Often times when asked, "What's the best camp in LA (besides Tumbleweed, obvi)?" I struggle with
helping that person pick a camp because, to me, it should be a serious and personal decision. Folks, especially in Los Angeles, are not always accustomed to viewing camp as a serious commitment like that of a school or college - and it should be! Choosing a camp for your child is equal to, if not more important than, choosing a great school for your child - the experiences they have at camp and the relationships they build go hand in hand with the learning they do at school. For more proof of why camp is so important, check out my last blog post, here. You should be looking for a camp that your child can grow with, that they can return to summer after summer and maybe even be their first job one day. Yes, I get that price and convenience and location have to play a major part in choosing a summer camp, but those considerations are no more important than taking into account the values and beliefs that the camp upholds. To be truly happy at a place, it needs to be one that you and your family can align with at a core level. Just like when you looked at schools for your child or thought about college for yourself, you have to take into consideration how a camp views the world, what their values are, and how those values impact everything they do.
Around this time of year, folks are getting inundated with articles and emails and lists of MUST HAVE questions to ask camps. These questions are often prefaced with comments like "5 MUST ASK QUESTIONS TO MAKE SURE THAT CAMP IS LEGIT" or "10 things you HAVE to know before choosing a camp"... Really quite dramatic. While a lot of those lists include important questions about basic safety, accreditations, and their staff, almost none of them include questions on values and beliefs. That's why I am putting together a list of ask-if-you-want-to-don't-feel-pressured-not-dramatic-like-those-other-lists questions to ask camps about their values so that you can pick the best fit for your family to join for years to come.
Some homework ahead of time:
Check out the website, look for pages like "About Us", "Our Values", "Who we are". Look at their social media and blog (if they have one) - is what they are putting out into the world look like a place that you want your child to grow up in? Now that you have done a little bit of homework, you can ask specifically about what is (or is not) out in the world about the camp and see if they are really putting their words into action.
Some questions to guide you:
What are your guiding values and beliefs?
How do you teach these values to the campers?
How do you utilize these values when hiring staff?
Speaking of staff, tell me a little about your staff. Ask questions about the counselors' experiences, where they come from, what they are trained on, how the staff feel about working a camp. You can learn a lot about a camp, or any organization for that matter, by how they treat their staff and how the staff feel about the camp.
How do you work with a camper who is having a hard time or fighting with other campers?
Have you ever turned away a family or camper? Why? Have you ever sent a camper home early? Why?
What happens if a camper does not like camp?
At the end of a session, what do you hope your campers learn or take with them from their experience? Getting a sense of what the camp's end-goal is for their campers helps you understand if this will be a good fit for your child's growth.
Remember that camp directors or staff should be jumping at the opportunity to talk to you about their camp's beliefs and values and experiences. You should feel comfortable asking any question you want and be prepared to hear some answers that don't quite fit with your family's values. That's ok! Not every camp is for every camper, but every camper has a camp out there somewhere!
Choosing a camp is difficult, and it should be! This is a big decision you are making for your child and your family. But, if you put the work in now to find your forever camp home, you will never have to do this again! Or at least not until they are off to sleep-away camp :)