Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp - Part 5

Becoming a role model

I have to say that yes, if I didn’t go to camp, I’m sure I would have found other ways to learn about the various topics in my “If I Didn’t Go To Camp” posts.  However, I will acknowledge that because I did go to camp, it was the first place I learned many of these lessons and my camp experiences helped me accelerate my growth in many areas of leadership.

One area is being a role model.  Becoming a role model doesn’t only happen once you join staff.  Oh no, it happens much before.  When you’re a camper, you influence campers who are younger than you.  Maybe it’s your perfect swish from the foul line on the basketball court that grabs an interested camper’s attention.  Maybe it’s your bulls-eye count on the Bob’s Bullseye tracking sheet at the Trip Hut.  Whatever it might be, you lead before you’re in a leadership role.

On the first night of each camp session after the opening campfire, the campers would be sent to begin their bedtime routine.  The camp director asked the oldest boys and oldest girls cabins to stay back though.  In her three minute speech, the director empowered the oldest cabin groups to be leaders and role models.  She asked these campers to lend a hand to the younger campers, especially when they needed help.  Maybe it was helping to lift a canoe or kayak back onto its rack, maybe it was to walk with them to the dining hall and make conversation, or maybe it was to cheer them up when they could sense a camper was homesick.

When you do join staff, your role modeling continues.  The campers follow your lead.  You are the coolest person they know.  What I thought role modeling was at first, was setting a good example for my campers.  What I learned later on though, was how powerful I was as a leader, and the way I found out was one I never could have predicted.

In an earlier post (Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 1) I talked about the role of night nurse at Camp Huronda.  When the camp sessions changed over, the two counsellors who were selected to become the night nurses would need to reverse their daily pattern to become nocturnal.  This included staying up all night during “changeover” (the night between sessions with no campers on site) and going to bed around 8am the next day, or as late as the counsellor could stay awake.

There are three small cabins tucked away behind the trip hut field where area staff and night nurses usually reside.  These were my absolute FAVOURITE cabins.  One afternoon, I was sound asleep after a full night awake when I was awoken by banging on the door to my little cabin.  I heard someone yelling outside “Gilby, Gilby, Gilby!”  I was aware of what was going on and said “come in”.  I had a feeling I knew who it was, even from my subconscious awakening.

It was my previous camper Adam!  As soon as he got to camp, he asked if I had returned and he found out where I was so he could come say hello immediately.  WOW.  I will never forget that moment.  I realized then that I truly had become a role model for Adam.  I too was very happy that he came back to camp.  So, I gave him a hug, and told him we could catch up at dinner because I would sit with his table.

I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 5:00pm knowing it was going to be a great two weeks.  It was quite a humbling feeling having a camper so excitedly return to camp looking for me.  I learned this lesson many times, but I think this was one of the most memorable ones.  I had the pleasure of working on staff with Adam a couple years later when he joined staff as a counsellor in training and could be the leader to others that I was to him.

Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 3

Two Completely Different Bus Rides

Today on Twitter I was part of a very brief but interesting conversation about the bus ride to camp (Follow me: @jay_gilbert).  As a staff member, I would occasionally volunteer to be one of the staff on the camp bus at the beginning or end of a session.  The bus ride to camp and the bus ride from camp couldn’t be any more different.

On the first day of any particular camp session, the bus will wait in the parking lot for (potentially) eager campers to arrive.  In our hideously bright staff t-shirts - it would be impossible to miss us, plus we had giant smiles on our faces - see photo, the group of 3-4 staff would enthusiastically greet everybody who arrived at the meeting spot to head to camp.

Some campers were returning campers, and they knew the drill.  Drop the bags under the bus, say goodbye to their parents, get on the bus, and find a seat for the next couple hours.

Some of the campers were new.  Not only were they new, they were also afraid.  Some of these little boys and girls were leaving home for the first time and weren’t sure if they were ready to be away from home for two weeks.

We did our best to get the campers excited to be en route to South Waseosa Lake Road.  We would work the aisle - go up and down the bus talking to campers, making sure everybody was comfortable, answer questions from the returning campers such as “Did Seeley come back to camp this year?  Who’s my counsellor?  What cabin am I in?  Who’s the craft lady?”

Despite all the positive energy of the staff, the bus ride to camp is very quiet.  The energy that so magically comes out at camp hasn’t hit yet, and the first time campers often feel overwhelmed, nervous, and scared.

Fast forward two weeks.

It’s tough to get the campers on the bus to go home.  Nobody wants to leave.  A dozen pair of best friends reluctantly board the bus.  At least they have seat mates for the ride home!  The volume of conversation on the bus ride home is noticeably louder and the air is filled with laughter, chatter, and some sniffles.  Not long after the bus rolls away from camp everybody starts singing.  This bus ride is completely different from the one two weeks prior.

Having had these two opposite bus experiences did teach me that it only takes two weeks to change a kid’s life.  That first-time-away-from-home ten year old who arrived at camp shy and quiet, jumps off the bus with more stories to tell his parents than there are minutes in the car for the drive home.

Taking the bus to camp is absolutely a great idea.  It’s the first chance you have to make a new friend

Communicating with Camp Parents by Email

Transient

Successful Camp/Parent Relationships Make Your Summer Smooth

I think that camps can get some great mileage out of maintaining great email communication with parents over the summer.   Here’s what I would recommend for a camp with week-long sessions - you can adjust it to suit the length of your camps.

  1. June 15 - Welcome Letter from the Director. Something very personal with a photo of the director (or section head if your camp is that large) saying that “I’m excited to have you at camp this summer” and here are some important dates to remember.  Include the picture - it’s easier to trust a person if you know what they look like.
  2. Thursday before a Saturday or Sunday drop-off - Only Two More Sleeps! Send a short email note that tells parents the specifics of their child’s stay at camp.  I would include a reminder of registration times (give them a beginning and end time - we gave families a one hour window for registration knowing that that would mean that they would come 1/2 hour early and we’d be close to done at the end of an hour), and a link to your online driving directions.  Take a look at the weather for next week and include a packing reminder - “Bring a raincoat, we’re going to get some rain on Tuesday”, “Check to make sure that you have a water bottle packed it’s supposed to be 34 degrees for most of the week (close to 100 deg. F.), etc.
  3. Friday before a Saturday Pick-up - We’ll See You Tomorrow.  Email parents 24 hours before they are to pickup their child at camp or at the bus stop. Make sure you are specific about the time you expect them.   We told parents that we would see them 9:30 on Saturday morning (we didn’t give them a window).   You can also offer parents a little emotional incentive to arrive on time - “Come see your son or daughter preform at our closing campfire tomorrow at 9:30).   This email is also a great place to tell parents that you need to know who is picking up their child if it is not them - you need to be instructed in writing to release a camperto someone who is not their parent/guardian.

A Note on Packing Lists

Creating one is essential and you should link to it AND include the .pdf in every communication with campers from the beginning of April until Email #2 (Thursday before the weekend arrival).

  • make sure that it is easy to read (large print) with actual checkboxes - make it as simple to utilize as possible
  • visually separate the MUST brings (sleeping bag, toothbrush, raincoat) from the suggestions (a book toread, a cuddly friend)
  • if you want to feel the best confidence that parents or guardians have looked over your packing list make it required that they sign it and physically hand it over with their child.  You don’t need to keep the sheet for anything (unless you are running a high-risk program that requires special equipment - then keep it for liability purposes) but the act of putting a signature on a piece of paper will make parents take better notice
  • create a “call out box” on the form to highlight important dates and times - the latest a child can arrive, latest time a parent can come for pick up.

What messages do you send to parents before camp?

Six SEO Tips to Help Parents Find Your Camp

Transient

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of strategically modifying the content on your summer camp Web site so that search engines can find and present your site to its users. For example, if you operate a basketball camp in New York, using SEO techniques will help parents who do a general search on Google for "basketball summer camps in New York" to find your specific camp among the top search results.

Simple SEO Changes

You can make simple changes to your site to make it more visible to parents who are using search engines to find camps. Here are six easy steps for getting started with SEO:

  1. Determine what keywords or key phrases parents will use to find camps like yours. Think of all the ways someone would describe your camp without referencing the name directly. Your list of keywords will likely include the type of camp you operate (horseback riding, robotics, ice hockey etc.), your audience (boys, teenagers, dancers, etc.), and regional descriptors (Nashville, Twin Cities, Cohocton Valley, etc.).
  2. Include at least 3-5 of your top keywords or key phrases on each page of your camp Web site. Focus on headlines and the first few sentences of any descriptions. Don't rely on images or graphics alone to tell parents they're looking at a sailing camp in Maryland. Make sure the key phrases "sailing camp" and "Maryland" can be found among the text at the top of your home page.
  3. Use your keywords and camp name in the anchor text of your site links. Search engines like finding relevant links on your site that they can share with their users. For example, a link that says "Click here to register for the 2011 Crawford Teen Ballet Camp" is better than a link that only says "Click here to register."
  4. Make sure your page titles are descriptive and include your camp name. Page titles are the words that display at the very top of the Web browser window. Rather than giving a simple description like "Directions," adding your camp name and expanding the title to "Driving Directions to Stanford Kids Day Camp" will help search engines find you.
  5. Submit your URL to Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Registering your camp Web site with each search engine tells them your site exists and should be included in search results. You should also register with the local sections of Google, Yahoo! and Bing so your camp shows up on local maps and directories.
  6. Don't overdo it! Search engines are getting smarter and smarter, so they'll recognize tricks like overloading your site with keywords or using keywords that aren't relevant to your content. Stick with the basics, evaluate your keyword usage from time to time, and focus on contextualizing & describing your content for viewers.

Guest author Phillip Gilbreth is the Camps Sales Manager for MySummerCamps.com and KidsCamps.com, the leading online camp directories for connecting parents with kids and teen summer camps in the United States, Canada and worldwide.  Contact Phillip at pgilbreth@internetbrands.com

(MySummerCamps and KidsCamps appear among the top search results because of our robust SEO techniques. Yet another reason why listing your camp in our comprehensive camp directories should always be part of your marketing strategy!)