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Current Camp Trends: Looking Ahead While Embracing the Past

Current Camp Trends: Looking Ahead While Embracing the Past
By Bette Bussel

As they round out children’s year-round education, day and overnight camps have to stay up with the times. The concerns of school-based educators, parents, and guardians about children today are also the concerns of camps.

Whether building 21st-century skills or the grit and resilience necessary to succeed in college and future jobs, camps partner with families and schools to prepare children for life. Here in New England, where the first summer camp launched more than 150 years ago, day and overnight camps are thriving. They’re constantly evolving to meet the needs and interests of campers. Here’s what’s trending now at summer camp.

Programs

Camps are always tweaking programs, enhancing existing offerings and adding new ones. For instance, summer camps have added SUP — stand-up paddle boarding — before many resorts and recreation programs, and it is still being added to many camps. New SUP programs fit right into waterfront programming with canoes and sailboats, which have been in use for decades. The latest changes in camp programming have been the addition of gardening, health/fitness/wellness, and family camp.

* GaGa is an example of a game that has taken the camp world by storm in the past few years. It’s inexpensive to offer and safer to play than Dodgeball, with much of the same excitement and maximum participation. New England day camps are adding GaGa and SUP, while overnight camps are adding woodworking programs.

* Despite the short New England gardening season, camps have embraced gardening and growing as educational and practical. They’re even sourcing some salad bar items from their own gardens, supplying culinary arts programs with camp-grown ingredients, and teaching campers about planting and harvesting food, as well as how environmentally responsible gardening can be.

* Teaching children to care for the planet is a natural fit. Eighty-three percent of day camps and nearly 90% of overnight camps recycle, which is one excellent way to help children understand the environment’s importance. Beyond teaching environmental responsibility, camps also serve as outdoor educators. There’s renewed interest in learning about nature; and camp provides the perfect place to do it.

* Camps have long-influenced campers’ health, fitness, and wellness. Campers today can learn about yoga, mindfulness, and nutrition, as well as weight-, strength-, and group-training.

The popularity of Family camp programs has grown year-to-year for the past decade. For all the same positive reasons parents sign children up for summer camp, they’re looking for camps that offer sessions for the entire family. Family camp programming is very prevalent in New England.

Enrollment

* Nationally, more than 80% of camps report enrollment has increased or stayed constant. Sixty-five percent of camps now enjoy higher enrollment, and 70% have returning campers.

* Day camps continue to be an area of growth, both in terms of the number of day camps and the number of new program offerings they have added. Many children benefit from being part of day camp and overnight camp communities in the same summer.

* Shorter sessions are more available than ever, whether that’s a super-short, one-time-only opportunity for first-timers to try camp, or a one-week offering for campers and families who prefer shorter sessions. While short sessions attract many new campers, there continue to be session lengths that range from several days to all summer long (seven or eight weeks). Four-, three-, and two-week sessions are also popular in New England.

Education

Camps’ closest partners and collaborators are schools and families. After all, teachers invented camp. Camps have the opportunity to offer experiential educational opportunities that compliment and reinforce school-based learning. Three educational trends stand out right now:

* STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math / Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) curricula have been added at many schools. Camps are encouraging STEM/STEAM learning, too, many by pointing out learning opportunities that already exist within their programs and also by adding new STEM/STEAM-focused components.

* Year-round use of camp facilities. Because of the increased number of camp-school partnerships, camp facilities are in use more and more during non-summer months. Two examples are formal programs, in which entire classrooms come to camp for a week to benefit from outdoor education curricula delivered by camp educators, and day programs, at which school children have the chance to experience ropes courses, nature trails, and other facilities.

* Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) is an area of great focus across the country. The aim: to provide children with learning opportunities outside school time and classrooms. Summer camps are partnering with schools to provide formal learning opportunities in summer camp settings as a way to reduce summer learning loss and address summer learning needs of struggling students.

Impact

Camps contribute mightily to their immediate communities and society at large. Young people often find their first jobs at camp. Some campers grow into jobs at the camps where they have “grown up,” while others take their portable camp skills and knowledge to other camps that hire them. Counselor-in Training (CIT) programs are growing; 66% of New England camps have 20+ campers in CIT programs. Camp jobs teach basic skills all good employees need, such as punctuality, teamwork, and responsibility. And they provide training that is useful in other job settings, from lifeguarding and other certifications, to basic knowledge of how to teach and work with children. In fact, as college students weigh whether to take unpaid internships or accept highly responsible camp positions, camp jobs often prevail. Summer camps play a major role in preparing the next generation for the world of work.

These latest trends reflect how the experiential learning environment of summer camp boosts learning in significant and fun ways. Day and overnight camps are a key component of children’s year-round learning, as they keep up with the times, yet stay grounded in more than a century of experience of preparing children for the future.

Bette Bussel is executive director of the American Camp Association, New England. The organization supports camp experiences, educates camp professionals and staff, consults on camp best practices, and advocates for camp quality. For additional camp information and resources in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, visit acanewengland.org.

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