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Selecting the Right Camp

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.

CAMP FAIRS are 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.

"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."

However, Greenberg said not all camps are required to be licensed. For instance, single-focus camps such as a three-hours-per-day soccer camp, would not be required to obtain a license, while an all-day, general activities camp would need to be licensed. Greenberg said the Park Authority holds all its camps to the same standards whether they need to be licensed or not.

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? If they are hiring 16-year-olds to look after a bunch of 12-year-olds, the situation may not be ideal for parents."

Information about the camps offered by the Park Authority are available online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks or by picking up a copy of Parktakes.

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

Deciding on whether to enroll a child in a day camp or sleep-away facility also depends on the child, 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 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.