The final criteria for evaluating and choosing a camp for the kids you love is simply transparency and outside accountability. Without these two qualities it’s nearly impossible to evaluate all the other areas we’ve discussed over the past four posts. So in many ways you must begin your assessment here.
Let’s first look at transparency. Transparency is the ability to see into something. It’s vitally important that there’s transparency in any organization that serves kids. There should be no dark corners or secrets when it comes to the care of children.
You can quickly tell the transparency of a camp by asking for following questions:
Are tours available, especially during camp operations? You should expect to be able to visit and see camp.
Has the camp been able and willing to answer all the other questions you’ve asked? Did you receive them forthrightly or was it a struggle? If a camp can’t or won’t answer your questions you don’t want to send kids you love there.
Does the camp provide parents glimpses into a child’s camp experience via video, photos, text messages or emails? They should unless the program, such as a wilderness program, can’t accommodate them.
How easy is it to connect to camp staff especially when camp is in session? What’s the process for doing so? You should be able to reach someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when camp is in session.
Outside accountability is an often overlooked but vitally important quality every camp should voluntarily submit themselves to if they’re the kind of camp worthy of the kids you love. So you should look for the following types of certifications and audits in any camp you’re considering:
Certification by the American Camping Association (ACA)? The ACA is the camping industry’s only general certification program. Their standards are high and the audits beneficial. You should think twice before sending your kids to a camp that has not been certified.
Meet all state regulations and inspections. Note some states are better at this than others.
Outside companies that design and certify high adventure activities such as zip lines, ropes courses, climbing walls, etc. There are experts in this field that help camps operate and provide safe activities.
Best Christian Workplaces certification or others like it. These outside firms provide insight into the kind of leadership and organization a camp is and how it operates.
Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA) or other outside financial groups that assures integrity in the camps financial practices.
When you evaluate your camp options against the criteria from this post and the previous four posts you’ll make the right decision for the kids you love.
One of the most important areas to consider when evaluating summer camp options for the kids you love is to understand a camp’s day-to-day operations. And central to a camp’s operations is both its safety and emergency policies and practices, and the condition and care of its facilities and activities.
When considering safety and emergency policies and procedures you should ask the following questions and look for the following answers:
What does the safety program look like? Is it documented? What is the safety record of the camp? Is the staff knowledgeable and committed to the program?
A camp should have a clearly articulated safety program with a professional leading it. This program, including its procedures should be documented and available for your review. Finally the camp should be able to provide you a summary of their safety record based on their record keeping and documentation. If there are no records there is no safety program.
Are there inspections on equipment, activities and buildings? How frequent are the inspections? Who conducts the inspections and is there a record of these inspections?
Camp activities, equipment and buildings receive heavy use, especially during the summer, and proper and timely inspection should be completed by qualified people with records of these inspections to assure the safest camp conditions.
Does the camp have an up-to-date and complete Emergency Action Plans (EAP’s)?
Don’t be afraid to ask the camp for copies of their EAP’s. Camps should have clearly written out and communicated EAP’s and thorough trained staff in preparations for a number of potential emergencies such as severe weather, fire, camp intruders, missing campers, etc.
Ask the following questions about the care and maintenance of activities and facilities:
What is the age of your facilities and activities? When did the last remodeling and updating happen? What is preventative maintenance schedule?
One of the foundations for creating a safe camp experience is well maintained facilities and activities. You can learn a lot about the safety of a camp by how well maintained the facilities and activities are.
So remember, understanding how a camp plans, prepares, maintains, trains and practices these key elements of their camping operations is critical to selecting a camp for the kids you love.
In my final post in this series I will discuss the degree of transparency and outside accountability camps should have.
If a camp’s leadership and its camping and programming philosophy are the foundation to a camp’s ability to deliver an outstanding experience than its staff, the people who work directly with your kids, are the most important ingredient.
Understanding a camp’s staffing policies and practices is absolutely necessary to assessing a camp’s ability to provide the kids you love a safe, uplifting and positive experience. The following are the questions you should ask and the answers you should look for from the camps you are considering. They center on three distinct areas: Selection, Training and Supervision, and Camper to Staff Ratios.
What is the criterion used to evaluate potential staff?
Look for the specific criteria used to evaluate potential staff, such as age requirements (over 18), education (minimum of a high school diploma), work experience, experience and interest working with kids, etc.
Where does staff come from?
Look for a broad and comprehensive recruiting plan which includes diversity of camp experience, social economic and geographic backgrounds.
How does a camp select their staff?
A camp should have a thorough interview process. They need to do background checks including criminal history and sex offender registries on all potential staff, preferably by an independent company. Finally, all applicant references need to be thoroughly checked.
Training and Supervision:
How much and what kind of training do staff receive?
There should be a minimum of 100 hours of training to prepare staff to properly care for and supervise the kids you love. This training should focus on proper supervision of kids, being able to identify and address bullying and other inappropriate behavior as well as what to do and where to go in emergencies, etc.
What is the ratio of staff to leadership and professional staff, how much supervision to they receive?
The ratio should be a ratio of no higher than 3 staff to every person in leadership. There should be a clear line of accountability from the executive director right down to the dishwasher.
What is the ratio of staff to campers? How much supervision will the camp provide the kids you love?
At minimum camps should meet both the state and the American Camp Association standards (10 campers to 1 counselor). Better camps will exceed these standards and will be 7 to 1 and for younger children 5 to 1.
Every one of these questions should be answered easily by the camps you’re researching. They are the most important questions because they related directly to the care that a camp will be able to provide the kids you love. Look for the answers listed above to help you select the right camp for you and your kids.
In my next post we’ll look at the questions you can ask to understand how a camp operates, its safety practices and policies and its supervision of its campers.
As I stated in my last post there are four critical areas you want to understand when evaluating a summer camp for the child your love.
The first area you want to know is the camp’s leadership and its camping/programming philosophy.
So let’s start with the questions you should ask about leadership followed by questions to ask about the camp’s programing philosophy.
Who is the Executive Director? How long has he or she work for the camp? How long have they been in this position? Have they worked at other camps or in other fields?
You want to find a seasoned camping professional who has 10 or more years of camping or related experience. Running a safe and effective camp requires experience.
Who’s on the board of directors?
You’re looking for a board of experienced, business, educational, and ministry leaders who can provide the appropriate oversight to the camp.
What kind of experience does the other senior leaders of the camp have, such leaders as program and facilities directors?
Once again you’re looking for both a minimum of 5 or more years of experiences in camping and in other related fields.
What is the camp’s mission? What does the camp promise to provide your kids?
It’s important to understand the camp’s promised impact on your kids to see if it matches your expectations and desires for a camp experience.
What is the programmatic theme? Is it focused on athletics, adventure, classic camp, spiritual focus? Is it high energy or laid back?
The camp should be able to articulate their programmatic philosophy so you can evaluate it against what’s best for your kid.
And remember the camp you’re researching should be able to clearly and easily articulate answers to all of these questions either on their website, brochures or by talking with camp staff. If this information isn’t readily available then the camp’s not the place you want to send the kids you love.
In my next post we’ll look at the critical area of staffing policies and practices.
Selecting a summer camp experience for the kids you love, whether it’s your own kids, grand-kids or kids you want to invest in is an incredibly important process because camps are not all created equal. Camps differ in leadership and camping/programming philosophy, in their staffing policies, camp operations, and in level of transparency and outside accountability they have.
To select the right camp for the kids you love requires an understanding of all your camp options from each of these four perspectives. Over the next four posts we’ll look at each one of these perspectives with the goal of creating a framework that you can use to evaluate all your available camp options so you can make the right decision.
To begin this process it’s important to make this next statement. Though it’s a statement that really belongs to the last topic, transparency and outside accountability, I need to say it now – all the information you need to evaluate a camp should be readily available in clear and understandable language in the camp’s brochures, websites or through a phone call with a knowledgeable staff member from the camp. If you cannot get answers to your questions, you don’t want to send the kids you love to that camp.
In addition to looking at a camp’s marketing materials it’s equally important to talk to people who’ve experienced the camp. These people will supply you with some of the best information you’ll need to make a good decision. When talking with other “customers” ask them the same questions we’ll cover in the next four posts. Compare their answers to the marketing material of the camp and you’ll quickly learn as much as you need to know to select the right camp for the kids you love.
I love summer camp and always hate when it’s over. I especially miss watching God transform the lives of campers and staff. But I also miss watching our team perform during these crazy weeks. They’re committed and talented people who create incredible experiences.
One of my favorite moments from this summer was watching our team go after the goal of having 25% of our campers pre-register for 2013 summer camp. You see in the past we’d only open up registration months after summer camp ended. A couple of years ago we decided to test whether parents would sign their kids up for next year’s camp at the end of their camp session. We tried some things and had some success, but nowhere close to what we desired.
So instead of giving up we set a stretch goal of 25% pre-registration without a clear plan on how we’d achieve it. What we had were some t-shirts to give away to campers who signed up for the next year. So our Indiana overnight team created a plan that would generate excitement on the closing day of camp with the goal of moving parents to sign up for next year. The plan included having all professional staff wear one of these t-shirts, promote pre-registration during the closing rally, and have highly visible tables at key locations so parents could easily pre-register and receive a t-shirt before leaving camp.
So what was the result of our Indiana team’s Week 1 efforts? We pre-registered more kids than the total number of 2011 Indiana pre-registrations.
Word quickly spread throughout SpringHill and over the next few weeks our other team’s implemented similar plans with similar results. Today, at our two overnight camps, we’ve pre-registered close to 35% of our campers, easily exceeding our stretch goal of 25%.
And that’s why it’s one of my favorite summer camp moments. Because I love when teams set stretch goals, create simple yet effective plans, work the plans and then share their successes so that others can succeed as well.
It’s also one of the reasons why I’m already looking forward to next year’s summer camp.
I know I’ve written about this before, but every time I witness our philosophy of inclusive camping in action, I’m inspired and humbled beyond words. There’s nothing else I can think of that better defines us as an organization than this commitment to include campers with special needs in all our camps.
Monday evening, as I walked home, I came upon one of our TST teams tackling our New Frontiers’ climbing wall. On the wall was one of our campers with special needs being “assisted” up by two of our special needs counselors as the entire TST team watched and cheered.
The scene beautifully shows why we believe so strongly in inclusion and why we insist on being a welcoming experience for all kinds of young people. We believe that every child’s created in the image of God so we work hard to assure all kids have equal access to the entire SpringHill Experience. In addition, we believe we’re to create a little “heaven on earth” because in heaven there will be all kinds of people, races and nations shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, together in the worship and service to God.
The scene also demonstrates a second reason our Special Needs program is an essential part of who we are. You see, one of the most impactful parts of this approach to camping is that it transforms all the campers, not just those who have special needs or come from different backgrounds. Why? Because it powerfully reminds every camper and staff member that, at some level, we all have “special needs” and require “assistance” in climbing the wall of life and, more importantly, being in a relationship with God.
So if you ever need to be inspired, come visit a SpringHill Experience, and no doubt you’ll witness a scene like the one above, and you too will never be the same.
It’s the last week of summer camp and Sunday evening I indulged in my last meal at “the Island” or, as so many people now call it, “Burger Island”. As I sat there enjoying my burger (and brat), beans and great fellowship with our resident staff and volunteers, I couldn’t help but wonder “how did the name of this sacred place so inadvertently, so unintentionally (or maybe it was purposefully and maliciously) changed over the years?”
It’s like the name of the White House slowing changing to the POTUS’ Crib, or The Rose Bowl becoming PAC 12 Field, or Saint Peter’s Basilica becoming simply Pete’s Crash Pad. Sacred and important places shouldn’t have their names change slowly over time without some forethought, right?
(And yes, you can tell, it’s the last week of camp because I’ve drifted into thinking such “high level and strategic” thoughts, all of which will have serious implications for the future of …. uh, well, such things as t-shirts and property maps)
So what’s a leader to do in such a situation? How does one undo years of slow creep? How does the popular name get change back to the right and proper title? Should nature take its course or should one fight to maintain what’s right? (OK, maybe I should be asking myself “why would a leader spend more than a minute on such things?”)
My course of action? I’ll do what so often happens in leadership today – I’ll take a poll and find out what’s the most popular name for this sacred place, and then I’ll make that name the one I endorse.
The lifeguard gathered the Copper Country (4th through 6th grade camp) kids around him after an hour of playing on the Gusher. If you don’t know, the Gusher is a high and long “slip and slide” that empties into one of our lakes. One of the things campers like to do is to try to spin (roll over multiple times) all the way down, seeing how many spins they can achieve before landing in the lake below.
As the campers gathered, the lifeguard asked them a series of questions in what we call a “debrief.” The debrief is where we use the activity the campers just participated in as an object lesson to reinforce and bring to life the spiritual themes of the week. It’s for this reason that we debrief all our activities from the zipline to paintball and even the Gusher, and why debriefs are such a critical part of the SpringHill Experience.
You see our activities are tools for helping campers grasp and remember the spiritual truths we want them to take home with them. It’s one of the main ways we integrate faith and fun.
In the best debriefs, the activity staff asks a series of questions, leading the campers to discover the connection between the activity and the spiritual theme for themselves.
Questions like this lifeguard asked “could you spin a thousand times on your own down the Gusher?” and of course the answer is “no way”. Then the lifeguard asked “can you get to heaven on your own?” and kids answered with “yes”, “no” and “maybe”. Which led lifeguard to explain that to have eternal life requires something outside of ourselves just like spinning a 1000 times down the Gusher would require something outside of our selves. And, of course the lifeguard explained, that something outside ourselves we need to “get to heaven” is Jesus Christ.
It was a simple 5 minute debrief but it beautifully reinforced an important spiritual truth that these young boys will keep with them for a long time.
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A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine. I am so happy, my dear friend, so absorbed in the exquisite sense of mere tranquil existence, that I neglect my talents. I should be incapable of drawing a single stroke at the present moment; and yet I feel that I never was a greater artist than now.