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This might be the easiest resolution you could make in 2012:  Get out and visit a summer camp.

If you are a parent of a potential summer camper, there is no substitute for the information you can glean about a summer camp during a camp visit.  Sure, you can read the glossy brochure, watch the videos, and visit the website.  You will digest a lot of information.  You might even feel like you’ve done your homework.  You haven’t.

Go for a visit.  Walk the trails, sit in the chapel, put your hand in the water along the shoreline – and talk to the staff.

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This afternoon I had the good fortune to visit a friend and fellow camp professional, Dave Bell, and YMCA Camp Colman outside of Seattle, Washington.  It was a needed reminder about the importance of taking the time to connect with the people and places that will become important in our children’s lives.  Camp Colman is beautiful, but Dave and his staff make it magical.

When you are looking for that special place this summer for your new camper, look for good people first.  When you find that, the rest will fall in place.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

For more information on Nathan’s camp programs, YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood, visit www.smymca.org

For more information on Dave Bell’s summer camps, visit http://www.campcolman.org/ or http://www.camporkila.org/.

In preparing for summer camp, parents ask a lot of questions – as they should.  What happens when a child get homesick?  What kind of activities will my child be able to participate in?  How will your staff help my child make friends?

All of these are good, valid concerns.  But my favorite question, hands down, is “How far away is too far away to send a child to summer camp?”

How Far is Too Far for Summer Camp?

If you are a reader who likes his or her answer up front, let me satisfy your curiousity immediately with a 2 part response:

  1. It depends on the child attending camp.
  2. It depends on the parent who is sending the child to camp.

Now its perfectly clear, right?  Perhaps not.  But it was helpful, right?  Again, perhaps not.

This summer, I ran a poll on LinkedIn  and asked adults this very question (http://linkd.in/mMvo0b).  With a few votes shy of 200 responses, my results are less than definitive, but the comments were pure gold.  I simply asked, “If you were sending a 10 year-old to sleep-away camp, what is a comfortable distance?” 

When framing my responses, I used times (less than 1 hour away, 1-2 hours away, 2-4 hours away, anywhere in the country, and anywhere in the world), but I did not define how a camper might be travelling.  In my opinion, once campers are travelling more than 4 hours away (by car, boat, train, or plane), they are too far away for parents to rush to their aid in the same day.  When campers are 4 or more hours away, they are “beyond reach.”  Coincidentally, this is how I picked a college.  I wanted a school that my parents could not easily visit.  I chose Grinnell College in Iowa, a full 16 hour drive from my home in Pennsylvania. 

As you might expect, responses to this simple question were all over the map (pun intended).

  1. 21% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp less than 1 hour from home.
  2. 34% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp 1-2 hours away.
  3. 27% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp 2-4 hours from home.
  4. 9% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in their home country.
  5. 9% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in the world.

If you take the time to review the results in more detail, you would find a trend towards older parents feeling more comfortable with their children traveling further from home than younger parents.  You wouldn’t see significant differences between men and women.

My Advice to ParentsThe perfect camp will be where you and your child’s comfort levels intersect.  Some kids are ready at 7 to fly across the country.  Some parents will never be ready for their children to be an hour away from them.  As my father is fond of saying, “moderation in all things.”  Look for the compromise. 

Look for the point at which your comfort and your child's comfort intersect.

Please keep this in mind:  Your goal should be to challenge your child and push her a step beyond her comfort level.  If you keep her too close, she may not feel challenged and/or independent.  If you push her too far out of her comfort zone, she may not benefit from the experience.  The same thing goes for you as a parent.  If you’re a parent who believes you can’t live without your child sleeping in the next room, look for the camp that is an hour away or less.  Don’t immediately send your camper across the country.  Moderation.

My Advice to Camp Directors:  “What?” you may wonder, “What does this post have to do with the art of camp management?”  Well, it should impact how you look at your marketing work.  Most parents responding to this poll, 55%, are comfortable sending their child to a camp less than 2 hours away.  82% of all parents who responded to the survey are looking for a camp that is less than 4 hours away from their home.  So, if you are on a limited marketing budget, focus on promotional events and ads that are within 2 hours drive of your camp.  Half of all parents looking for sleep-away camp next summer will be comfortable with your location.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp program (YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood), The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

I believe in the power of summer camp.  There, I said it.  My name is Nathan Brant and I am a summer camp believer. 

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I may, however, be part of a dwindling number of believers.  In this era of specialization, the value of a traditional summer camp experience with archery, canoeing, campfires, nature walks, horseback rides and rock climbing is more difficult to explain to perspective families, foundations, and educators.  Traditional Day & Resident Camps are like liberal arts colleges.  We teach behavior before skill – we teach how learn and interact successfully in groups.  More and more, society seems to turn away from the notion of liberal arts and the well-rounded individual.  We are witnessing an unprecedented growth in technical or magnate schools at all levels, and the same thing is happening with summer camps.

Now everyone has gotten in on the Camp Game.  Museums, churches, schools, YMCAs, YWCAs, Scouts, community foundations, state parks, and conservancy groups are all running camps.  We have soccer camp, art camp, dance camp, eco-camp, robotics camp, swim camp, lacrosse camp, and many more.  Each of these programs teaches a skill.  They teach kids to be a better soccer player, a better inventor, a better artist, or a better swimmer.  Meanwhile, traditional summer camp programs continue with their less glamorous work – teaching kids how to be better people.

In my summer camps, Bynden Wood YMCA Day Camp & YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser (www.smymca.org), we strive to help our campers develop into successful adults.  Regardless of the camp activity, we teach our kids the lessons of leadership.  Whether on horseback, the archery ranges, or the climbing tower, we intentionally work to improve a young person’s communication skills, we focus on the development of interpersonal trust, and we provide opportunities for problem-solving.  When a young person leaves our program, we know he or she is better prepared to serve as a leader, or be a responsible member of a group being led.

Being a great soccer player may be important through high school or college.  Being a great leader is important for life

My name is Nathan Brant, and I am a summer camp believer.  Perhaps there is a support group for people like me . . . .

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

For more information on the relevance of summer camp, check out the American Camp Association’s article, “An American Tradition – Camp,” at http://www.campparents.org/American-Tradition.

So you have made the decision to send your child to summer camp.  It was a great decision.  Your children will learn about the outdoors and themselves while meeting interesting people and making new friends.  Well done. 

Now you have questions, “Is my child ready for this?”  “Am I ready for this?”

Don’t Panic

It’s early now and you have time to worry about the “big questions.”  Remember why you felt a summer camp experience was important for your child.  As he matures, it’s important for him to take his first steps into the-big-bad-world.  There is no safer, better supervised environment for him to test the wings of his new-found independence than in summer camp.

Ask Questions

What your 4th grade English teacher said was true, “there are no stupid questions.”  If you, the parent, never went to summer camp, we expect you to have a lot of questions.  Even if you went to summer camp last century, believe us when we say a lot has changed.  Parents should call, email, or visit their summer camp until they have every questioned answered.  Don’t worry about us, we love to talk about camp.

Stay in Touch

Join your camp’s Facebook page.  Follow your camp on Twitter.  Visit the camp website every week.  Visit camp for a tour, an open house event, or attend a family camp program.  The more interaction you have with camp staff, the more comfortable you will be when your child goes away for a week or two this summer. 

Visit

You’ve seen the brochure.  You watched the videos.  You’ve visited the website.  You’ve talked to camp staff.  Visit the camp!  It will be worth the trip, and it will give you and your new camper another chance to ask questions and get comfortable. 

Be Brave for Your Child

After 20 years on summer camp staff  there is a dirty little secret about homesickness I think you ought to know:  Your fond farewells on the first day of camp can often cause – or alleviate – homesickness.  If your camper sees you are nervous and sad at the start of camp, she will feel that way, too.  She will often feel sad for you.  Be strong for your new camper.  Let her know how excited you are for her to have this new experience.  Let her know you will be alright while she is gone.  It could make all the difference.

Take Time for Yourself

Parents deserve a break.  Summer camp can give you that break.  You are unlikely to ever have a better trained person looking after the needs of your child than during a week of summer camp (other than you, of course).  Most camp staff are CPR and 1st Aid certified, they have been trained in dozens of fun games and activities, they sleep in the same room with the kids they care for, and watch what they eat at meals.  Take a break while your child is away and in good hands.  Watch a movie.  Visit a spa.  Recharge your batteries.

Celebrate the Accomplishment

Celebrate the accomplishment of completing the first week away at summer camp (for you and your child).  After camp, go to a favorite restaurant and share with your child how proud you are of him.  Chances are, he will have a lot to talk about. 

Know that your child is going to learn new things, build self-esteem, make new friends, and be cared for by excellent camp counselors who are there for you child.

We’ll See you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

*This article was started by Jeff Henry, the summer camp intern at YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser, and finished by Nathan. 

I am such a fan of alliteration.  I really can’t help myself.

Yesterday I was part of a podcast run by Travis Allison at www.CampHacker.org.  There were a number of great topics, but one stuck out in my mind:  Camp Staff Attitude Toward Working With Parents

Here’s the thing:  Some camp directors and staff (mostly folks who have been doing this a while in remote locations), view parent calls, requests, and visits as intrusive.  For camp professionals, and most parents, part of the overnight camp experience is that children spend time away from their parents and siblings to discover who they are outside of the family bubble.  This opportunity for self-discovery is truly powerful – even life-changing – but that doesn’t mean parents don’t have a place in camp.

Of course Parents have a place in camp!

A good camp (in my opinion), will look for opportunities to partner with parents.  From a camp perspective, there is a lot parents can contribute to my program that I could not accomplish without them.  Let’s face it, who’s better recruiting new campers?  It’s not me.  Most research will tell you camp’s rely on word-of-mouth to grow their program.  Parents (and campers) recruit new families to our program every day.  Here’s my Top 5 List on Partnering with Parents (Camp Perspective):

  1. Marketing:  I said it at the top.  Camps know that their best marketing tool is word-of-mouth.  We count on families referring families.  I recommend that camps engage their families to actively help market their program. 
  2. Program Development:  Camps are constantly looking for ways to improve their program, their customer service, their marketing, or their registration process.  Why not ask parents?  After all, kids come to camp, but parents pay for it.  I recommend camps hold 2 focus groups each year to collect parent input.  There is no downside to hearing what your families think about your camp.
  3. Service Project Volunteers:  Like marketing, many camps already partner with families to complete service projects on their behalf.  Whether you are building a playground, raking leaves, recruiting board members, or raising funds for a capital campaign, call your families and ask them to help.  If you are a non-profit and rely on the generous contributions of donors to fulfill your charitable mission, there is good research that suggests that people who simply consider volunteering their time to your organization will increase their financial contribution (http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/marketing/faculty/MarketingCamp/aaker_jennifer.pdf).
  4. Camper Behavior Management:  When a camper has behavioral problems at camp, who are the best people to recommend strategies for that child?  The Parents!  I hope all camps utilize family input to help their campers have a successful session of camp.
  5. Marketing:  Yes.  It is so important I said it twice.

So what can parents get out of this partnership?  Good question – and I am prepared to answer.  Here’s my Top 3 List on Partnering with Parents (Parent Perspective):

  1. Camp Staff as a Resource:  Parents, you have a year-round resource when you partner with your summer camp.  Are you looking for a great game idea or your child’s next birthday parts?  Call Camp.  Have a question about your child’s participation/obsession with Facebook?  Call Camp.  Looking for a year-round leadership program that you child can participate in?  Call Camp.  Your camp staff know kids.  They know kids programs and how to find them.  Use their expertise!
  2. Camp Facility as a Resource:  Looking for an affordable location for your next family reunion, birthday party or corporate conference?  Call Camp!  Your camp probably has what you need, and if they don’t, I bet they can help you find a good alternative.
  3. Camp for Resume Building:  Need something new on your resume or just looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity?  Ask Camp.  Most camps, private and non-profit, utilize volunteers for everything from improving their grounds and setting their policies.  Join the board of directors or plant flowers.  Either way, your camp will appreciate your service.

My Advice for Camps:  Determine what level of parent involvement would be beneficial to your program – and then solicit that involvement.  Family engagement in your program is a long-term investment – but it can pay long-term dividends, as well. 

My Advice for Parents:  Talk to your camp director before registering your child to attend camp.  Learn his or her attitude toward parent involvement in summer camp and select a camp program and leader that matches your needs.  If you’re looking for a camp you can be involved with – on any level – put your summer camp director on the spot and tell her how you can contribute.  Dare her to take you up on it.  The camp will be better for your input. 

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

I was checking out some parent blogs last night on summer camp (I wanted to know what people were talking about), and was shocked to find that the most discussed topic was tipping.  Shocked.  I expected to find that it was a more contentious issue like “bullying,” “sunscreen application,” or “cellphones.”  Tipping.  I am a flexible person.  We’ll talk tipping.

My resume is heavily weighted towards YMCA Camping programs.  I have worked with Y Camps as a camp counselor, volunteer, and director in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  Looking at the list, certainly the regions I have served in have skewed towards a “Midwest Mentality.”  With that disclaimer, I can safely say that tipping was the last thing on our minds.

As a counselor (15-20 years ago), there were parents that tried to tip me.  I had parents bake me cookies, give me cards (and later gift cards), present me with clothing or care packages, and occasionally slip me a $20.  When I was 18, YMCA Camp Thompson’s policy was to thank the parent and decline cash gifts.  At YMCA Camp Y-Noah we trained staff to decline cash gifts, but redirect parent generosity to our “scholarship fund” or our “counselor appreciation fund.”  The latter served to pay for the staff banquet at the end of the summer.

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My Advice:

No two camping programs are identical – and tipping philosophies are very different from camp to camp.  In checking websites last night, I found that most private camps encourage tipping and take the time explain the practice in their parent information.  If your child is attending camp this summer, check the camp policies before tipping your counselor.  If you can’t find this information in your parent handbook, call the camp and ask.  This will save you an awkward good-bye on the last day of camp.

As far as non-cash gifts, I don’t know of a camp in the country that will instruct a counselor to decline a plate of cookies or a gift basket of sunscreen, frisbees, and silly string.  This is a safe way to show your gratitude.

Finally, if the camp has a scholarship fund or a counselor appreciation fund, consider showing your appreciation through a donation.  Obviously, I am a fan of sharing-the-gift-of-camp with deserving children who may not be able to afford it otherwise.  I hope you consider going that route.  However, camps do great things with counselor appreciation funds (CAF).  Camps use CAF donations to purchase tvs, dvd players, game systems, and computers for the counselors’ lounge.  Camps use CAF donations to pay for staff banquets and end-of-year gifts for counselors.  These are a good way to show your appreciation.    

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

For more information on the South Mountain YMCA Camps, visit www.smymca.org.

 

Things have changed since I was a kid – and I’m not that old!  Well, I don’t feel all that old.  I may only be 37, but I guess I did attend summer camp last century.  I hope that was easier for you to read than it was for me to write.  Here’s the thing, though, I don’t need a calendar to mark the passage of time.  I just need to think about how human interaction has evolved over the past three decades.

Whether you are aware of it or not, the way youth development professionals interact with the children they work with has changed dramatically.  If you are over 30, you may remember a soccer coach driving you home after practice.  You probably recall a favorite teacher or the director of your school play taking a little extra time after school to work with you one-on-one.  If you grew up going to camp, you may even remember reading a letter from your summer camp counselor during the winter.  If you are a child growing up in America today, chances are you will never experience any of these things.  Times have changed.

Every youth-serving agency in the country struggles to find the balance between appropriate child protection and delivering quality, impactful programs.  If you work for, or volunteer in, the YMCA, you have probably signed a code of conduct that prohibits you from transporting a minor to or from a program in your personal vehicle.  That same code would prohibit you from contacting a child or teen outside of the defined parameters of the program you are running.  It would ask that you agree to never babysit a child you meet through a YMCA program.  It would prohibit you from ever being alone with a child.  Not one of these statements should sound unreasonable – they are for the protection of the children with which we work.  Here, in America, we take the care of our children very seriously.  As a dad, I am grateful for that. 

In summer camp, one of the topics covered in a good staff training involves appropriate counselor/camper contact after the summer camp season ends.  Why is this a topic?  Quite honestly, if the camp and its counselors are good at what they do, your child will want to continue to interact with them throughout the year. 

There was a fad among YMCA camps several years ago.  Instead of giving staff a traditional “staff shirt,” YMCA directors were handing out “Professional Role Model” shirts.  While this may have become a cliché, it was a slogan for a reason.  As camp directors, we want our staff to be role models for the kids we work with.  Kids get attached to good, charismatic staff, and they want to keep the relationships going.  Thirty years ago, that wouldn’t have been a problem.

Through the 1980s the camping industry and society at large didn’t have a problem with kids reaching out to their summer camp counselors after the summer ended via the U.S. Postal Service.  At that time, the potential for contact between people not living in the same community was limited to snail mail and the phone.  Now when we think about camper/counselor contact, we have to consider cell phones, smart phones, texts, email, instant messages, Facebook, My Space, chat rooms, discussion groups, digital photos, video – and the U.S. Postal Service.  With increased opportunity for online interaction comes increased risk.  Camps have responded appropriately.

So what is “appropriate” contact between summer camp counselors and the children with which they work?  The short answer is (drumroll, please), whatever your camp says it is.

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My Advice for Parents:

Read your camp’s materials.  They should have a section on counselor/camper contact after the camp season.  Most camp’s prohibit phone calls, emails, and social networking site interaction between your child and camp staff.  That does become difficult to enforce since most camp staff are seasonal (they are only employeed by the camp for the summer).  This puts the onus back on parents to monitor who their kids are interacting with online.  Check out your child’s “friends” on Facebook and My Space.  Read the posts.  Stay involved.

Most camps have an “official” Facebook and/or My Space page.  These sites are generally monitored on a daily basis, but you will want to check with the camp.  Again, if your child is “friending” the camp, you may want to consider doing the same. 

Know that not all camps have identical counselor/camper contact policies.  Some programs encourage letter writing between staff and campers throughout the year.  Some camps publish yearbooks or calendars that print all the camper addresses.  Other camps have middle-of-the-road approaches that allow campers to mail letters to counselors via the camp address.  Likewise, when counselors write the camper back, the letter should pass through the camp office and then be forwarded on.  Some camps have strict “no contact” policies. 

If you suspect a former camp counselor is contacting your child inappropriately (innocently or not), contact the camp.  I have no doubt that the camp professionals will work with you to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. 

My Advice to Camp Professionals:

Know your policy.  Know why it was instituted.  Know what the intent of the policy was when it was written.  In a world where on-line interactions are evolving daily, the intent of your policy is probably more important than the actual language.

Educate your young, college-age staff.  They need to know the intent of your policy, as well, so they can make good decisions in ambiguous situations.  Also, educate them about privacy settings on social networking sites – as well as why that privacy is important for their future.

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The relationship between a counselor and her summer campers is paramount to the camp experience.  A good counselor can positively change the life of a child.  As parents, and camp professionals, we have to respect the power of that relationship while drawing clear boundaries that we can share with our children and our young staff.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

 

There are days when the best thing I can recommend is to read the writings of someone else.  Today is such a day.  When I got to the office this morning, I was alerted to a blog post entitled “Camp is for the Camper”, written by a family who had just picked their 9 year-old son up from his week at summer camp.

Take the time to read this:  http://ht.ly/2gxW7

This post is a nice complement to 2 previous posts I made earlier this summer.  Enjoy!

  1. Summer Camp:  The Practical Solution for Today’s Helicopter Parents  (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/summer-camp-the-practical-solution-for-todays-helicopter-parents/)
  2. Expect More From Your Summer Camp  (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/expect-more-from-your-summer-camp/)

  

There could be an entire of film genre devoted to the topic of summer camp.  A quick, non-exhaustive, unprofessional search yielded summer camp movies ranging from horror films to comedy and everything in between.  I have my favorites.  I’m sure you have yours.  For fun, I thought I’d share my top 5. 

Meatballs

 

#1:    MEATBALLS 

For my money, there is no better summer camp movie.  Given the year it was made, even the risqué moments seem cute.  On the surface, the narrative follows the story of a young boy at camp for the first time who is struggling to find his place.  Bill Murray plays “Tripper,” the boys’ camp director, who serves as guardian angel for the misfits in camp.  You wanted Tripper at your camp when you were a kid.
Many of the songs my generation associates with summer camp came out of this movie – as did a lot of the games.  There are inter-camp competitions with the ritzy camp down the road.  There is swimming, archery, canoe trips, as well as a lot of comedy. 

Some of the movies on my list were made for children, some were written for adults.  This movie was filmed with an adult audience in mind, but it’s tame language and complete lack of violence may meet your criteria for a pre-teen classic.  Watch it before sharing it with your kids.  For more information, visit   http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079540/.  

 

  

Indian Summer

 

#2     Indian Summer 

For sheer star power, I have to put this one in the #2 spot.  This movie, which chronicles a camp alumni weekend during which the long-time camp director announces his retirement, features Alan Arkin, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, Kevin Pollack, Sam Raimi, and many more.  Unlike some summer camp movies, this classic reminisces about both the good times and the bad.  

This is not a kids movie – the storyline would put them to sleep.  There are no special effects.  But if you have strong memories of your experiences at summer camp, this movie will draw them out.  A friend of mine and fellow camp director, Dan Reynolds (http://www.akronymca.org/rotarycamp.aspx), shows this to his summer camp counselors every year.  For more information, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107212/.

Camp Rock

 

#3    CAMP ROCK
 
Now this is a kid’s movie – it is Disney, afterall.  Picture Cinderella at summer camp.  She works in the kitchen because she can’t afford the tuition.  Are you with me?  Now, imagine that the Prince (a Jonas Brother) hears Cinderella singing instead of being left with a glass slipper.  Still with me?  So the Prince must find Cinderella by listening to every girl sing.  You’ve got the plot.  It’s cute, relevant, and the music is not half bad. 
Unlike the first two movies on my list, this one does not rely on the summer camp motif.  It could happen in a high school, at college, or in some more fantastical setting.  For more information, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1055366/.

Camp Nowhere

 

 #4  Camp Nowhere 

You may have missed this one upon its release back in 1994 – I did – but it is fun.  It stars Christopher Lloyd, and features a very young Jessica Alba, in an improbable plot that may be any young rebel’s dream.  In an attempt to avoid traditional summer camps, a group of friends blackmail their old drama teacher (Lloyd), to pose as the director for a fictional camp – one without counselor’s, parents, or bullies.  It sounds pretty good until other kids start signing up for it, too. 

This is a movie for kids, but everyone can get a smile out of it.  For more information, visit  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109369/

The Parent Trap

 

#5    The Parent Trap 

This is a classic – and I’m referring to the re-make.  If you never saw either version of this film, you missed a cute story your family will enjoy.  Dennis Quaid and a young Lindsay Lohan  are the biggest names in the 1998 version.  I will not try and provide a synopsis for this one.  Suffice it to say that the first third of the movie takes place at summer camp where twin girls, both played by Lohan, hatch a plan to get their parents back together.  

For more information, visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120783/

Friday the 13th

 

Honorable Mention:    Friday the 13th 

I can’t leave the Camp Film Genre without referring to Friday the 13th, the original – with Kevin Bacon.  Camp Counselors sneak back to camp to party and it all goes so wrong.  

It goes without saying, this is not for kids.  For more information visit http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080761/

So, there you have it.  My top 5 summer camp movies are on the books.  Take the poll at the bottom of this post and cast your vote.  There are a lot more summer camp movies out there to enjoy. 

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan 

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

  

Here at Camp Conrad Weiser and the Bynden Wood Day Camp (South Mountain YMCA, www.smymca.org), we have crossed the halfway point and are staring down the end of our summer season.  Campers have gained independence, developed positive self-esteem, made friends, and even learned a few new skills along the way.  They have also ruined at least one t-shirt climbing the high ropes course or mountain biking through the mud.  The 18-22 year-old counselors have all decided there is no better summer job.  By this point, they have also realized they can wait a few more years until they become parents.  And we all need a new pair of sneakers or sandals. 

By any measure of success, it has been a good summer so far with many good times yet to come. 

Is every moment perfect?  Absolutely not.  As in parenting, we have highs and lows.  We can look at conversations we’ve had with kids and identify better ways to frame things.  We have examined games from the first half of the summer and made adjustments for the second half of the summer that improve them (safety, timing, fun, etc.).  Running a summer camp, like parenting, is a process of constant improvement. 

YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser

 

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More than a decade ago, I was approached by a parent at the end of a day camp day.  We had been enjoying a successful, safe summer and I was proud of our accomplishments.  I was bullet-proof, impervious to criticism, and ready for anything – except for a parent with a legitimate point.  Imagine a day camp at your local park.  The program runs from 9 am-4 pm.  You can drop your kids off as early as 8:30 and can pick them up as late as 4:30.  But the camp day is 9-4.  What happens for that first and last half hour?  When I was in my early 20s, long before I dreamed of becoming a parent myself, I looked at moments like this in a camp day differently than I do now.  That first half hour seemed an impossibility to program.  Counselor groups couldn’t function because kids were coming or going.  Games like soccer would completely break down because the camper population was in flux.  Instead, I treated those first or last 30 minutes of the day as “free time.” 

And then a mother, with a mother’s eye, called out the weakness of my camp’s design.  She wrote me a letter about the lack of program in the closing 30 minutes.  She noted that kids were sitting in the shade, not engaged by staff, simply waiting.  She saw counselors circling up around the picnic table with their clip boards.  In short, she saw the worst part of our day.  Every parent that encountered us saw us at our worst.  And I did this by design. 

At first, I tried to explain it away.  In my ridiculous 22 year-old pride, I tried to tell this mother that the campers were active all day.  My campers spent hours swimming, playing, creating, and teambuilding – sometimes kids just needed time to be – not do.  I’m not exaggerating.  I actually wrote that to a mom.  It’s embarrassing.  

The truth is, and was, that those two, half-hour periods in my day were weak.  Terrifyingly, these were the two times of the day that parents were able to see our program.  Parents did not experience our teambuilding sessions.  They did not see our crafts class.  They did not take our nature walks.  They did not watch our talent show.  Parents saw us at our worst.  It was a summer camp slip.  The mom who brought it to my attention was correct.  I needed to make a change. 

That summer, back in 1997, we did change our program.  It was humbling.  We ensured that there were structured activitiess during the 30 minutes of parent sign-in.  We designed 4 structured programs our campers could choose from each afternoon during sign-out.  We began to invite parents to our our talent shows (which we transformed into Parent Shows) each Friday at 4 p.m. – immediately before sign-out.  We got better.  

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Every summer camp will slip this season.  Sometimes we slip when parents can see it, sometimes not.  The true mark of a great summer camp and a capable director is the ability to admit the error and address it.  When you, as a parent, see something “not right” in your child’s camp this summer, bring it to the director.  Be patient, you may have to explain it to us twice.  If we respond, make adjustments, and follow-up with you – you’ve found a good program.  

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.