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PARENTS WANT TO KNOW: How to Choose a Safe and Fun-Filled Summer Camp for your Child

Gulf and Franklin County campers shooting rockets at Camp Timpoochee in June 2017.

As the school year wraps up, you’re likely trying to fill up your child’s summer with fun and educational programs.  Fortunately, you’ll find a variety of day and residential summer camps out there.  Does the thought of  sending your child to camp cause anxiety for your or your child?  If so, let’ me give you some tips to eliminate those concerns.

First, summer day camps and residential camps can be some of the most memorable events in a child’s life.  Some children make memories and friends that last a lifetime. But  as a parent, you need to feel comfortable about the camp you send your child to.

When starting the camp selection process, begin with your child’s interests. Make sure you know the camp will provide activities that will enhance your child’s personality and maturity level.  Including your child in the process will help them feel more secure and excited about what camp will offer them.  This will also help get rid of some of their anxiety because they’ll know what to expect (especially if they have never attended camp before).

Here are questions recommended by the American Camping Association (ACA) to help you make the best summer camp decision.

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Residential Camp:

  1. What locale do I want to consider? (mountains, oceanfront, distance from home, etc)
  2. Do I want a traditional camp that gives my child a wide variety of experiences, or do I want to select a specialty camp that focuses on a particular activity or set of skills?
  3. What size enrollment will make my child feel comfortable?
  4. How rustic do I want the camp to be?
  5. How structured do I want the program to be? Does my child like to have lots of choice in the activity schedule?
  6. Is my child ready to sleep away from home for an extended stay? (This will help you to select either a resident or day camp setting.)
  7. What session length will appeal to my child and to our family plans for the summer? (One week? Eight weeks? Length of day?)
  8. How can I stay in touch with my child during camp? Does the camp allow mail, phone calls or e-mail? Does the camp have parent visitation days?
  9. How will the camp meet my child’s special dietary or physical needs?
  10. What is my budget for camp tuition? (Remember, many camps offer financial aid.)

Questions to Consider in Selecting a Day Camp:

Day camps offer experiences unique from residential camps. Because of this, there are specific points to consider when choosing a day camp – transportation, overnights, swimming lessons, food service, horseback riding, group pictures, t-shirts, extended care, field trips, etc.

  1. Does the American Camp Association accredit the camp? (ACA has specific standards applicable only for day camps.)
  2. What training does the staff receive on safety, supervision, counseling, problem solving and other issues unique to working with young children?
  3. Is the price all-inclusive or are there extra charges?
  4. If transportation is offered, where is the closest pick-up location?
  5. Does the camp have an “express bus” which transports children quickly?
  6. If before and after-camp extended care is offered, who is with the children and what activities take place?
  7. Is lunch served, or do campers bring their own sack lunch? Are snacks and drinks provided?
  8. If the camp offers swimming, are there swimming lessons, or is it simply recreational swimming?
  9. Are campers in a group with a counselor all day? Or, are campers free to go from one activity to another with appropriate supervision? In this case, who would you talk to if you had a question or concern about your child?
  10. Is an open house offered before camp starts where you can meet your child’s counselor and van/bus driver?
  11. Are parents allowed to drop by for visits or is there a special parent visitation day?

Along with the above questions, you should also know that in the state of Florida, summer camps are not inspected or regulated by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  This makes it even more important for parents to gather information about the quality and safety of the program on their own. Parents should check to see if they are welcome to visit and observe the camp in action or attend activities with their child at any given time including water activities.

DCF suggests you ask these questions:

  1. What the programs health, safety and nutrition policies and procedures?
  2. Is the staff screened?
  3. What are the staff/child ratios and group sizes of the program?
  4. Is the staff well-trained?
  5. Is the program licensed or accredited?
  6. Are parents welcome to visit? Are family activities offered?
  7. Is there a daily lesson plan?
  8. Is the facility adequate for the number of children enrolled?
  9. What are the hours of operation, fees and payment procedures?

Download the Selecting Summer Care for School-Age Children: A Quality Checklist at http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/childcare/docs/SummerChecklist.pdf.

Because you should know – Florida law does require summer camps to conduct background screenings of all camp personnel, including owners, operators, employees and volunteers. Volunteers providing less than 10 hours of service per month do not need to be screened as long as they are always within sight of a person who meets the screening requirement.  In the state of Florida, the camps supported by UF/IFAS Extension meet each of the standards above.

The above questions and items to consider should help you in the camp selection process.  Always feel confident in asking any questions – as the parent, you have the right to feel confident in your child’s camp selection.

As you begin your summer camp search, remember to check out the day and residential camping programs offered by your local 4-H program.    We are confident in our volunteers and staff competency and would love to have your child participate in our safe and fun-filled summer camps.  Contact your local Extension Office for more details.

Resources for this article may be found at:  www.acacamps.org and www.myflfamilies.com.

Reflections from Graduating Seniors: Kheica Jones

Kheica’s prepared public speech at county events her senior year

I will never forget the day Kheica and little sister walked into the Jefferson County Extension Office interested in doing a 4-H Demonstration at County Events. Two shy and very timorous little girls.  Perhaps they could organize their presentation, but the thought of presenting it in front of an audience- no way! They proved me wrong. They organized their demonstration and presented it at County and District Events.  Receiving both blue 1st place ribbons and blue quality rosettes. Since her demonstration at age ten, Khecia made a lasting impression in Jefferson County 4-H.  She embraced 4-H slogan “Learning by Doing” wholeheartedly as a member.

Khecia’s first 4-H team demonstration, as a junior

As a junior and intermediate 4-Her, Kheica was a member the Elite Sewing Club.  She also served as president of the Jefferson Elementary School Clubs (both 3rd & 4th grade years). She also participated in consumer choices judging contest and received the highest individual score at the North Florida Fair.

As a senior 4-Her, Kheica served as president and vice-president of the Jefferson County Teen Council. Last year, she participated in general public speaking at the county, district & state levels. This year Kheica will be doing a team demonstration at 4-H University entitled: Creamy Shrimp Linguine. She served on the 4-H NW Teen Retreat Planning Committee. This summer will also be her fourth year as a camp counselor at the day and overnight summer camps.

Khecia has helped plan several community service projects, including a roadside clean-up this spring.

Giving back to her community is paramount to Kheica. She has accumulated over 400 hours of community service hours from roadside cleanup, the 4-H Nature Trail Clean up, northwest Florida service project (Chemo Kits for Cancer Patients), nursing home visits, and landscaped the senior citizen center.

When I asked Kheica what life skills she learned that she attributes to 4-H, she shared: “I have learned life skills such as teamwork, dedication, and perseverance. I have also learned the important of community service.”  Kheica said her most memorable moment as a junior 4-Her was participating in 4-H Tropicana Public Speaking and doing her demonstrations at County & District Events.

Khecia Jones, an exemplary student, achieved top honors as Valedictorian of the 2017 graduating class. After graduation, she plans to attend FAMU on a full scholarship and major in Biomedical Sciences.

Our heart is content knowing that Jefferson County 4-H equipped this young woman with tools necessary to be successful post high school.  Jefferson County 4-H takes pleasure in wishing Khecia Jones much happiness and success in her future endeavors, and we invite her to join 4-H as a volunteer to help other youth benefit from 4-H the way she has!”

If you are interested in joining 4-H to learn leadership and communication skills, or if you would like to help teach youth in your community as a 4-H volunteer, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org.

 

Reflections from Graduating Seniors: Jessica Wells

Jessica credits 4-H with helping her develop leadership and communication skills to help her transition into the workforce.

Super Woman has nothing on Washington County 4-H’er Jessica Wells.  During her 11 years as a 4-H member, she has logged over 500 4-H volunteer hours, started and led a horse project club,  facilitated agriculture judging at the county youth fair, led a highly successful community service project, served on 4-H Executive Board and the district teen retreat planning committee, been my right-hand woman at day camps, the county 4-H Tropicana public speaking contest and awards banquets…I could go on and on!

Through events such as 4-H University and executive board, 4-H involvement has broadened Jessica’s personal skill set.  She has learned about opportunities beyond the county level, stepped out of her comfort zone, looked inside herself to see where she needed to grow and developed teamwork skills that have benefitted her now and will continue to benefit her in the future.

Jessica also shared that “exploring career options has been one of the biggest benefits of my 4-H involvement.”

Jessica’s involvement in the 4-H horse program has led her to start a horse club in her community, so she can share her passion and expertise for the horse industry with other youth.  There had not been an active horse club in the county for several years, so Jessica was able to match her interest to serve a real need in the community.

With leadership development as the focus of her senior 4-H year, she says that 4-H University has been her favorite event that has allowed her to flex and grow her skills as a leader.  Jessica lives a heads, heart, hands and health life:  she has grown her personal skill set, she leads and serves with a giving and caring heart, her work ethic is tremendous and she has begun a club to serve an unmet need in the county.  Jessica has balanced her 4-H life while working at her grandfather’s blueberry farm, working with her horses (even rehabilitating a rescue horse), being an awesome big sister and daughter and serving at church. Jessica is the daughter of Rodney and Karen Wells and big sister to Sarah and Joshua.  She plans to attend Chipola College then transfer to either Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College or the University of Florida and major in agri-business.

Hear what Jessica has to say about what she has gained from her 4-H experience, and why she has remained in 4-H through her high school years:

UF/IFAS Extension Washington County congratulates Jessica on her high school graduation!  We look forward to seeing how you move and shake the world.  Love, Julie, Judy, Mark, Matt, Nikki & Cynthia

4-H Saves Lives: A Teen’s Trajectory to Thrive

Many people know 4-H as the nation’s largest youth development organization. They may also know that 4-H programs focus on life skill development through experiential learning in a safe affirming environment. However, something many may not know is that 4-H, in many cases, is a LIFESAVER! 4-H saves lives daily through positive youth development provided to youth throughout the nation ages 5-18. 4-H also influences the lives of volunteers ages 18 and beyond by providing the opportunity for them to make a difference in the world by shaping the future through our youth. How many people can actually say they had a hand in shaping the future of our nation?

Cheyenne joined 4-H during December 2014. She and her family had recently moved to the area and coincidentally her mother stumbled upon the Extension Office thinking it was a satellite location of the University of Florida that provided classes. Upon entering, she was directed to the new 4-H Agent, shared her story and passion for livestock, and was quickly recruited to be a part of the Walton County 4-H family. Soon Cheyenne began attending meetings in the Cherokee Riders Horse Club and later took leadership opportunities by becoming an officer. By the 2015 4-H year, Cheyenne was President of both the Cherokee Riders and Livestock Clubs, a member of Teen Council and volunteering whenever possible. It was clear she was on a trajectory to thrive and making great strides toward her future goals!

Sadly, in the Spring of 2015, Cheyenne soon found herself facing enormous obstacles in her life. Her father was deployed, her parents were divorcing, she was trying to escape an unhealthy relationship, and she was being bullied at school on top of facing the normal emotional struggles of being a teen. Cheyenne became depressed and withdrawn from most everyone. Her normal smile and cheerful manner had been suppressed. Her focus on clubs and school began to wither and feelings of doubt set in.  It became apparent that she was facing failure to thrive and was contemplating unhealthy decisions.

After sitting down with her concerned 4-H Agent and her mother, Cheyenne agreed that 4-H Camp Timpoochee would be an excellent way to recharge and focus on herself for the summer! Cheyenne was trained as a Counselor and became very excited about her camp week with Walton County 4-H. During camp she approached her 4-H Agent and said,

“I really love it here…this 4-H stuff really works!”

She also stated that she could be herself at camp, her true self and everyone accepted her for it and even liked her. She made new friends, smiled, laughed and began to find herself again, only an improved more confident version of the girl who started camp on Monday.

Several weeks after camp Cheyenne’s mother came in to drop her off to volunteer for a day camp. She came into the 4-H office with tears in her eyes and said,

“Thank you. I don’t know what you did but thank you for bringing my baby back!”

Now Cheyenne holds officer positions in multiple clubs, has won several Blue and Grand Champion Ribbons in the Fair, was a State Qualifier at the Area A Horse Show, and has competed on the County and District level in cooking competitions. In addition, in 2016 Cheyenne won the Club Masters award from Southern States through her diligence and excellent care of her Reserve Grand Champion Doe!

4-H professionals, volunteers and youth themselves have the ability to give life back to youth in need! For more than 100 years, 4-H has been committed to the idea that youth are the single strongest catalyst for change. Based on Florida 4-H Facts and Impact, 4-H reaches 23, 954 youth through 4-H Clubs, 6,973 through 4-H camps, 21,455 through special interest programs, 148,268 through school enrichment, and 2,597 through after school programs. 4-H youth, regardless of background, socio-economic status, race, or gender have significantly lower drug, alcohol, and cigarette use than peers and are 2.4 times more likely to make healthy choices.

If you know a youth struggling to find their way, or an adult seeking to make a difference, consider researching 4-H in your community. There are endless opportunities available through 4-H clubs, camps, workshops, contests, leadership events and much more. Contact your local Extension Office to see how 4-H is shaping the future of youth in your community, or browse the links below.  You can ignite a spark to improve “your club, your community, your country and your world!”

Northwest Teen Retreat 2017

Over 70 teens from across the panhandle participated in last year's retreat, sponsored by Farm Credit of NW FL.

Over 70 teens from across the panhandle participated in last year’s retreat, sponsored by Farm Credit of NW FL.

Interested in meeting other 4-H teens across the district?  Do you love camp?  Would you like to be more prepared for state events like 4-H Legislature or 4-H U?  What about scholarships for college?  If any of these questions caught your attention, then Teen Retreat is tailor made for you!  Last year, a committee of youth and adults put together a weekend event to help teens grow their leadership, communication and workforce skills.  With lots of positive feedback from last year’s participants, we are planning another event for 2017.

WHO: Teens ages 13-18 in the Northwest District of Florida (4-H Districts I, II & III)
WHAT: A fun weekend retreat with your peers
WHEN: February 24-26, 2017
WHERE: Camp Timpoochee, Niceville, FL
HOW: Workshops and fun shops will be planned and taught by youth committee members. Everyone will also participate in a service project.  Participants will be expected to bring what they learn back to their county council and organize a similar service project April 28-30.

Youth participated in a Shoe Cutting Party to help Sole Hope, and organization that provides shoes to children in Africa. We were able to send nearly 200 pairs of shoes!

Youth participated in a Shoe Cutting Party to help Sole Hope, and organization that provides shoes to children in Africa. We were able to send nearly 200 pairs of shoes!

Registration will open Friday, December 9th via 4HOnline.  The cost is only $75/person thanks to corporate donations from State Farm and Farm Credit of Northwest Florida.  Participate in our Teen Retreat T-shirt Design Contest and you could win a $50.00 scholarship for this event!  Check with your local UF IFAS Extension Office to inquire about any additional scholarships that may be available.  Once you complete your registration online, submit your payment to your local UF IFAS Extension Office.

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