While the summer camp industry took a hit in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Statista reported the 2021 season surpassed 2017’s market size and was close to the 2018 numbers.
It seems summer camps are here to stay, despite the pandemic nearing its two-year mark in the U.S.
As such, summer camp planning for the next season is happening now but with some changes. “Preparing for summer camp 2022 is very different than in the past,” said Abby Van Note, the coordinator of Instructional and Inclusive Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). “We haven’t had the opportunity to operate summer camp since summer 2019 due to COVID-19, so our preparations are starting much earlier than in the past. We are focusing on a few main things: staff recruitment, family engagement, the social and emotional state of kids as we begin to come out of this pandemic, and COVID-19 vaccinations and best practices.”
Plus, Van Note said they are making sure to incorporate social justice into not only staff training and policies but the programs as well.
Over at the University of Arizona, in-person summer camps — also known as “A” Camp — were hosted in 2021. Erin Tinker, the youth and family programs coordinator, said she’s been reenergized for planning 2022’s season as well as school break camps. However, they are still preparing for all scenarios.
New Summer Camp Activities
Tinker shared they are looking at bringing in new activities in 2022, specifically log rolling in the pool, new field trip experiences on and off campus, and additional enrichment programs for campers during after-camp hours.
The enrichment opportunities are a standout part of “A” Camp. Tinker said in a non-COVID-19 year, they offer registration add-ons like swim lessons, field trips and after-camp activities. “These programs combat boredom and give campers extra adventures to look forward to during the week,” she explained.
Van Note shared that UW-Madison’s field trip day is a camper favorite. She looks for unique on-campus trips that expose campers to everything the university has to offer. These include locations like the:
- Geology museum
- Community garden
- Center of limnology
- Campus astrology department
- Dairy/cattle center
“We try and get out and about as much as possible, whether that be paddling on the lake, taking a trip to the community gardens or visiting one of the many museums on campus,” she said.
EXTRA CREDIT: Check out lots of unique programming ideas here.
In fact, the goal of UW-Madison’s camps aligns with the department’s mission to play hard, get fit and live well. At camp, this means giving campers the opportunity to try a wide variety of activities in a non-competitive environment.
However, as seen with the field trips, Van Note said this isn’t possible without leaning into the resources on campus. Investing in relationships across the university allows for this diverse programming.
At “A” Camp, campus groups and speakers receive invites to camp. Plus, special events with community organizations and campus rec areas/partners are part of the programming. In fact, Tinker shared some of the most popular activities are:
- The yearly spray down the field with the local fire department.
- Dance and fitness classes with the Fit/Well group.
- Demos from different Arizona Club Sports teams.
Finally, one last programming element of “A” Camp is its themed weeks. The most popular are Olympics Week that include competitive group games, “A” Camp Got Talent Week that ends with a talent show for families, and Space Week in which campers visit the local planetarium on campus. “‘A’ Camp gives a little bit of everything to the campers in terms of activities,” said Tinker. “We are very active, but we also incorporate art and STEM challenges into our programming.”
Lessons from Summer Camp Planning
As summer camp 2022 planning gets underway, both Tinker and Van Note shared lessons learned over the years for other camp directors.
First and foremost, both said to always be ready to pivot. Create a schedule with a backup plan that also has a backup to the backup. Whether it’s weather or new COVID-19 restrictions, being proactive can help.
Tinker also noted an important lesson learned has been that there is always something deeper going on than bad behavior. “Everyone is going through something in their lives,” she said. “We give grace to adults when they are having an off day, but sometimes we do not give that same grace to children. It is important to remember children are still figuring out life and we need to listen and guide without any preconceived assumptions.”
Finding Success at Camp
When it came down to camp success, Tinker and Van Note both said the same things: location and staff.
The location of being on campus for Van Note allows for access to a ton of different activities and programs. For Tinker, the facility offers vast indoor accommodations which comes in handy during the brutal Arizona summer heat.
In terms of staff, Van Note said they are part of the village it takes to raise a child, even if it’s just for one week of one summer. “We are very intentional in recruiting and hiring a diverse staff who is committed to our campers’ well-being and ensuring they have a great camp experience,” she said.
Tinker noted “A” Camp is a primarily student-run program. It allows for the students to find ownership, as well as develop management and leadership skills. “The students truly become the mentors campers need in such a transformative time,” she said. “Not all experiences for children are created equal, so at camp this might be the only time campers interact with young adults. Whether the staff know it or not, camp counselors are changing lives just through the act of playing games and being a good listener each and every day at camp.”
So, despite all the unknowns of the 2022 summer camp season, Tinker and Van Note are charging ahead in their plans to continue to impact the lives of youth. “We faced all the challenges of cancellations, closures, virtual programming and limited capacities in the past two years with COVID-19,” said Tinker. “We are hopeful to get back to all of our amazing camp activities in the safest manner possible.”
Images courtesy of the University of Arizona and UW-Madison