When it came to camps and other similar programs in the past year and a half, a lot was up in the air. With a global pandemic putting most camps on pause and some programs only getting back on track this summer, camp leaders had to learn how to quickly pivot their operations and adapt to a new normal.
Now that the 2021 summer is wrapping up, you have a moment to pause and reflect as you gear up for the next season. And while this (and last) year was not what you expected, it doesn’t mean that the experiences and lessons learned should go away.
In fact, many of the adjustments and tweaks camp leaders made to digitize processes and limit face-to-face contact actually helped streamline tasks and improve the overall camp program.
In this guide, we’ll review how camps adapted in the past year and then discuss the top lessons leaders should take into the next one. Ready to make sure that campers are excited to come back to another summer of fun? Let’s begin.
How Camps Adapted
When the pandemic first began, a few states across the country prohibited camps to open, forcing many of them to focus on virtual programming or close down for the season. Other states did allow camps to open as long as they had proper health precautions and nonpharmaceutical interventions, like social distancing, masks, and limited attendance.
While some were skeptical of whether or not in-person camps were safe, the American Camp Association actually did a study on camps that used multilayered nonpharmaceutical interventions. They found that diligently encouraging masking, physical distancing, and separate groups were actually very effective, with many in-person camps operating safely.
This means that in order to safely continue programming and make up for lost revenue, camp leaders had to make some major changes for the 2021 season in order to adhere to the guidance and recommendations by experts.
For one thing, camps had to figure out how to operate while limiting in-person contact, whether it was staff to staff, camper to staff, camper to camper, or parent to staff. Here’s what we learned from this requirement:
- If someone needs to work from home, they should be able to.
- If a parent wants to register their child but they don’t want to sign up in person, they should be able to.
- There shouldn’t be an unnecessary mingling of too many campers.
Camp leaders needed a reliable and quick way to track groups, set size limits, ensure that every camper is where they need to be, and more. They worked to ensure that groups stayed separate and distanced, promoting an in-camp containment process. Keep reading for the lessons that not only helped camp managers during this time but can even improve camp programs in the future.
The best tool that camps use to minimize contact between individuals and ensure that everyone was safe? Investing in comprehensive camp registration software!
According to CircuiTree’s guide to camp registration software, the right solution will digitize the entire registration process for parents, as well as streamline management for your staff.
The right camp registration solution should have these features:
- Custom online registration forms — Make sure you’re getting all the information you need with customized forms.
- A searchable online camp session directory — Parents love the benefit of searching for the perfect camp program all from the comfort of their own homes.
- Secure online payment processing — Don’t force parents to have to come in or send checks. Allow the payment process to happen all online and in a secure manner.
- Tablets for camper check-in and check-out — You can digitize the camper check-in and out process, too! Let designated staff members mark when campers come in and out with a quick click of a button, limiting any face-to-face interaction.
- Integrated parent email and text communication tools — If you need to contact parents quickly, whether a camper is sick or there’s a new program update, you can do so quickly and easily with integrated communication tools.
- Easy access to camper emergency information on tablets and other devices — If a camper has an allergy or another emergency incident, all updated information and medication should be stored within a camp tablet for easy access.
- Program capacity management capability — Make sure program sizes are safely determined and monitored with this handy feature! Plus, you should be able to automate a waitlist, with campers being enrolled if another decides to leave.
- Digitally signed COVID-19 safety waivers — When it comes to safety, your camp program can do everything it can and it won’t mean you are 100% protected. Make sure you have the ability to offer safety waivers with contactless signing.
This isn’t just helpful in a time where there’s a global pandemic. The right camp management tool minimizes papers and gets rid of the risk of any important forms falling through the cracks. All the important information and data you need are in one place and instantly accessible to all.
With all the changes in the past 1.5 years, it’s likely that you have updated policies that you’ve implemented. It’s important that your current staff members, as well as future ones, all have the most up-to-date knowledge and best practices when it comes to managing campers during this “new normal.”
You should update your training processes periodically, but now is especially an important time to ensure that all team members are all on the same page. Even your most senior staff members should undergo the training alongside the new ones.
Here is what this new training should include:
- Education on your state and local COVID-19 gathering guidelines
- All the current camp rules regarding COVID-19 safety, whether that’s social distancing or the enforced usage of masks
- Scenarios to teach staff what to do when campers don’t follow guidelines
- How to report broken rules
- What to do if a positive COVID-19 case (staff or camper) occurs
- Clear documentation on who has been vaccinated
One key way to ensure training is standardized now and in the future? Use staff camp management software to store important documentation and take notes on key team members.
If there’s something that 2020 taught everyone, it’s that the ability to quickly adapt to changes and pivot operations is critical. Whether you need to cancel summer programming, refund registrations, or figure out how to pivot activities to online, it’s always worth it to be as prepared as possible.
It’s a good idea to check the CDC’s official webpage on guidance for operating youth camps. As of May 28, 2021, it is recommended to:
- Vaccinate everyone age 12 and over
- Encourage vaccinated staff or campers to wear masks
- Keep campers as socially distanced as possible
- Assign campers to cohorts or groups
- Provide hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette guidelines
- Have all the necessary cleaning supplies and other protective items
- Set clear cleaning and disinfecting protocols
Along with CDC guidelines, make sure to check out your local news for any updates. The pandemic’s impact seemed to have lessened with the vaccine rollout, but guidelines might change again with new variants or strains.
Camps and other similar programs across the board have all faced the same hardships in the past 1.5 years. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be impacted by them in the same ways. The camp sector is a little more experienced and now has the infrastructure and management solutions to be prepared for whatever comes our way. Good luck!
Before becoming a camp professional, Glen enjoyed many other pursuits. A native San Diegan, he worked through college as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. He has a passion for literature and the outdoors and is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, so he naturally loves to get out on the water with his wife and two kids whenever possible. He loves hearing camp cheers outside his office window during the summer, while helping camps across the country overcome their unique challenges!