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Programming to retain experienced campers.

What a script is to a producer, a program is to camp director - the better the script, the better the chance fro rave reviews. As with a successful play, programming requires the focus of the director. The director is responsible for innovation, creativity and individual scheduling and must plan well to ensure experienced campers come back to camp.

A good director must be aware that the needs and interests of teens are changing more than ever. Competing programs for this age group are on the rise. It is necessary to continually and accurately assess the program's effectiveness if a high percent-age of camper retention is going to be achieved.

More advance programs that attract veteran campers are ideally an outgrowth of the activities these people experienced as young campers. Tradition is an important part of program. Blending the traditions of years gone by together with dynamic new ideas is the key to camper retention.

Program Progression

Most important to enticing experienced campers back to camp is making sure program opportunities increase along with the age of campers. This tactic is known as program progression. By reserving some options strictly for older campers, young campers have something to which they can look forward.

The most effective way to create progression is by increasing the number of electives, expanding the variety of activities, and developing more advanced offerings. Daily programs, evening programs and trips can all be made increasingly varied in order to offer older campers something new each year.

As the age of the campers increases, one can introduce more electives in daily programming and schedule fewer group activities. When more than one elective is schedule during a day, different concepts of choice can be introduced to create greater interest for older campers. Some examples.

Daily Elective. The camper chooses swimming from a list of activities for one period a day and for one day in duration. Single-period electives work well with all age groups. Progression can be created in the daily elective by giving older campers the privilege of repeating a selection as much as they desire while permitting younger campers to elect the same activity up to two or three times per week. This means older campers who like tennis could select it as often as they want.

Multiple Daily Electives. A camper chooses soccer in one period and sailing in a later period from a listing of activities. Each selection is for one day. Consider this concept for middle and older age groups.

Multiple-Day Choice. The camper selects golf from a list of options. The election is for one period a day for a minimum of two days in succession or for as long as the entire summer. The length of choice depends on the camp's philosophy. In most situations the four- to five-day selection is optimal. This concept is best suited for older campers, since they have reach the age where they want to specialize in one or more activities.

To offer further variety, offer campers a daily elective and a multiple-day choice as part of their program. This would enable a camper who enjoys water activities to frequently go to sailing in the daily elective and elect water skiing as a multiple day choice. The camper who enjoys tennis could be assured of two periods of tennis daily by selecting tennis in each of these elective periods.

Multiple Days/Multiple Periods.

The camper chooses softball from a list of activities for two or more days, and is scheduled for two or more periods during the day. Two periods per day meet the needs of most children, but in some situations three or four periods of concentration is needed to meet program objectives. This programming is equivalent to the increasingly popular "camp within a camp" concept or area of concentration, and is geared for older campers.

This concept works best if offered at special times during the summer. In a three-to four-weeks session, offer the program for three to five days in the middle of the season. In a six- to eight-week session, offer the program in the second or third week and repeat the offering in the fifth or sixth week. In a season of six weeks or more a camper could specialize in canoeing in the first sequence and mountain biking in the second.

This type of program is not suited for every older camper, and the program will not have as much appeal if everyone is scheduled for it. The best way to arange this program is for campers who wish to continue in the regular daily program to do so, and to schedule campers who want the concentrated offerings separately.

Progression is also accomplished by providing more advanced instruction in multiple day and multiple period programming. Higher level instruction and the potential to retain older campers is achieved by developing level II and III courses in the multiple day/multiple period programs so when teenagers return for a second and third year they are eligible for more advanced programs.

New Activities. Increasing the variety of activity offerings also creates progression. Activities that are teen-oriented and can be added to the program as campers get older include river canoe and raft trips, road and mountain biking, golf course outings, high-element ropes courses, rock climbing lacrosse, and windsurfing.

Evening Activities. Progression is achieved in evening programs by designing activities that increase in sophistication as cehildren get older. Campers associate more advanced evening activities and later bed times with social privilege. Increased social privilege is part of camp tradition, and so, has retention power.

Tips for evening activities:

* Take the oldest campers out of camp for pizza or ice cream after the evening activity. This strengthens the program when it follows an evening program, but is ineffectual if it is the sole event of the night. Progression is achieved by giving the youngest campers in the upper half of the camp a taste of this, and increasing the frequency of the privilege as they get older.

* Create an annual tradition of "A Ride to Somewhere". Select a different place for the older campers to go for an evening activity each year and keep it a secret until they arrive at the scene. Summer theatre, a professional sporting event or a new skating rink or amusement park are some possibilities.

Trips. A meaningful program of trips ia an important dimension in camp programming. Exciting trips and programming beyond the borders of the camp help retain older campers.

Tips for travel programs:

* In a four- to eight-week session that has a strong daily program and exciting daytime special events, a one-day trip suffices for campers 11 and under.

* Campers 11 and older can have an overnight trip.

* Continue the progression by making the travel experience for campers 13 and older a one-day trip and a two-night trip.

* The 15- and 16-year-old travel program progresses to two-day trips and a four-day, three-night trip.

Satellite Programming

Providing programming beyond the boundaries of camp is another way to increase adolescent summer enrollments. Known as satellite programming, this option offers new and exciting experiences. Some examples:

Biking. Mountain and road biking are among the fastest growing sports in America. It is a good co-ed sport. Consider starting a cycling program, or if you have one think about expanding it.

Re-evaluate existing trails in camp. With a minimum of maintenance, some may be suited for biking. Explore the vicinity of camp for public bike trails and untraveled back roads. Deserted railroad beds are excellent for mountain biking.

Golf. Golf is increasing in popularity, and the cost to start a program is not excessive. If you already offer golf think about more advanced programming, which can be accomplished by inviting a teaching pro for a day, playing on more courses, or scheduling an overnight golf trip for higher skilled players.

Sports Participation and Clinics on College Campuses. Clinics conducted by college coaches provide excitement for the most sophisticated campers. Basic instruction and maximum participation should take place at camp; the college experience should be an added dimension to the sports program.

Staff and Facilities

No matter how good a camp's program is, if proper staff and/or proper facilities are lacking, few campers are likely to return. While programming is the focus of this article, a few words on staffing and facilities are in order.

It is important to hire people who are effective teachers and outstanding people. They are out there, although not easy to find. But as any successful camp can attest, a good recruitment program and careful screening of applicants can produce a good staff.

Similarly, quality facilities are necessary to complement even the best of programs. In order to have impact, new and improved facilities should be at least comparable to the competition, if not better. When designing a new facility or improving an existing one, there is only one way to do it - the right way from the start. It makes no sense to scrimp on upgrades - the effort is likely to have little or no effect in terms of camper retention.

Programming to retain veteran campers in a challenge. An exciting, progressively varied program design, a quality staff, and well-maintained facilities are the required elements. The manner in which camp management provides them will determine how many camper return year after year.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Corpuel, Michael H.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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