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So many summer camps. Such variety of activities. So much money.

What’s a parent to do?

There are 538 camp experiences to choose from this summer in the “Special Coverage” section of BuffaloNews.com.

Sports camps. Arts camps. Nature camps.

Leadership camps. Sailing camps. Fitness camps.

What’s a parent to choose?

“It’s about having kids actively engaged to keep their minds and bodies moving and learning in a positive way during the summer,” said Kelly Ross Kantz Roy, director of the University at Buffalo Early Childhood Research Center. “There are a tremendous number of options, and the price ranges are huge.”

Chances are excellent that you can find more than one camp in Western New York to serve your needs and thrill your child. But the reality is that a camp choice also can become a big investment that falls flat.

Roy and Alexia Buono, a doctoral student in the UB Department of Early Childhood Education, provided the following advice for parents looking to make the best choice for their hard-earned money.

1. Visit the camp: Parents and children should take a trip to camp before they sign up. Parents also should ask to see the camp activities plan and schedule of events, Roy said, “to make sure it’s enough to keep a child engaged but also provides enough choice for the child so they can learn to manage their time.”

Parents also should look for camp equipment that is “loved instead of shiny,” Roy said. “It’s not about the paint on the walls or how nicely landscaped a setting is. Honestly, if the grass isn’t worn out, it’s not used by children.”

2. Look for balance: A camp shouldn’t be all large-group time, Roy said. It should be activity filled, but not onerously so. It should be experience-based and teacher-directed. “Children should get a chance to recover from the structure of the school year,” she said. “It is a vacation for them, instead of school. It isn’t bad, it’s more fun school.”

3. Meet the key players: The quality of a summer camp and window into its effectiveness boils down to the camp counselor. “Parents need to get to know who that person is and what their abilities are, their focus is,” Roy said. “If that person isn’t available to answer questions, then that’s a red flag.”

4. Ask about experience: “What parents should be looking for,” Buono said, “whether it’s a dance studio or sports team or yoga, is do the teachers have not just experience teaching children but a degree in child development, to keep them not only happy and learning but to keep them safe?”

5. Get out and outside comfort zone: “A summer camp needs to be outdoors,” Roy said. “In so many of these camps, time is spent inside. Kids spend too much time inside anyway.”

Camp also is a time for children to try something new. “Summertime is a tremendous opportunity to expand your child’s’ interest,” Roy said. “There are farm camps or riding camps. The zoo has a program. These are all going to be helpful to children physically, emotionally, socially and cognitively because it’s exposing them to different things.”

6. Consider the cost: Camps aren’t like cars. It can be harder to spot the Mercedes or BMW of summer camps by looks alone, especially without a closer inspection. “People see a facility and see objects, and think if those objects look expensive and are very well maintained that it’s worth more,” Roy said. “It’s all about the person caring for your child. I’ve seen tremendous services provided in facilities that are not overly attractive, but because those individuals working with the children know what they’re doing and have the best intentions, those services are high quality.”

A part-time camp is good, too: A weeklong or one-day-a-week camp can be rewarding for parents who make other summer childcare arrangements, Roy and Buono said, even if its indoors. The local library system, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Explore & More are among options here. So are theater and dance companies, many of which host special performances, both inside and out.

The key is to keep that thirst for knowledge and engagement bubbling through the warmer months.

“Keeping kids active over the summer,” said Buono, “is going to help that transition in the fall, when they’re going back to school.”

email: refresh@buffnews.com