Fostering Independence at Brantford Circle Square Ranch
May 19, 2017 by Camp Pages

Camp Walden

Camp Q&A: Andrea Richardson, camp director at Brantford Circle Square Ranch

Q: How long have you been the director of Brantford?

My husband and I are directors at this camp together and we started in 1999.

Q: What is your favourite part of your job?

I love the summer, like camp is actually the favourite part. All the work you have to do to make camp happen, not as fun.

Q: What kinds of qualities does it take to be a camp director/counsellor and lead children?

I think you have to be a fun person because kids respond a whole lot better to fun. I think that kids like new and original ideas, trying stuff they haven’t done before. Even a new and exciting challenge can be a little scary, so if you’re able to support them and make them feel like you’ll help them get through tough things, that’s also a really good skill.

Q: How can children learn or benefit from a positive camp experience?

The ability to be independent is really important for kids. So, they come and we support them, but they make a lot of choices that they normally wouldn’t always make at home. So, in small things like what part of this meal am I going to eat? Do I want to eat it all? Do I want my vegetables this week? They actually get to be independent for those kinds of ideas. What activities? Who will be my friends? So, I think growing your independence in a really safe and supported environment is a great skill. I also think learning to take – I’ll call them – calculated risks. So, you’re nervous about horseback riding, you’ve never done it, but you take that risk and it works out well for you. I think that really builds into their feeling of ‘I can do it’ and will give them a spot when they’re looking at other things at home that they think that’s a big or frightening or difficult task. Hopefully somewhere in their repertoire of what they believe about themselves is ‘And I can do it’. That is a skill that I hope they get at camp.

Q: What is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to prepare their child for their first camp experience?

I think it’s really important that kids know how to navigate their suitcase, that they know how to open it, find what they want, use the sunscreen, use the bug spray, know how to put dirty laundry somewhere that it doesn’t get in contact with their clean laundry. If there’s shampoo in the suitcase, do they know how to use shampoo without mom squeezing it in their hand? I think kids need to practice all of that. If it was me and my kids were going somewhere, I would actually pack a suitcase for them and they’d go sleep at grandma’s and just try out this suitcase. I really think if the kids feel confident with that little bit of independence, which is the other thing they’re working on, that that helps a lot.

Q: Over the years, have you noticed any changes in the way camp is run or in the way kids and their families approach camp?

Yes, [parents] expect instant updates on how their kids are doing. So, if a kid hurts themselves and we’re calling more than three hours later, they’re wondering why. So, years ago, we used to just write a note on their pick-up sheet and say ‘Just so you know, they fell off their bike on Tuesday. Man, did they ever have a big bruise.’ And the parents will go ‘Well, of course. They were riding a bike’. Now, if someone falls off their bike and gets a bruise, we’re usually calling home before the next meal, just to say ‘Just to let you know, they’ve got a pretty good bruise. They’re fine. We’ve checked it out. We’ll follow up’ and the occasional parent will say ‘Well, why are you calling me?’, but we get more parents who if we used to wait longer, would say ‘Well, what has taken you so long to let me know?’ I believe that’s probably from kids having cellphones all the time and constant chit-chat with their parents whereas 15 years ago, parents just caught up with heir kids at the end of the day. So, everybody has different expectations about the speed of communication.

Q: Is there any camper or instance you remember that really exemplified the power or spirit of camp?

We’ve had a couple kids who have started in our day camp program, came as a day camper for two years, then overnight for five years, then did our leadership and training program, and then worked as a volunteer, and then as a leadership staff. By the time we’re done our interaction with that person, we’ve been a part of their growing and developing leadership skills for 15 years. And when you hear those kids come back to you and say ‘I have two homes. One is with my mom and dad and my other home is camp’, that’s really what we’re looking to do. So, when something recreational can actually be something that makes a significant life difference, I think that’s really the sweet spots for camps.

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