The idea of sending kids off for summer camp has been around for over 150 years. While some things about the experience have remained the same for generations, much has changed in the two decades since parents went to camp. We spoke with Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the American Camp Association, to find out what’s different since parents packed their bags and headed off to camp.
More than ever, camps are working hard to meet the needs of every child.
Each child comes to camp with a unique set of circumstances – and camps want to know what they are. Rosenberg says, “That plays out in dietary restrictions, challenges the kids are dealing with at home that parents have clued us in about, medical needs or mental, emotional, social and health issues.” And today’s parents do a better job of letting camp directors know what kind of individualized attention their child would benefit from. “We’re grateful to know the needs of each and every child well,” says Rosenberg. “That helps a camp director deliver on the promise to that child and make sure they have an exceptional summer at camp.”
The types of activities offered has exploded.
While the core activities of camp – swimming, boating, archery, hiking and campfires with s’mores – have remained steady, kids now have an array of diverse options to choose from as well. “Today we’re doing more high adventure,” says Rosenberg. “More ropes courses, zip lines, rock climbing and mountain biking.” Musical and theatrical art opportunities have also increased. Some camps also offer STEM programming or teach kids about coding or robotics. “Camps used to have black and white photography. Today there might be a podcast activity or videography,” Rosenburg says. “We also offer metal work, glassblowing and mixed media. There are lots of new things – it’s pretty exciting.”
Camps have become more inclusive.
Rosenberg says that when he went to camp it was rare to see children with disabilities there. Now, camp is truly for everyone. Many camps employ Inclusion Coordinators that allow the camp to invite a more diverse population of campers and work to serve the needs of each child, no matter their ability level. “Inclusion camping is on the rise in a big way,” says Rosenberg. “There is a camp out there for every child.”
Shorter camps sessions are available.
Today’s parents may feel a little more hesitant to send their child off to camp for weeks at a time. “It’s harder for parents to separate from their children for the summer,” says Rosenberg. Because of that, camp sessions are shorter on the whole. “One to two-week sessions are very popular,” says Rosenberg. “But there are still camps that offer six or seven-week sessions.”
Parents don’t have to wait till camp is over to hear about it.
Camp counselors communicate with parents in a way that wasn’t possible twenty years ago. “When I was a camper I don’t think our parents ever saw a photo of what was going on at camp until after camp was over,” says Rosenberg. Today, many camps publish photos nearly every day and some of them post weekly videos. In fact, because there’s such a demand for this kind of connection, some camps hire full-time photography and videography staff. Camp counselors may also make phone calls to parents to let them know how their children are doing. “We want to give parents a one-way mirror into their child’s experience,” says Rosenberg. “When parents know their child is enjoying camp, they let that child fully have that experience.”