a camp is based on values and truly finding a place of belonging for your child, remember that even if you do not get into your perfect match camp this year, there is always next year. If you have your heart set on being a forever camp family at a certain place, ask when you can sign up for next summer and get on that right away. Most camps give priority to returning campers and so if you sign up when
    prompted, you won’t have to face the waitlist again.
  5. Make a list of your top choices and set up a time to call the directors. Use the questions above to guide your conversation.
  6. Check out a camp fair. During the spring, various different organizations host summer opportunities and camp fairs. This is a great way to talk to all your top choice camps at once and meet directors in person.
  7. Take a tour! Most camps will offer tours or open houses in the spring for new families. Ask to bring your camper on the tour as wellputting a space to an idea will really help paint a picture of what their experience will be like in the summer. A note about tours! If the director expresses concern about limited space or a waitlist, do not wait to take a tour. Chat with the director about your options in terms of cancellations and such, but you do not want to take a tour later in the spring, fall in love with the camp, and have to wait until next year to register.
  8. Grab your spot and join the club! Commit to as many weeks/sessions as you can at your new forever camp and get connected with their social media, email lists, and spring events. Get some camp gear and settle into the amazing feeling of winning summer planning!

Something you might notice about the list above, or this strategy in general, is there is no mention of “figure out what your kids’ friends are doing” or “start a moms’ group spreadsheet of where everyone is going to camp.” I didn’t mention anything about signing up with friends or hopping between camps to make sure your kid is always going with someone they know.

This is intentional for two big reasons. Firstly, choosing a day camp should be a personal and family-focused decision based on your child (not their friends, not your friends and not their siblings). If they have friends that are already going to your forever camp then that’s great, but it should not be a deciding factor.

Secondly, I left out the conversation about signing up with friends, as there is something very special about camp friends. Across the board, most camps have about a 40 to 50% “friend request” rate, which means that at least half of their campers are not coming to camp with an outside friend. This sets the perfect stage for making camp friend—a special relationship that is so unique and different because of the sheer fact that it is made in the magic of camp.

When your child is all grown up and done attending camp, their camp friends will be an everlasting gift in their life. This all starts by sending your little to camp with no strings attached.

Although choosing a camp is difficult, remember the big decision should be based off your child’s and your family’s needs. When you put the work in now to find your forever camp home, you will never have to do this again—or at least not until they are off to sleep-away camp.


Learn more about Tumbleweed Day Camp and why it can be a great fit for your household!

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