Help with planning a youth summer camp
January 18, 2011 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a week-long summer camp for kids (aged 10-14 or around there) with a focus on natural movement/fitness in Ontario. I've never planned a summer camp before, and I'm worried I'm missing some big considerations. Does anyone have experience putting together these kinds of outdoor adventure/orienteering camps? Please, drown me in the questions I should be asking myself.

Things I've been considering:

- Sleeping arrangements. There are various venues near Toronto that have cabins/lodges. Alternatively, we could use tents.

- Food. The venues I've looked at seem to have food prep areas, some with full kitchens. The Paleo Diet is a pretty big component of our camp idea, so being able to prep our own food would be ideal. Am I being unrealistic in thinking we (myself and two partners) can handle this workload?

- Legal liability. This makes me break out in hives, and I'm lost. How do youth camps cover their butts? We'll be doing some pretty physical stuff (climbing trees, jumping around in fields, balancing) and occasionally injuries happen. How scared should I be? What measures can I take to protect the kids/myself?

- Activity time v. downtime. Because of the physical nature of the work, I don't realistically expect kids to be able to handle full days of training. The adult version of this workshop factors in a few hours of downtime each day. What's a realistic schedule to expect kids to be able to handle? I want to walk the line between exhausted and bored.

- At this point in the list, I start getting overwhelmed and am unsure what a next step should be. Halp?
posted by lizifer to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How many kids, roughly? (Especially important for the sleeping & cooking arrangement stuff)
posted by brainmouse at 11:51 AM on January 18, 2011

Response by poster: Not more than 10 kids.
posted by lizifer at 11:53 AM on January 18, 2011

Perhaps contact the Ontario Camps Association?
posted by ghharr at 11:55 AM on January 18, 2011

A week in tents is a long time for kids that age (especially on the low end), unless they have lots of experience camping. I'd recommend finding somewhere with cabins.

At camps I've worked at, it's usually organized as:
- a couple hours of activity in the morning
- lunch
- some chill time after lunch
- a couple hours activity in the afternoon
- some free time/optional activities
- dinner
- evening activities
- bed

You want to make sure the kids get downtime, and maybe even enforce an afternoon rest period to make sure they're not getting worn out.

I think you can handle the food, if you plan it well. I've taken groups of 10 or so kids on week long trips with one other leader, and we've never had problems making our own food. Best practice is to have a group of kids on duty for cooking/cleaning up each meal, with one or two leaders to supervise. Keeps the kids involved, and less work for you!

At the camps I've worked at, they cover their asses legally by getting a waiver signed by the parents, and then being super anal once the kids are in their care. You need to be serious about supervision, and not letting kids out of your sight as much as possible. Also, never have a leader in an alone situation with one of the kids. If you need to talk to a kid one-on-one, make sure you're somewhere that can be seen by other kids/other leaders. This sounds silly, but it's important for covering your ass.
posted by auto-correct at 12:14 PM on January 18, 2011

I have been doing summer camps for the past 12 years. That is a much longer question and more research then I can answer.

I will say what I do in the planning stages of a camp.

First sleeping arrangements are always going to be location based. Figure out location on the basis of price, location, amenities, ect.

Food is also a location issue. It is imposable to create a meal plan without knowing what you have to deal with.

Legal issues. IMNAL, but I insure my camps well, really really well. People ARE going to get hurt. There is nothing you can do about this. You can do many things to reduce the number of accidents, all instructors MUST have CPR, this is not an option. I am not talking legal matters here. I am saying that EVERYONE must know basic first aid, CPR and have a working knowable of emergency protocols. Good management is key to accident prevention.

Activity time vs down time. There is no down time. None, none at all. No person under the age of 16 can be left to his or her own devices longer then 10 min without something happening. When I create a camp I leave no down time. There is time with slow activities. movie watching, singing, playing social games.

The difference between a good camp and a great camp is almost always staff. Location matters, food matters, staff is the holy grail.

Oh, and setting up a camp can be a nightmare. Like a huge keep you up at night gorilla on your back. It will be tons of paper work, long hours ect. It is always worth it in the end when you have made some kids summer. Like totally blown there mind and gave them the most awesome time of their life. good luck.
posted by Felex at 12:18 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Who's going to watch the kids while you're cooking three meals a day? Seems like the food prep alone is a pretty big job. And insurance, yeah, that's pretty big, especially when the kids will be in your care 24 hours a day. Have you run background checks on the people who will come into contact with the kids? Do you have any special training or certification in what you're doing with the kids? How will you handle any possible urgent medical issues? How will the kids be supervised during their down time? What will you do with the kids if it rains all week? What if someone decides s/he's not happy and wants to go home .. do they get a refund? Can parents come and visit and watch the activities? How about cell phones and computers, will you restrict usage? How much experience do you and the other people working at this camp have working with kids? Are there any other parents I can talk to who have worked with you and can vouch for you? How will you handle any discipline issues or disagreements between the kids?

I have no experience at all putting something like this together. But I am a parent and these are some of the things I'd want to know before I hand my kid and my money over to you.
posted by Kangaroo at 12:29 PM on January 18, 2011

Oh boy - so you are planning to do a camp but don't have a parent organization or insurance?

The easiest way to manage that is to partner with some kind of educational organization that is a recognized designated nonprofit and run under their flag, obtaining a rider to cover your liability.

I am totally unfamiliar with camps in Canada, but camps in the US are highly regulated. Highly. It looks like there is existing regulation for Canadian camps. And camps can be accredited, as well, but you don't have to worry about that starting out.

I do suggest, as ghharr did, contacting the camping association that handles your region, the one ghharr linked. By becoming a member of this association, you will have access to member services which will let you know what you need for basic compliance, and then what you might want to do if you seek accreditation someday.

You would be personally liable, I think, if anything were to go wrong, and what you're doing has inherent risks, so it would really be a good idea to comb through the applicable regulations and do everything you can to meet them.

As to your specific questions:

Sleeping arrangements - do the "venues" you speak of allow you exclusive use? Or would you plan on lining up with the public? If so, you'd have to be flexible. However, there are trekking/tripping programs that do work that way. If at all possible to make arrangements ahead of time, do so. The rest of the question - cabins vs. tents - depends on what kind of camping experience you want to create. Cabins are obviously more comfortable, in most cases. They are drier and roomier. They do tend to harbor spiders and stuff like that, and you want to know that the mattresses, if there are mattressess, are inspected, and free of lice and bedbugs. Do you want electricity in cabins or not? Lighting? Tents are great for the hearty outdoor self-sufficient experience, but harder to live in over time. What will you do if it rains for 5 days straight? You have to plan for that, because it sometimes happens. You'll want enough square footage for the kids and staff plus everyone's gear - which is a lot of space need. Also, you'll want to think about the social aspect of tents or cabins. Will each indoor space be supervised by an adult? How will you guard against the possibility of sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual conduct, pregnancy or STDs? With teenagers you must think about this. It doesn't mean you put them under lock and key, but it means you really have to address it. What are the expectations? What behaviors are appropriate/inappropriate? How much supervision are you planning to provide, and do the kids and parents share those expectations?

Food - I think keeping an eye on the kids would make me busy enough. Don't take on ALL the food prep as a staff task. The way this is usually handled on trekking programs is to assign kids and one staffer to different groups - call them "patrols," "teams," "crews" or whatever you want. If you have 15 people, 5 to a crew. Then create a work chart which assigns a different meal or day of cooking to each group, in rotation. Make sure you have all the supplies to start with, and provide them the tools, but let them get the work done. This is a really good approach if one of your goals is to build responsibility, self-sufficiency, and cooperation skills. If you are really serious about that, you could even have the kids plan the meals, make the shopping list, do the shopping, etc - and if they forget the tinfoil and have to cook meat on the ashes and everyone eats ashy meat, so be it. A life lesson. Those subtleties are up to you - but no, you probably won't have the staff capacity to supervise the whole show AND do all the cooking. Alternative: get a staffer or volunteer to be your cook.

Activity - Programming each day fully is essential. Kids do much less well with downtime than adults. They need a structure for each day - for an outdoor program, it's generally like this: a wake up time, breakfast and cleanup, personal gear cleanup, a morning meeting/POTD session, prep for the outing, head off on the outing, lunch prep/eating/cleanup, rest time or swim or recreational play, more outing, then end of day camp setup, one hour quiet time where folks can write in journals, organize their gear, wash clothes and shower, etc, then dinner prep/eating/cleanup, and evening program of some kind. Have a focus for the hours after dark or you will lose control of what happens during those hours. You could demonstrate an outdoor skill, give a talk, have a round robin exchange, play a fun social game, make stuff, do a night hike for sensory training with tips and activities...all kinds of options, just make sure there's a program. Be sure there is some variety within this structure - a special thing one day, or a culminating achievement you're building up to. But really, almost the whole day should be scheduled for teens, with at most 2.5 hours downtime built in - after breakfast, after lunch, before dinner, and before they fall asleep are really the only break times they need. Their work is to be social and grow as people, and they do that best when not left to their own devices but when given something to socialize about, and something useful to learn or do. Have your rough program plan written out and well in advance, so there are few questions about what the routine is or what's going to happen on Thursday. Again, you can make the schedule with the kids if that's part of your goal, but do steer the process to ensure there is time for quiet/solitary activity, time to be noisy, time to be social, time to be focused, time to be relaxed, time for self-care, time for work, time for play, and time for rest.

Finally, you have some really big and really basic questions about this, which concerns me because it's a big undertaking and it sounds as though it's not something you've had much experience with. It could easily become a miserable week if you just leap in without doing some good planning. I might be wrong there, but if it's true, I suggest you find an adviser. There are a lot of people around who have been associated with outdoor youth programming for a long time, and they could vet your plans for you, suggest tips and tricks, give you ideas for filling time in a good way, prevent trouble spots, etc. See if you can reach out to someone in the camping/trekking community where you are, and have them just talk with you over dinner, or look over your plans.

Good luck - I think the more research, planning, and prep you do the better your experience -- and the kids' experience -- will be.
posted by Miko at 12:35 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh - my bona fides are that I worked as a camp counselor/trip leader for 6 summers, administrator for 2, and in an outdoor ed program for 2 years after college...just wanted you to know I wasn't making shit up. ;) Felex is also SO right about first responder and CPR training and that someone WILL get sick or hurt. Among everything else he's right about!
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on January 18, 2011

If all this is freaking you out, you could consider starting with a day camp program, which is less logistically complicated.
posted by Miko at 3:27 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered a partnership with either the Halton Conservation Authority or any of the other conservation authorities? I believe they currently offer day programmes but no overnight camps.
posted by saucysault at 5:06 AM on January 19, 2011

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