With school ending in a couple of weeks, many parents islandwide are beginning to search for a summer program that will offer their children a safe, healthy, educational, and happy experience. Once parents have narrowed down their choices to two or three programs, they will need to make sure that the facilities, environment, personnel, and the program’s philosophy are also suited to their child’s needs. Below are some questions parents should ask summer program directors:

1. What is the program’s philosophy? Is it one you are comfortable with as a parent? Is it a good match for your child? Is competition or cooperation emphasized? If it is a program run by a religious organization, what religious observances or practices are part of the program?

2. How does the program recruit, screen, and train its staff? Do they have criminal background checks and first aid training? What are their educational backgrounds?

3. What is the return rate of the staff? At many programs, 40-60% of the staff returns. If the number you are given is lower, ask why.

4. What is the percentage of participants returning to the program? A large percentage of returnees – 50% or more – is a good sign that they really enjoy the program.

5. What is the ratio of staff to participants, and how old are they?

6. What are the procedures for medical routines and emergencies? For specific information, ask about the last medical emergency, and how it was handled. If your child takes medication, has food allergies or a chronic medical condition, be sure you are comfortable that the program will be able to handle your child’s needs.

7. What is the program’s approach to discipline, and how does it handle conflicts between participants? Find out what the program’s rules are, and what breaches would result in a participant being sent home.

8. What does a typical daily schedule look like? This will help you decide if your child will be happy with the level of academics, physical activity, or the amount of time devoted to arts and crafts. Ask how much freedom a child has to choose activities.

9. Will the program be transporting the children? What vehicles are used and how often are they inspected? Who drives them and what training do drivers have?

10. Ask for references. Get the names of campers and counselors that you may contact. While it is true that a director is likely to give you the names of those who had good experiences, you will be able to get a fuller view of the camp by asking the right questions, such as, “Is there anything you did not like about the camp? “

These questions are a good starting point in your quest to find the right summer program for your children. If you spend the time needed to research your options and include your children in the decision, they will most likely have a memorable experience that will provide them with opportunities to grow as people, while having fun, and making new friends.

Elizabeth Hamilton, ME, MA, is a teacher with 31 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner@yahoo.com with your questions or comments.

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