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How to Choose a Surf Camp

Choosing a surf camp (or any summer camp) for your child can be a challenging and sometimes overwhelming task. There's a seemingly endless variety of camps to consider, and matching one to your child’s interests, personality and schedule can be daunting. Furthermore, as a parent, you have the responsibility to make sure the camp you choose is operated in a safe, appropriate manner for your child’s age and skill levels.

Following is a camp selection check list for parents developed by summer camp expert Eric Naftulin, an American Camp Association ambassador and owner/operator of Aloha Beach Camp, a Los Angeles, California summer camp for kids and teens ages five to 15. With nearly two decades of camp experience, Naftulin understands the challenges parents face during camp enrollment season and offers the following tips to help guide them through the camp selection process.

1. Identify the camp’s program emphasis.  Every camp has a different philosophy and program emphasis.  Knowing your child’s personality and learning style, you can determine if a camp that promotes healthy competition among camp “teams” is the best choice, or if a camp based on cooperative learning is a better fit for your child.

2, Confirm that the camp is accredited. In order to pass accreditation offered by the ACA, camps must comply with up to 300  standards of health, safety and program matters important to a camp’s operation.

3. Ask about the camp director’s background.  To ensure that the camp director is qualified, make sure they meet the minimum standards set by ACA, which recommend that directors are at least 25,  hold a bachelor’s degree, have in-depth experience in camp administration and have performed in-service training in the last three years.

4. Counselor-to-camper ratios. To make sure your child is getting the individual attention he or she needsfor his or her age, compare the camp’s counselor-to-camper ratio to ACA standards.  For overnight camps, the general recommended ratio is 6:1 for 7 and 8 year olds, 8:1 for 9 to 14 year olds and 10:1 for campers15 to 17. For day camps, the general ratios range from 8:1 for 6, 7 and 8 year olds, 10:1 for 9 to 14 yearolds and 12:1 for campers ages 15 to 17.

(Please note, the above-cited child-to-counselor ratio standards are only ACA's general, MINIMUM recommendations and may vary depending on various situations and/or conditions. Moreover, there could be additional standards relating to specific programs and/or activities where more supervision may be prudent, if not recommended and/or required.  Accordingly, you should use your own judgement and conduct your own research to decide what is appropriate for you and your child.)

5. Inquire about camp staff. Camp Counselors can greatly enhance a child’s camp experience.  In addition tofacilitating camp activities, counselors serve as role models, and should be dependable, trustworthy, andshow enthusiasm for their role.  For safety reasons, counselors should also be CPR and First Aid-Certified, and have undergone criminal background checks prior to employment by the camp.

6. Accommodation of special needs. If your child has special needs due to a medical condition or allergy, be sure to ask if the camp is equipped to handle these special requirements for your child.

7. Find out about how the camp handles discipline.  As in any organization, rules are needed, yet the camp’s disciplinary approach should be fair and openly communicated.  Positive reinforcement, a sense of fair play and assertive role-modeling are important things to look for. If penalties apply to certain violations, camp staff should apply them fairly, calmly and without unnecessary criticism.

8. Check the camp’s references.  References can provide you with a glimpse of the experiences others have had at a camp, and are an important way of checking out a camp’s track record and reputation.  Camp directors should be willing to provide references upon request.