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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.

FORGET PHONES – IT’S TIME TO TALK TABLETS

Yesterday afternoon I was talking to my Summer Camps Director about our upcoming season.  She recently attended a conference and was visibly relieved that a pair of speakers at the event spoke about society’s impending retreat from technology.  The speakers believed, as many camp professionals may hope, that our inexorable march toward increased connectivity and information technology would reverse.

My thought:  Dream on.

Since the invention of the printing press, society has walked a straight line toward a future of increased information sharing.  While there were detractors of the first telephones, every household in America eventually had a landline.  There were detractors of cell phones – still are, in fact – but society has embraced them.

Last year I wrote about the place cell phones have in summer camp.  For parents, I recommended they call the camp before sending their child to make sure they understood the organization’s cell phone policy.  For camps, I asked them to review their policies annually to know where they stand in relation to society.

But talking about cell phones was not looking forward; it was looking 10 years back and trying to catch up.  Today, I want to look to the future and a few short months away.

As I write this on Thanksgiving Eve, 2010, I know of 9 alternatives to the iPad device that Apple launched this year (http://mashable.com/2010/01/27/9-upcoming-tablet-alternatives-to-the-apple-ipad/).  These tablets are miraculous devices that allow a user to read a blog, watch a movie, surf the web, or read a book.  There are literally thousands of apps for each device, but I want to focus on just two – music and reading.

By next summer, campers will be asking their parents if they can take their tablet device to camp.  As a parent or camp professional, you should know how you will respond.  First imagine the device, due to a lack of 3G/4G coverage or WiFi, will be unable to surf the web.  Would you allow the device to be brought to camp so a child or teen can read their downloaded literary content?  Can a camper pack his or her iPad to listen to Taio Cruz while reading Moby Dick?

While we all discourage campers from packing expensive items that could be lost, broken or even stolen from a camp environment, most camps do allow kids to pack their MP-3 players and whatever book they may be reading at the moment.  So, will you deny them their iPad?

On principle, it would seem odd to deny them the device – at least for the reading or music functionality – simply because we, as adults, are not used to consuming our media in this fashion.  Despite my love of hardback books, I have to accept the fact that my children may never crack the spine of War and Peace.  Instead, my precious girls may read literary masterpieces on small, hand-held screens.

Take this a step further.  You’ve come this far with me; walk a little longer down this path to next summer.  Imagine your camp does have WiFi or 3G service.  What will you do about tablet devices in this scenario?  In such an environment, the full functionality of such a device would be brought to bear:  email, Facebook, Twitter, movies, tv, books, blogs, and much more.

This is the moment at which even the most tech savvy parents and camp professionals cringe.  We don’t want to picture our kids in the dining hall or walking down a mountain path reading about Katy Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand.

My Untested Advice?  1)  Don’t allow electronic devices in camp, OR  2)  If you don’t operate in the stone age and desire to stay relevant, allow the tablets in for music and books.  Make sure both parents and campers understand that these devices could be lost or broken and that the camp is not responsible, but allow them.  Draw up some clear guidelines about appropriate times for use and make sure these guidelines are shared with parents and campers.  Ask that all devices have their networked connections turned off and make it clear that staff may periodically check them.  If you are a camp professional, make sure your WiFi connections are password protected and that you do your best to keep kids off the internet during their camp experience (unless, of course, your camp is a computer/web/gaming camp).

I qualified the previous paragraph saying that it was untested advice.  Someone smarter than me will come up with better plans (please share them in the comments section of this blog), and ultimately the tech will continue to evolve.  We will continue to evolve in response to that tech.

There will be times next summer you will long for the days before all this tech, but let it go.  That ship has sailed. 

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

  

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.

I am proud to work with the South Mountain YMCA’s camping programs (Bynden Wood Day Camp & Camp Conrad Weser).  As the CEO of a small non-profit, I am able to have my hand in a lot of pies.  I am fortunate to raise funds to make sure every child can attend camp.  I develop staff with an eye on the next step in their careers.  I play guitar at campfires.  I sing at chapel.  I even get to attend camp fairs, local festivals, and other events that we participate in to meet families and promote our programs.

Today I wanted to talk about those promotional opportunities I mentioned.  When I have attended camp fairs with 100 other camps and 600 parents, I have noticed a change over the last 10 years.  More and more parents are asking about day camp.  Fewer and fewer parents “are ready” to send their children to resident camp.  In the camp community, we have referred to these protective folks as “helicopter parents.”   More on these well-intentioned parents later on in the post.

So, walk with me on this one – you will need to picture this scene in your head.  Nice camp directors from all over the country are talking to moms and dads.  The exhibition hall is full.  Guitars are playing.  Kids are running.  Camp videos are on strategically placed screens.  There is excitement in the air.  This is a typical conversation.

Me:  “So, what are you hoping your child will get out of her summer camp experience this year?” 

Parent:  “Well, we just don’t want her too far from home.”

Me:  “So you’re looking for a resident camp experience close to home?”

Parent:  “Oh, heavens no.  Our daughter is only 14.  We’re just looking for day camps.  She’s far too young to go away over night.”

If this exchange makes you chuckle, go read another blog.  If this conversation sounds perfectly reasonable to you, please hang in there with me and keep reading.   

When I mentioned helicopter parents earlier, I am referring to moms and dads that are convinced they would be “bad parents” if there child is out of their sight.  These parents are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives to an extent that may seem suffocating to the casual observer (and probably the over-protected child).  There is a cost to this style of parenting, and it was laid out in an article on MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37493795/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/).  Let’s sum it up.  Young adults that are overly sheltered as children and teens tend to be:

  1. less open to new ideas
  2. more vulnerable emotionally
  3. anxious
  4. self-consciousness

No one wants to see their children grow up into a neurotic, insecure adult.  So what is the solution?  If you are worried you are a helicopter parent, and you are concerned with the impact it may have on your child, I have a couple of recommendations.  Please be open-minded with this one.  Take a deep breath.

  1. Admit to yourself that this is your challenge, not your child’s.  Chances are your child’s behavior had not forced you into this style of parenting.  Chances are the world is less dangerous than you perceive it.  Chances are your child would be fine living away from your for a week.  It is for your peace of mind that you want your child near your 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  2. Take small steps.  Identify opportunities for your child to express his or her independence.  It will be good for both of you.  I can’t begin to imagine what that small step may look like for you and your family.  You know how close you keep your child, reel him out a little at a time – and start when their toddlers, please.  Don’t wait for their teen years.  In our house, my wife and I have different comfort levels with our children playing outside.  My wife wants to be there with them at every moment, I don’t mind if they take off around the house.  In a relationship (spousal or parent/child), you find a comfortable compromise.
  3. Identify safe, developmentally appropriate, structured opportunities for your child to learn about themselves – on their own.  I am an advocate for summer camp.  I hope you will choose a sleep-away summer camp experience for your child to establish herself as an individual.  I passionately believe that no other experience better prepares a child to 1) lead, 2) be a responsible member of a group being led, 3) be an independent adult, 4) engage in self-directed learning, 4) make new friends, and 5) learn how to identify and manage the many risks this world offers.  Let’s talk about developmentally appropriate camp experiences for a moment.  If you look at camp literature, you will find that different programs have different age ranges listed.  For example, a 4-week canoe trip programs might not start a child until she is 10.  A traditional 1-week summer camp may start children when they are 7.  They are designed and marketed this way for a reason.  I am often asked what age is appropriate  for a child to start sleep-away camps.  The truth is that every child is different.  When your child thinks he or she is ready to go away to camp, they are probably ready to go away to camp.

If you are a protective parent, know it is ok.  Camp professionals understand it.  You can call and check-in every day.  You can write emails.  You can send letters.  You can remind your child each day how much you care.  But don’t worry, I bet they already know it.  🙂

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

To learn more about my camps, Bynden Wood Day Camp and Camp Conrad Weiser, visit us at www.smymca.org or call our offices at 61-670-2267.

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Thank you for participating in the poll that made this post possible. 

As the camping industry has grown more sophisticated (and it has, check our websites), we have realized that there is a disparity between what our families perceive as risks in our summer programs and what we perceive as our actual risks.  In preparing this post, I expected that gap.  What I did not expect was that my own perception of the risks associated with summer camp would be different from folks in the insurance industry.

In the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk with two very helpful insurance professionals.  Many thanks to Morris Gold of Sobel Affiliates, A Division of Brown & Brown, whose company specializes in summer camp among other things.  I also need to thank Howard Longino (@h2lifesaver for those of you in Twitterland) who works with the Redwoods Group, a company specializing in camps, YMCAs, JCCs, and other organizations.  In the interest of disclosure, Sobel Affiliates is my insurance provider with the South Mountain YMCA and Camp Conrad Weiser.  The Redwoods Group insured the Akron YMCA and Camp Y-Noah when I worked with those organizations in Ohio.

In the poll I placed on my LinkedIn page for parents, I asked the following question:

Assuming all equipment is in good repair and staff are well-trained, identify the riskiest activity for a child.

  1. High Ropes / Climbing Towers
  2. Swimming (in a pool)
  3. Horseback Riding
  4. Field Games
  5. Swimming (in “open” water like a river, lake, or ocean)

Parents responded by saying that they perceived Open Water Swimming as the most risky activity on the list (50%), followed by Horseback Riding (23%), High Ropes/Climbing Towers (13%), Swimming in Pools (6%), and Field Games (6%).  For those of you that participated in the poll, congratulations!  You correctly identified the number one concern of both camping programs and those that insure them. 

For both of the insurance industry professionals I spoke to, Aquatics is the #1 risk in summer camp programs.  Surprising to me (and apparently to those who responded to the poll), the industry does not generally draw a distinction between open water scenarios and pools.  As Howard Longino put it, aquatic programs and camper transportation are both huge areas of exposure because they “provide a significant potential for fatality.”  When you take a step back, this shouldn’t surprise you.  While we, as Americans, have accepted the risks associated with automobile travel, we are still aware of the possible consequences.  Likewise, I think we understand that there is rarely a minor injury associated with water.  The good new is that your camp is aware of these risks, too.

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), they spend a lot of time training and testing staff for both transportation and aquatics programs. They know how to keep children safe in these areas.  The same can be said for high ropes and climbing tower programs.

Horses.  Anyone who works extensively with horses has a healthy respect for programs that mix people and large animals.  Your camps believe this is a program with real risk – and they respond accordingly.  In my conversations with insurance industry professionals, neither mentioned equestrian activities as an area of concern. 

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is providing equestrian programs, make sure they are ACA and Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) accredited.  Again, accreditation by these organizations means the staff has been trained and the facility and program have been reviewed by someone other than the camp staff.

Field Games.  Brace yourself.  According to industry experts, this is where your child is most likely to be injured this summer.  No kidding.  The most common injuries in camping are foot and knee problems that occur in court and field sports.  But, PLEASE, don’t keep your child off the playing field this summer – childhood obesity as a result of inactivity is a far greater, life-changing problem than a sprained ankle.  Keep your kids active.

Keeping your Kids Safe this SummerAs Howard Longino points out, “it’s an issue of hazards to the activity like improper footwear.”  Your kids want flip-flops, and that will be fine at the pool, but send them to camp in sneakers so they are prepared to play.

Both Morris and Howard stressed a risk that did not appear on my original poll – bullying & abuse.  Your summer camp is aware of these risks, and they screen, background check, and train their staff accordingly.  Next week I’ll share some resources that can help you talk to your child about these problems.  Often the best thing we can do for our kids is keep open lines of communication.

Please remember that each day we choose to step outside our doors and wander into the wider world, we are exposed to risk.  I think that Camp can help.  I think a good camp program can teach your child how to identify and manage risk.  Those skills are essential to raising an independent, creative child in today’s world – and camps are good at it.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

I am assuming that every parent or guardian will begin by asking for price, hours of operation, and location without any prompting.  I am also making the assumption that you have already spoken with your child about interest in a specific program, camp, or camps.

Before we get into this, you should know that I have broken this into two sections:  one for Resident or Sleep-Away Camps, and one for Day Camps.  If you are looking into sending your child to a sports-focused or academic program you will need to ask additional questions that apply to the given activity. 

We’ll cover Resident Camp questions today and Day Camp questions on Monday.  They are different!

For Resident or Sleep-Away Camps

  1. What are your program’s goals for my child?
  2. Will there always be a staff person in the cabin with my child at night?
  3. What is the staff/camper ratio?  Is that consistent all day, or might it change for certain programs (i.e. swimming)?
  4. Is the camp schedule primarily pre-designed by a director, or do the campers make significant choices about the activities they participate in each day?
  5. Is my child allowed to contact me if they want to?  How can I stay in contact with my child?  What is appropriate contact?
  6. What is the average age of your campers?
  7. Where are the other campers from?
  8. Are all people on site background checked?  How?
  9. Who is your camp affiliated with?  YMCA?  A specific church?  A college?
  10. Are you accredited by the American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org)?

For every program, you should know the goals they have for their campers.  Make sure they match your goals for your child. 

Every camp has a different philosophy about ensuring a camp staff person is on duty in every cabin all night long.  Some camps require a staff person monitor 4-6 cabin while the counselors have time off in the evening.  Some programs don’t permit staff or volunteers to sleep in the same room as campers.  Each program has a reason for their rules.  Ask.  With the widespread concern about bullying in camps and schools, this is something you should ask a potential camp. 

Ask about camper to staff ratios.  I think this one is self-evident, but don’t forget to ask the follow-up questions.  Some camps count all their staff in this ratio (the office staff, the maintenance staff, the kitchen staff, etc.).  Additionally, probe to see if that “direct supervision” ratio is in play all day.  Do counselors have break-time while the campers swim (which places 100 campers with 6 life guards)? 

Know what kind of choices campers may have each day in the program and then match that to the needs of your child.  In my opinion, young children need more scheduled programs and teens need more opportunities for free choice.

Learn about the camp’s policy on parent-child contact.  I cannot stress this enough – for you and your camper.  There are plenty of programs that feel very strongly that a child can only develop their full potential by “making it on their own” with no home contact beyond letter writing.  There are also camps with more open policies that allow emailing or even post webcams around camp so parents can view daily activities.  Very few programs allow cell phones.  You know how much of a distraction cell & smart phones are at home and in school – camps feel the same way.  Most camps utilize technology that allows them to post photos and/or videos from camp on a daily basis.  Going a step further, I have been at camps that have allowed parents to come for lunch.  Having seen it, I don’t recommend it.  If you are looking into a camp where a session lasts for multiple weeks, most have a day set aside for parent visits. 

Do not ask this question:  “What age-range of campers do you accept?”  What you really need to know is the average age of campers in the program.  If the average age is 12, there may not be many 7 year-olds or 15 year-olds in the camp, regardless of the age-range advertised on the website or in the glossy brochure.  You want your child at a camp where they have peers to bond with.

You also want to find out where the campers come from – geographically.  If you value diversity and cultural competence, a program that boasts staff and campers from around the world is a real plus.  If you are hoping your child makes friends they can visit with all year-round, you may place more value on a camp with lots of children from your neighborhood.

Ask about background checks.  Know if every person who could come in contact with your child has been run through the sex offender database.  Know if staff and volunteers are drug tested.  Camps have different policies about background checks, training, and drug testing.  Learn why they do what they do and decide what you are comfortable with.

Find out what, if any, affiliations the camp has with national organizations, churches, or other institutions.  An affiliation with a national organization like the YMCA, Boy Scouts of America, or Girl Scouts of America will let you know that there are different resources and support available to the camp than if it is a “stand-alone” organization.  Likewise, it may give you insight into the organization’s values or goals.  In the interest of disclosure, I am partial to YMCA camps . . . .

Finally, determine if the program is accredited by the American Camp Association.  While I think it is important for both Day and Resident Camp programs, I think it is critical for Resident Camps.  ACA accreditation means that the camp operates at a minimum set of industry standards.  It means that the camp leadership has worked through facility, program, safety, and hr concerns – and much more.  ACA accreditation means the camp has invested in their craft.  A good camp is art.

If you have any questions about this post, please email me or share your comments and I will do my level best to answer them for you.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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