Whether they’re pint-sized chefs, marine biologists, baseball hot-shots or budding Broadway stars,  there are tons of fun things for your kids to do this winter in Kidsguide’s jam-packed CampGuide.

Here are five things to look for before writing your check and dropping off your camper:


1. A Pro Staff

Because they’re working with kids, camp counselors should be held to the highest of standards. Look for a camp where the staff has been background-checked, with references, an interview and a criminal-records search. There should be certified lifeguards for your swimmers, and someone trained in CPR and first aid. High-school counselors should report to a pro, and they should seem enthusiastic and interested in the job. You’ll also want a low camper-to-staff ratio of about 10 to one for kids ages 8 to 14.


2. A Healthy History

There are plenty of new and creative camps that are really well run. But bad ones close up fast if they’re unsafe or unprofessional. Look for a camp with a long track record, one that’s run by a reputable organization (YMCA, for example), or a camp that’s accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), which has applicants measure up against 300+ standards.


3. Easy Contact

Especially when your camper’s out on field trips, swimming in the Pacific or trying new things, like rock climbing, you’ll want to know you can reach a grown-up any time before, during and after camp — or at least have someone call you back ASAP. Test it out before you enroll.


4. A Stress-Free Atmosphere

Come on now, camp is for fun! You don’t want to drop your kids off with a drill sergeant, or in an environment where they feel unwelcome, unprepared or out-of-place. Look for a camp that prides itself on diversity and community (scholarships are a good sign). Right off the bat, the camp staff should seem positive, nurturing and encouraging for kids of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Got a funny feeling in your gut? Your kids will, too.


5. A Little Growth

That being said,  camp should nudge your kids out of their comfort zones — just a little. They’re a great place to build new skills, explore interests, fine-tune their athletic prowess or dip their feet into the social, artistic or academic (usually made way more fun than school!) scene. Look for a wide variety of activities and staff that give your kids choices throughout the day. All of this helps build confidence they can carry with them into the school year and beyond.