Sometimes it seems as if the world is obsessed with best. Why does every pizza place claim to have “the best slice in the city?” Why do we fall into intense arguments about who is the best quarterback of all time? Or the best basketball player? Or the best guitarist? Why do we pour through online reviews and consumer reports to find the best smartphone or the best refrigerator?

Parents, especially, are obsessed with best. And who can blame you? Naturally, you want the best for your children in all things. You want to send them to the best schools, settle in the best neighborhoods, sign them up for lessons with the best piano teacher.

And when it comes to making summer plans, you want to send your children to the best educational camp.

There Is No ‘Best’ Educational Summer Camp

Of course, there’s a good reason why it’s impossible to resolve arguments about the best basketball player or even the best college. What is best for one person or situation may not be best for another. The coach will send in whatever player will perform the best against a particular opponent. The best university for a chemistry major may have a mediocre theater program.

Finding the best summer camp means finding the best fit for your child.

Parents often ask us for advice about the best summer camp. But the honest truth is — although we think educational programs like EXPLO have a lot to offer a wide range of students — finding the best summer camp means finding the best fit for your child. It requires knowing as much about your child as it does knowing about the reputation of various camps.

As you start your search for an academic summer program for your child, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you and your child want out of their summer camp experience?
  • What academic summer camp will provide that experience best, in a way that resonates with your child’s learning style, personality, interests, and goals?

How Do You Find the ‘Best’ Camp for Your Child?

Once you have a sense of what “best” means for your child, how do you find it? Reference families — families with children that have attended a camp before — can be valuable resources, especially if their children share interests with yours.

Attending informational sessions, visiting campuses, and calling camps all give you a chance to ask questions. You may even enlist the help of a referral agent (an expert on summer camps who will help you find a good fit for your child).

To help you in your search, we’ve created a straightforward 10-step process for finding the perfect educational summer camp for your child. Click here for your copy of the guide.

What to Look For

Although there is no one-size-fits-all best summer camp for every child, there are a few characteristics that speak to the educational quality of a summer camp. Camps with these traits tend to be a level above the rest. They offer enriching, transformative experiences to a wide range of students.

Any camp with these three attributes is worth a closer look to see if it might be the best fit for your child:

1. An Experiential Approach to Learning

Just because a summer camp is “educational” or “academic,” it doesn’t mean it must replicate the teaching style children experience during the school year. In fact, it shouldn’t. Study after study proves that children (and adults, too) learn best when they can get their hands on things and confront real challenges.

Lectures are so September. Summer is time for exploration and trying new things. The best educational summer camps aren’t about cramming for standardized tests. Instead, the programming is:

  • Active. Students are participants in their own learning, through discussion and debate, hands-on projects, and opportunities to combine disciplines in creative ways to solve problems.
  • Social. Students work together. They collaborate with expert instructors. They gain the people skills that will be critical for success throughout the rest of this century.
  • Meaningful. Students are encouraged to apply their learning to their lives and the world around them. The focus isn’t just on the strengths and weaknesses of students, but their purpose — how they can make a difference.

2. Breadth and Depth of Opportunities

Most middle school students, and many of those in high school, have yet to find the single passion that will drive them through college and into the career field. That’s why opportunities to explore different subject areas at summer camp are so valuable.

Plus, too much of the same thing can be exhausting (not to mention boring).

The key is choice. As much as possible, students should be able to chart their own courses through camp.

At the same time, if students do land on a potential passion, they should be able to dig deeply to see if it really is the area for them. What is it like working in a field? What tools do professionals use? How does a subject apply to the real world?

The key is choice. As much as possible, students should be able to chart their own courses through camp, whether that means jumping from painting, to engineering, to business, or immersing themselves in psychology or emergency medicine.

3. Exposure to Experts in Their Field

Planning high-quality summer programming is a bit like curating a museum exhibit. You can’t choose just anyone to lead a course in computer science or direct a musical. Expertise in a subject area isn’t enough. Great instructors know how to engage students with hands-on lessons and thought-provoking discussions.

Summer is also the perfect time for your child to learn about the realities of the working world. Students should have the chance to interact with professionals in the fields that interest them.

For example, a group of girls from the bioengineering program here at EXPLO recently visited the Karp Lab at Harvard. After the visit, one of the girls said the best thing she learned from Dr. Karp was that you don’t have to go to medical school to become a bioengineer.

Looking for the ‘Best’? Start With These 15 Camps

No camp can claim to be the best educational summer camp in the country. But we do think most children can find a summer home in one of the 15 excellent programs we included in our recent publication, “The Secret Sauce of the Best Academic Summer Camps and 15 Camps to Consider.

Each camp in the guide includes one or all of the three characteristics of best educational summer camps we described in this article.