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Selecting a summer camp

Tips to save your sanity

I still remember the Excel spreadsheet my husband created when our son was in grade school. We were trying to patch together multiple summer camp options, which would be fun and enriching for him and, which would also, frankly, help us out with childcare while we both worked. We talked with friends, read everything we could get our hands on, poured over websites and cobbled together a plan. What we didn’t have was great advice—like the tips from our experts, below—on how to go about the whole process. 

While the options for summer camps in Qatar might not be as abundant as they are in other countries, with this advice you’ll have a better idea of where to start looking, what questions to ask and you’ll even nab a few tips on what to do once you’ve chosen the right camp(s) for your child. Happy summer-camping!

Know your child

“The age and interests of the child help to determine which type of camp experience will fit,” says Howard Batterman, owner and director of Sesame/Rockwood Camps and Rockwood Adventures in the U.S. “With very young children ages four to five, the length of the day and the week is a consideration,” adds Batterman, who also has held several leadership positions with the American Camp Association (ACA). With older children, you will be looking into either a traditionally based programme (which often includes a variety activities and instruction) or short-term specialty programmes with an emphasis on a particular activity like sport, dance or even robotics.

Ask around

Word-of-mouth suggestions can be the best sources of info, Batterman says. Parents from your child’s school, neighbours and relatives are often happy to share their experiences with day camps, he adds. Be sure to ask, “What did you like about the camp? What did you dislike? Would your child want to return to the same camp again in the future?” Some parents also ask their Facebook friends for recommendations when looking for camps. As you ask around, start creating a short list of camps that you want to consider.

Schedule a visit—and bring your questions 

“Schedule a time to visit, along with your child, and tour the facilities with the director,” suggests Batterman. Ask questions. Are lunch and snacks provided or do kids bring food from home? Is there care taken for children with food allergies? Is there a nurse on staff? Is transportation provided to and from your home? If so, how is that done? What is the staff-to-camper ratio? (This varies based on the age of the campers. For the younger campers, Batterman recommends a 3:1 camper-to-staff ratio; for older campers, a 5:1 ratio.) How are children grouped? Is there a swim programme? If so, what certifications do the people hold who are running that programme? What is the interview process for the staff? What type of training do staff members receive?

Check out camp security

What procedures are in place to sign-out a camper? At Batterman’s camps, for example, each family is sent ID cards before the start of camp. Also, staff should be wearing camp t-shirts or some other type of uniform and should wear photo ID on a lanyard, says Batterman. “This ensures that each staff member is identified,” he adds. “If a stranger is on camp property, they are easy to spot.”  

Ask about visitation policies

Batterman suggests looking for a camp with an open-visitation policy for parents. “This is important because it tells the parents that the camp has nothing to hide,” he says. “Parents should be able to stop by camp at their leisure to visit their child.” (Always be sure to check in upon your arrival, as the camp will need to keep track of all visitors for security reasons.)

Choose your commute

Even though traffic in Doha becomes much more tolerable in the summer, you’ll make your days much more difficult if you choose a camp in Gharafa when you work in West Bay but live near the airport. On the other hand, the reprieve from traffic may mean that you have a few more options available than you would during the school year. Do a dry run to and from the locations you’re considering to get the best idea of what your commute would be like.

Once you decide on a camp, you’ll want to make sure your child has a great experience. These suggestions from Donna Schwartz, associate executive director of Siegel JCC day camps for children and teens in the U.S. has these suggestions:

Pack wisely

You will likely receive a “what to bring to camp” list from the camp before your child’s first day. Will your child be carrying her stuff around with her all day at camp? If so, pack minimally required items, and considering having your child use a small backpack.

Keep food safe

Will your child’s lunch be refrigerated? If yes, 
pack it in a brown paper bag labelled with his name and group name. If no, pack it in an insulated lunch box (also labelled) with an ice pack. You can also freeze half-filled water bottles overnight and fill them the rest of the way in the morning—when lunchtime rolls around, their lunch will be cool and the ice defrosted; frozen containers of yogurt have the same effect.

Send extra water

We all know how hot Qatar can get in the summer. Make sure your kids have more than enough water to get them through the day. The World Health Organisation recommends that children between the ages of four and eight drink approximately 1.7 litres per day while children between nine and thirteen should drink 2.1 to 2.4 litres per day.

Remember the sunscreen

How much outdoor time will your child get? It's always a good idea to slather your child with sunscreen before she is sent to camp, but send more sunscreen along, which can be re-applied by the staff if necessary

Do not send along toys or electronics

Camp is about socializing, making new friends and trying new things. If you send along electronics (assuming they are even allowed at the camp), your child will be will be more isolated and focused on playing Angry Birds instead of enjoying camp activities. Plus, electronics have a way of getting lost at camp.

Label everything. 

Your child inevitably will lose something. You are more likely to get an item back if it has his name on it.

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