There are few jobs more rewarding than running a summer camp.
Fun activities, long-lasting friendships, enriching experiences, and memories that will last a lifetime—who could resist such a job description?
Since you’re here reading this article, you probably agree and even think about starting your own summer camp.
But where do you even start?
Luckily, we got you covered. Keep on reading, and you’ll learn all about the different ins and outs of starting a summer camp.
But first, try answering one key question.
Decide on the Right Type of Summer Camp
What type of camp do you want your summer camp to be?
Until you figure this out, you can’t move forward. But to answer the question, there are many things to consider first.
Start by looking inwards. A little introspection can go a long way.
Ask yourself what your own goals, passions, and skills are. Based on those, you can now brainstorm some ideas about possible camp themes and age groups you want to cater to.
It’s best to write all your ideas down, too.
So, do you want to focus on sports and fitness or arts and crafts? Is your camp going to be a day camp or a sleepaway camp? Is it going to be a camp for young kids or teenagers?
Remember, your summer camp must be just as exciting for you as it’ll be for your campers.
That being said, your camp still is a business, and it should be treated as such. Rodger Popkin, the owner of Blue Star Camp, put it best when he said:
In other words, there needs to be both passion and business savvy involved in running a successful summer camp.
So, with all your ideas now in front of you, it’s time to evaluate their viability. Consider these factors:
- Resources: do you have enough resources to make your idea come true?
- Space: do you have enough space for all the activities planned?
- Safety: can you perform all the activities safely?
- Budget: can you afford everything needed for your camp?
- Local camps: are there camps near your that already do what you do?
It’s vital to take all of these into consideration because every type of camp involves different activities, staff, facilities, and logistics planning.
For instance, if you plan on offering horseback riding lessons, you need to think ahead and figure out what you’ll do with the horses once the camp ends.
Overall, there’s a lot of decision-making involved in starting a camp, that’s for sure. You need to think about the how, the when, the why, and the what-ifs.
Oh, and don’t forget about the where!
Choose an Appropriate Physical Location
The where is a big one.
When looking for a physical location for your summer camp, think about how much space you need to fit all your equipment, facilities, and other elements necessary to bring your vision to life.
In other words, the camp location should support your concept and not bend or restrict it. It should really be something special.
After all, this is what campers and their parents want, too.
A big part of the reason why parents send their children to summer camps in the first place is to experience the outdoors and have a break from the big cities or technology.
A seminal 2019 study published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, showed that access to natural spaces is more important to parents when choosing a camp than, for instance, the quality of food and cabins or even the cost of camp.
Data: Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership/Illustration: Regpack
Still, the number one concern is, and probably always will be, children’s safety.
Therefore—and this probably goes without saying—you should aim to find a location that’ll be as close to a hospital or an emergency room as possible.
Moreover, the camp should be easily accessed by emergency vehicles.
Although it’s not pleasant thinking about these situations, you need to have first-aid options at hand should anything happen.
It’ll put parents’ minds at ease, and it’ll help you mitigate the risks that come with running a summer camp.
All in all, don’t forget that your camp will become a place where many cherished memories will be formed.
Try to find a spot that’ll be an amazing backdrop for those memories and that’ll help bring your ideas to life.
Plan Out a Clear Schedule
Now that you’ve chosen the type and the location of your camp, it’s time to start getting into the nitty-gritty of it all.
Go back to that list of goals you’ve compiled. Think about what you want your campers to achieve during camp.
Do you want them to learn a particular skill? To leave feeling more confident?
Let the answers to these questions guide you in creating a schedule for your program.
For instance, if your aim is for campers to learn how to play piano, you might want to start off with musical theory and then gradually move on to playing the actual instrument in the middle of the program.
Finally, you could organize an end-of-the-camp talent show where everyone showcases what they’ve learned.
Alternatively, if your camp isn’t a specialty camp focused on a single skill, you’ll probably have a different approach to scheduling.
In other words, you could start each day with a warm-up activity, organize a field trip in the middle of the day and end the day with a cool-down activity.
Either way, having a clear schedule is a must. It will help you and your team remain organized, and it’ll provide campers with structure and consistency while ensuring they remain engaged and have fun throughout the whole experience.
Once you have your schedule ready, make it public.
Source: @BGJudyAACPS on Twitter
Some parents start their camp research early, so the sooner you put your schedule out there, the better.
Having a rich, clear schedule full of interesting activities will surely attract many potential campers.
Come Up With Creative Activities
Getting creative and coming up with different engaging activities is probably the most fun part of starting a summer camp.
Naturally, you’ll want to include activities that make sense with the theme of your camp but don’t forget to pay attention both to the trends and the parents’ wishes.
For instance, take a look at this parent testimonial posted on the Outpost Summer Camps website.
Source: Outpost Summer Camps
What does the testimonial tell us?
It tells us that parents want summer camp experiences for their children to be not just fun but also educational and enriching.
They want their children to leave your camp with skills they’ve never had before.
After all, summer camps offer unique learning opportunities that are simply not available in classrooms, so capitalize on that.
In other words, look for ways to broaden your campers’ horizons. This will be much appreciated by both the parents and children.
At the end of the day, this is what summer camp is all about.
Moreover, no matter what type of camp you run, remember to always be on the lookout for opportunities to get creative and have fun.
So what? Organize an indoor treasure hunt.
Adaptability to different situations and creativity go hand in hand. With both up your sleeve, you’ll surely create an amazing atmosphere and unforgettable experiences for all your campers.
Set a Fair Price for Your Summer Camp
Of course, starting a summer camp is not all fun and games.
One of the trickiest things you’ll have to do before you open your camp for business is set a price you’re going to charge for it.
You don’t want to go too low because this could negatively affect your profitability or even indicate that your camp might not offer much value.
On the other hand, too high of a price could make your camp less accessible to some parents.
So how do you set a fair price? And what is a fair price anyway?
The short answer is: it depends.
Therefore, consider your target demographic and their financial situation and then look at the costs you need to cover.
Also, provided your camp is for-profit, think about your desired profit margin.
For instance, if you’re starting a camp in an affluent area, your costs will probably be higher, but so will your customers’ purchasing power.
Therefore, it’s only natural you would set a higher camp price in this case.
Luckily, when it comes to camp pricing, there’s always room for compromise.
You can offer tiered pricing based on camp duration or activities involved, or use registration software that allows paying in installments.
One thing to remember, though, is that a fair price means fair for you, too. You want to make camp as affordable as possible but not at the expense of service.
Enable Online Registrations
There’s no feeling like seeing those registrations starting to roll in for the first time.
Besides, this is the easy part, right? You just sit back, relax and watch registrations pour in.
With the efficient registration process, this is exactly how it’s going to be.
Without it, not so much—because, as it turns out, your registration process itself has a significant impact on your registrations.
To elaborate, overly complicated or long registration forms usually make customers give up on them.
The same goes for campers’ parents.
They’re busy, so convenience is a huge factor in their decision-making. If they have to fill in the form manually or in person, they’re very likely to leave and look elsewhere.
Take your registrations, therefore, online and consider using camp registration software. It’ll automate the whole process and make it more streamlined.
Camp registration software solutions like Regpack offer plenty of features that take your registration to a whole new level.
For example, with Regpack’s easy-to-use online form builder, you can create your own registration form and ask any question you want, in any form you want, and then style the form however you want, so it matches the aesthetic of your website perfectly.
Talk about quick, easy, and efficient!
Start Taking Registrations Early
With a great, seamless, and simple registration process in place, it’s finally time to open those registrations and fill your camp with happy campers.
According to the ACA, parents start their camp research early and book camp at least two months before it starts, so it’s not a bad idea to open up your registrations as soon as possible so as not to miss out on those early registrations.
Besides, early registrations are useful for facilitating organization because they tell you a lot about your campers’ wishes, needs, and expectations.
For instance, if you have different modes of transportation organized, you’ll be able to set pick-up locations and dates in advance.
But what about the parents who take their time researching summer camps? Are there ways to still somehow incentivize them to book your camp early?
One thing you can do is create a sense of urgency. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a real thing, and it’s really effective when it comes to shaping our purchase decisions.
So, when advertising your camp, consider emphasizing the limited number of spots available, or try going a step further and create a countdown timer to the day camp registrations end.
It may surprise you how effective these strategies can be.
Create a Reliable Contingency Plan
In the summer camp industry, just like in any other business, anything can happen at any given moment.
It’s up to you, as the camp owner, to be prepared and to have policies and procedures in place for different emergencies that might occur.
What’s the procedure in the event of a tornado? What should you do if a camper is lost? Is there a fire evacuation plan in place?
The answers to these questions should be learned by everyone working at your camp well in advance.
And what if your camp’s forced to close? Do you have enough funds to keep you afloat until next season?
During the recent pandemic, questions like these were on everyone’s minds, as it proved more than anything that everything can change in an instant.
As a result, the ACA came up with a Contingency Planning Framework Chart to help camps create modified plans in case of any kind of emergency and modifications/cancellations of plans.
The framework provides solutions for different scenarios, with a focus on these aspects:
- Program considerations
- Revenue implications
- Expenses management
- Contingency management
All in all, make sure you allocate enough time to create a reliable contingency plan before your camp starts.
Although this is, luckily, not something you’ll often need, a great plan becomes invaluable and even life-saving if the emergency does occur.
Taking everything into consideration, it’s hard to deny that starting a summer camp is no easy feat.
There’s much more planning, decision-making, and preparation involved than many assume.
Still, don’t let the amount of work discourage you. Instead, look at it this way: all that effort you’re putting in will be the foundation for the success of your camp in the future.
So, take the time to do everything right from the get-go, and it’ll ensure you many years of smooth sailing.