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My daughter happily went to sleepover camp starting at age nine, but my son did not enjoy sports and other typical camp activities so he preferred to stay closer to home. I remember one summer when he went to so many different one and two week programs in the city that Joel and I had to carefully coordinate calendars to ensure all of us were in the right place at the right time each day.
There are a tremendous number of Toronto and Ontario summer programs available in every price range from general camps offering a mix of daily activities to specialty camps catering to budding athletes, thespians, artists and scientists. Some day camps include an extended day and/or transportation. Others require you to pick up and deliver. Overnight camping sessions may be only a week or two or as long as two months.
The more popular and least expensive camps like those offered by the City of Toronto have been booked up for months, but there are still some places available if your location and selection criteria are flexible. Since July is most popular at sleep over camps, you may still be able to still register your child for August.
Here are a number of things to consider when selecting a camp or other summer program for your child.
1. Cost: There is a huge difference in the cost of summer programs ranging from $100 per week or less for some municipal day camps to $1,000 or more a week for most private overnight camps. The well-reputed and least costly camps fill up fast so be prepared to sign up as soon as registration opens and be wait-listed if you don’t get your first choice.
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2. Day camp or overnight camp: Children as young as eight or nine may be ready for overnight camp. Some are ready earlier and some are never ready. Overnight camps are typically more expensive, so cost may be a factor. Some day camps include an optional week at overnight camp to give campers a taste of the sleepover experience.
3. Your child’s interests: Many children enjoy camps offering a varied program including land and water sports, arts and crafts and other group activities. Others will thrive in specialty programs designed to improve skills (i.e., hockey camp, circus camp) or focus on areas like drama, arts, computers or robotics. Some families will be attracted to day camps or overnight camps run by religious groups.
4. Program duration: If both parents are employed, the length of the camp day and availability of before and after camp day care are important. A one or two week day camp or overnight camp may be all that your child and your wallet can handle. However, unless you and/or your partner are taking part of the summer off to spend time with the children, fewer, longer programs can be easier to coordinate. On the other hand, your children may benefit from the opportunity to try out a series of different activities.
5. Location: Whether or not transportation is included in the cost of day camp, location is important. For working parents, carpooling may or may not be an option. You may prefer door to door busing, but some young children may not do well on long bus rides in traffic to and from camp. Overnight camps will generally be several hours away to take advantage of a lake-side location or other outdoor facilities.
6. Who else is going? Attending a day camp or overnight camp for the first time can be scary. If an older sibling, relative or friend has attended the camp or will be there at the same time as your child, he/she may be less apprehensive. They can also look out for your child when a bout of homesickness occurs.
7. Staff age/ratio/training: Find out about the staff that will be running your children’s programs. How old are they? What if any training do they have? What is the staff/camper ratio? Generally you can expect junior counsellors to be 17 and senior counsellors to be at least 18. Often younger teens get a reduced fee to work as counsellors in training (CITs). Swimming instructors should have appropriate Red Cross certification. If you are paying for a specialty camp, ask questions about the qualifications of the dance teacher or hockey coach.
8. The facilities: Camps are held in schools, community centres, parks, conservation areas and other private city and country venues. In many cases the nature of the facilities and resources will bear some relationship to how much you are paying. At the very least, ensure that the site is clean and safe with adequate shade and washroom facilities.
9. Special needs: If your child has special needs, there is probably a camp that will accommodate his/her requirements. For example Camp Oochigeas caters to children with cancer; Camp Kirk is a residential camp for children with learning disabilities; and Camp Ten Oaks is a one-week camp for children of LGBTQ families and youth who are themselves queer or questioning their sexual orientation. Many special needs camps have scholarships if parents cannot afford to pay all or part of the fees.
10. What’s the buzz?: Perhaps the best information you can get about any summer program is feedback from children who have attended recently and their parents. Talk to people who you respect and who understand your priorities.
There is no one source for every possible summer camp or program in your community. However, the website mycamps.com has very detailed listings for Ontario day and overnight camps. The free ebook Preparing for Camp also has many helpful hints.
Related: Saved by a summer camp switcheroo