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Feature Article - April 2008

Come Camping!

14 Tips to Ensure Happy After-School and Day Campers

By Jessica Royer Ocken


G
oing off to summer camp was once a rite of passage. And while not everyone between the ages of 8 and 15 gets shipped off to swim, sport and arts-and-craft away the summer anymore, those types of activities and nurturing environments are still in high demand. They're just found closer to home. There aren't many programming possibilities out there that offer you and the community you serve as many benefits as a day camp or after-school program.

Wendy Sue Newman, supervisor of youth programming at The Summit Medical Fitness Center in Kalispell, Mont., can't say enough about the positive features of their programs in these categories: "The children have a safe place to be after school [or on summer days], which is a huge concern for parents. It allows children to have an opportunity to be fit through having fun with their peers, which is significant due to the childhood obesity epidemic. It also allows parents an opportunity to exercise and stay healthy themselves. Our after-school program runs until 6:30 p.m., which gives many working parents an opportunity to squeeze in a quick workout before picking up their child.

"Our programs are also a 'feeder' into an adult membership," she continued. "Many of the children who have been in our programs will continue to stay on a family membership or become an adult member themselves once they age out of our programs."

And Kalispell, Mont., is not the only place this sort of synergy can happen. Day camps are a growing trend (they've grown by 90 percent in the past 20 years to a current total of about 5,000 across the United States), and from California to New York City, program directors report similar glowing results in terms of positive feedback from parents, plus increased revenue from the camps themselves and from the camps' ability to introduce new users to the facilities' other offerings.

Of course anything that involves children—especially in large-ish groups—is bound to be more complicated than it appears. This is where our carefully compiled tip list comes in. These nuggets of wisdom will help you get inspired, get organized and get started on the right track when it comes to creating a day camp or after-school program of your own.