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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.

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I have vivid memories of my dad at family events, and I bet my siblings and cousins do, too.  My dad was the guy on all fours in the middle of the living room floor wrestling 7 kids at once.  He was the center of the wild laughter.  At times he was a bull.  At times he was “Dr. Dan the Medicine Man,” a name coined by my older cousin, Steve.  My dad is not a doctor, but the name fits.  He was probably making us all a little healthier.  He was on our level.  He was facilitating and monitoring rough play between 7 kids at once and making sure that no one got hurt.  Perhaps most importantly, he showed us all we were important to him.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I spend a few paragraphs considering the impact of dads on the development of their children.  My wife sent me an article last week and I thought it was worth sharing with you entitled “Dads Empower Kids to take Chances”:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37741738/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/).  This article references research that lauds the benefits of dad time.  It boils down to this:  in playtime facilitated by dads, kids are often encouraged to take risks.  There is a great anecdote in the article about parents and toddlers.  Toys were placed at the top of a flight of steps and each parent, in turn, supervised the toddler climbing the stairs to get the toys.  Moms followed the kids up every step, hand on the back (you can picture that, right?).  Dads stayed several steps behind the toddlers.  I can picture this in my home.  If you have kids, I bet you can, too.

My 4 year-old loves for me to tell her stories about when she was “little.”  One of her favorites (mine, too), is about the special relationship she and a pet cat had with the forest near our house.  At the time, we were living outside of Akron at YMCA Camp Y-Noah.  My daughter, Annalee, and her guardian angel, Horatio, would hike off into the woods on their own.  The trail they preferred was about 3/4 of a mile and led to my office in the camp.  Horatio was a big cat, my wife’s cat, but he protected our little girls like they were his own.  Annalee, from the time she was able to walk, loved hiking that trail, and Horatio would walk with us.  Sometimes, when Annalee and I were playing in the backyard, she would point at the trailhead and yell “trail” or “hike”.  Off she would go, Horatio at her side.  I would follow her, usually 25 to 50 yards behind, mostly out of curiosity.  I wanted to see how far she would go into the forest without her mother or me.  I didn’t want her to see me so I would walk quietly and hide behind trees.  You can picture that, too, can’t you?  Annalee would hike about 400 yards before she would turn around and come home.  Remember, she was probably 14-18 months old at this point.  On her return trip I would magically appear and walk home with her.  I have always wondered if she knew I was there.  My guess is that have Horatio was all she needed.  I didn’t think of myself as encouraging her to take risks or develop a sense of independence.  I was more curious about what her limits were.  I wanted to know how far she would go on her own.

Another interesting study referenced in the “Dads Encourage Kids to Take Chances,” involved rough play.  In the old days, we assumed that kids who played rough with their dads or siblings developed a disruptive level of aggression.  Nay, nay says the research.  Play rough, dads!  Play rough.  Current research seems to indicate that rough play with dad encourages the development of empathy.

Sometimes its fun watching history repeat itself.  The other weekend, my brother and I took turns being the focus of the four cousins wrestling on the floor.  My daughters, niece, and nephew squeal with delight as we roll around, give horse-rides, and tickle to our hearts content.  As a kid, I thought all the thanks was owed to my dad for those memories.  As an adult, I know the moms had to have lot of patience to let Dr. Dan do his important work.

Thank you, Dad, for playing.  Thank you, Mom, for letting us.

Happy Fathers Day to Dads Everywhere.  We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

  

As is my wont, I started writing about summer camp.  In fact, I was going to tell you about the first time I went to camp, but this post went off on a tangent.  Enjoy. 

As the oldest child, I was the “test case” for all my parents’ best intentions.  This is not my opinion.  Both my mother and father have told me this on numerous occasions.  I was the first of their 3 children to hit the water at the Carlisle Family YMCA for “Diaper Dip.”  Diaper Dip was a 1970s ritual in which well-meaning parents tried to drown their infants at the local pool.  Despite the trauma, I grew up to love swimming – but my parents did not repeat Diaper Dip with my brother or sister.  My mother drug me along to her Girl Scout campouts – regardless my obvious gender differences with her troop.  And despite that early, awkward introduction to hiking and camping, I love both activities to this day.  I was also the first of their children to attend sleep-away camp.  More on that experience later. 

There has to be a first.  Without a first there is no second.  There is no progress.  This immutable law of nature does not make it any less difficult for the first born in any family – or their parents.  Of the many things I have learned in my 4 plus years of parenthood, I am most proud of my increased tolerance for screwing up.  I apologize to my oldest daughter on a weekly – if not daily – basis for all the instances of poor judgement I exhibit.  I want to share with you one such example. 

My 4 year-old daughter is very, very bright.  A trait that I am pleased to say she inherited from her mother.  She also got her good looks from her mother.  If you’re keeping score at home, she is 2 for 2.  Unfortunately, my eldest daughter inherited many of my personality flaws which notably include a ridiculous sense of humor (shared by no one else on the continent) and an irrepressible drive to say outrageous things.  I delight in both of these traits, and I weep for her social future.  Thank God she is both smart and pretty. 

My first-born. Apologies, dear daughter.

 

At her age, she is limited in the topics she can use to exercise her outrageous behavior, but she has discovered that the word “poop” annoys her mother to no end.  She uses it endlessly.  If her mother, my sainted wife, is doing flashcards with our youngest daughter, my outrageous offspring will find a way to work poop into the conversation: 

My wife:  What other words begin with the letter D? 

My oldest:  Dog begins with D. 

My wife:  Very good.  Dog does begin with D. 

My oldest:  Mom, you know that dogs poop, right? 

After my wife puts her in a time-out for saying “poop” for the 107th time that hour, she skips back to the flash card game which usually evolves into a rhyming game.  You can see it coming, can’t you? 

My wife:  What word rhymes with scoop, girls? 

My oldest:  Poop!  Poop rhymes with scoop! 

My wife:  You will have another time-out. 

My oldest:  Why?  They rhyme.  Poop certainly rhymes with scoop.  I am just answering your question.  I’m not using “poop” in a bad way.  I didn’t call anyone a poopy-head. 

This conversation would continue as my wife walks my daughter back to the hall for yet another time-out.  Here’s the thing.  I know why my daughter says outrageous things.  I say outrageous things.  It is compulsive.  We crave the reaction we get from being outrageous.  We like to make people laugh with our outrageous thoughts.  I made my father and brother laugh throughout my childhood.  The feeling of their laughter was better than ice cream, better than staying up late, better than any punishment was bad.  I assume my daughter feels the same way, and like my father I do laugh

I want to help my daughter.  I know that this desire to outrage people into laughter does not play so well in school.  It rarely plays well with peers.  So I sat down with my beautiful 4 year-old daughter and laid it out.  I told her that I understand why she likes to say “poop” and make people laugh.  I told her that I think it’s funny, too, and that I delight in her sense of humor.  I also explained, as best I could, that most people (including her mother) will not ever laugh.  They will be upset.  I told my oldest daughter that she could say all the outrageous things she wished to me.  Just spare everyone else, sweet girl.  I had the best intentions.  My oldest girl is my test case.  She is my first. 

This week I was sitting on the couch with my babies on my lap before work.  We were playing and tickling and enjoying the day.  My wife was making waffles and getting the table ready.  It was traditional domestic bliss.  Out of nowhere (so it seemed) my oldest squealed in joy and yelled “I love you poopy-head,” giving me a big hug.  My wife reacted predictably, scolding my sweet girl and directing her to take another time-out.  She looked at me with heart-broken eyes and said, “but poppa, I said “poopy-head” to you, not momma.  Why do I have to do a time-out?” 

She heard me.  She understood what I asked of her.  I just did a very poor job explaining my new “outrageous behavior” rule.  I was definitely a poopy-head. 

And now back to summer camp.  My parents, who had done church camps and Scouts in the 50s, believed the experience a week away at camp provided was an important step in child development.  Did I mention that I am the product of two MSWs (Masters of Social Work)?  They did not have websites or blogs or camp professionals to provide them with advice on “camper readiness.”  They just went with their guts – and I went away for a week of camp at age 7.  I can hear moms cringing across the web. 

I hated camp.  I got poison ivy so bad I required shots.  It was in my eyes, my throat, between my fingers and toes.  I didn’t shower or brush my teeth for a week (which was a positive in my mind).  I didn’t make any friends.  To top it off, the little YMCA camp I attended had an “eat-everything-on-your-plate” rule.  It seemed there were green beans served at every meal.  I did not like green beans.  I spent hours after meal times sitting alone in the dining hall staring at plates of green beans.  Come to think of it, I still don’t like green beans.  Go figure.  

It was a terrible first experience.  Truth to tell, I probably was not ready to go to camp at age 7.  My younger brother was (having seen me do it), as was my little sister, but I was not.  My parents listened to my tales of culinary abuse and sent me back the next year.  Developmentally, I was more ready that second year.  I enjoyed camp.  I made friends.  I even made it a career. 

I was my parents’ test case, as my daughter is for me.  As parents we make mistakes.  Good parents try and correct them, not by overreacting to the negative, but by looking for the positive and amplifying it.  Good parents tweak the rules when they find out they don’t work quite right.  Good parents learn that because their child wasn’t ready this year does not mean he or she won’t be ready next year.  Good parents try again. 

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan

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

So you’re looking for something new this year – something to do with your family that will cost less than a trip to the beach or Disney World?  I am willing to bet your local camp has a program for you.

Family Camp           

I cannot count the number of times moms and dads have told me they wished that they could go to camp like their kids.  You can!  Most camps around the country offer sessions for families.  Depending on the organization, Family Camp programs may be a weekend or an entire week.  Regardless, it is an experience your family will remember for their entire lives.

When I worked in Ohio at YMCA Camp Y-Noah, our Family Camps were Friday night to Sunday morning on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween weekends (for more information on Camp Y-Noah visit www.gotcamp.org or read about the program at http://blog.cleveland.com/travel/2008/05/summer_camps_are_making_room_f.html).  Cabins were reserved for a single family and deposits were often paid a year in advance to “hold a spot.”  These programs fill, and for good reason.  You have the benefit of a camping experience with the added bonus of letting the camp take care of the food, lodging, and programs.   

Now that I work with the South Mountain YMCA and Camp Conrad Weiser in Pennsylvania, we offer a program that runs from Friday night to Monday morning on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.  The added day allows for more programming and a relaxed schedule.  Families enjoy themed dinners and activities in addition to climbing, canoeing, target sports, trail rides, movie nights, and much more.  For more information on the South Mountain YMCA’s Family Camp, visit us at www.smymca.org.

 

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Parent-Child Weekends       

In the YMCA, when we say “Parent-Child Weekends” we are often referring to a weekend retreat for the old Indian Guide/Princess programs.  In the modern Y, these programs are referred to as Adventure Guides, but the format is unchanged.  Dads or moms and their sons and daughters enjoy a weekend of traditional camp activities, campfires, and challenges.

Beyond the YMCA, camps are offering mother-daughter weekends, father-son weekends, and grandparent-grandchild campouts.  There are a lot of opportunities out there.

Adult Retreats                     

Women’s Wellness Weekends.  Men’s Retreats.  Singles Campouts.  You name, somebody is doing it.  Find a program and a location that appeals to you and get out there!

Camp is not just for kids.  If you’re looking for a quality program for yourself or your family, call your local camp.  Chances are you have one in your backyard.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

Let’s cut to it.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone.  Grandmothers have cell phones.  Grandkids have cell phones.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Are we clear?

Now let’s talk about summer camp.  Like your child’s school administrators, your summer camp leadership has debated the place of cell phones in their program every season for the last 10 years.  In 2004, 45% of young people 12-17 had cell phones.  By 2008 it had climbed to 71% (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/14–Teens-and-Mobile-Phones-Data-Memo.aspx).  You can bet it has continued to rise the last 2 years.  So, do they belong in summer camp?

Your camp director doesn’t think so.  Neither do I.  And I’ll bet, if you think about, you don’t either. 

A few months ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people what they hoped their child would gain from a summer experience.  Let me share the results with you:

  • 47% of respondents hoped a child would gain Independence
  • 30% of respondents hoped a child would gain Self-Esteem
  • 15% hoped the camper made New Friends
  • 5% of respondents hoped a child gained New Skills or learned Traditional Values

If the majority of parents want their children to gain Independence, Self-Esteem, and New Friends from a summer camp experience, does a cell phone help or hinder that process?  In my estimation, cell phones in camp prevent these goals. 

Let’s start with Independence.  If you send your child to a week of camp (or a day of camp) with a cell phone, you are preventing your child from developing independence.  I dare you to disagree with me.  For those of you keeping score, point 1 in this debate goes to the anti-cell team. 

If you are hoping your child develops Self-Esteem, does the cell phone help?  Honestly, I can’t imagine how a cell helps.  I can picture scenarios in which a cell phone is used to bully another child.  Imagine one camper sending negative texts about another camper to friends.  Imagine a bully taking a picture of another child in the bathroom, at the pool, or in another compromising position – and then sending it out to My Space, Facebook, or to their friends as a text.  You can’t argue that these scenarios would negatively impact the self-esteem of a camper.  Point 2 goes to the anti-cell contingent.

Now we can consider Making Friends.  If a camper is spending her day texting existing friends rather than making new ones, the child is not getting everything out of the experience she could.  Point 3 goes against cell phones, too.

Over the past 10 years, I have heard a handful of parents argue for their child to carry a cell.  Know this, in every case the cell phone was for the parent – not the child.  If we expect a week of summer camp to help a child develop independence, self-esteem, and new friends, we have to give them the room to take those steps on their own.

But don’t fret.  Most camp professionals understand a parent’s need to check-in on their children.  As camp professionals, we will go and check on your child when you call the office for an update.  We’ll talk to you every day if need be.  Many overnight camps allow parents to send emails to their children in addition to traditional snail mail.  Camp photos and videos are provided through most camp websites.  Some camps have live web cams so you can see day-to-day activities at camp. 

My Advice:  If you have concerns about staying connected to your camper this summer, talk to your summer camp before the first day of camp.  Learn their policies on communication between parents and campers.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a compromise on that policy.  If the camp’s communication policy is a deal breaker for your family, it’s better that you know it now.  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.

In this first part of this series we looked at Resident Camps.  Now we’ll take a look at Day Camps.  These are very different programs that meet very different needs. 

For Day Camps

  1. How is your program different from traditional childcare or babysitting?
  2. What is the background of your director and staff?  What are their qualifications?
  3. How long has your camp been in operation?
  4. What is the staff/camper ratio?  Is that consistent all day, or might it change for certain programs (i.e. swimming)?
  5. Are all people on site background checked?  How?
  6. How much time do campers spend outside per day?
  7. What is the average age of your campers?
  8. How many weeks or sessions do most campers attend?
  9. How does the program vary from week-to-week or session-to-session?
  10. Are you accredited by the ACA (www.acacamps.org)?

My bias toward resident camps becomes clear in these questions.  In resident camping, most directors have a year-round position to develop their programs and staff.  Resident camps often own their own facilities and have made long-term investments in offering camp programs.  That is not always the case for day camps.  In the last 10 years everyone has gotten in on the day camp game out of the belief that it is a “money maker.”  We have fitness centers, churches, schools, sports teams, art galleries, state parks, colleges, and museums all offering a variation on the traditional day camp program.  In every case listed above, day camp is not part of their core business.  It may even be an afterthought.  Parents need to probe these programs to make sure the day camp and its campers are a priority to the organization.

A good day camp is not childcare.  Sure, in both cases the health and safety of children is paramount, but the comparison may stop there.  A good day camp has developed outcomes for each child, measures the success of these outcomes annually through surveys, and is able to share all that information with you.  A day camp may have your child for 8-10 hours a day and should be able to constantly challenge and engage its campers.

Always ask the background of the director and staff in a day camp.  How long has the camp leadership been honing their craft?  Is this the director’s first attempt at putting together a day camp, or have they been developing this program over many years?  Remember, it is never wrong to ask for references (i.e. former camp families). 

Just like learning the experience of the director, it is important to know how long the day camp has been in operation.  Day camps have low start-up costs and can be here today and gone tomorrow.  Make sure the organization is committed to running camp.  Is it a 30-year, family-run program?  Does it own the property it operates on?  Is it part of your community in a tangible way?

I wrote about staff/camper ratios and the background checks of staff in my post on Resident Camp, and I won’t belabor those points here.  Understand, however, that your potential day camp program may be offered in a public place – making it difficult to background check every adult who could come into contact with your child.  Day Camps held in fitness centers, museums, and public parks cannot control or screen every person that uses their facilities.  Now that I have scared you, please know that plenty of quality day camp programs operate in public places.  It’s simply one of many factors you may want to consider when choosing a day camp for your child.

Tomorrow I will post some research on children and the great outdoors.  Take my word for it, kids need to be outside.  Your fitness center day camp may make the pitch that at their facility it’s “always 72 and sunny,” but that does not take the place of spending time in nature.  On the other hand, there is plenty of research that tells us to limit the amount of time children and adults spend in the sun.  A day camp that offers both indoor and outdoor program space is probably the right balance. 

Like any youth development program, it is important to know if your child will have peers in the program – so ask.  Determine if your child fits developmentally with the other children in the program, as well as with the demands of the program.  Along the same lines, ask how many sessions or weeks the typical camper attends.  Some programs (good ones), are designed to change and challenge across an 11 weeks summer.  Other programs are built to be a one-week experience.  Previous parents have a feel for this and vote using their enrollment dollars.  They will send their children for 8 or more weeks if they feel the campers are still having fun and learning something new. 

Take it a step further and ask the director how week 1 is different from week 2.  Are there new field trips each week?  Does the camp utilize themes to make sure the program is different each session?  Again, match your family’s needs to what the day camp can offer. 

Finally, determine if the program is accredited by the American Camp Association.  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.

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.

It’s a summer tradition and a rite of passage, but why do send our children into the woods each summer armed with their sleeping bags, sunscreen, and two extra pairs of socks?

In 1979, my parents took me to a little YMCA camp on the South Mountain in Pennsylvania. They were well-adjusted, happily married, middle-class people who loved their 3 children, but they dropped their oldest son off at a camp at the tender age of 7. They had never visited the camp, had not gone to it themselves, and knew none of the staff working in the program. What were they thinking?

I hated my first camp experience. I was slow to make friends as a child – particularly that first summer – and had not benefited from watching an older sibling make his or her way through the world. I didn’t understand that every family, school, or house of worship had their own traditions and customs that were different from mine. It was intimidating. I won’t even get into the camp food. I left on Saturday morning with an awful case of poison ivy swearing I would never return. To my parents’ credit, they just smiled and said “we’ll talk about it later.” The next summer, they pushed me to go back. Their philosophy was that any experience could go wrong once – give it a second try and then make your decision on whether or not to return.

As an adult now working in camping, I asked my parents why they sent me, and in later summers my brother and sister, to Camp Thompson. In various ways, they told me that they hoped we would get a better “sense of ourselves”. They felt a sleep-away camp offered us the opportunity to grow as individuals while learning about others in an intimate setting that can only be created by living with 8-10 other children for a week. 30 years later, are we different from our parents?

Recently I posted a poll on LinkedIn that asked parents what they hoped their children would get from their summer camp experience. 47% of the parents responding indicated that they wanted their campers to Gain Independence. 30% responded with the hope their children would Gain Self-Esteem. 15% wanted their campers to Make New Friends. Only 5% indicated that they wanted their children to Learn Traditional Values or a New Skill.

Perhaps our reasons for sending our children away to camp have not changed that much in 30 years, even as society and technology have rapidly evolved. Perhaps we all hope our children will make their annual summer sojourn into the woods and return knowing a little more about themselves.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Summer Camp Source: Nathan Scott Brant

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