Written by Dan Istanik
Summer camp can be a massive moment in the life of children and teens to create memories that last a lifetime. In many ways, it is a rite of passage. Even if the location is a few miles away, it may be the first extended time away from home and parents meaning a big moment occurs within the ministry year.
As pastors and leaders partner with parents, it is a crucial moment spiritually, emotionally, socially and developmentally. Parents NEED to be included in the experience even if they are not there in-person.
The greatest thing you can do from beginning to end is to allow parents to be a part of the experience and feel connected.
Here are just a few ways to include parents in your summer camp experience:
SETTING UP CAMP
Summer camp starts in the fall at the very first parent meeting or contact of the school year. Dates, cost and initial information need to be on the calendar and out to parents as soon as possible.
Families are busy – this is no secret. Most families are also on a budget and camp comes with a price tag. If your ministry is helping offset the cost, parents need to know what to plan and how much to budget.
If you want to include parents and their kids in summer camp, one of the best ways is to set up a date for camp as early as possible on your personal and professional calendar as well as with the families.
Planning allows them to talk and pray about the opportunity in advance without unnecessary pressure. It also helps parents prepare themselves and their children emotionally for the first big trip away from home.
THE CAMP CIRCLE
Many of you may remember a moment where children and teens circle up at the end of camp. Campfires burn as campers sing songs, share stories, and pray. This moment is memorable for campers at the end of the week.
Circle time before camp is just as important. Gather everyone together for a time of prayer the morning you leave for camp. This huddle can be a time to share the final schedules and travel information before you get on the bus. It also creates a moment for families to pray for each other over the week providing a meaningful opportunity where parents can dedicate their child to God.
OFFLINE BUT STILL CONNECTED
A great way to prevent homesickness, drama, and distractions is to ask campers to leave their cellphones and devices at home. Parents and students might initially balk at this idea.
If you are willing to make this guideline, it will make the camp experience better. It helps with homesick campers, allows campers to experience independence and maturity safely, and campers get involved with the fun forgetting they miss home.
With cellphones and devices absent, you can offer other ways to stay connected. Consider having parents write letters and pack care packages in advance labeled with a day of the week. Collect those at check-in to be hand out during the week at meals or chapel time.
Another simple way for parents to write is to offer parents your email address so emails can be printed off and delivered to campers.
PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
Students may not have their phones or devices, but you and your team do so take a ton of pictures and share them with parents daily. If your parents have signed a picture release form, use social media like Facebook or Instagram.
For a more private sharing option, consider the Church Snaps app (www.churchsnaps.com).
Church Snaps and similar applications will allow you to create an account and folder to be viewed by invitation only. It offers notes making it perfect for sharing updates and prayer requests throughout the week.
Nothing is as compelling to parents than when they see “proof of life” pictures to show their child is having fun laughing and smiling.
Finally, one of the most amazing ways to have parents stay informed and involved is to create a daily update/newsletter/blog. At the end of the day after the campers are in bed, send out a personal email update to all the families sharing the stories of the day, praises, spiritual decisions, and particular highlights.
Summer Camp is a busy week, and what happens at the beginning is sometimes quickly forgotten by the end; therefore, you have an opportunity. Create a way to allow parents into your heart and the camp experience so they can look back and ask questions when their child gets home. One idea is to journal the blessing of each day publicly.
Be creative and thoughtful when it comes to the families and parents of your campers. God will do mighty things at camp, and the best way to keep those blessings going is to make sure to include parents so they can follow up with discipleship at home in the weeks to come.
Written by DAN ISTVANIK, who is our lead content writer and a 5th to 8th-grade pastor in Lancaster, PA. He has been working in youth ministry for over 22 years, serving churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia. He is a speaker, ministry coach, writer, and contributing to a variety of other great ministry resources. He shares daily middle school ministry specific resources, and hints on his own site “The Middle Years” at middleyearsministry.com.