Curious Jane and Blue Tree Camps: Samantha Razook Murphy
Every so often Sign Up For Camp conducts interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for unique experiences for their kids. We recently exchanged emails with Samantha Razook Murphy. She is the founder of Curious Jane , a day camp for 3rd-6th grade girls, and Blue Tree, an overnight camp for girls age 12-17. Her background is in graphic design and industrial design, but she also spent many summers directing all-girls residential camps through her husband’s company. She and her (little) girls would pack up and lie in the dorms with the campers for the summer. Her enthusiasm about her own camps is contagious!
How did you decide to start Curious Jane and Blue Tree Camps?
I went to camp every summer as a girl, but was shy and studious and didn’t love the outdoorsy types of programs I attended. A couple years ago, a big shift in our work gave me the chance to start my own company and programs. I combined everything I loved doing, with girls, design, summer programs…and that is how the programs evolved. My background was in teen residential programs, so Blue Tree came first, but, with my own two girls being elementary-school age, I thought “we could do all this fun stuff with younger girls too!” That’s how Curious Jane came about. Our first summer was small, crazy and fantastic and my Curious Jane science teacher soon joined me to work together year-round. So it’s me and Jen, and a wide web of wonderful young women! The programs have been really well-received by families and we’ve been growing at a great rate and having lots of fun with all of it.
With so many camps available, how can parents find the right camp for their child?
I actually just came up with a list of ten tips for finding the right camp. There are lots of resources you can ask: your child, your friends, the internet, online listing sites, and even other camps. I also recommend families balance their summers so that their children have a chance to participate in a variety of things that interest them, but without making the commute or transportation a huge difficulty. Also, I recommend that parents ‘hear a voice’ at the other end of the phone. Even if the registration is online and there is not a specific question they have about the program, parents should make a call to chat with a director or counselor; this is a great way to gauge the tone of the program and whether it will be a good fit. Some camps offer open houses, local activities or other ways to meet them. Take advantage of that!
Finally, it’s important to know the size of the camp and the size of the individual groups. Some children thrive in a large active group, while others do best in much smaller programs. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to programs that seem strong and work with your schedule, invite your child to make the decision, especially if it involves a sleep-away camp. And last but not least, don’t stress about it too much. There are lots of great summer programs out there and it’s really a luxury to have so many wonderful options.
While I’m sure all girls have a blast at your camps, are there particular types of girls who tend to thrive there more than they would in a co-ed camp?
Sure. Many girls who are on the shy side, aren’t into sports, are a bit academic, perhaps a bit eclectic in their tastes, these girls definitely thrive in our programs. However, we don’t have a certain type that attends either Blue Tree or Curious Jane; we do have all types! Because the Blue Tree program offers lots of creative classes, we have girls who are excited to express themselves in the arts, and feel more comfortable trying new things and being themselves in an all-girls setting. Also, some girls choose a single-sex program for their first time away from home, especially if they are a bit nervous about it. We find that girls balance their summers and school-year activities with all sorts of different programs: all-girls, co-ed, sports, academic, arts, and so on. In all these myriad activities, I feel there’s a place for an all-girls’ experience.
What questions should a parent ask a camp?
Who is your staff? How large is the program? Do the campers take trips? Can you walk me through a typical day? Tell them a bit about your child, ask a few questions, and make sure the camp answers your questions specific to your child. Ultimately, you want to find a program that’s the right fit.
Some kids attend as many as 10 weeks of summer camp. The summer can seem long. Any tips on preventing camp burn-out?
This often has a lot to do with the child. Some children are suited for this, and others not. Since I have always worked in camps, and had very hectic summers, my own girls have to do a lot of camp. I’ve definitely seen camp ‘burn-out’ on my end. I try to schedule ahead with family members so that my girls do 3-4 weeks of camp, then have a chance to spend a week with their grandparents or cousins, then another bit of camp, and another break. For most children, it works best to be involved in a few different programs, but also have at least 2-3 weeks in a particular location so that the transitions don’t come too quickly. This summer, for example, my 4th-grader will spend a couple weeks with her grandparents (and attending a camp in Atlanta), then two weeks of overnight camp, then a single week of a specialty day camp with which she is already familiar, then end the summer with 4 weeks of Curious Jane. It’s not a bad thing for children to be ready for the school year to start again!
How should parents help kids prepare for a sleep-away camp?
For a spend-the-night-camp, the packing list can be the most fun way to prepare. Pick up a few new items just for fun (a water bottle, flip-flops, etc) and make sure that you pack everything on the list. Children love to be involved in this: selecting 10 shirts, 6 shorts, etc., and make sure to add a few special touches from home. And definitely pack a foam ‘egg-crate’ for the mattress; camp bunks can be very uncomfortable! Pack pre-addressed envelopes for writing home. If campers are allowed email or phone access, set guidelines for when they should call or not. Too much phone time can work against the value of an overnight program. Let the camper get excited about the program!
If there are concerns about homesickness, let her know that you have complete confidence in her, and that the first few days will be the difficult days. Also, if you’re worried about a teary ‘good-bye’ when the big day arrives, make sure to discuss this ahead of time, such as, “Once we get your bed made and you’re all settled in, we’ll take a walk around camp and I’ll give you a big hug good-bye”. Give her some ideas for how to handle homesickness, and let her counselor know too. The camp staff is there to help with this and relying on them is a great way for your camper to cement strong relationships at camp.
Tell us what is most special about Curious Jane and Blue Tree Camps.
The all-girls environment and all-female staff lets us be ourselves and have a lot of fun. Our staff members are just excited about working with girls at these programs as our campers are about attending! We make our own mini-communities at each location and have lots of fun! The girls are encouraged to create and try and experiment and really tap into their own ideas.