What to look for when you visit camp – pro tips from a Director!
By: Anna Black Morin, 4th Generation Owner/Director Camp Timber Tops
Before you tour, know what to expect. Camp will definitely help teach your child how to go with the flow. In the meantime (haha), try to get a sense of what you’re walking into before each camp tour experience. You’d think a “tour” at every camp would be the same. Not so! Is your child touring with you? Separately from you? Is it a group tour? A private tour? Will your child be participating in any activities or not? There’s no right or wrong or one-size-fits all, but the more information you have upfront, the more confident you and your camper will be and the more you’ll be able to focus on what you’re here for: seeing camp!
Don’t be afraid to have conversations with camp: before, during and after. In the story I outlined above, this mom did all the right things: she communicated openly and honestly with me before, during and after the tour. Directors really appreciate transparency, and every good camp director I know is transparent with families too! We only want you to choose our camp if it’s a mutually good fit for your child and for your family. My dad always says that a child’s positive camp experience at any camp is good for all camps. In other words, we really want you to find the best fit too. We’re really and truly in this together. We can best help you in your search when all parties are open and honest with each other. So when it comes to touring, tell us what you’d like to see in advance! If we can’t show you something (like, for example, a trip is out that day and there’s no instructional swim at that time), we’ll tell you! If you noticed that no one was in the music room and you’re wondering about it, please ask! If you go on to tour other camps and you were left wondering if another camp you saw has that same program or policy, call us after you’ve left! We welcome communication! And it’s good practice for the real thing, because once you’re part of our camp community, we rely on a partnership between camp and parents. It starts when you tour! We’re here for you!
It’s what’s on the inside that counts. I’m not saying that the outside doesn’t matter or that it shouldn’t, as we now say, “spark joy.” We all want our kids in a place that is well-maintained, cared-for, and kempt. As we want our kids to be under camp’s care! Of course! What I am saying is, try to look beyond each facade. A lot of great camps have a gymnastics facility, tennis courts, a pool, a lake, a group of bunks in a row, etc. etc.. But try to delve deeper. As a director, my assumption is that you’re not on a facility tour. You could do that in January! Our hope is that you’ve truly come to see camp in action. To experience our camp, its rhythm, our campers, our counselors, our hum. Each camp’s vibe is unique! Take it all in! In my experience, this is what most matters when finding a best camp fit.
Happy Campers? This one is tricky. Believe me, I’ve given hundreds of tours in the rain, on lazy days, when my own kids were babies and I’d been up with them all night…The list goes on. Factors are often out of our control, even on a controlled tour. Camp isn’t a utopia, it’s a world of it’s own for sure, but it’s still real life. There are great and even greater days. What should always be true, though, is that you can picture your child with the children you see. Do the kids seem happy? Do they seem welcoming? Do they look connected to camp and to each other? Are they relaxed? And the adults! Do the counselors and unit leaders seem in touch with the kids? Is the director someone you could call or communicate with about things big and small? I realize this is similar to the “vibe” of camp, but this is the part where I urge each family to focus on the people. It’s all about the people. Talk to them! Observe them! You’ll learn a lot!
Camp is meant to be FUN and meet the needs of each individual camper! This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth saying: try to have fun with this! Engage! Interact! React! Ask questions! Tell us about your child! This tour is meant to be a conversation not a presentation! We want to cater this visit to your needs, and we want to get to know your family in the process. From a director’s perspective, only when a family opens up and loosens up can we start a real conversation about the most important thing: your child’s specific needs when it comes to success, happiness and safety at camp. So come with an open mind and with your sneakers, sunscreen and smiles ready. It’s CAMP! Fun is sort of our thing.
Help your child see the big picture. I had a camper a few years ago who toured with us, and camp just clicked immediately. (Side note: if that doesn’t happen at any one camp, don’t panic! Like love can take time to build, so too can the right choice of camp. Once you decide, you’ll lean in, embrace wherever you see as the best fit and feel the love!) Anyway, camp immediately resonated with this little girl, and it was a great and natural fit for the family too for a number of reasons. It felt meant to be. A few weeks after their visit, and after two other pre-scheduled camp tours, mom called me in a panic. Her daughter, mom knew in her heart, was the best fit for our camp, but one of the other camp directors had pointed out a hot chocolate machine on the tour, going into detail about when campers could have hot chocolate and when campers could go to the canteen (which I never think to talk about or point out on my tours! Maybe I should!). This prospective camper was totally hung up on hot chocolate and canteen at camp. This, she believed, would make or break her experience. Mom called wanting to know if we have hot chocolate and canteen. Now, this was an easy one: YES! But had the hangup been different, the answer may have been too. And that may or may not have made a difference in this family’s choice of camp! This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t let your son or daughter choose a camp based upon its desserts. To each her own! But this is a reminder that what becomes most salient on each tour to each child may or may not be what’s most important to you in thinking about the big picture. After you tour, ask your future camper what were some of the most exciting things he or she saw or experienced and help contextualize what you see for your child.