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Asking Questions Is Key in Camp Selection

Camp Fairs Offer Opportunity to Explore

Each year parents sift through booklets and pamphlets on camps that offer improved sports skills, wilderness adventure, musical training, academic enrichment or just plain fun stuff, trying to figure out which camp is best for their child. But there can be more involved with selecting the right child's summer camp than colorful photographs in a glossy brochure.

"The first thing parents have to do is to decide what is best for the child. Is the child ready? What type of camp?" said Joanne Wilkenfeld, co-owner of Summer Solutions, a camps and trips advisory company based in Fairfax County. "Camp is not daycare, although the youngest camp age is usually 3 years old. There are also camps for teen-agers."

Camp fairs such as the one scheduled for the Tysons Westpark Hotel on Feb. 3 is a way for parents to not only get an idea of all the different types of camps available but to also meet the camps' owners, ask questions and in some cases arrange to visit the facility.

<mh>Check It Out

<bt>"Basically, what we tell parents to look for is if the program is licensed by the state, the Department of Social Services. Whether it's a day or sleep-away camp, it should be licensed," said Ellen Greenberg, youth programs specialist for the Fairfax County Park Authority. "We recommend parents go to camp fairs. Camp fairs are a great way to meet the camp owners."

Greenberg said parents should also consider the staff-to-children ratio, pickup policies for day camps, and the safety conditions of the camp.

"Parents should find out if the staff is state-certified in CPR, have been subjected to criminal background checks and all their references have been checked," Greenberg said. "Parents should also ask about the qualifications of the staff. What's the minimum age to work there? What sort of training for the staff is there?"

The Park Authority runs only recreational day camps and tries to match people up with their interests, said Greenberg. Besides the camps, the Park Authority offers RecPAC, a drop-in summer program offered at 59 elementary schools throughout the county.

<mh>Keeping the Child in Mind

<bt>Besides looking into the safety aspects of a camp before signing up, parents also need to make sure the camp fits the child.

"Parents should evaluate the program. For example, if a child is interested in soccer, will the camp help with his or her skills?" said Wilkenfeld. "The way to choose the best program is to look at the child. A quiet, shy child does better in a group-oriented situation or small-group setting."

Deciding on whether to enroll a child in a day camp or sleep-away facility also depends on the child. Wilkenfeld said the decision needs to be based on the physical and emotional maturity of the child. Transportation can also be an issue, since with day camps, someone needs to drop off and pick up the child each day.

And with a wide variety of camps being offered, it is best to find a camp that can hold the child's interest over the course of the entire session, regardless of how long that may be.

"Fairs help people get all their information, parents can meet the owners," Wilkenfeld said. "And for a day camp, they can touch bases and even drive over and see the facility."