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Wanderers Camp: Kurt Gantert, Founder

October 15, 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.

Wanderers Camp is an unique camp and was one of my son’s favorites last summer. The camp meets at Julius Kahn Playground and, every day, they drive to a different location to hike and learn about nature. I was really interested to talk to Kurt Gantert, the Founder and Camp Director of Wanderers, given that (1) my son had such a great time, (2) my son was in the first ever Wanderers Camp session and (3) all the Camp Directors I’ve interviewed advise parents to consider the longevity of the camp.  So Kurt and I spent a lot of time deciding how to evaluate a new camp or new camp director.  Also, we talked about what questions you should ask if you are considering a mobile camp.

Hiking at Wanderer's CAmp

Hiking at Wanderer's CAmp

How should a parent evaluate a camp director, especially a new camp director?

This is a good question. The camp director is intimately involved with all of the details of the camp, and you really want to feel good about the camp director. For a new camp director, I’d look at the following things:

-The Camp Director’s Resume: What is the camp director’s experience? Have they run camps before? Have they worked with kids before?  For me, starting Wanderers felt like a natural extension of everything I’ve done before.

-Word of Mouth on the Camp Director: Even if the camp director is new to the camp, they should have sufficient relevant experience that there are people and organizations that are knowledgeable about the director.

-Others involved in the camp:  Are the counselors and other staff of high quality? Are they experienced and do they know their subject matter? The camp business is seasonal, and there are camps that skimp while hiring counselors. Especially for a new camp, you want to be sure that everyone involved is highly qualified.

You run a mobile camp – that is, you drive campers to different locations every day. What should parents look for to ensure that kids are safe on the road?

Once again, get to know your camp director and the staff at the camp. In addition, there are a few additional questions you may wish to ask:

-D0 you do background checks on your drivers?

-Do you check the driving records of your drivers?

-How old are your drivers and what is their experience?  What training do you provide? Do you have a driving test?

-What type of vehicles do you use? 15-passenger vans have a higher likelihood of rolling, so you should be careful of the larger vehicles.

It’s a red flag if the camp director doesn’t have ready answers for these questions.

Tell us about Wanderers – what makes it unique?

There are two things that really make Wanderers unique – mobility and a real focus on nature. Every day we go to a different location and we incorporate a different nature lesson every day – about the plants, the animals, John Muir, etc. [Note: I can vouch for this – after my 6 year old attended Kurt’s camp, he was sharing all sorts of plant and tree facts with us]

It’s an active camp, but we work really hard to cater to every level of kid. We separate the kids into groups, so that the kids who want to run ahead can, and the slower kids can move at a comfortable space. The focus is on nature, not on athletic prowess. I believe that nature can really be therapeutic, and it’s my goal to bring that to as wide a cross-section of kids as possible.

I bring a really deep and rich background in Outdoor Education to this camp, and my goal is to share that with the kids. I’ve worked in the Outdoor Education/Adventure Travel industry for 15 years, but my favorite experiences have always been working with kids.

Kurt didn’t mention this in our conversation, so I will. As a parent, there were two additional things that I loved about Kurt’s camp:

1) Amazing photos – every day, Kurt emailed us incredible photos from the day. My six-year-old does not tend to tell me about his day (any other moms with boys have this experience?), but the photos inspired him to share his adventures with me. As a result of the photos, I learned much more about his experiences at Wanderers than I would have otherwise.

2) Trip routes and lesson plans – Kurt posts the day’s hike and lessons on the website. Again, this helped me learn more about my son’s day. With specific information, I was able to spur more conversation. And, I’m hoping to replicate some of the hikes with the family next summer.

Loving nature at Wanderer's Camp

Loving nature at Wanderer's Camp

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