Things to consider before choosing a summer camp
Though February does not often elicit images of youngsters building campfires or playing games in the pool, the month more synonymous with the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day is a great time for parents to start thinking about summer camps for their kids.
Summer camp is often something kids look forward to, and something they will fondly recall long after they reach adulthood. For many kids, summer camp provides a first taste of independence, as youngsters spend significant time away from home without their parents for the first time in their lives. But as great an experience as summer camp can be for youngsters, it can be just as difficult an experience if parents don’t find the right fit for their children. That’s why it behooves parents to start thinking about summer camps for their kids in winter, before camps start filling out their rosters, which tends to happen in early spring. The following are a few things parents should take into consideration when seeking a summer camp for their kids.
The right summer camp staff can make all the difference. Many children are understandably shy when arriving at a summer camp, as their friends from back home might not be joining them. That can make kids hesitant to participate in activities or less enthusiastic about those activities. But a good staff will know how to make kids feel welcome, which should help them come out of their shells and make the most of their summer camp experiences. The quality of staffs can vary significantly depending on the camp, so it’s important that parents ask camp representatives about their staffs before making any commitments. Ask how long the staff has been together and the types of training new and even veteran staff members undergo before the start of camp season? Does the training include first aid and emergency medical training and certification?
It’s also good to ask about the vetting process the camp employs before hiring new staff, including the extent of its background checks. Are criminal background checks conducted? How many references must potential staff members supply to be considered for employment? A good camp will be forthcoming with answers to all of your questions, so eliminate those that appear hesitant to share information about their staffs.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
When vetting camps for kids, parents should ask what a typical day is like once the season hits full swing. Many parents want their youngsters to have a well-rounded experience, while others might want their kids to attend a more specialized camp, whether it’s a sports camp focusing on a particular sport or a music camp devoted to helping kids become better musicians. Regardless of the type of camp parents are considering for their kids, they should ask about what daily life at the camp is like. Ask to see schedules and how strictly camps adhere to those schedules. When considering specialized camps, ask the staff representative if kids will have the chance to simply have a little fun and which types of recreational activities are planned to give kids a break from what are often rigorous schedules.
Another thing parents must consider before choosing a summer camp for their kids is the goals of each individual camp. A camp should be dedicated to ensuring kids have fun, even when kids are attending more specialized camps that tend to be more strict. In addition, parents should look for a camp that wants its attendees to foster relationships with their fellow campers. Camp can be lonely for some youngsters, especially those attending summer camp for the first time, but a summer camp that strives to promote friendship among its campers can reduce, if not eliminate, any feelings of homesickness.
Late winter is when parents should start looking at summer camps for their kids, and there are a host of factors moms and dads should take into consideration during the vetting process to ensure their youngsters have as much fun as possible.
Sports camp trends
For children who have a passion for sports, specialty camp experiences with a sports focus can offer a variety of benefits. Regardless of a camp’s specialty area, it is the nature of camp to help children develop into caring, resilient, compassionate, independent people. But especially at sports camp, campers enjoy the community and friendships of peers and role models with similar interests. They are also able to concentrate on and gain confidence in the sport they love.
Ten percent of ACA-accredited camps offer a targeted sports focus. By comparison, in 2004, only three percent of ACA camps offered a targeted sport focus. That’s more than a threefold increase in ten years. You can even find sports at special needs camps, where the activities are geared to campers’ abilities.
The diversity of camps today reflects the diversity of America — there is a camp for every ability level and interest, from horseback riding to soccer, racecar driving to softball. According to ACA’s most recent Sites, Facilities, and Programs Report, ninety-eight percent of responding ACA camps reported offering at least one sport even if sports were not a targeted focus. The top five sports activities offered are recreational swimming (87 percent), aquatic activities (76 percent), basketball (72 percent), archery (71 percent), and camping skills (67 percent). Unique offerings include fencing, lacrosse, SCUBA diving, windsurfing and more.
You and your child can search for the perfect camp experience on ACA’s Find a Camp database (http://find.acacamps.org). This resource allows families to search for camp programs based on location, price, session length, and more — including whether the camp focuses on just one sports activity or multiple activities. When searching for multiple-activity camps, families can also search by intensity level — recreational, instructional, or intense/competitive. Camps are able to serve campers who are just looking to try a new sport, campers who are looking for serious skill building, and everyone in between. Begin searching early. Camps begin taking registrations well before the “camp season” begins.
Beyond the activities offered at a camp, it is also crucial to consider a camp’s philosophy. ACA encourages parents to ask camp representatives if the camp is ACA-accredited. If not, ask why. ACA-accredited camps meet up to 280 health and safety standards and are a parent’s best evidence that the camp is committed to the safety and well being of their child. A few other tips for learning more about the camp’s philosophy include:
- Ask “What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis?”
- Ask “How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues?”
- Visit the camp if possible to see practices first-hand.
- Ask for references.
Quality sports camp experiences will not only improve a camper’s skills or allow them to explore a new interest; they will nourish a child’s social and emotional development as well. Camp experiences help children gain skills they’ll use for a lifetime — both on and off the field.
Reprinted from www.ACAcamps.org by permission of the American Camp Association © 2014 American Camping Association, Inc.
Camp Gourmet — Sharing the Message about Healthy Eating
Viki Kappel Spain, author of The Camp Kitchen Guidebook, has been cooking in the camp industry since 1985. She is a frequent contributor to camp publications and coordinates regional and national kitchen staff training for the American Camp Association. Following is a dialogue with Kappel Spain.
Q: What do you consider the biggest trend in camp meal preparation and nutrition in recent years?
A: Choice is the biggest news for camp. Family or buffet-style serving has replaced the cafeteria trays of yesteryear, though line serving still takes place. The “lunch lady,” line-served food is basically out the door. Food served in a family setting, with a bowl of salad, a pan of lasagna, and loaf of garlic bread for each table, offers the opportunity for children to sit, relax, enjoy each other’s company, learn table manners (“please pass the butter”), and to think of others (taking one or two pieces and passing the bowl around instead of taking half the bowl and thinking of no one else). In this fast food era and age of both parents working, many children do not experience the family table as often as parents would like. If camps offer this serving style, it affords a great opportunity to support family values.
Q: What are the top concerns expressed by parents about children and eating at camp?
A: Parents know their children best. Most parents are concerned about their children getting the healthy foods they need, and they want to make sure they will get their favorite foods, as well. The major topic of concern from most parents is about meat and the assurance that the meat will be thoroughly cooked. Parents worry about their children who have special dietary concerns (dairy-sensitive, vegetarian, food allergies) and contact the food service director regarding the menu, asking how the camp can support this need. Many parents also express concern about sugar and caffeine, and some even ask about the availability of a low-carb program. Since the nature of most camps is activity-oriented, low-carb-conscious parents are usually told that carbs are necessary for energy at camp.
Q: Practically speaking, how do health and nutrition translate into menu planning?
A: I have five principles for delivering the highest nutrition to campers:
- Serve food items separately
To accommodate most dietary requests, it’s best to serve food items separately, for example, pasta and two sauces, one with meat and one without. The second sauce should be a cream or pesto sauce such as Alfredo to please those who don’t want the traditional tomato-based spaghetti sauce. The meat (such as meatballs) can be served separately from the marinara sauce, as well. Those who don’t want sauce at all can always just eat the noodles with Parmesan cheese. Offering several options separately allows campers to make healthy choices on their own.
- Choice and more choice
If every camp could and would adopt the “bar” mentality at camp, great strides could be taken in the healthy choice effort. The concept of having many items to choose from (such as a salad bar, taco bar, baked potato bar, dessert bar, sandwich bar, etc.) offers a key element of teaching children to make good choices from a selection of good choices. Every time a child has the ability and opportunity to make good choices, healthy eating patterns are reinforced. Children remember and have fond memories of being able to pick and choose all on their own, and it only enhances the opportunity camps have of helping children gain independence.
- Serve a wide variety
A major health and nutrition challenge is to offer balanced nutrition in an appealing format, and the best way to offer healthy choices is in a salad bar array. With the availability of proteins, nuts, grains, and low-fat dressing choices, campers can eat healthy without feeling hungry.
- Substitute or eliminate non-dairy items in cooked foods
One of the ways to address healthy eating and still maintain food quality is to substitute high-fat, high-cholesterol items like butter or cheddar cheese with margarine or a cheddar/mozzarella blend cheese. When cooking rice, substitute margarine for the butter, or leave it out altogether. Use flavor substitutes like seasonings or other flavor enhancers, and campers can enjoy a great taste that satisfies most children.
- On the side
The most important feature to offer at all meals is salad dressings, sauces, and gravies on the side to allow each individual to select the amount they desire.
Q: How are camps addressing special diets and food allergies?
A: The days of serving everyone in the dining hall exactly the same food is definitely a thing of the past. Each and every camper may have slightly different dietary needs that camps consider when planning a menu. Allergies and sensitivities have taken center stage for food service directors and their focus on foods served at camp. With peanut allergies so rampant and extremely dangerous, even having peanut butter on the shelves can cause problems, let alone serving peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter cookies to the whole room.
For those who are dairy sensitive or lactose intolerant, having dairy-free options are a must, from soy milk to cheese-less pizza, and even butter-free desserts. Cooks are encouraged to make Rice Krispy treats with margarine, not butter, to ensure a safe environment for all.
Some parents make a great effort to contact the food service director when their child has serious food issues (wheat allergies, preservative allergies, etc.), and every effort needs to be made from the camp kitchen to support any food plans or arrangements the parents are willing to make. Some parents can look at the tentative menu planned for the week and send a supply of acceptable food items that match the menu (corn tortillas for the burrito lunch, wheat-free waffles for breakfast, sugar-free maple syrup for the diabetic child, etc.) so the child can still have a positive camp experience without being ostracized for their food differences.
It is important for the camp food service operation to understand its role in supporting special diets, stocking as many unusual food items for special requests or emergencies as the budget and reality can accommodate.
Q: Anything families can or should do to prepare children for meals away from home?
A: One of the best things parents can teach their children is to “just try a little.” Some families serve favorite, homemade foods and family recipes, and others eat a small variety of fast or prepared foods. In either case, the children will be exposed to many new items and need to take the opportunity to learn new tastes and experience the entire food array at camp. No parent wants to think of their child as finicky, but most children actually are finicky and reluctant to try new things. The age of potlucks is almost gone, and with that the opportunities for children to try new things is fading, as well. As hard as camp cooks try to duplicate home-made food items, children can tell that camp macaroni and cheese looks and tastes different from home food, whether it be different from the “Easy Mac” they are used to making or the scratch cheese sauce mom or grandma makes.
If parents can prepare their child for the camp experience, not only with packing and building anticipation for the fun, activities, and new friendships, but also with food, the camper may feel more settled and secure with the changes about to take place. Parents can present it as a new food adventure, with the challenge to experiment and try one new thing each day and then “report” their analysis and opinion in a letter home. If a child is extremely finicky and may need more than the average incentive program to give camp food a try, a reward may need to be implemented. Parents know their children best and what will work, and almost any approach can be successful if there is communication and attention given to the child prior to the camp visit.
Q: What are children’s favorite foods at camp?
A: Traditionally, children’s favorite foods vary from region to region, but there are several menu items that can guarantee success: pizza, hamburgers, barbecue hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, ravioli, spaghetti, submarine sandwiches, tacos and burritos, chicken dinner, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and cereal. When the camp kitchen takes the food preparation level up a notch, children are delighted with fresh-baked breads, hot dog rollups (dough wrapped around the hot dog in a spiral and baked), and other fun foods. Children also love and appreciate fresh-cut French fries, real turkey dinners, real pizza dough (instead of cardboard crusts), special meals like cookouts, barbecues, breakfast-in-cabins and even hike lunches.
Originally printed in CAMP Magazine, reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association © 2005 American Camping Association, Inc.
Banana boatsIngredients: Unpeeled ripe bananas Miniature chocolate chips Miniature marshmallows
Cut a banana in the peel lengthwise about half an inch deep, leaving a half-inch uncut at both ends. Open peel to form a pocket. Fill the pocket with 1-teaspoon chocolate chips and 1-tablespoon marshmallows. Crimp and shape a piece of heavy-duty foil around the banana, forming a boat and place in a bed of coals. Cook for about 5-10 minutes.
Remove from coals and let cool slightly.
Orange browniesIngredients: Oranges unpeeled Brownie mix Oil Water Eggs or egg replacement
Cut the top off the orange about a third of the way down.
Make the brownie mix per package instructions
Use a sturdy spoon to scoop out the inside of the orange.
Fill oranges about 2/3 of the way full and put the cap back on the orange.
Wrap the orange in heavy-duty foil and place in a bed of coals. Cook for about 20 minutes.
Remove from coals and let sit a few minutes for the foil to cool to touch, then dig in.