I was lucky enough to attend the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Tri-State Conference held in the Atlantic City Convention Center a few weeks past. Although most visitors may have been thinking about a winning hand or their latest bet, those in attendance at this conference were focused on campfire sing-alongs, sunscreen, and flip-flops. That’s right, we were thinking about summer. Summer camp, that is. This conference was completely focused on nothing but summer camps, and the city was stuffed full of people ranging from counselors to directors, and everything in between. Everyone there had one goal: make this summer great.
Fairfax County Park Authority is no stranger to making summer great. In fact, it has a strong reputation for being one of the best providers of day camps in the D.C. area. This is no secret. The real surprise is how many different opportunities for summer activities there are between here and Maine for everything from day camp to week long cabin camping to extreme excursions in the woods. Knowing there are so many different opportunities and being a part of such a great organization really hits you as you meet people from all over the East Coast.
I attended several really great sessions, and I got to spend half my time at the conference playing games. Remember, this is conference on summer camp! I picked up not only new techniques for dealing with children, but I also learned new ways to get them to settle down and focus on activities.
My very first session was also my favorite. I attended something called “Campfire” and I was surprised when I walked in the room. Instead of a PowerPoint projector and rows of seats, I found a darkened room, a fake fire pit in the middle, and chairs spread all around in a circle. There were people in chairs, standing along the sides, and even sitting on the floor. It was clear this program was the one to attend, and people continued to flock in right up to the end of the session.
The important thing I gleaned from this session wasn’t that people like campfires (although they clearly do!), but that there is a fine balance in the ways people remember things, especially children. Children need a balance of the sentimental and the ridiculous, and that balance from the campfire can easily be transferred over to the camp dynamic. Campers enjoy both serious learning opportunities and the chance to play and relax their brains and bodies. A successful camp will have that balance of both, creating one complete experience. My goal for this summer is to find and create that perfect balance where campers and counselors are not only learning, but also enjoying their summer. Let’s bring the fun back!
Written by Michelle Brannon, naturalist, Riverbend Park