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With all of the recreational activities and summer camps that Northeast Ohio has to offer, deciding how your child spends the summer can be difficult.

But families with first-time campers are faced with the unique challenge of choosing the right program for their child, all while having no previous summer experiences to go off of.

According to Bill Champ, auxiliary programs director at University School in Hunting Valley and Shaker Heights; Gina Cuffari, owner of Snapology of Cleveland in Beachwood; and Aidan Stibora, program director at Red Oak Camp in Kirtland, parents should consider a few things.

“Start by taking a deep breath and try not to be overwhelmed,” Stibora said. “The first significant decision to make is if you’re looking for a day or overnight camp experience. Parents should also consider if their camper would benefit from a traditional camp where they can grow and develop recreation skills in a community of caring adults, or if they are more interested in specialty camps.”

While picking a program, whether it’s a sports, science, religious or an outdoors-oriented camp, parents should also consider a child’s age, development level and interests, Stibora added.

“Countless kinds of summer camps are available, and your camper is more likely to thrive at one that they had a hand in picking,” he said. “Regardless of what decision you make, your camper will have the best chance of excelling if they arrive on the first day with the right expectations and ready to have a blast.”

Many camps work to take each campers’ interests into account when creating programming, making sure each one has a good time – no matter if it is their first time or not.

“When children are having fun, they don’t even realize they are learning,” Cuffari said. “Snapology is a great fit for children interested in building, technology, engineering and meeting new friends. Our staff will work to connect our fun lessons and activities to children’s interests because active engagement makes all the difference.”

But a child’s interest shouldn’t be the only driving force, Champ said. While making sure they’re interested is important, there is an attractiveness to the unknown.

“It is important to let a child pursue their interests and what they like to do, but I also caution families to also be open-minded and have the child do something new and different that they might not have experience in,” he said. “The true beauty of summer camp is doing things you’ve never done before and finding something new to love.”

Parents should also take into account a child’s stamina. Since camp is something they’ve never experienced, their success lies in their ability to remain engaged, Cuffari said.

“First-time campers may prefer to start with morning camp,” she said. “At Snapology, we offer 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m., or full-day camp, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Often, we will recommend a 9 a.m. to noon schedule for a first-time camper, especially if they are just entering kindergarten.”

Before making their final choice, parents should be sure to research each option they’re seriously considering.

“Summer programs have blown up over the last 25 years and it seems like every school and organization is offering something,” Champ said. “This leaves you with a lot of choices out there. So, spend some time researching what is offered. One of the things I’ve realized is you get what you pay for. There are so many less expensive camps that say they offer the same programs, and on the surface, it may seem that way. Learn to dig deeper.”

Parents shouldn’t feel discouraged from asking questions, like about accreditation and family testimonials, to see how willing camp staff is to share information.

“Look at the options and talk about it,” Champ said. “That is a great first step. And then ask questions and look for clarification. Don’t be afraid, especially if it is your first time, to bore down in the details because you know your child best.”

Stibora said, “Don’t be afraid to call if you have questions. Most camps will be happy to answer all of your questions and some will even let you schedule a camp tour to see the facilities.”

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