How to Shop for a Summer Camp

Before you leave your kid in a camp's care, make sure the staff answers your toughest questions

Let's be honest: Your child might be happy with any camp that has cute counselors. But you're the parent, so you've got to be more responsible and picky. Here's a check list of what every well-run camp should have:

An appropriate philosophy and mission. The camp should reinforce your family's values and suit your child's age, personality, and interests.

Good references. A camp should be willing to provide you with the names of the parents of former campers.

A high percentage of campers who return. It should be at least 50% for general camps.

A reasonable counselor-to-camper ratio. Guidelines vary by age and camp activities, but the overall average is one staff member for every four or five campers.

Mature counselors. Look for a camp that requires its counselors to be college-age or older.

A high percentage of counselors who return. It should be at least 40% to 60%. If it's less, ask why.

Thorough training for counselors. It should address first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), child-development issues, and how to help homesick campers.

Accreditation from the American Camping Association. This means that the camp has met the ACA's standards. The number of accredited camps is 2,200 and rising. The National Camping Association also provides evaluations of summer camps.