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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?”
If you are a reader who likes his or her answer up front, let me satisfy your curiousity immediately with a 2 part response:
- It depends on the child attending camp.
- 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).
- 21% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp less than 1 hour from home.
- 34% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp 1-2 hours away.
- 27% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp 2-4 hours from home.
- 9% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in their home country.
- 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 Parents: The 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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):
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.