Summer camp can be so much more than a vacation.

The right summer camp can dramatically expand your teen’s perspective, invigorate their curiosity, ignite their creativity, and awaken them to their own limitless potential. Summer camp can be a joyful time for discovery and a chance for your teen to practice the independence they’ll experience in college in just a few years.

All this won’t happen at just any camp. What you’re looking for is a transformational summer camp, an environment where your teen can encounter new worlds of ideas and people and feels safe to take on new challenges courageously.

But knowing what you’re looking for and finding it are two different things.

A Google search for “summer camp” or “summer educational program” will bring up thousands of results. In your state alone, there are likely hundreds of summer programs to choose from. If you live in a metro area like Boston or New York, many of the programs are bunched within a few miles of each other.

How can you possibly narrow down your search to find the one camp that will change your teen’s life? Here are a few search tips to get you started:

1. Follow the Enthusiasm

Teens who have had an amazing summer camp experience rarely keep it to themselves. They come back from camp eager to rave about the activities they tried, the games they played, and (most of all) the friends they made. Their excitement will spill over to their parents, who will become cheerleaders, as well.

Ask your neighbors, friends, and coworkers where their children went last summer (and don’t overlook your online social network). If it was a transformative experience, chances are, you’ll hear about it. Pay the closest attention to families with children that have similar interests and learning styles to yours.

Your child’s teachers can also be a good starting point in your search for a transformational summer camp. Not all teachers are experts on the summer camp landscape — especially beyond the limits of your local area. But good teachers do know your child’s learning style and may be able to, at least, steer you in the right direction.

2. Work With a Referral Agent

It may seem like a step too far to hire someone to help you find a summer camp. But when you think about it, it’s not that crazy. You want the best for your child, and summer camp referral agents understand the possibilities better than anyone else.

Working with a referral agent is simply consulting with an expert on a possibly life-altering decision. Besides, referral agents do not charge for their services; camps pay them by commission.

A knowledgeable referral agent will be able to introduce you to “hidden gems” you wouldn’t otherwise consider and give you the real story behind camps you only know from brochures and websites.

3. Make Contact

If camp administrators aren’t willing to answer your questions, consider that a red flag. Transformational summer programs are run by committed educators — not pushy salespeople — who want to help your teen land in the right place as much as you do.

If you reach out to a summer program by phone, pay attention to who is on the other end. Have you reached a phone bank or someone who will be working directly with your child this summer? The most reliable information comes from people who gained their knowledge through experience, not from people who merely parrot talking points.

4. Get In Touch With Reference Families

Online reviews, campus tours, and camp-sponsored information sessions can all help you paint a more complete picture of a summer camp. But there’s no substitute for first-hand testimony.

A high-quality summer program will recognize that choosing a summer camp is not an easy decision. They will gladly put you in touch with reference families — families whose children have attended the camp before — who can describe the program and its outcomes from their insider’s perspective and answer your questions honestly.

5. Pay Attention to the Practicalities

So much goes into making a summer experience exceptional. You may be focused on (extremely important!) high-level factors, such as an experiential teaching strategy, top-notch educational facilities, and access to the cultural resources of a world-class city. But sometimes, the details mean the difference between a good summer camp and a transformational one.

Here are a few summer camp particulars to keep in mind:

  • Length of the program. Some people say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. That might be true. In our experience, it usually takes three weeks of camp for a teen’s confidence to fully emerge, their friendships to solidify, and their agency to take hold.
  • Local or sleepaway? Both options can be transformational. Whichever you choose, though, make sure the camp makes an effort to promote independence and a strong sense of community, incorporating day and overnight students equally.
  • Faculty-to-student ratio. Look behind the number. Some camps will inflate their ratios by counting non-educational staff.
  • Logistics. Does the camp provide transportation to and from airports? Getting to camp and back home again can be one of the most stressful aspects of being away from home for the first time.
  • The quality of the food. Meals are essential bonding experiences; good food puts nervous teens at ease.
  • Medical care. Who will take care of your teen if an unfortunate accident happens? Where will their medications be stored, and how will they be distributed? The best summer programs have medical staff on campus 24/7.

Find a Summer Camp That Will Make a Difference

The Secrets to a Transformational Summer Camp Experience for Your TeenWe wish you luck in your search for a summer camp that will change your teen’s life. To help you along the way, we’ve put together a complete guide for parents on “The Secrets to a Transformational Summer Camp Experience for your Teen.” Click below for your free copy.

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