Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Satisfaction in Organized Camping

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Satisfaction in Organized Camping

Article excerpt

Ah, summer camp. Memories of that wonderful time include bright sunshine, smiling faces, new friends, fun activities, and wacky campfire songs. Most children love camp; it is new, fun, exciting, and different. They get to do new things with new people in a new environment. The euphoria of overcoming their fears of newness and getting involved in camp life is almost overwhelming. Meeting new friends and learning to fit in gives them a tremendous sense of belonging. By becoming a part of something larger, they are able to make a difference in the microcosm that is camp.

Children change at camp, and it is an amazing and wonderful transition to witness. Exactly how those changes come about is perhaps debatable, but an examination of the organized camping experience is certainly in order. The American Camping Association, which is "dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults through the camp experience," offers the following definition of camping:

[Organized camping is] a sustained experience which provides a creative, recreational and educational opportunity in group living in the outdoors. It uses trained leadership and the resources of the natural surroundings to contribute to each camper's mental, physical, social and spiritual growth (ACA, 1990).

Organized camping is a sustained experience. Resident camps can be effective because they last from several days to several weeks. Their 24-hour-a-day connection with the campers and the fullness of each of those days lead to a very intense experience in a short period of time (Chenery, 1994). One important aspect of growing up is being able to stay away from home and learning to do without parents. Resident camps provide excellent experiences in this respect because they offer safe places for the growing process to occur. Trained counselors stand in as parental figures; exciting activities and new friends help take children's minds off the separation. Children typically live together in small groups at camp, and by this simple organizational structure they must learn about living with others and gain some skill in relating to their peers.

Organized camps have the same ultimate goal as other types of recreational programs: provide memorable experiences to please their customers. Recruitment of new participants, and their subsequent satisfaction and return, rates high on camps' wish lists. In the recreation field, we know that customer satisfaction is of paramount importance because we deal in experiences and memories, not in durable goods. Experiences cannot be returned if something does not work out. Memories cannot be substituted if the program is not what the participants expect or desire. The experience has to be right the first time, or participants may not return.

Satisfying demands in organized camping can be a bit tricky, however. Camps have found that while their participants are primarily children and youth, it is the parents who make the final decisions about camp attendance -- and parents may have little contact with the camp itself (Cony, 1995). Parents and children sometimes disagree on the exact nature of their desires, and camp personnel must be aware that they must please both populations.

What They Want from Camp

Parents and children are not always looking for the same thing from a camping experience. Studies show that parents, whether their children have previously been to camp or not, expect a camp to provide some basic elements. They want a safe environment, caring counselors and personal attention for their children, and fun activities that will make the camping experience a quality time (ACA, 1998; Cony, 1995). Some parents saw personal and social growth as among the most important benefits of camp (ACA, 1998).

One camp collected information over a two-year period to find out how to increase their camper return rate and improve the satisfaction of parents (Chenery & Akers, 1987). …

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