Not Just Crafts and Campfires

by Alexi Wilbourn

Roasted marshmallows, campfire songs, tug-of-war or flashlight tag – some things about overnight camp never get outdated. But as new generations embrace a decade of technology, gadgets and gizmos, many camps are incorporating modern activities into the mix, with everything from camp gardens to iPads.

“Camps are consistently evaluating and re-evaluating their programming to meet the needs of today’s kids,” says Katie Johnson, executive director for the American Camp Association, Southeastern. “Even the most traditional camps, steeped in years of
tradition, are working to provide new initiatives and innovative programs in an effort to maintain traditions of the past, but to find that
balance with new programs as well.”
Here are some of the changes overnight camps are making to adapt their programming to today’s kids’ lifestyles.
Camp Cherokee in White*, GA (*corrected location), is offering a Night Owl camp, where kids sleep late in the morning so they can be bright-eyed for nighttime activities. These middle-schoolers will take part in astronomy projects and stargazing, among other activities. And the campers will be using the star charts on donated iPads to enhance the experience.
Mini-mission trips are another twist on activities at Camp Cherokee. Last year, kids journeyed to a nearby city to volunteer at men’s and women’s shelters; they cooked, cleaned and served dinner to the community.
Campers at Camp Toccoa in North Georgia also will be participating in service projects. The camp began offering an original “Leave Your Mark” service activity a few years ago. The program allows kids to make a visible impact on the camp without harming property with graffiti and name carvings. Campers clean trails, paint buildings and build bridges.
At Camp Woodmont on Lookout Mountain, campers can develop their green thumbs with the camp’s new vegetable garden. They can harvest lettuce, carrots, beans and bell peppers, and then take a bite out of their hard work at the dining hall. In arts and crafts class, campers last summer created scarecrows to protect the garden’s bounty and painted the garden fence.
“Kids nowadays are not exposed to gardening so this is unique for them,” camp director Alyson Gondek says. “They can pick things out of the garden and say, ‘Wow, I can eat this.’”
Inspired by the popular NBC game show, Valley View Ranch created a game this year called “Minute to Win It: Campstyle.” The camp of 60 girls divides into two opposing teams and attempts to complete random challenges. Whether the challenge requires bouncing a ping-pong ball into a cup or stacking empty cans so that they don’t topple over, the game has been a hit with campers.
Campers pick the session’s new electives at Skyland Camp for Girls in Clyde, NC. The camp offers more electives than it intends to run and lets the campers rank their favorites, Director Sherry Brown says. This year, geocaching, yoga and a low ropes course have made the cut.
Some trendy electives have had such popularity that they were added to the list of required activities. “Gleeks” and American Idol fans everywhere can rejoice at the addition of musical theater to the Skyland daily schedule. Each girl participates in some form or fashion to create a show that’s performed at the conclusion of camp.
In the spirit of keeping up with the trends, YMCA Camp High Harbor, which has two sites, Lake Burton and Lake Allatoona, is constantly updating programs to keep kids coming back. The water sports program, once only consisting of traditional sports such as water skiing, now includes the popular wakeboarding, knee-boarding and surfing.
“You find the hottest thing that kids are doing and incorporate those into the older program,” says Executive Director Ken O’Kelley.
Some camps even specialize – whatever your child’s interest, there’s probably a camp with that focus that he can attend. Kids can now register for space camps, gaming camps, marine science camps, adventure camps and ballet camps, to name just a few. Intrigued by all the options? Be sure to see our extensive camp listings in this issue.
When it comes to registration and administration, camps have moved into the electronic age. Online registration and e-newsletters from camps are becoming the standard, and some camps are taking technology further. To reach out to the tech-savvy generation, many camps are dabbling in social media.
Camp Toccoa, for example, has begun using Facebook and Twitter as part of its marketing campaign. In addition to using Facebook, Deer Run Retreat in Tennessee is looking at the potential of USTREAM, a site that allows users to broadcast live video to the world, for daily testimonials from the campers. Valley View Ranch uses a program called Bunk1, which allows parents to send e-mails to their daughters and view photo galleries from the current camp session to see what their campers have been doing.
“This day and time, you have kids with a variety of interests, and at an overnight camp, we have the opportunity to use the features and assets of our site to our advantage,” O’Kelley says of the modern program offerings. “You could honestly offer a general program only, but once I’ve been to camp two or three years, I don’t want to do the same thing again.”
Although programs and activities may be changing with the times, the spirit of camp remains the same. Overnight camp is about giving kids the opportunity to enjoy their summers, be themselves and make lasting friendships, directors say. So whether your kid is getting his hands dirty in arts and crafts class or trying his hand at surfing, you can bet that the memories and friendships will always stay with him.