‘Tis the season of parents (and caregivers, and other adults-connected-to-children with whom you as a camp professional interact). You’ve likely dealt with parents and caregivers just about every day of this season, but that interaction tends to ramp up toward the end of the summer — especially if you are trying to capture feedback from your parent community through end-of-summer surveys.

I wrote a few weeks ago about an evidence-based hack for segmenting parents into one of four general groups. Each group represents a different reason or motivation for seeking and choosing a camp experience for a child. The four motives for seeking camp experiences we have identified through our ongoing Impact Study research include:

  1. Camp is the most important thing! Parents believe in the developmental value of camp and prioritize camp over other summer activities. Parents or caregivers in this category have typically been a camper or camp staff member in the past.
  2. Camp is great, but so are sports and vacations and summer school. Parents who value camp and value other developmental experiences, such as family vacation, sports, music, or summer academic programs.
  3. Camp sounds fun, let’s try that! Parents in this group are often piecing together a summer schedule that fits their childcare needs and makes for a fun summer for their child. They do not necessarily prioritize camp over other experiences — it’s more about logistics and whether or not their kid has fun.
  4. Camp? Yeah right. For families in this category, camp is either not a possibility (cost, location, accessibility, cultural relevance), or there are just too many barriers to make it seem worthwhile.

Important note: Even though these four general categories seem to represent the parents in the Impact Study, they might not represent your parent community. You can understand your community best when you ask them — perhaps as a market segmentation project — questions about why and how they seek camp experiences, what they value most in those experiences, and what barriers or challenges they have related to getting their child to camp.

In that post, I introduced a chart that suggested what parents in each of these four categories might need or expect from their child’s camp experience. Again, this is by no means an exhaustive or definitive profile, but it is a handy way to think about different parents and the different things that might cause them to feel satisfied (or not!) in a post-camp survey. In this post, we will go one step further to include some creative ways you might gather feedback from each segment in your end-of-camp survey (and some creative non-survey ways too).

Segment & Their Needs

Possibilities for Great Feedback

Camp is the most important thing!

  • Tradition, nostalgia, to identify with camp mission
  • To feel valued, like a member of the camp family
  • Promise that their child will get the same great things out of camp that they did

Consider asking as a part of pre-camp enrollment materials:

  • Tell us about your experience at camp as a kid. What do you remember most?
  • What is most important about your childhood camp experience that you want your child to have?

Post-camp survey:

  • What parts of your childhood camp experience were most similar to your experience as a child?
  • In what ways has camp changed for your child? How do you feel about that?

Get creative!

  • Host a focus group with alumni who are now parents, ask them to help strategize how to spread their passion for camp
  • #CampMemoriesLastForever . . . or some kind of hashtag campaign
  • Alumni alumni alumni. Invest in high-level database management, engagement, and empowerment of camp alumni

Camp is great, but so are sports and vacations and summer school.

  • Needs lots of scheduling options to fit busy summer schedule
  • Want a wide variety of camp activities, including opportunities for sport, art, or academic enrichment


Consider asking as a part of pre-camp enrollment materials:

  • What else are you planning for your child/family this summer?
  • How does camp fit into your summer plans?
  • What do you hope your child learns at camp and how do expect they will use this in other places?

Post-camp survey:

  • Please tell us about your experience enrolling your child at camp.
  • Describe the parts of camp you think were most helpful to your child’s overall learning.

Get creative!

  • Ask a select group of parents to share their summer scheduling priorities and constraints.
  • Ask campers to draw or describe their ideal summer---places they would go, activities they would do, time they would spend with family, friends, camp friends, etc.

Camp sounds fun, let’s try that!

  • Needs convenience of scheduling, multi-week options for families looking for comprehensive childcare
  • Cost accessibility
  • Convenience of drop off and pick up, anything to make it easier for busy working parents

Consider asking as a part of pre-camp enrollment materials:

  • Whatever you do here, keep it short and simple! Goal is to make the enrollment process as streamlined as possible.
  • Rating-type questions that people can respond to easily, especially related to ease of enrollment, access to information, affordability

Post-camp survey:

  • Numerical rating questions related to ease of enrollment, drop-off and pick-up, and camp fees
  • Ask questions in such a way that parents/caregivers feel valued and their voice heard

Get creative!

  • Identify a few parents in this group to do a focus group or one-on-one interview. Be sure to offer some kind of incentive — their time is limited!
  • Have a staff member with either a clipboard or an iPad at pick-up to conduct quick, one-question surveys with parents about ease of pick-up/drop-off, communication with staff, what their kids like best about camp, etc. Have a fun incentive, like a raffle or a small camp item to give away.

Camp? Yeah right.

  • Opportunities to get a feel for camp in short, low- to no-cost ways
  • Excellent service from camp staff to assure child safety and affirm the hard work parent/caregiver had to do to get their child to camp
  • Understanding of cultural relevance and competence

Consider asking as a part of pre-camp enrollment materials:

  • Again, keep enrollment materials as short and straight-forward as possible!
  • Give parents/caregivers the option to complete a short survey about convenience, affordability, perceptions of quality — be sure to include an incentive here so people will opt in to the survey.

Post-camp survey:

  • Numerical rating questions related to perceptions of safety and quality of the camp experience
  • Ask for suggestions for improving camp and attracting new families.

Get creative!

  • Engage a camper committee to help you understand how to better serve specific communities.
  • Engage leaders from the communities you are currently serving or hope to serve better to ensure cultural relevance and accessibility of your camp experience.

The point here is not to tell you exactly what and how you should be talking with parents; rather, this chart is (hopefully) a way to start thinking about your parents as unique individuals who can probably be described by broad categories. These broad categories (or segments, as marketing people call them) can help you better anticipate parent satisfaction, and, in turn, provide a camp experience that exceeds those expectations. The result? Parent feedback that is actually useful, and parents who are inclined to enroll their child at camp next summer, and, ideally, excited to tell everyone they know.

Bottom line: Every parent you serve is a unique individual with a unique set of needs and expectations. Asking parents basic questions about their satisfaction with various aspects of camp is difficult because of the very individual nature of satisfaction. And while we do not want to lose sight of the unique needs of our parents/caregivers and their children, it can be difficult to ask about and meet the needs of every individual you serve. Basic segmentation — using the four parent-motives I’ve shared here, or some other system developed for your community — is a powerful way you can acknowledge individual differences while still gathering feedback that you can use.

How are you going to get great feedback from your parents and caregivers? Perhaps try one small or new thing yet this season, or use this post as a way to think about your (ack!) summer 2020 pre-camp planning.

Until then, happy evaluating!

Laurie Browne, PhD, is the director of research at ACA. She specializes in ACA's Youth Outcomes Battery and supporting camps in their research and evaluation efforts. Prior to joining ACA, Laurie was an assistant professor in the Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management at California State University-Chico.  Laurie received her PhD from the University of Utah, where she studied youth development and research methods.

Thanks to our research partner, Redwoods.


Additional thanks goes to our research supporter, Chaco

Photo courtesy of Beth Sholom Day Camp in Roslyn Heights, NY