Having worked in the camp industry for some time, I am often asked what Catherine and I look for in summer programming for our own kids (full disclosure, my children are not yet of the age where they could have attended WA overnight programs, but they have participated in our day camp–Base Camp at Snow King Mountain). My eldest daughter has attended two great overnight programs in California and Wisconsin and she looks forward to participating in WA next summer. So, what’s the link in these programs and how do we choose? When we do our research, here is what we are looking for:
Director Involvement: I like to talk to the directors of the program. I view the camp experience as one that is a partnership between the parents and the directors to help make this the best experience possible. I love interacting with directors who are involved and can share with me how my kids are doing. I search for directors that are passionate about the profession and want to better themselves as camp directors and leaders. I ask them about how they hire and train their staff and what makes for a qualified staff member.
Program Progression: Will the experience be the same if she comes back next year? Will it build upon itself, fostering the growth of my child from one year to the next? I do not want my kids to go to a program that will be the same year after year. I want them to have new adventures and take on new challenges that are age-appropriate.
Healthy Risk and Appropriate Challenge: I believe camp is a place for my child to take healthy risks without Catherine and me standing behind, looking over their shoulder to see if they need us. I want them to be able to climb the tree, do the ropes course, ride the horse fast and jump into lakes and rivers (all under the watchful eye of trained leaders). Before the camp experience existed, these were experiences that kids were having in the summer months on their own. Now, camp is an amazing place for these things to happen. I look for a program that embraces the outcomes that can come when taking monitored risk, and I also look for a program that has a great safety record.
American Camp Association Accreditation: ACA accreditation is the best evidence a parent can have as to a program’s commitment to the health and safety of a child. It is no easy process to become ACA accredited and of the approximately 15,000 summer camps in the US only approximately 3,000 have been designated as accredited. The designation shows a commitment of the camp to meet the highest of standards.
As we look for programs that have these similar characteristics for our own children, it goes without saying that it is with these things in mind that we design our programs at WA. We strive to be involved directors, of an ACA accredited program where our programs progress over time and our students and campers take appropriate and managed risks.