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Camp Doodles: David Hughes, Camp Director

September 29, 2009

From time to time, I am interviewing Camp Directors to get their opinions on how to plan your summer so that your child has a good experience, and to learn about what makes their camp special.

David Hughes is the dynamic, high energy Camp Director of Camp Doodles in Marin. His passion for camp and kids really comes through as you talk with him. As I was interviewing him, I found myself wishing that either his camp was in San Francisco, or that my life was in Marin. So I was very glad to learn that David plans to open a San Francisco location for the 2010 camp year. Here’s what David had to say about planning your child’s summer and about Camp Doodles.

There are so many camps! Do you have any advice for parents on how to find a good match for their kids?

Word of mouth is the best source of information about camps, but make sure the word of mouth applies to your child. As you talk with others about camp, keep in mind how similar their children are to your child and how similar your values are. An all outdoor, low structure camp might be perfect for their high-energy child, but not as good a fit for your art-loving, project oriented child.

Especially for pre-K children, it can help to talk with your pre-school director or classroom teacher. They may know which camps are a good fit for your child. Re-read evaluations in light of what will make for a good camp experience. Does your child have a hard time with transitions or is she slow-to-warm up? If so, you might want to consider keeping her in one camp multiple weeks, rather than switching camps every week.

What questions should a parent ask a camp?

-How long has the camp director been working in the camp? The camp director provides leadership for the camp and will have a dramatic impact on the camp experience. A camp that won rave reviews under one camp director may be very different under another director.

-How does your program compare to XY program? Camps vary dramatically in philosophy, structure and operations. This is a good way to learn what differentiates a camp and if it will be a good fit for your child.

-How many kids are there on average? How many kids on the biggest day? Especially for younger children, this will give you a sense for the program.

-Can I pick up my child at any time? Again, this is especially important for younger kids, if you have concerns about adjustment. Some camps offer very flexible pick-up schedules and some are much more rigid.

Are there bad camps out there? If so, how can parents protect themselves?

We’re fortunate to be in an area that offers a tremendous variety of camps. No one camp will work for every kid. The biggest issue is finding the right fit for your child. But you may want to scrutinize new camps and camps with new camp directors more closely.  That being said, if you see something that doesn’t seem right at a camp, you should go with your gut and remove your child if necessary.

Summer is long. A child can have 10 weeks of camp. Any tips to prevent camp burnout or make sure that kids enjoy the full summer.

If you can, try to build some flexibility into your schedule, to allow for early pick-up or late drop-off on occasion. This can be hard for families with two working parents, but if you can manage it, it can make the camp experience easier. Also, be aware that the camp energy tends to be at its lowest during the 5th – 6th week of the season. This can be a good time to take a break.

Any other tips to provide a good summer experience for kids?

Don’t forget that summer camp sessions rarely cover the full summer break. If your time off is limited, you might want to take vacation the week before school starts, as few camps operate then.

Can you tell us about Camp Doodles? What makes you different from other camps?

Camp Doodles is a really fun day camp with a healthy balance between choice and structured activities. We offer two programs: for pre-K – 1st graders and for 2nd – 6th graders.

We have great activities and counselors who really care and engage with the kids.  They don’t just supervise. They participate in the activities. And we’re a small enough program that we can really cater to individual needs. We can care for children with severe nut allergies, families with a need for an unusual or flexible schedule (such as shortened days or occasional days). We try to make the experience as easy for parents and kids as possible.

Lastly, parents really appreciate our attention to detail. For example, our ATM style check-in, check-out system makes our camp very secure. Parents print a sticker to enable children to leave, and staffers ensure that every child exiting has a sticker. Every counselor has a walkie-talkie.

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