As the crocus' begin to surface through the snow and the sun is up a little later each evening thoughts begin to sway towards those happier days of summer… cue Beach Boys “Wouldn't It Be Nice” and begin montage of all your perfect summer memories… mid song you realize there is another reason your mind has drifted to summer. This 'march break' or 'spring break' is a week long sample of what the whole summer is going to be like and… you haven't found a summer camp for the kids yet! Though a conversation about summer camps can feel somewhat reminiscent of Manhattan mom's comparing preschools I will attempt below to break down some of the determinants of summer camp that will hopefully simplify the process…
To begin, I am writing from my experiences and understanding of the camping world. I may make many examples based on Canterbury Hills Camp and this is not meant to be a plug for one camp – it is just the camp I know the most about. I welcome your feedback and suggestions which can be posted at the end of this article. Also, if you would like information about your camp or a story about your child's experience at a camp to be posted on the site please don't hesitate to drop me a line! Now… enjoy!
Type of Camp – The two major types of camps offered are Day Camp and Residential. Residential camp is a
'sleepover camp' which can vary from a 5 day session to the full summer dependant on the camp. Day Camp is typically a Monday to Friday 9-5 camp essentially providing summer daycare for children while parents are at work. Both camps can be amazing experiences for kids as long as the type of camp best fits their (and the parent's) needs. If both Day Camp and Residential Camp are offered at a Camp then the assumption can be made that the Day Camp is setup for younger campers. Make sure to ask when registering your child what the typical age range is for that session and that type of camp. Day Camp can be a nice transition into Residential Camp (if offered at the same location) as it gives a sense of comfort to campers when they have been there before. Also, if there are other plans in place for weekends and evenings rather than a far away trip, Day Camp's can help keep some routine to the day while giving campers a new experience. For some kids Residential can be the best way to introduce them to the camping world. If your child is already quite outgoing and independent the Residential Camp experience can be a way for them to hone those skills and learn how to be a facilitator within a group setting. For a child who is a bit more shy when introduced to new situations this could be a great opportunity for them to be recognized in a smaller group setting and potentially feel more empowered to make decisions and step up in typically scary situations for them.
Location – The location of the camp you are looking at will define a lot of what the camp will be like. If it is a camp in Alberta there may be more out-tripping into the mountains, whereas a camp in Southern Ontario may tend to stick more on site or on the Bruce Trail. Within the Anglican Church's group of camps there are a hand full of camps on Islands symbolically making camp 'another world' for campers to explore. From my web research I have managed to find about 18 open Anglican Church Camps across Canada, and those are typically the ones run by paid staff who have some time to update at least the years on the sites. I'm sure there are many I do not know about due to the lack of human resources available for marketing. If you are looking for a camp close by approach your Parish Priest, Diocesan Office, or Youth Ministry Coordinator to inquire about camps. I will be posting a complete list of the camps I have come across and am hoping I will become far more educated in terms of other camps out there as well. So keep watching for more information along with short bios of each camp.
Length – Anglican Church Camps across Canada have had to make some difficult decisions in regards to how long they can stay open throughout a summer. Some camps run entirely on the backs of committed volunteers from a week to two months while others have a full compliment of paid staff. The length of the summer can sometimes denote when it would be most appropriate to send each age group. The reality of a shorter camp season is that the staff will have more energy and focus for the short period of time but face a steeper learning curve, having less time to settle in to the camp environment each summer. Longer camping seasons mean a team of staff/volunteers who have had more time to perfect a lot of parts of camp but it does mean energy levels will most likely be less consistent. So… when considering age groups, younger campers require more constant energy and attention while older campers notice when things aren't going according to plan. For a camp like Canterbury Hills where we have a two month long camping program I would recommend younger campers at the beginning of the summer when staff still have that genuine energy for things like pool games, and tag and then older campers I would recommend for the end of the summer when staff have perfected program areas and now are able to have a lot of fun with the areas through creative programming.
Ethos/Culture – Typically on a camp's website there will be a 'camp info' or 'camp history' page. This page though not hosting any of the important quantitative information can give you the best introduction into what this camp is going to be like for your child. There are two major approaches to summer camps. One, being program-based and one being unit-based. Both have their pros and cons and can work for any camper but it's important to know that not all camps are going to be set up the same way.
Program based camps commonly have a larger 'senior staff' with specialties in various program areas ie: Arts and Crafts, Archery, Climbing Wall, Mountain Biking, etc. These specialists would be in charge of running these program areas. Then there is a group of staff known as the cabin leaders, who are responsible for the safety and well-being of campers, and ensure campers are delivered to each program area. Now, each camp is different so this can take many forms… some camps have campers sign up for program areas individually while others have groups rotating through program areas to a predetermined schedule. Program Based Camping ensures that leaders have a passion for the area they specialize in and that there are creative things being done everyday in every block of time.
Unit-Based Camping has campers arrive, live and play within a unit. The unit plans their session together dependant on what the unit would like to do. This means that every unit, and every session could have completely different schedules. The background to unit based camping is a desire to teach kids (and staff/volunteers) about communication, negotiation and planning from a young age. The staff/volunteers are trained in every area of camp so that they can lead whatever their campers decide on. Realistically since the birth of Unit Based Camping there have been a lot of changes in requirements for safety and well-being of campers meaning that there still is a Program Based side to it having certified Lifeguards, Ropes Course Instructors, etc. running those specific areas.
Staff/Camper Safety – When looking at a camp through a website it can be difficult to find 'that thing' to guarantee this group of leaders are going to be the best trained, most prepared, camper-focused group there is. Luckily, we do have organizations that look for 'many things' to measure this. In Ontario it is called the Ontario Camps Association (www.ontariocamps.ca), in BC it is the British Columbia Camping Association (www.bccamping.org). Not all provinces have organizations like this so it is not a perfect system but looking for any sort of 'seal of approval' from some sort of organization will give you a place to start. If you, for instance, found a 'member of **** association' take a gander at the association's website and see what they have for staff certification requirements and general camp standards. This will give you a good idea of what the staff need to go through before they begin their first session of camp with campers. The OCA for example, requires all unit leaders to hold a current Standard First Aid and CPR certification. The standards in which the OCA uses to accredit a camp are reviewed every 3 years meaning that camps need to consistently stay on top of all requirements.
Program Areas – The blob at Camp Columbia and Camp Artaban, the lake at Huron Church Camp and the High Ropes Course at Canterbury Hills are what keep campers coming back. The program areas are a big part of what define a camp. As a member of the senior staff at Canterbury Hills we get the opportunity to chaperon Leader in
Training adventures each year. Typically we visit various camps and learn about how they 'do camp'. I have learned through observation that the program areas tend to define who works there and how they 'do camp'. Pioneer Lodge Camp in Calgary does out-tripping on Canoes for a week for their older campers, other camps have horse back riding, waterfront swimming, hiking, amazing drama, creative spirituality, etc. What is your child into? Once that has been determined, as a Camp Coordinator I would encourage you to give a call or send off an email to the Camp Registrar or Camp Director/Coordinator asking what are your 'highlight' activities or asking specifically 'do you go on campouts in tents?' or whatever specific program area you are looking for. Having that one program area that your child is really excited about helps to maintain an amount of energy from the transition of 'far away camp seems really exciting' to 'I changed me mind, camp today is definitely not what i want to do!'
Each determinant can hold a different weight for each person; I hope these are helpful in identifying what is most important for you and your child(ren) as the camping season quickly approaches. Now then, back to digging those tulips out of the snow…