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Sign Me Up for Summer Camp

Shhhh. I'm hiding from the wolf pack. Any slight movement will reveal my spot. I'm not sure what happened to the others, but I have a feeling I might be the last one left. This tree is the perfect hiding spot. If I jump down now and run over to those rocks, I can throw one in the other direction to distract them. Then I'll make a run for it. Here I go.... I jump down into a huge pile of leaves and immediately upon landing hear screaming. I scream back. It’s some relief I’m not alone. I land on another member of my team but our commotion draws the wolf pack to us and we both holler "run for it!” With the flag held tightly in my hand we both race back to our territory.

summer campsThe year was 1988 and we were someplace deep in the woods at camp. We were playing capture the flag and although it was just a game, we took it very seriously. Strategizing our every move, like our very own game of survivor. These were the good old days, when playing outdoors and games in the forest were what we looked forward to all year. It was those memories at camp that we still talk about. The excitement, the freedom and the opportunities to use nature’s playground in the most "funnest" way. And yes "funnest" is absolutely a word when you are 9!

As a parent you may have had similar camp experiences as a child. And now, as you consider what type of camp to send your own children to, you are faced with hard decisions. Perhaps your child wants to go one camp, while you prefer them to try another. Perhaps they want to be with their friends and you want them to meet new people. They may want to play soccer all summer, but you want a camp that offers a variety of activities. You may also be nervous about safety, potential dangers, staff qualifications, and cost.

Amazing kids camps in Ontario

Summer camps have been around for over a century. In Southern Ontario alone there are hundreds of camps to choose from. Adventure camps, specialty camps for arts, science and sports, traditional outdoor wilderness camps, special needs camps, sleepover camps and more. In fact we see more and more new and unique programs being introduced each year, the variety of choices available can be overwhelming.

How to pick the right camp for your child

Finding the best fit for your child requires a little consideration of his or her current needs. A camp that suited your little guy a couple years ago may not be the best fit for him today. Consider her interests, abilities, needs and even friendships before settling on your choice. See below for an overview of some of the more common types of summer camp programs.

Specialty Programs
Specialty programs plan activities with a focus on a specific theme. Be it art, drama, science, animals, sports etc. Nowadays there is a camp to suit every interest out there. If you are only registering your child in one camp program for the year, say one or two weeks, then it makes a lot of sense to send them to something they either love to do or have always wanted to try.

Mixed-traditional Camps
Mixed-traditional camps are great if you’re looking for a camp program for a longer period, or even the entire 8 weeks of summer as they tend to offer a variety of activities including sports, strategy games, arts and crafts etc. Our very own Camp Treetop, is one such camp as it offers a wide range of well balanced daily games and activities that will keep almost any child’s interest for the entire summer.

Wilderness & Adventure Camps
Wilderness & Adventure Camps give kids the chance to experience the fun of exploring nature and the great outdoors. These camps usually take place in well-known wilderness areas and usually include activities like canoeing, hiking and rock-climbing. Often these camps include out-tripping opportunities where kids can setup a campsite and sleep in tents away from the main camp.

Questions to ask your child (and yourself)

What are your child’s interests?
Would they like a place with hundreds of kids or a smaller camp setting?
Is an all boys or all girls camp preferred?
Are they ready for an overnight camp?

Now, as a parent, it’s your job to find the one that fits.

But, even beyond answering these questions try to consider some of the more subtle differences camp programs may have. What about the camp’s philosophy or their policies? One camp might call you if your child is homesick while another has a policy against calling home on day one. My friend’s 14 year old is ready to go to an away camp. Two camps may be very similar in activities, size, location etc. but could be vastly different in how they handle her son’s first time separation anxiety. So as a parent, you need to think about your childs personality and needs and ask the camp’s Director these questions. You’ll get a feel very quickly. Remember, you are the expert of your child!

How to know if a camp program is “safe”

While a camp itself could have a pristine safety rating, the activities the camp offers, the location and the fact that it is operated entirely outdoors can certainly add elements of risk to a program. Rock climbing, high ropes courses and horseback riding are camp favourites but certainly do come with more risk. To decide whether you feel comfortable with the safety measures of any camp program, be sure to make inquiries, if a particular activity makes you nervous get more details on how the activity is monitored and what type of safety equipment is used. Making your final decision on whether an activity is an acceptable risk for your child will be easier if you feel well informed.

Let’s talk about regulations and inspections of camps.

Ministry of Education Licensed Programs

Ontario ministryRegulated camps, such as what would be found within a Ministry Licensed Child Care Centre might be considered the safest. Offered directly in the childcare facility or school in which the day nursery operates on a regular basis these centres are inspected by the Ministry of Education and Public Health Department on a yearly basis. It is mandatory that the operator follow the rules and regulations of the Day Nurseries Act at all times and should it not be within compliance the program can be shut down.

One could also argue that the very nature of their programming, and the fact that a significant portion of the activities occur within four walls or within a fenced in play area makes it a very safe environment. Licensing requirements are such that they do not allow staff and children to venture out into un-inspected play spaces…so hikes and exploration in open spaces happens less frequently. Many licensed summer programs will include field trips and outings in their weekly programs. Some favourites are science centre, zoo, movies, bowling. Often they’ll have special guests come into the centre like magicians and puppet shows. This kind of camp is fantastic for a first time camper. Kids get used to the camp routine and they get used to mini-outings. There is also a mandatory quiet time and so offers some perhaps needed down-time. The staff are qualified Early Childhood Educators and assistants and have experience in dealing with separation anxieties.

The Ontario Camps Association (OCA)

OCA logoThe Ontario Camps Association which has been around for over 77 years has been recognized worldwide as a leader in organized camping. The OCA is a voluntary, not for profit organization that draws its members from camps, individuals and agencies and currently has over 600 members – 300 of which are camps. The OCA’s Accreditation Program helps camps create an enriching, positive, safe and healthy experience for the children and staff in their care. OCA camps have made a commitment to the code of professional ethics, and are expected to follow the standards listed in the Guidelines for Accreditation.

Camps who do belong to the OCA and voluntarily comply with the Guidelines for Accreditation recognize the importance of health and safety and the value of high standards and as such commit themselves to uphold OCA standards all day, every day, every year.

OCA camps while not inspected on a yearly basis such as the Licensed camps above, are visited every four years by a fellow OCA Camp Director who reviews the camp’s operations and programs which includes everything from administration to healthcare, sports activities to water programs. To remain an accredited member, a camp must be 100% in compliance with the many OCA standards of accreditation. Available on the OCA website is a list of accredited summer camps.

Important to note is that the majority of standards duplicate government regulations seen in licensed centres. As both a member of the OCA and Ministry Licensed operator we see many similarities between our All About Kids licensed programs and Earthbound our accredited program.

Our experience as an OCA member is that our fellow OCA camps are every bit as committed to safety and quality as our fellow Ministry Licensed centres. Furthermore, the thousands of combined years of outdoor education experience and the passion these folks have for children and nature, together with the fact that the camping community is so open about sharing these experiences, we feel, helps to create the safest, most rich learning environments and most authentic outdoor experiences.

Non-Regulated Camps

It is important to keep in mind that neither a license or membership in the OCA is required to operate a camp. In Ontario, it is not required that a program/camp be licensed or accredited if it runs less than 10 weeks of the year.

Indeed, there are many wonderful, non-regulated/non-accredited summer camps. These are typically the smaller specialty camps such as art, dance, hockey etc. If you are considering one of these camps I would recommend referring to the OCA Standards above or questions to ask a daycare provider so that you can come up with your own questions to ask a director of this camp. Trust your instinct, after speaking with the Director of the camp you’ll probably know whether this is the right place for your child.

Cost Considerations

As with anything, in most cases you get what you pay for. While some camps can be expensive, others may appear to be more appealing due to their affordability. Summer day camps range in price, some camps start as low as $175 per week while others can run up to $400 a week. Camps that have a variety of activities, more resources, fully equipped and maintained grounds, as well as transportation services, will of course cost more money. It’s also important to consider the staffing in the program. Are they qualified? Do they have experience? Camp counsellors by law are only required to be 15 years of age. At an OCA camp, counsellors are required to have a least completed grade 10 if working in a day camp and must be at least 17 years of age if working in a residential/overnight camp. Within a ministry licensed camp they are required to be 18 years of age. But, regardless of age, staff who are thoroughly trained by the organization and who are caring adult role models will be compensated for their hard work and dedication. After all camp professionals use every moment in the whole daily experience to teach life lessons that will last forever.

Bringing back the “Good Old Days”

Summer camp is a place for active learning and brings children a sense of community and comfort. The value of the natural world is endless and nature’s classroom is where learning is always fun. It is structured to allow children to test and challenge themselves, their fears, strengths and curiosity in safe acceptable ways. Camp experiences build self confidence and independence while teaching children what they can do. Kids who find it difficult to learn in other settings, often succeed at camp. They learn life skills and to learn to do things on their own without their parents.

It is our job as parents to help keep our kids as safe as possible. But, its not about eliminating all sources of danger or protecting our children from failure and disappointment. In fact, in protecting them from danger, risk taking and un-certain adventures we are doing the very opposite.

Eventually they will grow up and take the world on – on their own. We can and should help them make “good choices”. Freedom and adventure gives children the opportunity to better understand themselves, their capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses. They may also learn one of life’s lessons – that not listening to safety rules can hurt – the hard way!

The good old days were about the life lessons learned in the great outdoors and the adventure and thrill involved in getting to the end, win or lose.

This summer, we invite you and your family to experience the excitement of camp. We will be planning a “Capture the Flag” family challenge later this year at Camp Treetop! So stay tuned, and if you have a camp experience that you would like to share, we’d love to hear it!

 

Ellen Pazuki, RECE, OCT
Regional Manager, All About Kids
Care Coordinator, Care Connect Network


For further reading on the benefits of camp…

Michael Ungar, author of Too Safe for their Own Good, uses the phrase “bubble-wrapped kid” to describe urban children who are overprotected by their parents, and to the detriment of them becoming independent and responsible individuals. The truth is, there is everything right about allowing children to take risks and be responsible is a safe, healthy, nurturing and supervised camp environment. Setting appropriate limits for children through valuable camp experiences prepares them for life, and by removing the ‘emotional life jacket’ that we place on our children we are freeing them from becoming dependent and afraid to try new things. To read more visit www.michaelungar.com

 

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