At this point in your search you have narrowed it down to two or three camps based on their websites and other online searches and it is time to pick up the phone and ask the big questions.
- Did the phone go unanswered? - A sign of a dedicated camp professional is that they will answer the camp phone any day of the year at almost any time of the day. If your message is not returned promptly or if a second call goes unanswered you should have serious doubts as to that particular camp.
- Tell me about your camp - at this point in your research you should know a fair amount about the camp you are calling. This question allows the owner or manager an opportunity to highlight the important aspects of his/her operation. A good camp representative will use this to find out more information about the caller and the prospective camper. Jot down some notes on the structure of the camp program, the number of campers per session, ratio of boys to girls, or any other points that are important to you.
- How long has your camp been around? - Some camps in the U.S. have been around for nearly one hundred years, others may be embarking on their first summer. Just because a camp is old does not mean it is any better than another camp; management can change, programs can be altered, or camps can get lazy and rely on repeat business to float along. Many times camps want to sound old and established to lend an air of credibility to them; make sure you follow through with this question to learn a bit more about a camp's history.
- How long have you been with the camp and what did you do before this? - An off-season camp manager can be considered a representative for the entire staff of a camp. He/she is usually an owner or year-round manager and should have a thorough understanding of the camp's operations and the camp industry in general. You are trusting this person to not misrepresent his/her organization just to get the enrollment so try to get a good feel for him/her. This person will likely be in charge of assembling a staff and running the camp during the summer so if they are boring or dull you will know what to expect come camp time. If the representative is unhelpful, uninformed, or rude that is also major red flag.
- How do you screen your staff? - You want to 100% make sure that a camp employs responsible, age-appropriate, background-checked counselors. If the director does not tell you point blank that they perform background checks, in-person interviews, and reference checks, move on to another camp. Counselors will be interacting with the campers 24 hours a day and will make or break a camper's time at camp.
- What is the counselor to camper ratio? - Having a great staff is a plus, but if the campers vastly outnumber the counselors even the best staff in the world will not be able to run an effective program. The key ratio to look for in larger, traditional camps is at least 1:4, one counselor to every four campers. Small specialty camps should have even lower ratios, usually 1:2. If the camp offers swimming, whether in a lake or pool, make sure to find out how many counselors are lifeguard certified.
- Can we set up a tour? - Scheduling a camp tour is an awesome way of finding the perfect camp. Many larger camps will have organized open houses for dozens of prospective families to come check out the camp while other camps will set up private tours. If you are within driving distance of the camp this step is highly recommended. Small camps sometimes cannot offer tours as they operate out of rented facilities. Ask alternative questions like "will you come to our house to give us a presentation?" or "can you send us pictures of your facilities and equipment?".
There are surely many other questions that you will think of throughout your camp search so remember to be upfront and honest throughout the process. One camp may be perfect for one child but a terrible fit for another: do not try to take a one size fits all approach. Good luck with the camp search and if you are looking for the ultimate wakeboard/waterski/wake surf/wake skate camp just pop over to our main website (http://www.watermonkeycamp.com/)!