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Coastal Camp: Ally Kushin

February 24, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews of camp directors to get their advice for parents. Last week, I spoke to Ally Kushin, Camp Director for the Coastal Camp at the Headlands Institute,  an outdoor camp in the Marin Headlands. They have several partnerships with nearby organizations, including the Marine Mammal Center and the Headlands Center for the Arts, so I was interested in learning more about this organization.

With all the camps available, how do you find the right camps for your kids?

Really know your child. What activities are they going to enjoy? Look for camps that they will find interesting. Of course, you can push your child a little, but you want him or her to have fun also. Think about your child’s temperament. If you have a soccer kid who wants to run around all day, a project based art camp might not work as well.

Once you have decided on the types of camps you want,  research possible camps.  Camp fairs can be a useful way to learn about many camps in a short amount of time. I recommend that parents read descriptions, narrow their choices, and then involve your children in the decision.

What questions should a parent ask a camp?

Of course, you’ll want to ask the camp about staff/child ratios. In addition, it is useful to ask specific questions about training, first aid and CPR. What training has the staff received? How recent is the training? Does all the staff know CPR? Be sure to also ask about check-in and check-out procedures.

And of course, ask about the staff’s experience working with children. What is the background and experience of staff members?

What makes Coastal Camp unique?

Location, location, location. We are physically located in a National Park, across the street from the beach. It’s a beautiful and unique setting.

We are also unusual in that our staff includes year-round educators for the Headlands Institute. We’re not just seasonal employees (although we have those as well, and they definitely provide energy and fun to the camp.) The mix of permanent educators and seasonal staff provides a deep educational environment that is also a lot of fun.

Lastly, we have some great session themes. Given our location across from Rodeo Beach, we do have a strong enviromental and marine influence in our camps. Sessions include Coastal Marine Ecology and Sails on the Bay. In addition, we have unique partnership programs  with the Marine Mammal Center and the Headlands Center for the Arts.

Our program with the Headlands Center for the Arts, Art Expedition, uses field science educators and teaches observation through sketching and water colors. Kids are taught to observe patterns, textures and colors and to use art to connect to scientific observations.  The children also get to work with artist alumni from the Headlands Center for the Arts, including work on a stop-animation film.

Our program with the Marine Mammal Center is also very interesting. Children practice as field scouts, and get to meet the Marine Biologists at the center. They go to the beach to practice a harbor seal rescue.

Any other information that you’d like parents to know about Coastal Camp?

Yes! Parents sometimes think that we are in the hinterland. However, we’re not that far out, and many parents love the drive to the camp. We encourage parents to hike or enjoy the scenery at the camp after drop off.

For parents that must rush to work, we do have some convenient transportation options. We run several shuttles that make it easier for parents to get their children to and from camp. We have one in the Presidio in San Franicisco, another at the Manzanita Parking Lot in Mill Valley, and, new this year, a shuttle that leaves from the Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM) . So if you have younger kids that will attend camp at BADM, you’ll have just one drop-off and pick-up.

Lastly, if you are thinking about camp, join us for one of our open houses. Our labs will be open, educators will be available, and we’ll have family hikes. It’s a free event with cookies and lemonade. The open houses are on the following dates:

February 27

March 27

April 18 – Earth day.

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