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Interview with Executive Director Dan King and Savvyfamily Magazine

Summer Camp: Creating the Self Reliant Child

Camp Ondessonk’s Executive Director Dan King, a camp pro with over two decades of experience, sits down with Savvyfamily Magazine to discuss the important role summer camp plays in positive child development.

There are a lot of options, why summer camp?

Raising children to be productive, conscientious adults requires deliberate decisions to expose them to opportunities for personal growth. Great summer camps do just that. Traditional summer camps combine physical activity and nature based programming to create life-enhancing experiences. There are few childhood activities proven to bring such results in a relatively short period of time.

How does camp programming play a role in child development?

In order to fully answer this question one must first understand what good summer camp programming looks like. A great summer camp schedule should include a mix of structured and unstructured activity. Whether kids are engaged in nature exploration, swimming, archery, or handicrafts, building skills while having fun should be emphasized. A sprinkling of unstructured time gives kids a chance to relax and build friendships with their peers. A nurturing approach like this creates an environment in which kids are allowed the time to learn about themselves, others, and their surroundings while building skills and having fun.

What is the relationship between summer camp and my child’s development?

I often tell parents they should think of the fun of summer camp as a byproduct of participation. Summer camp participation creates an educational backdrop for social, emotional, and spiritual growth, depending upon the program’s goals. Camp Ondessonk recently completed a study to determine if our campers perceived a change in their personal responsibility skills and their sense of independence based on their weeklong experience Overall data combined from the 2008 and 2009 studies suggests that 88.25% of Camp Ondessonk campers report perceived growth in Responsibility and 88.05% of that at camp. Ondessonk campers report perceived growth in Independence based on their Camp Ondessonk experience.

How should families go about choosing the proper summer camp for their children?

My advice is to start with your child’s general interests while remembering one of the fundamental purposes of summer camp… to bring diversity to a child’s life. In other words, avoid the temptation to send a child exclusively to a sports specialty camp if the kid plays that sport nearly year-round already.

What should I know about the camp staff?

The competition for jobs at great camps is now quite fierce. At Camp Ondessonk, for example, we receive no less than three applications for every available position. This competition puts us in a position to hand pick a counseling staff made up of talented, accomplished, and caring individuals.

Once hired, strong camp counselors wear many hats… part parent, part coach, part friend, part teacher, listener, and confidant. Successful summer camps equip their staff members with the tools to do all these tasks. While the single greatest influence in a pre-teen and teenager’s life is usually mom and/or dad, parents are often the first to admit that there their children seem more receptive to life-lessons when those experiences originate outside of the home.

How safe is summer camp?

Successful summer camps must take safety very seriously in order to remain successful. Activities like rock climbing and horseback riding, which are thought of by many people as higher risk activities, should receive the same level of risk management that is applied to water activities. Parents wouldn’t think of taking their children to a public pool or water- park with staff members that are not Red Cross certified lifeguards or guards certified by another nationally recognized certifying body. Great camps apply the same level of scrutiny to other activities.

Parents should be willing to give camp directors a call and ask for references. If something doesn’t feel right, shop elsewhere until a program is identified that meets your child’s needs. Another tip that may help families is to use resources that are readily available to help determine if a program is a good fit. One such resource is the American Camp Association (ACA). You can find their website at www.acacamps.org. The local ACA section website is www.acastlouis.org. If you are looking for a program in the St Louis region, check out ACA St. Louis after visiting the national ACA site.

The American Camp Association (ACA) is widely recognized as the leader in youth camping. ACA accredited camps such as Camp Ondessonk maintain accreditation by meeting or exceeding nearly 300 written standards covering everything from staff training, to food service, to facility and vehicle maintenance, to staff to camper ratios. The organization asks the questions that parents are concerned with and many that parents wouldn’t even think of.

For more information about Camp Ondessonk visit www.Ondessonk.com or call 618.695.2489.

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