You don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but you still want to know how your child is doing at sleep-away camp. High quality camps want you to know, too! Open communication between parents and staff is helpful for everyone.
by Christina DiMartino
Even when you know about all the benefits of sleep-away camp, and are confident you’ve chosen an excellent camp for your child, those weeks when you’re not seeing what’s going on with your child day to day may be stressful. One way to set your mind at ease is to communicate openly with camp counselors, directors, and administrators while your child is at camp.
Parent USA City picked up insights about the importance of parent-camp communication from Scott Brody, owner and director of Camps Kenwood & Evergreen brother/sister overnight camps located in Wilmot, New Hampshire. Founded in 1930, the traditional sleepover camps accommodate approximately 320 campers during sessions. Brody is also serving his second term as vice president of the American Camp Association (ACA).
Scott Brody with his son, A.J.
“Communication builds partnerships, which are fundamental to our families,” says Brody. “We are totally transparent. Our philosophy—and abiding principle—is to feel comfortable putting any of our bunk counselors or administrators on the phone with our parents.”
Reassurance and help
A typical reason for a parent to want to communicate with camping officials, says Brody, is a child’s letter home that expresses homesickness, poor interaction with a fellow camper, or a general feeling of being misunderstood.
“A letter home is a moment captured in time,” says Brody. “Kids have lots of fun at camp, but they can also have difficulties. The camper expresses a problem he is currently having. Counselors are highly trained to be cognizant of their campers, and more often than not the issue has resolved itself before the correspondence even reaches the parents’ mailbox.
“When the parent contacts the camp, the staff is able to offer the reassurance that everything is fine.”
When counselors find that a camper is having a problem that may require attention, they bring it to the camp’s administrators.
“If a camper is having trouble adjusting, for example, the camp will call the parents and have the counselor on hand for the call,” say Brody.
“The camp wants to be the one to do the outreach to the parents before they hear it from the child. This helps us get on top of an issue from the get-go. In the majority of cases, parents are able to give us suggestions that will help to resolve the problem. Some children are tougher to read, so we are eager for parents to share their insight with us.”
Whom to contact
When selecting a camp, the ACA recommends, “Look for a camp director who best matches your own sense of when the camp should contact you…and what communications avenues the camp has established for parents.”
Brody says when it comes to practicality, camp counselors spend the majority of their time with their campers, so they may not be quick to return a phone call to parents.
“Administrators have the ability to respond faster,” he says. “But counselors are spending time with the campers, so they can offer more precise information. Unless the problem is serious, parents should be willing to give the counselor time to return their call.”
Brody says that parents sometimes want information about their child’s well-being.
“If a child has an accident or becomes ill—perhaps having to stay overnight in the health clinic—the medical staff does the affirmative outreach to the parents,” he says. “There is nothing more important to us than the welfare of our campers. We know that sending a child to camp is an enormous leap of faith for parents, and outreach helps us to do our job better.”
Modern technology helps camps stay in touch
Many camps are using technology to help parents stay in touch with camps today. Brody says that micro-managing children is counter to what the camp experience represents, but a parent's wanting to stay in touch doesn't mean their child rearing style is overbearing. So open communication is imperative, and technology is helping to achieve it. Communication between the camp and parents is always a collaborative effort.
“We post pictures on our website daily to provide a one-way image to parents about what is happening at camp,” he says. “There is nothing as great as seeing a picture of your child on a website to help build trust.”
Emails between camp staffs and parents are used increasingly today, although Brody prefers telephone communication, believing it is clearer and concerns can be better understood. Most camps, however, do not permit campers to email their parents because it can undermine the camping experience.
“We’re trying to give kids an unplugged experience, which is increasingly important in today’s technological age,” says Brody. “Camping is about unplugging from technology and plugging into nature—to enjoy direct social relationships.”
Some camps run blogs to share highlights with parents about what is going on at camp. Rockbrook, a summer camp for girls located in Brevard, North Carolina, updates its Twitter account at least three times a day.
“We send blog posts following the first day of camp, the day after parent’s day, and several other times during a camp session,” Brody says.
“While we don’t want technology to hamper the experience that campers should have, blogs are a great way to keep parents informed about what their kids are doing. Blogs enable parents to share in the emotional moments their kids are having at camp.”
Communications outreach, Brody says, helps camps to do their job better. Parents choose a camp because of its expertise, reputation, and the value of the program to their child.
“We try to be very clear with parents in every vehicle of communication,” he says. “We are clear about who we are, how we work with kids, and what our values are, so parents have absolute clarity about what they can expect when they choose us.
“This is what parents should expect of any camp where they choose to send their children.”
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.
© Lead photo by Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com • Portrait photo courtesy of Scott Brody