Each summer camp has its own unique culture that distinguishes it. This culture is generally encompassed by the owner or director, and oftentimes permeates throughout the camp, impacting the staff, campers, and general feel of the whole camp environment.
That said – even within a camp that shares a strong culture, each age-group, and each bunk, is going to have its own distinct mix of kids and thus own its own personality. When we’re working with a camp family, we always have conversations with camp directors to discuss these social factors. Speaking candidly with a camp’s director will give you great insight into fit, and will provide clarity regarding what bunk and session placement will be most beneficial to your child. Whether you’re picking a new camp for your child or children to attend, or your child is going to be returning for another summer, here are factors to keep in mind to help set your camper up for success.
The Right People
When assessing a camp, it’s vital to remember that the camp leadership figures and you, the parent, need to jive with one another. Even if you feel that a camp’s programming, physical amenities, camp size, and location align with your child’s and your family’s needs – if you meet or speak with the director and are not on the same page, take this as a tell-tale sign: that camp may not be the right fit. As mentioned above, camp personalities and management are top-down; so make sure you and your child feel good about senior management, as this trickles down to the staff and the culture of the camp.
It also may make sense to speak with a few current camp families to get an idea of the types of kids (and parents) that the camp attracts. If you ask the director for references, they will likely point you in the direction of a family who represents the camp’s population – if you connect with this parent, it is a good sign that you’ve picked the right place. If not, it’s worth having another call with another family, and the camp may provide more references; but if you consistently find that you just don’t “click” with the other parents at camp, this may be a forewarning that the environment isn’t right for you and your children.
The Right Session
For those campers who will only be attending camp for half of the summer season, it’s important to identify which session might pose a better fit. If a child is particularly sporty, and one particular session tends to attract more athletes, that session may present a better fit. In other cases, one particular session may contain an already tightly-knit group of friends while another session’s campers are more open and inclusive – and a so new camper might find it easier to assimilate into that second session.
If your child attends or will be attending a camp with half and full summer options, it’s also important to make note of any programmatic differences between the two sessions. A competitive athlete might gravitate towards the second half of summer, where Color War tends to be longer and generally more intense; while a kid who shies away from competition might have the opposite reaction. If your child is an avid outdoorsman or outdoorswoman, it’s also important to factor any out-of-camp trips into your decision. Many 7-week camps have one culminating outdoor overnight per age group each summer, and if your child loves camping and will only be attending for half of the summer, you’ll want to identify those weeks that will provide them with that opportunity.
There are also specific social factors to consider if your child will spend part of the summer at a camp with half-season/full-season options. Gregarious kids may have no problems entering a camp environment halfway through the summer, and may relish the opportunity to complete camp at the end of summer. However, kids who need a little more nurturing may find it beneficial to start camp at the beginning of summer – when the staff has just completed orientation and everyone is getting used to the start of camp – rather than trying to enter midway through when most campers have gotten used to the swing of summer.
The Right Bunk
At Everything Summer, we are very sensitized to the situations that help new campers successfully transition into the right camp, and we strongly believe that bunk placement is a major part of the social dynamic that will ultimately dictate success. Even if you have picked out the perfect camp, and have identified a particular session (or the full 7-week summer) that your child will attend or return to, you should speak to both your child and the camp’s director about what bunk placement makes the most sense. If your child is new, it’s important to grasp how camps handle bunk placement – do they keep kids together year after year, or create brand new bunks each summer? Are new and returning campers mixed together, or do they place all new campers together? If the camp mixes new campers into existing bunk units, try to get a sense of what the personalities of those bunks are like, and how your child might fit into each. You may also want to learn if any school friends attend this summer camp, and if they do, consider requesting your child be in a different bunk from them. Even if they get along well with one another, it can be beneficial for children to have totally separate school-friends and camp friends (and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to interact, even if they’re in different bunks).
If your child will be returning to camp, ask them about who their close friends were at camp, and whether they had any particular issues with kids in their bunks, to gauge whether you think a switch might be appropriate. This is not to say that your child needs to be best friends with every child in their bunk – learning to coexist with others is a vital part of the growth that occurs at camp. But if they had a particular issue with one child, especially a bullying issue, a new bunk where they won’t be forced to interact with this other child quite as much. If this is the case, communicate your concerns to the director and, most importantly, listen to what they have to say! If you trust your camp director and they genuinely feel that your child is in the best bunk for their development, you should have faith in their process and try not to be enticed by the greener grass your child is envisioning further down the bunk-line.
Camp provides a unique opportunity for children to develop independence and maturity, and to grow and learn about themselves. While picking the right camp is definitely a large part of the equation, to truly maximize your child’s long-term growth you’ll want to consider these factors. This will help ensure they’re well-positioned to have successful summers, and will allow them to reap the benefits of camp that will extend well beyond their childhood summers.