Childcare is a rewarding endeavor, but kids certainly don’t come with instruction manuals. Everyone agrees on the basics of safety and protection, yet there are different schools of thought when it comes to how to provide the best possible experience. Of course, strategies also tend to vary depending on the field. What works at summer camp isn’t necessarily going to be best suited for the classroom. For that reason, sometimes the best resources available are the fellow professionals and peers from other locations who simply share the same occupation as you. It’s precisely for that reason that BYM sends its summer camp directors to the Tri-State American Camp Association Conference each year. Through three days of workshops and seminars, our team is able to gather and share as much knowledge and information as possible from folks dedicated to the same kind of work from a large variety of backgrounds, settings, and programs. Here’s a sample of what we were able to work on this year!
Hands down, one of the best features of the ACA is the sheer number of workshops to choose from. The morning and afternoon are divided into blocks with each session offering a half dozen or more workshop topics to attend. The range of subjects were also quite impressive, with categories that covered everything from staff training and cohesion to community management, team building, crisis intervention, recruitment, marketing, social justice issues and identity, and child psychology and behavioral interactions. Of course there were also workshops on classic camp specific issues such as: “Lost and Found – Solving the Camp Conundrum”, a problem that has dogged summer camps across the nation for generations.
With so many fascinating and important subjects available, directors quickly adopted the strategy of planning ahead and discussing the topics that interested us the most then agreeing to split up and go to different sessions in order to cover as many bases as possible. That way, we could come back together and then share what we learned and experienced as a group.
Examples of workshops we attended were “Access to All – Inclusion and Bridge Building Through Camp”, “Looking in the Mirror – How to Reflect, Process, and Better Understand Your Summer Program”, and “From Anxious to Brave – Helping Anxious Campers”. Interestingly enough, as a theme, anxiety and mental health came up quite a bit at the conference. Whether it’s a sign of the times, or simply an improvement in our society to better understand and treat mental health, or a bit of both, it’s certainly an important topic to discuss as we continue to seek to connect with and support one another.
Being able to network with other directors from other programs also felt important. It gave us the opportunity to bounce ideas, topics, and challenges off one another. It was often incredibly affirming. Hearing your contemporaries become impressed when you describe certain aspects or methodologies of your camp is always a treat. Why yes our counselor to camper ratio is that high! Absolutely, 9 year olds are able to successfully sit in silence for 20 minutes without incident!
At the end of the day, after lessons learned and knowledge gained, it was always comforting to return, by contrast, to just what we value so much about what we’re able to strive toward and gratitude toward what we can accomplish. I, for one, didn’t get to interact with that many traditional outdoor adventure programs that led multi-day trips out into the wilderness. And I couldn’t help but feel appreciative about the fact that we’re often able to accomplish more with less. Nothing quite drives that point home like seeing a multi thousand dollar Ga-Ga-Ga pit – a dodgeball like arena that we construct for nothing by standing tables on their sides. And I still maintain that a properly applied pool noodle with the right amount of imagination can beat an inflatable water trampoline any day of the week.
Love, challenge, and growth are three of the key pillars of camp. And those pillars don’t start and stop with the campers. They’re also the pillars of our program and community as a whole. And if we’re going to be able to continue to provide the best experience for our campers, so too must we seek opportunities to love, challenge, and grow our institution. Getting folks to the ACA, swapping ideas, and keeping conversation going is just one way that we do all three.