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Welcome to ACA's Parents Place blog! A new and exciting resource for families, the Parents Place blog will feature tips, information, and advice from ACA, as well as other guest bloggers, on child and youth development, health and safety, and of course - camp.
December 17, 2012
In her latest blog post, with the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy fresh on her mind and heart, American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith asks herself, "Am I doing enough?" to create a world that fosters community and values learning about and understanding others. Smith shares her thoughts on creating a world of humility, civility, and human connection by demonstrating those very traits.
December 11, 2012
Give the gift of camp! A quality camp experience is a real-life version of what kids want from video games and toys — fun, adventure, excitement — and so much more!
Character and Developmental Skills
Camp is an experience that will last a lifetime — from memories to friendships to newfound hobbies. Kids certainly learn a lot about themselves while at camp, and according to research, they also gain critical social, emotional, resiliency, and teamwork skills:
- 96% of campers said: “Camp helped me make new friends.”
- 93% of campers said: “Camp helped me to get to know kids who are different than me.”
- 92% of campers said: “The people at camp helped me feel good about myself.”
- 74% of campers said: “At camp, I did things I was afraid to do at first.”
Campers also come away with powerful lessons in self-awareness, citizenship, responsible decision making, leadership skills, and developing health and wellness behaviors.
Grit: The Skill for Success
Did you know that studies have shown “grit” — tenacity and stick-to-itiveness — to be the leading predicator of achieving success at the highest levels? Camp is one of the best places on earth to learn “grit”! In experiential learning environments like camp, where kids take action, are challenged, and are supported in their efforts to “try, try again,” they learn what it takes to succeed.
This holiday season, give the gift of camp to your child, grandchild, or a deserving child who might not otherwise be able to afford it (through ACA’s Send a Child to Camp Fund). When you do, you’ll really be giving the gift of fun, character, and success.
Visit ACA’s Find a Camp database to search for the perfect camp experience.
Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina
October 5, 2012
Health and safety at camp has always been a top priority for the American Camp Association (ACA). Recently, ACA's Healthy Camp Study, which monitored injuries and illnesses at camp — and developed prevention strategies for injury/illness occurances — was recognized by the Center for Association Leadership's 2012 Summit Award.
Watch the video below to learn more!
About the Healthy Camp Study
In 2006, ACA partnered with Markel Insurance Company to embark on a five-year surveillance project to benchmark camp-related injury and illness in U.S. camps. Over 200 day and resident camps were involved in this project — the most comprehensive study of camper and staff injury and illness ever conducted. The results of this study are summarized in the Healthy Camp Study Impact Report. (Strategies for injury and illness prevention in camps are highlighted beginning on page 24.)
September 11, 2012
Many campers have returned home for the remainder of summer, and you may have noticed something about their behavior — their manners!
The entire camp experience is made of teachable moments, and perhaps one of the biggest is how to live with a group of people. Campers learn to pick up after themselves, respect each other’s property, and say “Please” and “Thank You.”
Keep your camper’s good habits alive long after the summer is over:
- Remember to Remind — When campers come home, they often keep the spirit of camp alive for a week or two, and then things trail off. Use positive reinforcement to remind campers that you appreciate the positive attitude and willingness to help that they developed at camp.
- Become Camp-Like — Families can set the example by demonstrating a willingness to change something at home in order to sustain some of the changes campers have made. Bob Ditter, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, suggests: "Parents have to make a decision. Are they willing to change something in their practice at home in order to sustain some of the changes their kids have made, such as having a job wheel that you put up on the wall outlining chores?"
- Everyone Gets a Say — At camp, children help determine how their day is spent. Their advice is actively sought, and they feel like equal players. Emulating this environment at home allows them to continue to stand up for themselves and feel like a contributing member of the household.
- Avoid the Negative Compliment — Don't inadvertently sabotage efforts by pointing out differences in behavior. Instead of saying, "you never did this before," praise the behaviors in a genuine way. For example, "I noticed how patient you were with your little brother."
Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children will be celebrated nationwide on Monday, September 24. Take the opportunity to sit down with the whole family and reinforce your child’s good camp habits during the meal:
- Let your child help choose what’s for dinner (something healthy, maybe even a favorite meal from camp!)
- Ask your child to help set the table and clear the dishes — and ask them how the camp handled these tasks
- Use the meal time interaction to talk about favorite camps stories, songs, friends, and even plans for next summer
- Thank your child for helping with the dinner, and compliment his or her responsible habits
Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua near Everett, Washington
August 13, 2012
In today’s world, parents can feel external pressure to make sure children are involved in the “right” activities, get into the “right” schools or classes, and — oh yeah — that they’re having fun, too!
But what if there is a way to instill independence and ownership in children — not to mention, resiliency — so that they want to achieve their own brand of success and navigate an ever-changing world? Camp experiences are excellent ways for children to learn these skills.
And those same experiences — where children learn to take healthy risks, make friends, and live as their own individuals within a supportive community — benefit parents, too! When children are at camp, new parenting perspectives abound.
In a recent interview for TIME’s Healthland, author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, says that for parents who feel they must be “constantly supervising and monitoring," sending a child to camp "throws you up against your own philosophy and habits of constant supervision and control. When you send your child to camp, you have to give that up.”
New studies are finding that intensive parenting — defined as “being involved in every aspect of a child’s life” and always putting your child's needs before your own — can be detrimental to the mental health of parents, specifically mothers.
But when children are at camp, knowing they’re in a developmentally appropriate setting and thriving all on their own alleviates the pressure many parents may feel to be overly involved.
It’s time to add parents to the list of those who gain positive development from a camp experience — a win/win for parents and children!
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
August 6, 2012
For many families, it’s back-to-school time. So along with those camp friends and songs, encourage your camper-student to remember the skills he or she learned this summer. These skills are sure to get the school year started off right and help your child thrive all year long!
- Confidence — All through the camp experience, children and youth have tried new activities and been successful; they feel empowered.
- Curiosity — Camp has given children and youth the chance to explore, study, and observe in an experiential learning environment.
- Character — Camp has challenged children and youth to develop character — through fostering respect for each other, a sense of community, and the ability to solve problems.
Watch American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith explain the benefits of these camp-learned skills in the classroom!
Photo courtesy of Camp Doodles in San Francisco and Marin, California.
July 18, 2012
If you’re feeling the blues while your child is away at camp — or anticipating the day they leave for camp with a little sadness — you’re not alone. In fact, even President Obama feels this way about sending his daughters to camp!
Both First Daughters, Malia and Sasha, will be at overnight camp for a month this summer — adding President and Mrs. Obama to the millions of American parents who annually choose a summer camp experience for their children — even if it means being a little “kidsick” while the kids are away from home.
As Malia enjoys her second summer at camp, and Sasha becomes a new camper, the President recently admitted to feeling a little “depressed” while his girls are away. Camp professionals and child psychologists have described parents’ feelings when children leave as “kidsickness” — akin to the normal feelings of “homesickness” that a majority of children feel when leaving home. (Read more about coping with “kidsickness.”)
ACA offers parents strategies for coping with these emotions at www.CampParents.org — where they will also learn that overcoming separation anxiety is a healthy part of youth development and just one of the many benefits children gain with a summer camp experience.
“The Obamas’ decision to send Malia to camp again, and to send Sasha to camp for the first time, sends a very positive message to parents,” says American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith. “Camp is a safe and supportive environment where children can develop authentic relationships, unplug from technology, connect with nature, and participate in human-powered activities. Camp allows children to relax and enjoy just being kids. There is a camp experience for every child, whether they live in the White House or anywhere in America. More than 10 million children will attend camp this summer, and the ACA community of more than 9,000 members hopes that all parents will be inspired to learn more about camp and give their children the gift of camp.”
July 12, 2012
Guest post by Audrey Monke
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
—Michael Thompson, PhD, Homesick and Happy
Recently I spoke with a mom whose eleven-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list — so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.
Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and just yesterday had a CIT (Counselor in Training) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.
This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety. Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.
Without further ado, here are some messages to give to your anxious camper:
- Let them know that missing home is okay.
You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.
- Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs.
There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.
- Talk with your child honestly about the importance of starting to develop some independence. In Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson writes, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life . . . If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
Something along the lines of: It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.
- Share the reality that many good things in life come with some pain and failure. If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share.
Something along the lines of: Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!
- Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.
Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a knee board? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.
- Let them know that you are confident in them.
I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this. (If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.)
- If your camper asks you if you will pick him up if he’s sad, you need to let him know that you are not going to pick him up early.
Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.
I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages, but instead, choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child. What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience. These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.
I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings. Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer. Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp. If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.
Adapted from Audrey’s original blog post at Sunshine Parenting.
Audrey Monke and her husband Steve have owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-three years. They are raising their own five campers (ages 8–18) at home. Audrey writes about camp and parenting at sunshineparenting.wordpress.com.
June 19, 2012
At camp, some kids practice sports, some practice instruments, and some practice their belly flops. But one thing that ALL campers practice is independence!
Camp provides a nurturing and safe environment for kids to face challenges on their own, and that can be incredibly constructive to a child’s character.
In a recent Washington Post interview, author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, put it this way: “I think camp is the best emotional preparation for a successful college experience, because you practice being on your own, keeping track of your clothes; you practice living in a community and getting along with roommates you don’t love — all of the skills you need for true independence.”
And when kids have had the experience of overcoming a challenge on their own, it gives them a positive memory to draw from when facing future obstacles; say, preparing for that really big math test or interviewing for that first job.
This summer, campers will certainly have an experience that lasts a lifetime — discovering their own strength!
Read more from Michael Thompson in his recently released book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.
Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas.
May 31, 2012
Guest post by Missy Schenck
The first time I went away to summer camp I had just finished the third grade. All first-year campers have nagging doubts about their summer away from home and I was no exception.
I love sharing my very first summer camp experience (fifty years ago this summer) because I was so homesick that I thought I was going to die. It was entirely possible for me to average at least four good cries a day that first week or so. I’ve shared this story summer after summer with our homesick campers.
When I was growing up, parents were not helicopter parents; in fact, they were quite the opposite. Children were put on trains and buses and sent to camp and we said good-bye at the station. Parents did not make our bunks or put away our clothes. Our counselors helped us. If we were homesick, parents were not so quick to come get us. The possibility of calling home was out of the question. We were at camp for the duration; in other words . . . SUCK IT UP!
My counselor’s name was Harriett, but I called her Rebecca. I thought she looked like a Rebecca, and I loved that name, so I called her Rebecca. Now that I know more about counselor duties, Harriett-Rebecca was a saint to have tolerated and survived my homesickness. I’m sure she had stories to tell throughout the summer.
Homesickness can be unbearable! Raining every single day for two weeks makes it worse. It rained and it rained until I thought it could not possibly rain any more . . . and it did. The canvas roofs on the platform tents were sagging from the weight of the rain water and they began to leak. All of our clothes and bedding stayed damp. We could not put things on the clothes line because . . . it was raining. Trekking to the outhouse in the rain at night was not fun!
The arts and crafts supplies had not arrived in time for my session. Arts and crafts could have saved me — maybe — anything creative was fun for me (I even became an art major later), especially indoors on a rainy day. The swimming pool was closed because of the rain, thunder, and lightening. We played a lot of indoor games — we exhausted our counselors. We learned to cook; I learned to make one of my all time favorite trail snacks — a cored apple filled with peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisins. Still love it! Nothing seemed to cure my homesickness . . . it just got worse as the days went on.
Excessive rain, thunder, and lightening yielded to extended rest hours . . . the worst thing in the world for a homesick camper. Rest hour and bedtime are a big catalyst for homesickness and tears. It’s a time for reading, writing letters home, being quiet, and missing your parents. I wrote multiple letters a day to my parents and wrote AIR MAIL all over them. I was certain that this would ensure a speedy delivery for my letters to our home about fifty miles away. I knew once my parents got these letters they would come for me. WRONG!
Finally, after about a week and no word from my parents, I was convinced that I must have done something terrible to warrant this horrible punishment of summer camp or worse . . . something had happened to them! A week soon moved on to a second week and the rain continued. One day, I realized there were only about three days left in the camp session. The end was in sight. WOW! I was surviving. I could make it to the end. I stopped crying. Three days was no time at all . . . I might as well have some fun . . . and I did.
One of my bunk mates brought a baritone ukulele to camp with her. I listened to her play "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" over and over every day of camp. I knew all the words to the song. I loved to sing. I wanted to know how to play her ukulele, so I could sing and play one, too. I asked her if she would teach me, and she did. I was hooked!
Oh, how sad it is to leave camp at the end of the session. The tears flowing at the last lakeside candlelight service is proof you are a dyed-in-the-wool camper for life. These tears are only matched by the ones shed as the bus pulls away from camp.
For Christmas that year, I asked for a baritone ukulele. I thought I would just die if Santa did not bring me one. He did. I was determined to learn as many songs as I could, so I practiced and I practiced and I sang and I sang. I drove everyone in our household crazy with the exception of our maid, Irene, who loved me best of all and just told me to keep on singing and playing.
Peter, Paul, and Mary led the top ten of my repertoire. I was destined for stardom . . . even better . . . I was destined to go back to summer camp and share this new talent of mine . . . and I did. I was never homesick again.
Missy Schenk is the executive director of Green River Preserve in Cedar Mt., North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Camp Wawenock in Raymond, Maine.
May 23, 2012
Stargazing in the night sky, hiking in an ancient forest, even just feeling the breeze on a warm day — these simple things help kids find peace of mind, wonder, and a greater connection to the world. Camp is one of the best places (and in some cases, the only place) for kids to be nurtured by nature!
Time spent in nature — away from a screen — benefits kids in so many ways:
- Mental: Studies have shown that time spent in nature improves cognitive functioning.
- Physical: Playing outdoors gets kids off the couch and moving, helping them reach (and often exceed!) their recommended 60 minutes of activity time per day.
- Emotional: Studies have shown that nature reduces stress, and it allows for opportunities of self-discovery.
(Read more about these benefits and others in “Nature, Childhood, Health and Life Pathways” by Jules Pretty, et al. — a 2009 report from University of Essex.)
Nature is also a great way to “come up for air” in our technology-saturated world. In a recent blog, bestselling author Richard Louv relates that while some aspects of technology can be fun and beneficial, recent studies show there are serious cognitive and emotional detriments to a world without nature!
There's no escaping some "screen time" in kids' lives, but here's the good news: Researchers have found that when children are exposed to free play in nature at a young age, they are likely to make a lifelong connection with the outdoors. Kids might think they are just having fun at the waterfront, under the trees, or on the hill — but they are really forming a bond with nature that will offer renewal and life skills for the rest of their lives!
Photo courtesy of Trailside Discovery Camp in Anchorage, Alaska.
May 14, 2012
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie
Did you know that when your kids have the chance to engage in free, unstructured play, they’re actually developing skills that are vital to their success?
In a recent report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defended free and unstructured play as an essential piece of helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. The report also says that kids learn to manage stress and become more resilient through free play.
In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, kids need strong foundations from which to solve problems, communicate effectively, and think innovatively. This summer, you can give your kids those developmental foundations while they are having fun — and because they are having fun — at camp!
Read more about learning that takes place outside the classroom in CEO Peg Smith's recent LA Family article.
Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua near Everett, Washington.
April 26, 2012
Guest post by Audrey Monke
In her best-selling book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel discusses the importance of letting kids take healthy risks and allowing them to experience failure. Camp offers a great opportunity for kids to do exactly what Mogel recommends.
When a camper says they “can’t” or “don’t want to” do an activity, counselors encourage them to give the activity a try. Following are three of the reasons why we believe campers benefit from trying their least favorite camp activity.
Previous Negative Experience
One reason a camper may not want to try an activity is because they’ve had a previous negative experience with the activity, usually not at camp and not with experienced instructors. Falling off a horse, being dragged behind a ski boat and not getting up, or going on an excessively long hike, are all examples of negative experiences that make a person naturally inclined not to want to try again. Trying the activity at camp could lead to either a changed mind (and a new activity they like), or, at the very least, a not-as-negative experience to remember.
Fear of being humiliated. Fear of failure. Fear of heights. Fear of deep lake water. Fear of rocks. Fear of going to the bathroom in the woods. Fear of getting hurt. The list could go on.
If a camper doesn't want to do an activity because of fear, then trying the activity could be the most life-changing event that occurs for that camper during his or her camp stay. Overcoming fears, and challenging oneself to attempt something that seems impossible, can lead to great feelings of accomplishment and improved confidence. With the support and encouragement from cabin mates and counselors, campers feel on top of the world after successfully trying something they feared. The camp environment offers a supportive place for kids to learn how to overcome fears and accomplish things they didn't think were possible.
“I’m bad at that.”
Finally, another reason kids don't want to try an activity is because, based on their perception of themselves, they think they won't like it or be good at it.
A camper who sees himself as non-athletic and more adept at target sports may shy away from the more physical activities, yet trying and accomplishing them could change his perception of himself in a positive way. A camper who sees herself as a shopping-obsessed city girl and not an outdoorsy person may dread going on a backpacking trip. Yet, the experience of cooking and sleeping outdoors could lead to an appreciation for something new and a realization that she can have more than one aspect to her preferences and personality.
Sometimes, the activity a camper thought would be their least favorite becomes a favorite. So, when a camper tells us all the reasons why they "don't want to” or "can't" do an activity this summer, we will continue to encourage them to give it a try, because we know the hidden blessings in the least favorite activity.
Audrey Monke and her husband Steve have owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-three years.They are raising their own five campers (ages 8–18) at home. Audrey writes about camp and parenting at sunshineparenting.wordpress.com.
April 19, 2012
If you’ve got a multiple-kid household, you have a lot of choices when it comes to summer plans — including camp!
First, assess each individual child’s readiness for camp. Consider each child’s age, past experiences away from home, and expectations about camp. Read specific tips at The Right Time — Gauging Your Child’s Readiness for Camp. Make sure to talk through any decisions with your children as a family.
If you do decide more than one of your children is ready for camp, consider whether they would thrive at the same camp or separate camps. Siblings who are close in age and interests and consistently get along with each other may find camp even more enjoyable if given the opportunity to experience it together. And when the camp experience is over, the siblings can reminisce and engage jointly in any new hobbies they picked up over the summer.
Keep in mind, however, that camp also helps attendees develop better social skills and encourages independence and healthy risk-taking. If your children are too focused on each other, they could miss the opportunity to make new friends and spread their wings.Also, if your children don’t get along, you might want to consider sending them to different camp — you don't want unhealthy competition to color what ought to be a fun-filled experience.
You may also choose a compromise. You can always send your children to the same camp so they know someone is there if needed, but request that they be placed in separate cabins and activity groups. That way, they can compare notes when they are back home, but each will have had their own unique and rewarding experience.
Is an older sibling going off to camp this summer and leaving a younger sibling at home? Learn what you can do to help a child that is really going to miss his or her older sibling!
Thanks to Camp Howe, in Goshen, Massachusetts for the photo!
April 10, 2012
The teen years see increasing growth in hypothetical reasoning skills, development of values, and future planning - so a positive camp experience is more important than ever! Teens especially will benefit from the positive peer and mentoring relationships developed during the camp experience.
ACA has a wide range of resources for families of teens who are thinking about a camp experience.
- Developmental Milestones for early and middle adolescence help families understand what growth is taking place, and how teens can benefit from a camp experience.
- Healthy Teens provides online articles that deal with teen-specific issues from expert resources.
- Child/Adolescent Development provides articles on developmental issues - both physical and social.
- Find a Camp helps families choose the perfect camp program for teens based on a variety of factors including region of the country, interest, budget, and, of course, age.
It's never too late to have a first camp experience. Visit CampParents.org and help your teen find the perfect camp experience today!