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Tree Frog Treks: Chris Giorni

December 10, 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.

I recently spoke to Chris Giorni, Founder and Director of Tree Frog Treks, an incredibly cool camp. The camp is all outdoors, allows kids to interact with animals and offers many science and art projects. Tree Frog Treks operates in San Francisco, Piedmont, at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and in Oregon.  Chris is passionate about camp and giving kids a great outdoors experience.

With so many camps to choose from, any tips on how to pick the right camp for your kids?

First of all, talk to your child. Be sure to coordinate with your child’s interests. What do they want to do? Be careful not to overlay your interests with your kids’ interests. Next, talk to your friends about camps that their kids have enjoyed. But don’t just talk to the parents – talk to the kids also. You’ll get a more direct view of the camp by talking with the kids (admittedly, not always easy with young kids, but still a good strategy).  And ask broadly – talk to all the kids you interact with what summer camps they like and why.

If possible, shadow a camp during another session, so that you can really get a feel for the program. (And beware of any camps that don’t allow this.)

Websites, such as yelp, are also a good source of information, but get input from as many sources as possible.

What questions should parents ask a camp?

-What’s the ratio of trained lead teachers and teacher assistants to kids? The appropriate ratio will depend on the activity and age of children. For little kids, you really need a ratio of 1 teacher to 6 kids. Older kids can go to 1 teacher to 8 kids.

-What’s the size of the groups? Even with a good teacher/child ratio, if the group gets too big, you lose the relationship between teacher and child. We never have groups larger than 24 kids for this reason.

-What’s the training and education of the teachers and assistants?

-How many years has the camp been operating? How many kids come through each season? Both of these questions will give you insight into how experienced the operation is.

-How much time do you spend on development and safety training with your staff? Also, it’s good to ask a very specific safety related question, such as, “what would you do if a child went into anacephlatic shock?  This isn’t to judge the answer so much as to check that the camp has really thought through these issues.

-Lastly, be very direct and ask the camp “why is your camp something my child should do?”  The camp should know what is special about their camp and be able to give you a good answer.

How should parents prepare their kids for camp?

Eat well, sleep well, and provide snacks.

The summer is long, and many kids are in 6 – 10 sessions of camp. Any tips on how to prevent camp burnout?

Do whatever you can to not over-schedule your child. It’s really important to not over-schedule kids.  They need time to wonder and they need enough free time to get bored, so they can get beyond boredom and get curious and learn to run with their imagination.  Try to ensure that your child has some down time.

Admittedly, this is tough, especially if you are in a situation where you need to have your kid in camp all summer.  If this is the case, then try to arrange your schedule so that you are able to spend unstructured time with your child. This will help reduce burn-out. And if this is just not possible, at least reduce the number of transitions during the day.

Any last tips for parents?

-Sign up early!

-If money is an issue, don’t forget to ask about scholarship programs.

-Don’t forget to factor logistics into your camp decisions. Do they offer extended care? Does the location work with your schedule?

Lastly, please tell us what’s special about Tree Frog Treks.

At Tree Frog Treks, we get out and get dirty every day.  We are, of course, known for the wild animals. We work with the animals every day and the kids have the opportunity to touch and feed the animals. But that is not all that is special about Tree Frog Treks. We are an all outdoor, field station camp, and we are one of the only San Francisco camps that operates outdoors every day. But even outdoors, we do indoor-style projects, such as structured science and art projects.  We believe strongly in providing a safe environment for taking calculated risks. We’re experts in being outside and safety is a priority. But we will give the kids the opportunity to walk across a log and take some chances. We also welcome parental involvement – volunteering for a day and we seek feedback. But overall, we want kids to have a fun childhood, and that is what Tree Frog Treks is about.

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