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Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 3 Staffing Policies and Practices

069If a camp’s leadership and its camping and programming philosophy are the foundation to a camp’s ability to deliver an outstanding experience than its staff, the people who work directly with your kids, are the most important ingredient.

Understanding a camp’s staffing policies and practices is absolutely necessary to assessing a camp’s ability to provide the kids you love a safe, uplifting and positive experience. The following are the questions you should ask and the answers you should look for from the camps you are considering. They center on three distinct areas: Selection, Training and Supervision, and Camper to Staff Ratios.

Selection:

  1. What is the criterion used to evaluate potential staff?

    Look for the specific criteria used to evaluate potential staff, such as age requirements (over 18), education (minimum of a high school diploma), work experience, experience and interest working with kids, etc.

  2. Where does staff come from?

    Look for a broad and comprehensive recruiting plan which includes diversity of camp experience, social economic and geographic backgrounds.

  3. How does a camp select their staff?

    A camp should have a thorough interview process. They need to do background checks including criminal history and sex offender registries on all potential staff, preferably by an independent company. Finally, all applicant references need to be thoroughly checked.

Training and Supervision:

  1. How much and what kind of training do staff receive?

    There should be a minimum of 100 hours of training to prepare staff to properly care for and supervise the kids you love. This training should focus on proper supervision of kids, being able to identify and address bullying and other inappropriate behavior as well as what to do and where to go in emergencies, etc.

  2. What is the ratio of staff to leadership and professional staff, how much supervision to they receive?

    The ratio should be a ratio of no higher than 3 staff to every person in leadership. There should be a clear line of accountability from the executive director right down to the dishwasher.

Staff Ratios:

  1. What is the ratio of staff to campers? How much supervision will the camp provide the kids you love?

    At minimum camps should meet both the state and the American Camp Association standards (10 campers to 1 counselor). Better camps will exceed these standards and will be 7 to 1 and for younger children 5 to 1.

Every one of these questions should be answered easily by the camps you’re researching. They are the most important questions because they related directly to the care that a camp will be able to provide the kids you love. Look for the answers listed above to help you select the right camp for you and your kids.

In my next post we’ll look at the questions you can ask to understand how a camp operates, its safety practices and policies and its supervision of its campers.

Selecting a Summer Camp for the Kids You Love – Part 1

127Selecting a summer camp experience for the kids you love, whether it’s your own kids, grand-kids or kids you want to invest in is an incredibly important process because camps are not all created equal. Camps differ in leadership and camping/programming philosophy, in their staffing policies, camp operations, and in level of transparency and outside accountability they have.

To select the right camp for the kids you love requires an understanding of all your camp options from each of these four perspectives. Over the next four posts we’ll look at each one of these perspectives with the goal of creating a framework that you can use to evaluate all your available camp options so you can make the right decision.

To begin this process it’s important to make this next statement. Though it’s a statement that really belongs to the last topic, transparency and outside accountability, I need to say it now – all the information you need to evaluate a camp should be readily available in clear and understandable language in the camp’s brochures, websites or through a phone call with a knowledgeable staff member from the camp. If you cannot get answers to your questions, you don’t want to send the kids you love to that camp.

In addition to looking at a camp’s marketing materials it’s equally important to talk to people who’ve experienced the camp. These people will supply you with some of the best information you’ll need to make a good decision. When talking with other “customers” ask them the same questions we’ll cover in the next four posts. Compare their answers to the marketing material of the camp and you’ll quickly learn as much as you need to know to select the right camp for the kids you love.

Why I’m Reading Harry Potter


Over Christmas our family discussed our favorite childhood books. I shared that my favorite ones are the Chronicles of Narnia. Our kids, on the other hand, all agreed that their favorite books are the Harry Potter series.

Then our daughter Christina said something that started me thinking, she said “I’m going to read all the Harry Potter books to my kids, just like you did, Dad, when you read us the entire Chronicle of Narnia book”. This means not only did R.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series influence my kids; they’ll most likely influence our grandkids.

Then Christina said, “Dad, you’ve never read Harry Potter have you?”

Embarrassed I had to answer “No Christina, I haven’t”

Then I concluded that I need too.

Because if I haven’t read the one book series that ignited our kids love of reading, and also happens to be one of largest selling children’s books in history, as well creating so much controversy in some Christian circles, and now appears to be the books my future grandchildren will have read to them, then I haven’t done my job as a parent, future grandparent, and as leader of a Christian youth ministry.

So, I’m reading them now.

I’m into the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I’ll I’m really enjoying them. I now understand why so many kids love these book. I also have to admit, I feel less guilty about allowing our kids to read books about witches and wizards because, though the stories are not perfect and do have the message that my beloved Chronicles of Narnia have, they are fun, wholesome, and show clear lines between good and evil.

So, though it’s a little late for my kids, I’m reading them for my grandkids, so that in some future family conversation about books I’ll be able to answer my grandkids’ question, “yes, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books.”

A Needed Perspective Adjustment

079On New Year’s Eve I talk on the phone with a long time mentor and friend, Neil Atkinson. When I was in high school, Neil was my Young Life leader and was instrumental in my becoming a Christian. After college, Neil prepared Denise and I to become Young Life leaders. Later when Neil left Grand Rapids to become a regional director for Young Life in Kansas City, he and I continued to stay connected.

Throughout my life, in every context my relationship with Neil took, he’s always said something that I’ve needed to hear, often when it’s been unlooked-for, as it was on New Year’s Eve.

As we were sharing with each other how 2012 had gone, Neil mentioned that he turned 70 and I responded by telling him I turned 50. As we marveled at how old we’ve become I told Neil that turning 50 was harder than I expected because I felt that I had crossed the half-way point in my productive life.

That’s when he delivered one of his unexpected perspective adjustments that I needed.

Neil said

“Let me tell you something that’s absolutely true, the next 10 years of your life will be your very best. You see you’ve come to a place where you possess the highest combination of both energy and wisdom that you’ll ever have. The next 10 years will be your most productive yet.”

So, though it may be true that I’m over half-way through my life, I realized, to great joy, that I may not have yet reached the half-way point in my potential contribution to this world and to Christ’s Kingdom. So once again Neil, thank you.

“The Miracle on 100th Avenue”

Friends and "Heat Angels" Eric Woods and Joel Hamilton

Friends and “Heat Angels” Eric Woods and Joel Hamilton

Sometimes it seems things happen with the intended purpose of reminding us that we have less control over life than we want to believe. Sometimes these things make their point with irony and humor as it did today for my family and a couple of our friends.

You see, early Thursday morning a huge snow storm moved into northern Michigan and, over the next 36 hours, dumped tons of wet snow onto our world.

By early Thursday afternoon we were without power. Even though, with each passing hour, the temperature of our house dropped, our family went to bed optimistic we’d have power before we awoke.

But when Denise and I got up on Friday morning there was still no power and the house was now at 57 degrees and still dropping. And the word from the power company was that we may not have electricity for a “few days”.

So what to do? I texted Joel Hamilton, SpringHill Michigan’s Site Director, looking for any news or helpful insight he may have. He informed me that Eric Woods, our Retreats Director had a generator he wasn’t using.

Within 30 minutes Joel and Eric arrived at our house with Eric’s 15-year-old generator. Within another 20 minutes we had the generator started, properly hooked up to the house, and, most importantly, our furnace was running.

As we stood congratulating ourselves on a job well done Joel received a phone call, “Hollywood’s power is back on.” Now you need to know Hollywood is our neighbor, which meant that if he now had power we must have it too.

So we disconnected the generator, turned on the main breaker and, lo and behold, we had power.

In the time it took us to turn off the main breaker and hook up the generator the power had come back on. Which led us to have a good laugh at the mockery the power company made of our good work.c

It also led to our daughter Christina declaring, after 24 hours of no heat, it’s “The Miracle on 100th Avenue”.

High School Sports – Part 2 Are We building Programs or People?

Its mind-boggling what varsity sports have become at many high schools. Because of my work I talk to parents all across the country about their kids. They’ve shared with me what it takes to make a high school varsity team. And frankly I’m amazed and, at some levels, appalled at what high school coaches often ask of students and their parents.

For example, one young woman I know was clearly told that if she wanted a chance to play on the varsity soccer team she had to begin playing soccer year around, meaning she couldn’t play any other sports. Ok, I understand commitment to your sport but the issue in this case was the young woman was in 6th grade. Yes, 6th grade. How could any high school coach or school tell or strongly suggest athletes begin to specialize in a sport in 6th grade? How can 6th graders make such a choice between sports?

When you’re in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade you should be playing lots of sports, experimenting, learning what you like, and what you may be gifted at. When I was in 6th grade my favorite sport was the one that was in season. There’s no way I could have picked between baseball, basketball, tennis and football, all of which I played recreationally and loved during their proper season.

Worse yet, what if the student picks the wrong sport when they’re in 6th grade, invest years in “the one sport” and then they stop growing or discovery there’s 10 goalies in the program? It means a student who loves sports, sacrificed and worked hard may not play at the varsity level.

Ironically, many professional sports teams look for college athletes who’ve played multiple sports in high school because they’re usually better athletes. Research has also shown that multiple sport athletes develop better physically and are less likely to be injured. Encouraging multi-sport athletes sounds like a sound philosophy for a high school varsity coach to adopt if they want to build a program around better and stronger athletes.

Now hear me when I say this, I don’t believe every athlete has to be a multi-sport athlete at the varsity level. But I do believe it’s healthier (and saner) for elementary and middle school athletes to be so. And to encourage anything less is a disservice to the athlete and most likely to the program as well.

The question we parents and schools need to face is – will this generation of kids look back on their athletic experiences and ask us “why did sports have to be so serious at 6th grade? It took the joy out of being a kid.”

High School Sports Part 1 – When Smaller is Better

With fall comes high school sports and for the past 7 falls I’ve been oh so thankful our kids attend a small class D school. Why? Because all of my kids have had every opportunity to participate in all the sports they’ve wanted to. You see at small schools, everyone who wants to be an athlete can be, and anyone who wants to be on the team, is on the team.

Even this fall, our youngest son Jonathan, decided he wanted to play soccer again but also try cross-country. So our school’s coaches and administration have worked it out for him and 3 other students to “dual sport”. This is an incredible opportunity for Jonathan to find out how much he really likes running without giving up his spot on the soccer team.

In addition, Jonathan, along with his brother Mitch, can play a sport all three seasons, to be a “3 sport athlete” if they choose. And this is true of every student in our little school.

Now it’s also true that being a “three sport” or “dual sport” athlete doesn’t create specialized athletes who might have a better chance to play Division 1 (though Class D athletes do play Division 1). But many of our students have opportunities to play Division 3 and NAIA sports in college if they choose. And the reality is not many students who specialize in a sport at larger high schools end up playing Division 1 or 2. So the truth is there’s nothing lost in being a well-rounded athlete, but so much to gain.

But why I’m really thankful each fall, isn’t because my kids can be three sport athletes, but because the small school environment allows high school sports to be what they’re supposed to be – opportunities to learn life transforming lessons outside of the classroom. It seems that this purpose is so easily lost when winning and scholarships become more important than providing opportunities for as many students as possible to learn the valuable lessons that sports teach so well.

28 Years Ago Seems Like Yesterday

Today Denise and I celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary. When I write “28” it sounds like such a long time ago, but the truth is, our wedding day seems like it was just yesterday. They have been the best 28 years of my life because I’ve been married to the  best woman in the world who also happens to be the love of my life (a nice combination).

Earlier this summer a friend who was preparing to officiate her first wedding asked a number of us if we had any marriage advice she could use in her message to the bride and groom. Below is my answer, it’s simple but I believe it’s at the heart of why both Denise and I can happily, thankfully and joyfully celebrate 28 years of marriage today.

“Apart from trust, shared expectations about what life should look like and be like is the most important aspect of a happy and successful marriage. It seems when marriages struggle or don’t make it, much of the time (apart from broken trust) it’s because the two people have different expectations about such things as kids, standard of living, life style issues, or where to live (in the city, in the country or the “burbs”).  Many expectations also revolve around roles within a marriage. These need to be worked out as early as possible. When there’s different, unstated, or misunderstood expectations then there’s always missed expectations. When there’s missed expectations disappointment, dismay, a sense of compromise and then bitterness can easily follow.  It’s important in a marriage to have a clear understanding about each other’s expectations, a clear plan on how to work out the differences, and then grace as you live out your plan.”

More to College than the Classroom

My wife Denise and I just dropped off our daughter, Christina, at college. She attends Butler University and had to be back early because she’ll be a Resident Assistant this year and was starting her training.

Also our son MD will be a junior at Calvin College. He ran for and was elected Vice President of the Student Senate and is at school completing his summer job as well as beginning his “Student Senate” work.

We’re excited about the growth and learning opportunities these experiences will provide our two college students. We appreciate these opportunities because both Denise and I benefited from similar experiences while college students. And the truth is (I maybe committing educational heresy to say this) I learned and grew more as a person through my extra-curricular involvement than I ever did in the classroom

But it’s also why we should be worried about the continuing rise in the price of a college education. Sky rocketing costs have caused both individuals and schools to make drastic changes in how they approach and deliver a college education and the campus experience. Such things as on-line classes, reduction in funding for “student life” programs, more students living at home or in cheap apartments, have all robbed many young adults of these precious opportunities (such as being an RA) to learn the “life lessons” that can only be had outside the classroom.

And for many of these lessons, the college campus is the best environment to learn them. Where else in the world can you try new things, make mistakes with limited down side, and discover one’s passion and giftedness while being supported by an institution whose mission is to educate you?

If education and learning is our real goal (and not just stream lining earning a diploma) then we need to figure out how to make the full college experience available to as many of our citizens as possible. Diplomas and true learning are two different things and we can’t afford, in the long run, to see them as the same. If we do, both our kids and our country will suffer.

A Case for a Technology Sabbath

Last week the Perry’s had a family reunion at Camp Anjigami in northern Ontario, Canada. The trip was a result of our boys and I “taking a risk” by inviting our entire extended family to join us for our annual fishing trip.

It was a risk because going to northern Ontario means there’s absolutely no connectivity, and we had no idea how everyone would handle such a 5 day “technology sabbath”.

Well the consensus from the family was simply this – it was an incredible vacation. Our family said things such as

“The most relaxing vacation I ever had”

“I got to know my cousins in a way I never have before”

“It was so nice not having any distractions”

There’s no doubt that the lack of television, video games, cell phones, text messages, internet surfing and social media monitoring was a major contributor to this great experience (as well as being in God’s stunning creation). Why? Because all of these technologies add stress and distractions instead of eliminate them.

But it wasn’t just the lack of technology that eliminated stress and distractions, the difference was the lack of the temptation to use it (you can’t get cell service or internet in the Canadian wilderness). You see, we tend not to crave the chocolate cake when it’s out of our line of sight or reach. This is especially true when we’re immersed in so many other incredible things (people, nature, facilities).

So the lesson I took away from our family reunion? Take the occasional break from technology but do it in a place that’s beautiful, peaceful, with great people, and where there’s no possible temptation to be connected, then you’ll have a true sabbath (rest).

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