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

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

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

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My Advice:

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

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

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

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

 

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.

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.

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.