It wasn’t the archery, or the canoeing, or the great facilities that made Kate Pocock decide to send her kids to a particular camp. The Toronto mother of three and family travel writer of Family Travel Ink, says, “It was the kids playing in the mud — gobs of it, in fact, after a day of summer rain.”

Pocock says she invited several exhibitors from a camp fair she attended in her local community centre to provide a little more information to a group of moms in her home. One camp brought a slide show featuring the muddy kids.

“These kids were having a blast,” says Pocock. Not for everyone, maybe. But she says, “I knew our kids and the philosophy I wanted: a fairly non-structured camp that wouldn’t mind if campers were a bit free and easy, encouraged hands-on learning and respected the joys of nature.” It was a good pick. Pocock says she sent her three children to the camp on Ontario’s Lake Temagami — and they loved it. But kids are all different and choosing the right summer camp for your kids’ particular needs and aspirations is an important decision. Here are some ways to help ensure camp ends up being the positive experience you want it to be:

1. Start your research early

Camps fill up months ahead of time — sometimes as much as a year in advance. So, research various options early for the greatest choice. Visit camp fairs, invite camp reps to your home to meet with you and your friends, do research online and ask your friends and family for recommendations.

2. Involve your kids in the decision

You may think you know what’s best for your children, but it’s important to involve them in the selection process. Listen to their input. Make sure they’re involved. It will help to quell their fears and get them excited about going.

3. Research different types of camps

Is your child ready for a sleepover camp or would it be better to start off in a day camp? Are you looking for an opportunity to help develop specific skills such as sports or music? It’s important to match your philosophy as a parent with your child’s temperament and interests.

4. Consider the cost

Summer camp can be expensive, so be realistic about what you can afford. There are many wonderful lower-priced options. However, check carefully to be sure you fully understand what you’re getting. You don’t want to discover that the camp you chose cost less because it was skimping on activities or the quality of the food.

5. Ask questions

This is your child disappearing into the wilderness, so feel free to ask as many questions as you like. What about medical facilities? Special-needs assistance? Ask for references from other parents whose kids have attended the camp, and call them. Summer camp can be a life-changing adventure. Picking the right one can also help ensure it becomes one of your child’s fondest memories.

Resources to help you find a summer camp: