Feature Article - April 2008
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Come Camping!

14 Tips to Ensure Happy After-School and Day Campers

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Basic Considerations

1. IS THERE A NEED?

Although not everyone goes away to camp these days, the rise of the working parent (or just the parent who would prefer their child not play video games eight hours a day) has made day camps and after-school programs popular options. So popular, in fact, that if there isn't one already in your area, the people are probably crying out for it. Newman reports that Summit's thriving S.P.A.R.K. (Sports, Physical Activity and Recreation for Kids) programming began as an after-school program in response to parent requests. Once its popularity was established, it blossomed into a summer day camp—and several days of "No School Fun Camp" as well.

If there are existing camps in your neck of the woods, you may need to get creative to make a name for yourself. The Marin YMCA has offered day camps for probably 60 years, said Nick Stone, youth sports and camp director at this YMCA in San Rafael, Calif., but over the past 10 years they've introduced an assortment of "specialty camps" that focus on everything from babysitting to cheerleading to skateboarding to sailing to cooking. "We're trying to keep up with what's going on in Marin County," said Stone. "There are a million things for kids to do here."

2. WHAT FACILITIES CAN YOU OFFER?

Several of the pros consulted for this story reported that top-of-the-line facilities are a big help in creating successful camp-style programs. "We're five-and-a-half acres on the Upper East Side of Manhattan," said Mike Bailey, youth sports education director at Asphalt Green, a sports and fitness center in New York City. This green space sets them apart in their urban setting, and their complex includes an Olympic-size indoor pool, a complete soccer/football artificial turf field, a gymnasium, gymnastics room and multipurpose theater facility with fold-out bleachers—all things that demand to be enjoyed by kids!

"Our facility in itself stipulates that this is what we should be doing," Bailey said. After 20 years, they have almost 700 4-to-12-year-olds in summer day camp each season.

If your facilities are a little less lavish, don't despair. The Marin YMCA's Stone said there are really just a few essentials: "some indoor facilities for really hot days, arts and crafts, which are nice for a break, open fields... In the past we have run day camps out of a college campus with hiking trails. Those are great to take a break during the day. It changes the scenery."

So what makes your park district or YMCA or fitness center stand out? How can you create programming for kids that will maximize these resources?