Every summer, we send each of our eight children to Camp. Four have ADHD and/or learning difficulties so we look for a variety of Camps. As we review our options, we always rate camps according to their ability to meet five specific needs.

Camp Directors and leaders have an extraordinary opportunity to truly stand out from other Camps by addressing these concerns upfront. If you meet this challenge, you will generate great word-of-mouth advertising and consistent repeat visits to your Camp.

1. Physical Security. All parents worry about getting the call from the Camp Director saying their child is sick or has been hurt. So be proactive in reassuring parents that you have taken every step to make your Camp as safe as possible. Invite parents to visit your facility ahead of time. Make sure it is always clean and well-maintained. Provide parents with your safety record. Make sure all your caregivers are trained in CPR and that you have a written plan for dealing with emergencies. If your Camp is located in a rural area, you should have a nurse on premises to provide care and administer medicines. Go the extra mile to ensure that each and every person working at the Camp has been subject to a thorough background check. It only takes one incident to cause a lifetime of pain—and shut down your Camp. Make sure the Camp grounds are not accessible by unwanted adults or kids, and ensure there is proper identification required to pick up your child.

2. Emotional Security. Most camps are geared for outgoing, adventurous kids who can’t wait to interact with 30 other kids, dangle from a rope 100 feet off the ground and kayak down raging rapids. But what about those kids who are shy or socially awkward? Camp can be very overwhelming and even reinforce feelings of “being different.” Make sure your camp leaders are aware of each child’s needs, and be sure to design activities for all kinds of kids. Camp leaders should shepherd shy children along and make sure there is no bullying or teasing. You want each child pushed beyond his or her comfort zone, but always remember this maxim: each child should always leave your camp feeling better about himself than when he arrived.

3. Growth and Development. Camps aren’t just about fun anymore! Parents want their kids to be exposed to activities and situations that help them grow and develop—whether it is academically, physically, socially or personally. The most innovative Camps capitalize on a child’s specific gifts and talents with a wide variety of “specialty camps” for kids who are passionate about science, building, art, drama, music, writing, sports and many more. These summer camps help children develop confidence while developing their talents. They also help children establish relationships with other children who share their unique passions. So stretch yourself and design activities that cultivate different children’s gifts, talents and passions.

4. Personalization. Do you really want to stand out from other camps? Then make your camp experience very personal. Get to know the kids attending your camp inside and out. Provide a form for parents to tell you all about their kids. And take this insight into account when designing activities. We try to avoid cookie cutter camps that just throw all 40 kids into the same activities, without regard to individual needs. Many kids get lost in large groups, but feel more connected when there are fewer children. So try to create a small camp feel with small groups, even in a larger camp. Never underestimate the impact one camp leader can have on an individual child. A few words of empathy and encouragement can go a long way. So be sure to keep your leader-to-camper ratio very small. The cost is greater upfront, but you will be rewarded with transformed children and more kids flowing into your camp.

5. Communication. Always keep in mind that parents are entrusting you with their most valuable possession—their child. Also keep in mind that you are an expert who has worked with hundreds or thousands of children. So make sure you personally answer parents’ questions and address any concerns they may have. Be ready to give parents updates throughout the Camp if necessary. The more work you do assuring parents upfront, the less insecure and bothersome they will be during camp! A final way you can truly differentiate yourself from other camps is to provide insight into children after camp ends. You are an expert who has just spent a week or more observing and interacting with each child—your wisdom can help parents continue building their child’s personal growth that started at camp. This insight will keep parents coming back to you year after year.

Summer Camp can be a life-changing experience for each child who attends your camp. If you take the time upfront to partner with parents, you can ensure a positive, memorable experience for their kids—and many years of repeat business. Happy Camping!

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Sara Patterson and husband Scott, a pediatrician in Baltimore, are parents of eight children and self-described “Camp-A-Holics.” They founded www.Best-Summer-Camps.com to provide busy parents with free tips and advice to choose the perfect summer camps. Sara Patterson can be reached at TheBestCamps@aol.com .
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