To start, when I say "traditional" day camp, I am referring to a camp that offers a variety of camp activities, including art, crafts, sports, games, nature, cooking, outdoor play, indoor play, etc. Some camps that are more outdoorsy have Archery, or lakes for water sports. In LA, most of the traditional day camps I worked for, were a little more "city"- taking place on colleges or elementary schools.
The last 6+ years I spent as a Camp Director of "general" style day camps- it seemed like each year we were losing more campers to trying out the new "tech" camp, or the "art" camp, or the "theater" camp. But then they always came back...
It seems Specialty camps are appealing because, hey, you know your kid- you know that they love _______. And you're not sure that they will love art, sports, games, cooking, nature, theater, science, AND projects. If you can get them on the one thing, it's less likely you'll have to put up with a fuss getting them there each morning. Totally get it. And Specialty Camps are flashy. They have the opportunity to go deep and dig in. I dig it.
And while there are so many very interesting specialty camps out there- in my experience, it always seems like there is just something missing from the experience...
1. Deeper Connections
A traditional day camp usually means camper groups and counselors. The flow of the day allows campers and counselors (or Tribe Guides at Wildfolk), to really bond and connect. Tribe Guides / Counselors really get to know who the campers are, what their boundaries are, and where there is space to help facilitate their growth. In specialty camps, from what I've seen, they can be so product-focused, that they aren't slowing down to hone in on the child's individual process.
2. Broadening horizons
The beauty of a traditional day camp is that you aren't doing one specific thing (duh). But that doesn't mean you aren't still getting a specialty experience. Many traditional day camps provide elective style classes, where campers get to hone in on a particular activity.
At Camp Wildfolk, our campers are given a choice in activities all throughout their camp day. Within each rotation, under a "Sphere of Fun" umbrella, they have two activity choices. Some choices, like Pine Derby Racecars, or Filmmaking, might mean they commit to that activity for the two-week session. Other choices, are just offered that specific day. This mix allows campers to really cater the experience to their interests, while still pushing them out of their comfort zone.
3. Building Community
While there is something to be said about meeting others who all share your same passion for _________ specialty, a traditional style camp provides an opportunity to bond over so much more than just one thing.
Some specialty camps might only attract mostly members of one gender, or one age group, etc. Traditional day camps are for a wider range of campers- allowing for connection and community-building across a broader spectrum.
At Wildfolk, we go even further, and allow campers to connect in so many different ways. They are grouped in similarly aged "Tribes" providing Connection A. Then, within each rotation, they can be split to a different activity- providing 6 other opportunities to build community with like-minded peers in each activity option. This might mean expanding past their normal group of friends, too. During Snack & Lunch, campers get to all play together in what we call "Camper-Directed Play." And we close the day with an All-Camp game, further allowing for community building across the whole camp. You can read more about the importance of this camper-directed play here.
4. Providing Balance
A good traditional camp will provide a strong, balanced program- one that is intentional about its offering of activities and experiences. Indoor/Outdoor time. Active/Passive Activities. Short/Long-Term Projects. A schedule that is mindful of the children's needs at various times in the day. Programming that is mindful of what a child needs emotionally, socially, physically, pychologically, and spiritually.
5. That Campy Vibe
Field Trips, Themes, Dress-Up, Camp Songs, & Silly Camp Stuff- Oh My! Camp is all about tradition and rituals. Kids respond well to rituals. And because Camp is Camp, there are so many opportunities to expand on and innovate with our rituals and traditions.
The cool thing they made at that specialty camp- they probably won't remember that in a year. But the connections, the experiences, the friends, the way they grew when they had to be vulnerable, to take risks, to try something new, to fail, to succeed, to ask for help, to try again, to be silly, to sing that crazy camp song so many times they'll never forget the words... that is unforgetabble. That will have a lasting impression. It certainly did for me.
"The princess pat. Lived in a tree. She sailed across. The 7 Seas..."
Be YOU Out There!