Camper-parent communication. Now there's a hot topic. Each camp has its own policies when it comes to camper-parent communication: some camps oblige their campers to write home and encourage parents to keep in touch while others mandate just the opposite. But what about camp-to-parent? There's a topic with a lot less interest but, for the sake of your camp's success, a lot more importance.
And here’s why:
Whether your parents are first-timers or lifers, leaving a child at camp comes with a number of questions, a tinge of uncertainty, and sometimes, serious anxiety. Taking the initiative to reassure parents with newsletters and social media updates is a great way to maintain relationships with parents that ensure campers come back year after year.
But Gary Foster a camping specialist of YMCA USA says it best:
"...the Internet allows parents to see, and share—almost in real time—the life changing experiences your camp has been providing for children but that parents were never able to be a part of."
The best way to reassure parents is to make them apart of that life-changing experience by sending them timely updates in newsletters and on social media.
So what do parents want to know?
Newsletters and social media provide an easy and efficient way to keep parents updated all-year round and to pre-empt questions and concerns. It’s important to balance fun and informative. Use photos and videos primarily for daily social media updates and use your newsletter for more formal information like visiting hours, reminders, pick-up/drop-off times and to address their most pressing concerns.
According to the American Camp Association, here are parents' top 5 concerns:
1. Staff qualifications and supervision
Ex: Are the staff background checked? How old are they?
2. Camper Health and Safety
Ex: How does your camp handle camper meds? How do you handle food allergies?
3. Technology and Opportunities for Communication with Children
Ex: What are the policies for cell phones? When are visiting hours?
4. Camper Expectations and Behaviours
Ex: Can my child be in a bunk with their friend? How do you deal with homesickness? How is bullying handled?
5. Camp Program Logistics
Ex: What activities are offered? How much time do campers spend outdoors?
Here's how to address these concerns in your newsletters to parents:
Staff qualifications and supervision
In each newsletter, you could showcase one of your staff members—just so your parents can get to know the people their children are interacting with everyday. Ideally, you would tailor your newsletter to each age group so that parents would receive relevant information about their child’s age group. This could look something like: “Meet Truly Khareen: Truly has been with Camp Superfun for the past 3 years, specializing in our Arts and Crafts program. Her favourite activities to do with the kids is photography. Truly is a first-year at Midtown College of Fine Arts."
Camp Health and Safety
Along with introducing the counselors, it's also important to introduce health staff, kitchen staff, security staff, coordinators, etc. and include their qualifications. Giving parents a face to associate with these positions reassures them that their children are being taken care of.
Technology and Opportunities for Communication with Children
The very first newsletter you send should remind parents of your camp's policies on the use of technology (smart-phones, ipods, e-readers etc.). You can also iclude a box on the side of your newsletter where you reiterate parent-camper communication policies. If you have visiting hours, make sure you announce them in your newsletter each week.
Camper Expecations and Behaviours
Introduce staff who have specialities in dealing with bullying—feel free to add an FAQ section to your first letter including frequently asked questions that deal with camper expectation and behaviours such as how your camp handles issues like homesickness. You could also include an "Ask us" section for each newsletter where you include a question that you received which you think the majority of parents would be interested in.
Camp Program Logistics
Although most of this information should be available on your website, make sure that the initial email includes general info for parents. This could be the schedule for the week/month along with some interesting stats: “Our kids spend more than 5 hours outside every day!” and even a photo of their child in their bunk. This way parents can get a sense of what kinds of things are going on.
A note on timing:
Different newsletters should focus on different things. A good rule of thumb for your camp is to send out newsletters once per week with select photos and pertinent info, and daily update social media with photos, videos, and general info.
If you liked this post, check out 5 Ways Camps Are Creating Self-Determined Environments