How to Trust Your Kids Summer Camps

Children Bonding At Kids Summer Camp

An Experience at Kids Summer Camps Should Be One of Confidence, Acceptance, Adventure, Friendship, and Community.

We believe that kids confidence is unleashed and their social engagement is rejuvenated when unplugged on an outdoor adventure.  There are far too many screens these days dominating the kids lives.

Their camp experience is a completely unique and unplugged one.  It’s never where you expect to find family, but that is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

Every kid deserves an impacting and unforgettable outdoor adventure at camp.  This post is all about helping you find that important intangible in a camp, Trust.

Whether it’s the kids summer camps, outdoor science school, scouts camp, or some other outdoor adventure, they are a wonderful and lucky opportunity for both the kids and the adults.

Many of my so-called “young glory days” were had at camp.  But I never took for granted the massive weight of responsibility and trust that the jobs carried with them.

You are sending your kids, the most important thing in your world, to a group of strangers for an outdoor camp experience.  I always considered it a huge honor, and will remember those days with a big, beaming heart forever!

The most important thing to understand about your kids camp experience is …

Your Kids Camp Counselor Will Be the Biggest Influencing Factor of the Whole Experience at Kids Summer Camps.

They should be their friend, biggest cheerleader, teacher, big brother or sister, and when required a strong but fair disciplinarian.

Your kid will remember these adults for the rest of their lives.  I always found that if I had truly earned the kids respect and they really looked up to me, they would start imitating me a couple of days into the camp session.

I have a tendency to say “bro” a fair bit at times.  Its a bit of my Kiwi slang coming through.  This tendency was brought to my fullest attention one week, by my cabin group, when they started to add a pretend nickel to a pretend pot for every time I said it.

By the end of the camp session, they had lost count after $15 and all of them were starting to call each other “bro.”  The old adage is true at camp, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” 

These Important Questions Will Help You Trust Your Kids Summer Camps:

Is The Camp ACA Accredited?

The American Camp Association is the largest and foremost authority on ensuring that a camp is a safe and quality experience for your kids.  There are around 2,400 camps in their Overnight Camping database.

The ACA maintains a rigorous set of expectations for camps to comply with that includes health, food, program delivery, medical, and staffing standards.

They also work very closely with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Red Cross to ensure that proper standards are maintained across all areas of camp management.

Keep in mind that the ACA does not accredit day programs or any camp that is less than 3 days in length.

Who Approved The Camp EAP?  And How Often Is It Reviewed?

Every developed and properly insured camp will maintain its own version.  This is the Camps Emergency Action Plan / EAP.

It will outline in detail every aspect of their staffing, management and medical response to any possible incident that could be anticipated at camp.

Injury on trail at kids summer camp

The Camp Emergency Action Plan should be approved by an independent authority (usually the ACA), and the camp or outdoor programs insurance provider.  The right answer to how often it is reviewed is at least once every year, preferably after every camp season.

Camps that only review after specific incidents are reactive in prioritizing their overall camp safety.  And could reflect a camp that doesn’t prioritize highly enough the safety of their kids.

This document is typically not available for the parents.  But this question can provide some necessary insight into how well the camp is prepared to handle any type of emergency.

What Is The Camps Ratio Of Campers To Adults?

The right answer should be a minimal of 8:1.  That is the standard for cabin groups and counselors.  So, therefore, a cabin of more than 8 campers would require 2 counselors in the cabin with the kids. 

This will, however, not be the final camp ratio.  When you add the camp full-time staff and session directing teams, it can easily balloon to 4:1.

There should be a strong team of committed adults at camp actively working to not only deliver the best outdoor experience but also to ensure that safety is always priority number one!

If these ratios are not kept, then your kids safety could be compromised.  This is due to the counselors getting overworked, not having enough staff to safely handle possible emergencies, and introducing the possibility for numerous communication breakdowns at camp.

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How Do I Trust the Thrilling Camp Activities?

These types of activities provide moments for them to find their inner confidence and shine brighter than ever.  Thrilling camp activities, such as the ropes course and mountain biking, require more professionalism and awareness from the camp staff.

Before they can be enjoyed by all of the campers, the activities MUST first be guaranteed to be safe.

Camps go to great lengths to ensure safety for your kids and teens.  There’s a whole heap of necessary insights to cover here.  Our recent post, How to Trust the Thrilling Activities at Summer Camps for Kids, answers ALL of the important questions.

What Are The Camps Expectations Of Their Counselors?  How Long Was Their Training And Over What Period Of Time to Prepare Them for Working at Kids Summer Camps?

These questions are very important as it provides some insight into the working culture of the camp.  And how much priority is placed on long and short term staff development.

The training for the majority of kids summer camps takes place in a number of small weekend training blocks. 

The best camp training will focus on developing a strong and supportive community, as well as specific group management techniques.

It is certainly not preferred, but there are some camps that are forced to conduct their entire counselor training over the weekend before the start of the camp session.  This is due to time limitations and the availability of the potential counselors.

I have found summer camp training to be a varying equation with similarly varying results at most camps and outdoor programs.

Outdoor Science Schools lead the way here, as my training experiences with these outdoor programs have always been prolonged and solid.

OSS is a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience for your kids.  It has been a big part of my life personally as well.  In our recent post, What is Outdoor Science School, I provide important insights that will help you to understand this unique 5th or 6th-grade outdoor classroom.

We even have a KCE Camp Tidbit eBook – What About Outdoor Science School that is dedicated solely to the nuts and bolts of OSS.

How Does The Camp Background Check Their Staff And Volunteers?

Every camp or outside leasing organization should be maintaining current background checks on all staff (including fingerprinting) that is processed through either/or both the FBI and DOJ.

Keep in mind that the fingerprinting should always be conducted by an outside, independent company.

Most camps just use their local print shop, as they usually offer this service, and a range of other helpful ones as well.  There are even companies that can send a fingerprinting specialist with a portable machine up to the camp itself.

Background checks through the FBI and the DOJ usually take a week or two to process and receive the results.  It is not possible for camp staff to influence the timeliness of these federal processes. 

Not all camps or outside organizations can implement and require drug screening for all volunteers and staff as it can become prohibitively expensive.  If the camp does, it should be performed by an independent, specialized outside service.

All camps must, however, be drug screening any staff or volunteer suspected of being involved in a specific incident with probable cause or any work-related injury.

Camp Counselor Leading Kids Hike In Mountains

The Certificated And Specialized Training Positions At Kids Summer Camps and Many Other Outdoor Adventures for Kids

Pool and water-based activity staff should always be, without exception, certificated lifeguards.  Red Cross, through the American Camp Association, actually offers discounted rates for camps to certify their staff. 

Ropes staff may or may not be certified.  If they are, then the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) should be the certifying authority.  They should however always receive specialist training.

All ropes, water-based, and mountain biking staff should also receive specialized training for their specific working environments (ex. lake rescue training from kayaks for the lifeguards).

Who Is The Camp Medical Technician?

The Camp Medical Technician can be a wide range of medical professions with varying degrees of qualification.  From basic first aid certified staff all the way up to certified MDs.

They are the most important role in ensuring your kids safety at camp, and they are also the only staffer allowed to be alone with the campers.

The Medical Technician should hold a current and active certification in their specialized medical profession.  They should be working out of an isolated area that can afford the privacy of the campers, and a chance to rest.

There’s just far too many insights and tips to cover here.  No worries though, we have the ultimate guide for you with our recent post, The Essential Camp Meds Guide for Parents.  

Kids Hiking On Beach At Coastal Summer Camp

Universal Camp Rules Taught to All Counselors at Kids Summer Camps and any other Kids Camping Experiences

These two camp rules are taught by all camps everywhere.  Every camp wants to see their kids walk away stronger from their camp sessions.  So they must always ensure that the safety and well-being of the kids is the top priority.

3 Deep Rule

The 3 Deep Rule requires that staff or volunteers never go anywhere alone, or be alone, with another camper.  They must always have a third person with them, whether its another adult, teen, or kid.

As said previously, the Camp Medical Technician is the only exception to this rule.

The 3 Deep Rule also applies to wooded areas with limited sight lines as well as potential driving runs to the local hospital or urgent care center.

Challenge by Choice Rule

The Challenge by Choice Rule basically means that every kid has the right to ultimately say “no” to any activity, and should not be forced through peer pressure or an overzealous counselor.

The counselors are always taught to encourage their kids to embrace challenges and give everything a try.  They will do their best to will and encourage your kid through the challenge.

But at the end of it all, if your kid insists on stopping, then their request should always be respected.

Best Practice Within All Kids Summer Camp Training 

Camp should always be a safe place for anyone to be themselves.  A place to find themselves, feel accepted, and embrace new family.

The hormones do tend to be set off at camp though as the kids and teens know their parents are not around.  And they will be interacting with others of the opposite gender throughout the entire camp experience.

The camp should always encourage the counselor to shut down any relationship discussions between the kids and teens.

These discussions usually revolve around anticipation of the Camp Dance.  The Camp Dance is designed as a fun activity to allow the kids to just cut loose, socialize, and dance; free from the regimented structure and schedule of the rest of the week.

It should Never be built up as the activity to ask their fellow campers out to and create relationships for during the week.

This ALWAYS leads to kids getting hurt, and will, unfortunately, become a memorable aspect of their entire camp experience.

It also encourages behavior that can become a source of many of the discipline issues at camp. But keep in mind that even the strictest counselors can have a tough time controlling and shutting down all forms of this behavior.

Please discuss this with your kids and teens before the start of the camp session.  It will help to support a happier and more impacting camp experience for all!  

Empowering Kids at Summer Camp - Happy Kids Hiking in a Forest

That’s A Wrap!

Hopefully, this post on how to find trust in your kids summer camps is helpful, insightful, and enjoyable for you.  An unplugged, outdoor adventure is such a lucky experience to have. We want to help you ensure the most impacting camp experience possible for your kiddoes. 

Trust can be a hard thing to find in your kids camp or outdoor organization.  I have spent countless hours over my career addressing the above insights.

And its time well spent to justify the honor and privilege of having the kids up at camp. They are everything to you, and no summer camp or outdoor organization should ever take that for granted. 

This post is a part of our KCE Camp Tidbit – Four Ways To Find Trust In Your Camp.  Have a great time preparing your young camper for their unforgettable outdoor adventure!

“Camp is my second home.”

– Current Camper

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Want to Share Your Experience or Ask a Question About Finding Trust in Kids Summer Camps?  Leave A Comment Below!

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