How to Evaluate Summer Camps (And Tuition Saving Tips)

Choosing the best summer camp for your child can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many things to consider. We want to help make the process a little bit easier for you, so we asked camp directors from our Summer Camp Guide to help us put together a primer, and added our own experience too.

So take a breath, I promise, you’ll feel better after reading this article.

How to Choose Summer Camp

How to Choose a Summer Camp | Location, Location, Location | Summer Camp Activities | Traditional vs Specialty Camps | Five Questions to Ask | Ways to Save Money | Budget and Free Summer Camps |  Summer Camp Packing Tips

Summer Camps in Atlanta

Choosing a camp is like picking a wedding dress

On my first shopping trip for a wedding dress, the retail clerk and I spent time discussing what would and wouldn’t work for me. With that knowledge, I was able to look at a wall of wedding dresses and pick out the right one on the first go round.

The same principal goes for summer camp. The best place to start your search for the best summer camps in Atlanta is to break down the options and narrow the focus. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • What type of camp best suits my child?
  • Is he/she ready for overnight camps in Georgia?
  • Would he/she be more comfortable (or would you be more comfortable) with a half or full-day camp?
  • If a day camp is better, what hours fit my schedule?
  • Are you looking for a camp to fulfill a need for day care, or simply looking for enrichment opportunities for your child?
  • Many summer day camps have before and after care for families that work, but not all, so this is an easy way to narrow your search.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the  Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

Summer Camps in Atlanta via Field Trips with SueLocation, Location, Location

Some parents don’t care about location, it’s more about the camp. Others need or want camp in a specific area of town.

  • Are you looking for summer camps in Decatur, GA, Cobb County summer camps or specifically summer camps in Marietta, Ga.?
  • Would you consider summer camps in Georgia or just summer camps in Atlanta?

These are all considerations that will help narrow your camp search quickly. If location is a consideration, you’ve narrowed your field quite a bit.

Summer Camp in AtlantaActivities at Summer Camps in Atlanta

Once you know time frame and any location constraints, make a list of the activities your child might enjoy.

If your child is intrigued by how things work, they might want an Atlanta summer camp with a science or technology focus like Camp MODA. If they like performing and can’t wait to get on a stage, Act3 Arts Academy or Camp Broadway summer camp is a great option. Many animal lovers enjoy Atlanta Zoo camp. A budding artist may like Paint with a Twist camp, where you walk away with a new painting each day.

I like my children to get outside, sample a bit of everything, and get dirty in the process. Josh Powell Summer camps check all those boxes. If overnight camp is what you want, consider if a religious affiliation is important to you. Camp Rockmont in North Carolina is a Christian boys camp. Camp Barney Medintz is based on the Jewish faith.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the 365 Atlanta Traveler Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

summer camps in atlantaThe Difference Between Traditional vs. Specialty Camps (and why you should care)

Whether your child is attending a half-day, full day or sleep-away camp, they all tend to fall into one of two categories, traditional or specialty.

Traditional Camps like Camp Rockmont or the Marcus Jewish Community Center give kids a wide range of opportunities. Often they are set up in periods where kids participate in different activities each period. In the morning it could be arts and crafts, horseback riding, and field games, while their afternoon may consist of swimming, rock climbing or sports. This type of camp is great for kids who enjoy doing a variety of activities.

Specialty Camps let kids focus on a specific skill or interest. If your child loves video games, Club SciKidz gives them an opportunity to create their own. A performer might like Act3 Arts Academy. If your child needs special help in academics, Tutoring Solutions of Atlanta is a good choice. Imagine That STEM and Camp Invention have specific camps dedicated to Minecraft. The University of Georgia summer camps let older children specialize in areas such as film direction or explore the medical field. If your child is the next great athlete, a specialty camp, will help them on their way. My children always choose lacrosse camp, but UGA swim camp is popular, as well.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

Summer Camp in AtlantaFive Questions to Ask Your Summer Camp Provider

Parents pour a tremendous amount of time, and energy into researching summer camp. With all that work, you want to make sure it’s the right fit. Recommendations from friends were definitely a big plus in my searches, but I’d often do some of my own research too. So what makes summer camps different? Here are a few questions you might want to ask.

1. How do you hire and train your staff? This question will cover a lot of ground, and should give you insight into how the camp recruits and the qualifications needed to be a counselor, as well as how prepared they are to work with your child.

When my high-school son went to a college recruiting sports camp, the coaches had been Div. 1 athletes and spent time in the pros. At overnight camp, he had certified rock climbers teaching him.

Ask about accreditations too. Many camps are certified by the American Camp Association. However, don’t use certification as a crutch. There are lots of good camps that aren’t ACA certified, and just because a camp is certified doesn’t mean things can’t happen. Do your own research, and still ask questions to ensure the right fit for your child.

What is the camper/counselor ratio? Depending on your child, their age and needs, the answer may help you determine if a camp is the right fit. If your child has any special needs or requires more attention, look for camps with a lower camper/counselor ratio.

Ask if they use teen helpers or junior counselors. Both my older boys were junior counselors at Haverty Hollow after being campers for many years. The kids loved having older kids to look up to, and since they had been campers there, had great insight for the younger ones. Now both boys are counselors at Trinity School Summer Camp. Although they are only teens, they have years of experience to pass on to the younger ones.

Frankly, I like the tiered counselor system. It tells me the camp has a great funnel of qualified individuals. That said, make sure there are enough adults to oversee the junior counselors.

Ask about Safety. Safety should be pervasive in the language of the overall camp culture. Safety begins with staff recruiting, hiring, and training.

The key word in this conversation is protocol. What are the camp’s protocols around camper-staff interaction, how are lifeguards trained, are there nurses on staff? What is the camp’s approach to preventing and addressing bullying?

What is a typical day for my child? I was a little worried when I signed my son up for Bitsy Grant tennis camp that he’d get tired of playing tennis all day, but it turns out they did other activities too. One day they made tie-dye t-shirts, another kids played on a water slide, and every day they spent time inside out of the sun doing a lottery for slurpees and other prizes.

Ask what a typical day looks like before you send your child to camp, then confirm those activities are actually happening after they spend time there.

Can I tour the facilities? When my son was considering overnight camp at Camp Arrowhead in North Carolina, we attended a family camp weekend. We stayed in the cabins, ate in the dining hall, went through rotations like the kids and even did the blob. We also got to know some of the counselors and staff, which made me a lot more comfortable sending him away.

Not all camps have a family camp option, but many have an open house or parent-child weekends. Even if it’s just day camp, ask to see the facilities.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

Summer Camp in AtlantaWays to Save Money on Summer Camp

Summer camp is a great way to get kids out of their normal routine and look at life from a different perspective. No doubt, summer camp is good for kids, and it gives a welcome break for adults, but it can be expensive, especially if you have multiple children. Here are five ways to save money on summer camps.

Sign Up Early: Most savings for summer camp come from signing up early.

Sleep away camps usually give a 5 percent or more discount if you register either when you pick your child up from camp the year before or before the fall recruiting season.

Day camps may also have discounts for early registration. No matter when you register, ask about discounts, you never know what you might have missed.

Invite Friends: Overnight summer camps in Georgia give discounts to parents who host home shows or get their child’s friends and acquaintances to register. Ask your day camp provider if they offer discounts for multiple children, either your own, or friends.

Follow Your Favorites: Earlier this year MODA offered a deeply discounted summer camp deal through their newsletter and social media channels. If you know what camp you’d like to attend, be sure to sign up for their newsletter and follow them on social media. Often if they have discounts, they’ll advertise them to loyal followers first.

Volunteer: If you have the time, volunteer to be a counselor or adult helper. Some camps offer a discount or free registration for volunteers. I was able to get a discounted rate for my son to attend Boy Scout Camp by offering to be a volunteer counselor.

Create Your Own Camp: Summer is a perfect time to find a bright, energetic college student to watch your kids and put together a personalized camp.

In the past I’ve hired nannies that were certified swim instructors and asked them to take the boys to the pool and work with them on swimming. One nanny played on the college club lacrosse team, a perfect match for my boys.

In addition, they took advantage of local, inexpensive opportunities for fun such as free library programs and free time at local pools. This 365 Atlanta Traveler post on free things to do in Atlanta is a great resource for summer planning.

Everything isn’t always fair: When it comes to overnight camps, we could never afford to send all our boys at once, yet each child did get the overnight camp experience, just not all in the same year.

It was painful for my oldest to drop his brother off at the overnight camp he had enjoyed the year before, but it was a good lesson in limits, and I think all of them have a better appreciation of the gift of camp.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

Summer Camp in AtlantaBudget and Free Summer Camps in Atlanta

Saving money on summer camp takes some planning, but what if you just need a budget friendly or free Atlanta summer camps?

Look to your affiliations like your church, workplace, and school. Local churches generally offer Vacation Bible School free and welcome parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

I have a friend who works for Georgia Tech and her children go to summer camp there for a fraction of the cost of other similar camps.

My son has spent two wonderful summers at a very inexpensive day camp sponsored by his local Boy Scout troop.

Camp Best Friend is an inexpensive camp run by the City of Atlanta. Atlanta residents get a great deal, but it is also open to anyone for a higher fee, which is still quite reasonable.

As with anything free or inexpensive, there are usually a limited number of spots that go quickly. In addition, the counselor/camper ratios are generally higher and utilize volunteers, so make sure this type of camp works for your child.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the 365 Atlanta Traveler Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

Summer Camp Packing TipsSummer Camp Packing Tips

Be sure to download the summer camp packing list from your child’s camp at least a month before they leave. This will give you plenty of time to look around the house for items you might already have, then go shopping for items you still need.

Involve your child in overnight or day camp shopping. It will help to get them excited about camp, and give you an opportunity to talk about camp with them.

Don’t just shop for items on the camp packing list. Many camps have theme nights where kids can dress up. Find out beforehand, what special themes or traditions your child’s camp has, and supplement your packing list for fun items for those evenings.

While you are out, ask you child to pick an item or two you can include in a sleep away camp care package. Encourage them to choose items that can be shared with cabin mates. Check out our Summer Camp Guide Store for care package inspiration.

Every camp guide will tell you to label anything you want be returned at the end of camp. To that point, don’t send your child with expensive clothes, electronics, or sentimental items that can’t get lost.

To find the right camp for your child, check out the 365 Atlanta Traveler Atlanta Summer Camp Guide.

More Camp Info

Science Camp: Atlanta Edition (Really, are you serious?)
15 Day Camps to Grow Your Budding Artist (The Crunchy Mommy)
Finding a STEM based science camp – Atlanta Guide (Love, Peace and Tiny Feet)
Summer Camps: Athens, Ga (Mommy Octopus)
The Best Summer Camps in Georgia (365 Atlanta Family)

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How to evaluate a summer camp & money saving tips

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Sue Rodman | Co-Founder

Sue came to Atlanta after finishing the Walt Disney World College Program where she was a tour guide then guest relations hostess (and no she did not moonlight as Snow White). Sue spent 25 years in PR before adding freelance travel writing to her resume. Prior to 365 Atlanta Traveler, Sue published an award winning family travel blog called Field Trips with Sue for eight years, and produced a TV segment with the same name on CBS Better Mornings Atlanta. Her favorite place to visit is anywhere with her husband and three sons. Sue believes anytime is a good time for dessert and there are no bad field trips, just better stories. @SueRodman

3 Comments on "How to Evaluate Summer Camps (And Tuition Saving Tips)"

  1. I run an experiential sleep away camp for kids and teens with special needs. 3/4ths of our staff clinically informed therapists, special ed teachers, para’s or nurses.

  2. FYI – The Jewish summer camp you are referring to is Barney Medintz not Bernie Medintz or Bernie Mac.

  3. Choosing the right summer camp for your child is important and can be time consuming. Thanks for sharing!

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