They flooded into our camps in a flurry of excitement and with anticipation of adventure. July and August were packed with non-stop activities: canoeing, horseback riding, crafts, capture the flag, swimming, and singing. We sat down to hundreds of meals in dining halls filled with laughing, chattering, and sometimes screaming children. For two months we were sweaty, dusty, exhausted and incredibly happy.
Now that summer camp is over and all our campers have gone back to school everything seems surreally quiet. They left almost as quickly as they came; taking with them new skills, new friends, and great childhood memories they will likely cherish well into adulthood. It’s our mission to pour into the lives of these kids and youth. How can we keep them engaged in the seasons between summer camps?
Even more importantly, how do we make sure those campers come back next year?
Camp staff and leadership have the opportunity to be incredible role models for campers. Here are some things your camp staff and directors can do to ensure the campers feel loved and accepted by the camp, even after they have left.
Take cabin photos and send them home. Each week take a group photo of each cabin with their cabin leaders. You can even make a craft activity where the kids make a picture frame for the photo. Most kids will put that picture up in their room, reminding them about their experience at camp throughout the winter.
Send a birthday card. During the week the child is at camp, have your cabin leaders write and sign a birthday card for them and submit them to the office. At the end of the summer organize all of the birthday cards and mail them out when it is that camper’s birthday. Getting a card in the mail with a personal message from their camp counsellor will more than make their day!
Make a friendly phone call. Camp Directors can continue to connect with camp families by calling them at least once during the winter season. Remind them of the next camp season and ask if they need to be sent a registration form.
Hold an open house for campers and their families. Run your activities, have a barbeque, and invite all of your campers and their families for a free day of fun at their favourite camp. The kids will love it and their parents will remember it.
Send out regular emails to your camper families. Don’t let more than two months go by without contacting your camper families and other user groups. There are great (free) email services out there that allow you to send beautifully formatted mass emails. Give them updates of what is happening at camp, send a photo or two from the summer, invite them to any upcoming events and send the link to next year’s registration form.
SOCIAL MEDIA. Kids love it, they are all over it, and they want to be a part of your camp online. Set up a Facebook page, Twitter Feed, Instagram account and YouTube Channel...or at least one of these sites. Keep it up to date with camp memories, photos, upcoming events, and engage your ‘followers’ by asking questions and posting interesting content.
Next year, when the flood of enthusiastic campers burst through your gates, the returning campers will feel more at home at your camp. By keeping your campers engaged throughout the off season you have welcomed them into your nurturing camp community and given them a sense of belonging. They will have a higher chance of returning to camp year after year, even becoming camp staff, or long term supporters of your summer camp.