What is the single, most important thing parents want to know when they come to an open house at your camp?
Trust me, it’s not the fancy water slide you've purchased, the counsellor who's a national swimming champion who you’ve hired, or the elaborate Inside Out theme day you’ve organized. The one thing parents care about above and beyond anything else is...safety. Every single parent is sizing up your staff, your schedule, and your resources, with one thing in mind: Can these people take care of my kids?
Since safety is every parent’s number one concern, make sure you address safety in all the activities you've organized for your Open House. When you’re giving a tour of the lake, Mess Hall, and cabins, along with mentioning how many canoes you have, your special food days, and how many campers per cabin, make sure you mention how many lifeguards are on duty, how you handle food allergies, and how you deal with homesickness. When introducing your staff, bring the details about their certifications and experience to the forefront. The fact that the drama counsellor Matt was in an Off-Broadway chorus is great but what parents really care about is that Matt also has his First Aid and CPR certifications and that he has experience working with children with social anxiety issues. Addressing safety anticipates parents' concerns and also shows parents that you also put safety first.
Sharing camp stories is a great way for parents to truly understand how your camp operates, to get a feel for your camp's culture, and to see how your camp handles any issues that might arise during the session. Providing examples is always more illustrative than a simple, "oh yeah, Shannon the head of our Health Staff deals with allergies." Instead, find a story where Shannon came to the rescue of a camper who wasn't feeling well, gave the camper the proper attention, and saved the day with her vast knowledge and dilligent care. Camp is rife with stories. Hiccups happen all the time--a camping trip is rained out, shirts, socks, and underwear get lost, a camper feels excluded from his or her bunk--use these stories to hilight examples of true heroics amongst your staff and how your camp goes the extra mile to take care of its campers.
Don’t tell parents that you know how to take care of their kids, show them.
By organizing a structured and well-planned event, parents will not only see how much effort you put into creating a safe environment but they will also feel safe and taken care of. Start on time, stick to the schedule, and make sure your staff is kempt, friendly, and warm and parents will feel that they can trust you to look after their kids. Conversely, if your Open House is disorganized, starts late, and your counsellors seem uninterested and aloof, parents will feel disengaged and think twice before sending their kids for a summer.
The Open House is also a good time to hand out a Parents' Guide to Camp. Check out this article about what to include!