It’s the middle of January and there is definitely a buzz amongst families about where to send your kids to summer camp this year. With so many options out there how do you decide?
Camp is an opportunity to help your kids build lasting friends, find confidence, and become an intricate part of a community outside of their neighborhood and school. Summer camp is also a great opportunity for kids to practice being independent and making decisions. It is a place for kids to see what the world could be like and be inspired to make an impact. I digress, if you need more reasons to send your kids to camp check out this or this.
I talk to families and parents every day. Some families whose kids have been going to camps for years and others who are nervous about sending their child to camp for the first time.
Each summer camp is unique. Camps offer different programs, with different directors, different staff members, and different camp cultures, how do you really tell what camp is right for your child?
These are the 10 questions I would ask before sending a child to camp that might be hard to find on a website or might be worth just hearing the director explain. I think the answers would give you a clearer picture of a summer camp program.
What kind of food do you serve?
What is the daily schedule like?
How do you hire/train your staff?
What happens when there is an argument at camp?
What makes your camp unique?
What is the goal of your programing?
What things did you learn last summer that will make camp better this coming summer?
What is the staff to camper ratio?
How do you make camp accessible and inclusive?
What was your favorite moment of camp last summer?
Our Answers Below
1) What kind of food do you serve?
Our summer chef’s name is Zach. During the year Zach teaches culinary arts at a school in the inner city of Milwaukee. His food philosophy is all about cooking wholesome kid friendly food from scratch. We hire, with Zach, a large kitchen team to help with the food prep. More and more we are partnering with local farms to bring food fresh from the surrounding area. Some of our favorite camp meals are buffalo chicken mac and cheese, homemade pizza pies, quinoa patties, tacos, roasted veggies, lentil curry and of course vegan chocolate cake! We always have a vegetarian, vegan and gluten free option available.
2) What is the daily schedule like?
Our daily schedule is pretty standard to regular camps but with one simple yet HUGE difference. Downtown Stomping Ground. But first here is the daily schedule.
8:30 - Breakfast
9:30 - Free Choice 1
10:30 - Free Choice 2
11:30 - Free Choice 3
12:30 - Lunch
1:00 - Village Time
2:30 - Free Choice 4
3:30 - Open Waterfront
5:00 - Change for Dinner
5:30 - Dinner
6:00 - Open Ballfield
7:30 - All Camp Games
8:45 - Village Time
Downtown Stomping Ground is located in the center of camp. It is comprised of our Makerspace, the Grove, the Adventure Playground, the gaga pit, and the Magic and Legos tent. During the free choice options, open water front, and open ballfield the areas of Downtown Stomping Ground are staffed and open for campers to wander between. In these spaces campers can choose what they want to get up to. Want to make up a board game with friends, build forts, or create a puppet show? There are sure to be friends and staff there to partner with you to start all kinds of stuff!
3) How do you hire/ train your staff?
We hire staff from all over the country and now from the UK to come and work at Stomping Ground. Staff find us through friends, partner organizations, and online. Our staff go through a rigorous interview process as well as character references and background checks. Once staff are hired they come to camp 10 days early for Staff Orientation. We bring in guest speakers, run workshops, share skills and wrestle with big ideas about youth development. We also turn into a family that loves and cares about each other. Staff Orientation is a combination of learning, skills development, and a ton of fun. All of this prep is in effort to make our camp the most welcoming place when your kids arrive.
4) What happens when there is an argument at camp?
Conflict is a natural and normal part about living in community. We hope to take away the shame and blame associated with conflict and instead celebrate the innovation and creative solutions that can often come as a result of empathizing and working together. Our conflict resolution system is based on restorative justice. We use peace circle not only to build community but to help opposing sides see each others point of view. We are not perfect and neither is this system, but our goal is always to mitigate harm, prevent future harm and build community. To learn more about our justice system at camp check out this blog post on restorative conflict resolution.
5) What makes your camp unique?
Our values, intentional community, and commitment to improvement are the cornerstone of Stomping Ground, but we also have some ridiculous programming ideas.
One thing that makes our camp program unique is the “Outrageous Activities” that we run. Mixed in along with the traditional summer camp activities like boating, pottery, kickball, and arts and crafts, we pride ourselves in creating out of the box, one of a kind activities. For example last year campers went on a journey to Narnia, built a giant trebuchet, when mattress boating, and went extreme bird watching. We love dreaming up quests and adventures that will be memorable and create a shared experience you can not find anywhere else in the world. The magic of these activities is that they are entirely optional and only campers that are excited choose to participate. Other folks choose from archery, canoeing, Downtown Stomping Ground, or dozens of other options.
6) What is the goal of your programing?
At Stomping Ground we hope to create an inclusive community of self-directed individuals practicing radical empathy and reimagining a world where more is possible. We are focused on building a strong community where kids feel seen and heard, where they are given dignity, respect and agency, so that they can be their best selves. This partnership model encourages collaborative problem solving and fosters empathy.
7) What did you learn last summer that will make camp better this coming summer?
Last summer was our third summer of camp. We learned a ton! As we become bigger and bigger each year we are creating better and better systems to communicate with parents and set expectations for what a week at Stomping Ground will be like. We talk alot about how one of the magical parts about camp and living in community is that making mistakes is ok. Together we celebrate the learning and progress that mistakes often mean. We share what works and what doesn't with our campers so that we can all benefit. Being transparent about mistakes and failures helps to normalize them and create a culture of innovators and change agents!
8) What is the staff to camper ratio?
We have a 3:1 camper to staff ratio. Our staff include the cabin/tent staff, the kitchen crew, the admin team and the medical team. No one is ever alone at camp there is always a helpful compassionate staff there to help!
9) How do you make camp accessible and inclusive?
We offer a sliding scale to all of our families. Running camp is expensive and we want to make it affordable. We are proud to have never turned away a family for financial reasons. If a family has a question or concern about affording camp please call us! We will work something out. However, we don’t think that just putting an affordable price tag on camp goes far enough. We want to bring in families and communities that would have never considered camp in order to make our community as vibrant and diverse as the world we live in. We partner with agencies, schools, and other non-profits to find reach out to families and offer them a week in our camp community. We can always do more and would love to talk with you if you have any ideas. This is all possible because of our amazingly generous donors. Thank you!
10) What was your favorite moment of camp last summer?
My favorite moment of last summer was leading an hour of building cardboard armor with about 13 campers. We built chest plates, swords, clubs, helmets and a dragon out of cardboard. It was epic.
I love making things and building alongside kids is often really inspiring. After covering ourselves in our cardboard armor, we snuck up through the woods to stand at the tree line. Kate, our program director, was standing on a picnic table near by leading an activity break out.. On my count we attacked, while Lord of the Rings music played in the background of course. It was quite the show!
As a director I think one of the most important things that I do is mold and keep our culture. I value the one on one connections that staff and campers make. Finding ways for our staff to step into campers’ worlds and helping them to accomplish their goals creates meaning and impactful each day all summer.