Summer is coming to an end and school is starting back up. That means kids will be telling all their friends about everything they did this summer. They will tell stories about going on vacation, visiting relatives, playing outside, and all sorts of other adventures. For many children, though, there is one part of the summer in particular that will stay with them for many years to come—day camp. Many hours of planning and work go into creating a great day camp, but the benefits that children and youth can gain from day camp are endless.
Great programming is a factor in successful day camps. Camps can be based on anything. There are specialty camps that can be focused on various things such as the arts, rock climbing, wilderness training, aquatics, or any type of sport you can think of. Nonspecialty camps can incorporate themes to make them more interesting. You can pick one theme for the entire duration of the camp, or you could change the theme from week to week. A great way to set up camp programs is to make it a stepping-stone process. This means having age-specific programs, with more options for the campers as they get older. All of the games, activities, field trips, and even facilities should be planned out with the age groups in mind. This will keep kids interested during the summer they’re in camp and will give them something different and exciting to look forward to the next summer.
Even though there is great variety in the way a day camp can be run, each one is full of benefits. Besides gaining memories that will last a lifetime, the children and youth who go to day camp will learn real-world skills, develop self-esteem, and gain a sense of independence and community. At day camp there are always opportunities to build and enhance leadership skills. Campers will become confident as they take healthy risks in a safe and nurturing environment. It is an opportunity to interact with positive role models in an atmosphere that promotes volunteerism, recreation, and diversity.
It’s impossible to get all of these benefits from a day camp without having a good staff. It’s suggested that day camp staff undergo at least 30 hours of training. This doesn’t all have to be lectures, though. An effective training session has a good balance of team-building activities, workshops, and fun. Once you have a good staff at the camp, you can use them to recruit more staff members in the future. Great camp staff typically will recruit other potentially great staff because they tend to spend time with people who have the same qualities. A good place to look for staff members is the local high school or college.
The next step toward having a successful day camp is evaluating and planning. Every year you’ll need to conduct an end-of-summer evaluation. Not only should you use your staff’s feedback for evaluation but you should also ask the campers and their parents for feedback. Then you can use this information as the basis of any staff meetings throughout the year. Find a group of staff members, parents, and campers who are committed to improving the camp. If possible, this group should meet monthly to discuss ideas for creating a better camp experience.
When camp is in session, keep the facility neat, clean, and well groomed. Two of the most important things to campers and their parents are having clean bathrooms and having plenty of cool, clean water. If your camp is based outdoors, it’s important to have the appropriate budget, staff, and equipment to maintain the grounds. If your day camp is based indoors, make sure you have a great relationship with the person in charge of the site. Besides maintaining cleanliness, you should make sure the camp area looks like a place that children will want to be. Signage is an excellent way to enhance the facility. Signs are fun ways to direct campers and visitors, and they make the grounds more inviting.
It might seem like a lot of work to run a great day camp, but it’s definitely worth it. If you’re successful, your campers will have fun, create memories, and learn skills that will last them a lifetime. If you want more information on creating and operating a successful day camp program, check out Jill Moffitt’s new book, Day Camp Programming and Administration.