You chose your kids’ summer camp so carefully. You asked them about their summer dreams, attended camp fairs and open houses, chatted up directors and camp staff, perused brochures and websites, scoured online reviews and talked with trusted fellow parents.
You found camps with great staff and activities your kids love. You gathered up all the necessary supplies and – during the final weeks before school let out – talked about all the fun they would have. And on that first day you sent them off with carefully packed lunches, comfy clothes and shoes and plenty of hugs and kisses. You got them to camp early so they wouldn’t miss a minute.
At the end of the first day, they barely had time to close the car door before you burst out with the question: “How was camp?!”
“Umm … fine.”
“But didn’t you ride horses, build robots, create your own comic books and learn to tap dance?”
“Did you have fun?”
“Yep. Can I have a snack before dinner?”
Disappointing, right? Let’s see if we can re-script that conversation.
Choose Your Moment
“A kid gets in the car, and usually our instinct is to say, ‘How was camp?’” says Charlie Freund of iD Tech camps. “And most kids will respond with something pretty ho-hum. What do we do as parents to kind of get a good sense of what’s going on?”
The problem here isn’t necessarily that your kids didn’t have a blast at camp. They might have. But extracting info from children can be tricky, especially at the end of a long camp day.
Part of the problem might be your timing. If the camp you’ve chosen is as fun as you intended it to be, the kids will understandably be a little worn out. They’ve been running, jumping, crafting, creating and making new friends for eight hours and might need a few minutes to process.
Try giving them the car ride to chill a bit. Get them home, let them stow their gear and set them up with a tasty snack. You might even save your questions for the dinner table when the whole family is around. When their batteries are recharged, they might be a bit more talkative.
If your opening question is a vague “How was camp?” is it surprising that your child’s answer is equally vague?
Ali Guerrero, assistant director of Camp Funtime at Westmark School in Encino, recommends these types of questions instead:
- Did you have karate today?
- How was the pool when you went swimming?
- Was your group out on the field, and what did you do out there?
- What kind of activity did you do in science today?
“If you make it more specific, your children are more likely to give you an answer,” she says.
Freund, who is also dad of two, echoes that sentiment. “I try as a parent to dig in a bit deeper,” he says. “When were the times today that you were laughing at something? When was a time that you felt brave, or you accomplished something new? Was there a time today that you made a mistake?”
Be in the Know
It’s easier to ask specific questions if you’re basing them on solid information. Most camps will help with this by sending out regular updates about scheduling and activities.
Camp Funtime, for instance, sends updates via email on Fridays. “This reminds parents of any special activities, dress-up days and helpful reminders,” says Guerrero. “We also have a special-events calendar on our website that allows parents to know everything planned for that week, with specific daily activities.”
iD Tech has a blog on the camp website, and a thorough rundown of all its programs.
Most camps also have social media accounts you can easily follow. “We post daily to our Instagram and Facebook to enable parents to see what their children are doing at camp,” Guerrero says.
“We post photos of the camps every week on Facebook,” says Vince Ray, director of Hermosa Surf Camp in Hermosa Beach. These types of posts let you read about camp activities and see photos and video worth at least a thousand words about what happened during your child’s day.
Sometimes, you’ll need a more direct line to your child’s camp. Take time early in the summer to introduce yourself to the director, counselors and other camp staff so they’ll know who you are if something comes up. Also take time to find out how the camp prefers parents to get in touch.
“We have a cell phone on the beach that the parents can call at any time,” says Ray. “Some parents ask us to call them midway through the day, so we keep parents informed that way, too.”
The beginning and end of the camp day might be additional opportunities. “If a parent needs to communicate with our staff, they are more than welcome to talk to them during drop-off and pick-up time,” Guerrero says. “They are also always welcome to call the camp office and we can relay any information to the counselors or campers.”
It’s especially important to get in touch if something went wrong at camp. The staff will want to know. “If it wasn’t fine, maybe there’s just one thing in particular that [the parent needs] to debrief with their child, that she needs to talk about,” says Freund. “Learn what that is so we can address it.”
Chances are, all is well and your kids are going to have a great time at camp this summer. And with a little patience, a bit of research and some help from camp staff, you’ll have plenty of fun conversations about it.
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.