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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.

I wish summer camp were free.

I would like every child to attend one of the many excellent summer camps around the world for two weeks each summer, but the fees can be a barrier for families.  I live and work in eastern Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia in the old mountains above the City of Reading.  In preparing this post, I decided to look into the fees at camps within a couple of hours of my location.  In an hour of research, I located 27 YMCA camps in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The prices range from $250 per week of resident camp to $800 per week.  These camps offered 1 Week, 2 Week, 4 Week, and 8 Week sessions.  They offered programs ranging from arts to archery and trips to target sports.  They are situated in State Parks, on thousands of acres in upstate New York, on the Chesapeake Bay, just off the Appalachian Trail, and right next to suburban neighborhoods.  It is dizzying – and these are just YMCA camps.

In simply looking at the fees, any reasonably intelligent person would ask, “why the disparity?”

Here’s the skinny:  It’s not about staff.  We all pay about the same rates for our American and international staff.  We pay the same food companies the same prices on food.  As YMCAs, our facilities have been built by capital donations – so, generally, we carry very little debt.  Largely, it comes down to operational costs.  I will try and explain this without getting technical.  If you are looking at a 2 camps – one that is $250 per week and one that is $750 per week – there are a few differences you may not notice at first glance.  Both camps have archery.  Both camps boast a climbing tower.  So here’s the difference:

  1. Your cheaper program carries fewer year-round staff.  The more expensive program is putting money into year-round staff because they believe it is important for program planning and quality, staff recruitment and training, and camper contact and recruitment.
  2. The more expensive program will have more facilities and program that must be maintained year-round.  I worked at a camp that cost $250 a week and it only had 22 buildings and a climbing tower to maintain.  I worked at a camp that cost $400 per week and it had 46 buildings to maintain, a climbing tower, a ropes course, and horses to feed year-round.  I currently work with Camp Conrad Weiser which costs $685 per week.  Conrad Weiser maintains 96 buildings, a climbing tower, a ropes course, a pool, horses, and much more.  The cost of camp goes up with the cost of maintaining the facility.
  3. Market.  The $250 camp is recruiting local campers – possibly from rural or suburban regions where the average household income for residents is modest at best.  The $750 camp draws from urban areas with significantly higher average household incomes.

My adviceVisit the camps you are researching.  There will be noticeable differences between the $250 and $750 programs – if you visit and poke around a bit.  Both programs should have quality staffs (although one camp may simply have more people on its team).  Both programs should offer safe and engaging programs (although the more expensive camp may have more).  Both programs should put your child’s needs first.

If you decide on a more expensive camp, one that may normally be out of your price range, call the camp and ask about variable pricing options.  Ask about scholarships.  Ask about payment plans.  Ask about tier pricing.  Particularly if it is a YMCA camp, the staff will be motivated to help.

I would like every child to have the opportunity to attend a good, quality summer camp for two weeks each summer – and that is why I work for a YMCA camp as opposed to a “for profit” camping enterprise.  Working at the South Mountain YMCA (www.smymca.org) allows me to guarantee that every child can attend my camps, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.  If you are interested in camps providing scholarships, income-based price structures, or other variable pricing options, look no further than your local YMCA camp (http://www.ymca.net/find_ymca_camps/).

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

Nathan

I was talking with a friend this week.  She’s a good mom.  Her kids have swimming, dance, and soccer lessons.  She attends PTA meetings.  She bakes cupcakes with the girls.  So I asked her, “Where are you sending your kids this summer for camp?”

It was an innocent question – small talk – but my friend was defensive.  She said she didn’t have time to “do all the research” and she had no idea where to start . . . and then she realized she was talking to “her-friend-the-camp-director” and was a little sheepish.  Of course I would have been happy to steer her three kids into one of my YMCA camping programs, but not every camp is right for every kid.  I know that.  It’s a conversation for my friend and her children, and that conversation requires a little work.  The truth is, in the hunt for a summer camp for your children this summer, there is both good news and bad news.

The bad news:  You do need to do a little research.

The good news:  It’s fun research!

I will point out some great camp resources, ones that I trust, but you will still need to do a little shopping with your would-be campers at your side.  A significant portion of this work can be done from the comfort of your living room in front of a computer.  I will share three sites with you today, but know that there is much more out there.

 My Summer Camps.com  (http://www.mysummercamps.com)

This is an incredible resource and a great first step for any family.  It is also overwhelming.  There are more than 35,000 camp listings in 18 different categories.  The nice thing about this site is that you can search by state or by category (i.e. traditional, academic, all girls, all boys, equestrian, etc.).  You can visit camp websites directly, watch camp videos, and get a good feel for what programs are available.

But understand this site charges camps for “membership.”  A camp listed for free appears as a “basic member” with little more than contact information.  The “Gold” membership package can be purchased for $849 a year and allows camps to include photos, videos, logos, and much more.  A minimal listing does not mean the program is a minimal program.  It just means they have chosen to use their marketing dollars elsewhere.  In the interest of disclosure my camps, Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood Day Camp, are both listed there.

Find YMCA Camps  (http://www.ymca.net/find_ymca_camps)   

I am a YMCA guy.  I have had the privilege of working with 6 YMCA resident camps during the last 20 years.  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this resource.  When you visit this page, you can search for resident camps by state or by name.  Like the Scouts, YMCAs have been running camps for a long time – 125 year as a matter of fact.  There is a lot of experience in these organizations.

American Camp Association  (http://find.acacamps.org/finding_a_camp.php)

The American Camp Association (ACA) is the industry standard.  They accredit both day and resident camps, and have a complete listing of their accredited programs.  Like the other sites listed, you can search by state or camp name.  On the ACA’s “advanced search,” you can focus your efforts by cost, activities, targeted focus, cultural focus, special needs, and much more.

These three sites will get you started on your summer adventure.  Once you have found a program that matches your needs and the interests of your child, call or visit the camp.  Ask them extensive questions.  Remember, a session at camp makes memories that last a lifetime – ensure that they are good ones!

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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