Eternal summer?

The changing face of summer camp

 A child heading to camp this summer might just spend more time dealing with megabytes than bug bites. As registrations fill up for summer 2010, we plot the top 10 changes to summer camps over the last decade.

1. Online registration
The cabins may be in the woods, but registration is on par with modern technology. Parents can forget requesting brochures and faxing in forms — nowadays, almost every camp lets you plan your child’s summer with a click.

2. Safety concerns
In recent years the words “summer camp” and “safety” have become synonymous.
“We’ve implemented procedures where we check and double-check our equipment,” says Robyn Hochglaube, director of Camp Green Acres day camp. “We also ask every camper to wear a hair net under their helmet to prevent spreading lice.”

3. More experienced staff
Camps have become much more rigorous about their staff’s qualifications. Michael Silverman of the Richmond Hill Country Club Day Camp explains: “In the past, a counsellor’s responsibilities ran the gamut. Now we hire leaders who have some experience in the field they are teaching about.”

4. More specialization
Will singing around a campfire help Tommy get into college? These days, parents want their children to acquire concrete tools for the future. “Summer camp used to be about independence and social interaction,” says Hochglaube, “Nowadays it’s ‘How is your golf swing? How is your swim badge?’”

5. Environmental awareness
Since camp is a child’s most direct channel to the bush, it seems only natural that the industry is going green. Whether it’s eliminating the use of disposable cups or installing solar panels on the dining hall, camps these days are doing what they can for the earth.

6. Healthier, more tailored meals 
“We’re instilling the values of healthy, active living, which we didn’t really think about that much for kids 10 years ago,” says Lynda Fishman of Adventure Valley day camp.  Camps are also much better equipped to manage dietary restrictions like vegetarianism or severe allergies.

7. Nature deprivation
“We’re getting a lot of kids who have never been in natural surroundings, so it takes a little bit longer for them to adapt to the camp scene,” says Dave Graham, director of Camp Kandalore. “We have to be much more gradual in how we show kids our canoe trip stuff. They deal in cement more than they do in grass and trees.”

8. More communication
Whereas a stamped envelope used to be the main means of communication with Mom and Dad, many campers can now zip their parents an e-mail. And it’s not just the kids. Parents are also more prone to communicating with camp staff, curious to know what their child has been up to.

9. Increased cost
The experience may be rustic, but the price tag is four star. Like everything else, camp is more expensive now than it was in the ’90s, with higher food and gas costs, as well as more stringent employee standards, helping to drive the prices up.

10. The rise of tech camp
Children’s Technology Workshop president Darryl Reiter, whose camp has gone from about five locations to 100 over the past 10 years, says that, while tech camps are not new, their curriculums are constantly being updated. “In 2000, they might have been looking for rudimentary skills. Now what kids learn is how to be creative about the technology, making movies, music and video games. And only those camps who understand how to make a compelling program can stay in the business.”

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO