Embracing the Day Camp Model

October 29th, 2013

At Heartland Center, Camp Director Michael Megraw knows their mission clearly focuses on their overnight camp. To achieve this mission, he and his team spend a lot of time and energy where you might not expect it: running a successful day camp. After all, a parent must really trust an organization to send their child overnight. Building these relationships takes time as caring parents worry about everything from bullying, disease, and separation anxiety (and not just for the kids!)

Don’t misunderstand: parents still need to trust a day camp, but the threshold is much lower than an overnight camp. It also fills an urgent need in the community: a Christian day care. At first, Megraw and his team shied away from comparisons to daycare. To them, the “daycare” summoned images of children sitting in a gym, doing the same things day after day. Couldn’t people see how much better a Christian day camp would be than a typical daycare?

Soon, the lightbulb went on: Christian day camps are better than daycare. And people deserve to know that and choose between them. The perception of daycares as mundane contrasts with the true benefits of day camp: a unique experience for the children. Many of these campers have to go somewhere during the day, so Megraw highlights what only Heartland Center can offer: rolling acres, a pool, horseback riding—an experience filled with the joys of childhood. He has now embraced the comparisons to daycare, confident that Heartland’s experience will come out on top.

People who use day camp as childcare need a safe and meaningful experience for their children all summer. To truly offer a solution to these parents, offer day camp for 10 weeks. That means finding a flexible and in-depth curriculum like InsideOut. He describes his program as balancing core regularly scheduled activities with a curriculum that changes, give the campers a better education than a regular daycare.

Some day-campers sign up for the residential camp in later years. Megraw cautions that reaping the benefits of day camp in sleep-away camp enrollment won’t happen overnight. Heartland Center saw an increase in enrollment after three years. Evaluating your day camp after only one year will not offer enough insight. After seven years of faithful service, the larger community is still learning about Heartland Center and what they offer.

Starting a day camp program from scratch isn’t easy. Cultivating the pro-camp culture within your church community will go a long way to building support for the long road ahead. After all, new and creative outreach will always help churches achieve their mission, so church leaders need to understand how day camp accomplishes that. In fact, Heartland Center offers a traveling day camp, with flexible packages to fit the needs of churches in need of the a day camp, but with the expertise, counselors and resources of committed outdoor ministry professionals.

With summers getting shorter and students facing an abundance of choices for their break, Megraw believes the day camp model “absolutely offers an opportunity for the entire Christian camping industry right now.”

The InsideOut curriculum makes creating a day camp around your circumstances possible and flexible to your needs. Each week included a grid outlining scheduled activities, with different options to choose from and places to write in your own priorities. The curriculum includes a variety of graphics that can be printed in full-color or two-tone, adjusted to your budget and needs.

By embracing the needs of your community and offering a nurturing educational experience for children, you will be improving the lives of local parents, campers, and increasing the impact of your camp and church.

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