Papers & Essays

Day Camps, Ontario, Canada

Camping experiences have been valued in Canada since the early 1800s when nature and appreciation of the environment were stressed. After WWII the number of residential camps increased and specialized camps evolved. Day Camps became popular in part because the chief caregiver in the family was employed. Parents have other objectives for choosing an appropriate Day Camp. They want the child to have experiences they can’t give, to meet new friends, learn skills and develop confidence. Weekly costs vary from $50 to $600. Professionals see positive benefits from camping including: learning by doing without pressure of grades, developing team-work and teaching the child to be responsible for himself and others, allowing the child to try new things under supervision, giving the child a feeling of belonging and a chance to discover who he is apart from his family. Camp directors are skilled. In choosing a camp parents should look at the training and philosophy of the director, counselor to child ratio, safety and health measures, happiness of the staff and how the camp handles special needs. Day Camps are “villages” which nurture our children.
Day Camp
Day Camp is an experience, away from home, for children. Although some camps take children at age 3 most take children age 6-8 to 16. Camps are held during school breaks and during the July and August vacation period. Programs begin about 9:30 a.m. and finish about 4:30 p.m. There are many types of Day Camps. Costs vary considerably because the service differs. For example they may provide bussing, meals, field trips or an overnight. The amount of public or private support, the length of the program and the equipment, the space and special training of the leaders also affect the parental cost. Camp sessions last from one week to four weeks. Each week costs from $50 to $600. Examples of weekly fees: A basketball camp, $250; Glen Eagle Golf Camp, $300; Yamaha Music camp, $250; Angela's horseback riding camp, $500; the Ontario Science Center camp, $325; City of Oshawa Swim and Sport camp, $130; The Harbourfront Summer Daze Camp, $50.(Exchange rate: yen=.0098 Cdn.)

Example: The Summer Daze Camp
The Harbourfront Community Centre, a publicly funded institution, holds a camp for children age 6-12 and a leadership training camp for children age 13-16. Each four-week session costs $200. Parents bring children to camp and provide bag lunches. For an additional $15 per week extended-hour care is provided. Some subsidy is available through the Toronto Star Newspaper Fresh Air Fund. The camp is directed by Neda Skific, Program Manager, Children, Youth, Adults. Neda has a degree in Recreation and Leader Training from Brock University and took additional college courses in the field. Upon graduation she worked in a program for immigrants before joining the Harbourfront Centre staff over six years ago. Most of her assistants are college or university students who are experienced campers.

I spoke with Alex, Kaylla, Liam, Robert, Briana and Raya, ages 10-12 about their experiences. Kaylla explained how the day began: " First we go to the gym and get into groups (by age)." "But if you misbehave, like punch somebody, you have to go to a lower (younger) groups," Briana added. Next we had to jog all the way around the Centre, then we did activities like sports, crafts, drama and music and field trips. Robert liked swimming best, Liam liked going to the Science Center, Alex remembered that at the Science Center she pedaled a bicycle to generate electricity to light a bulb, Robert didn't like cooking (baking cookies and making pizza), but the girls thought that activity was 'cool'. Raya liked the talent show, water fights with balloons full of water and going to the Riverdale farm. Briana missed acting in front of her parents in the final dramatic performance because her parents took her on vacation. I asked, "How did you feel the first day you went to camp? Do you remember?" Kayla said she wanted to stay with her Mom but her Mom told her she'd be okay. Robert said he wasn't exactly afraid but he didn't know whether he'd like it. He just told himself that it would be okay. Raya and Briana both acknowledged that they thought it was going to be boring, but it wasn't. Briana remembered a girl who knew no one but was going around talking to everybody. That embarrassed her. She said a friend helped when she got angry, showed her how to calm down. At the end of the session they were given year books with phone numbers of counselors and campers, but no one got around to phoning. Briana said she saw many campers at school. When asked if they would advise Japanese parents to send their kids to Day Camp, the reply was a resounding, "Yes." Robert wanted a negative observation noted. "Sometimes the counselors aren't fair." The others chimed in the positive: "You learn new things." "You learn lots and it gets you outside in fresh air having fun." "You're not just watching TV and you make new friends."

History of Camping
By the late 1800s organizations such as the YMCA, Girl Guides (Scouts), Boy Scouts and religious organizations had established residential camps in Ontario. This province with over 250,000 lakes and dense forests provides settings for appreciation of the environment, nature programs and canoeing which were the prominent features of the programs. After WWII, the number of residential camps increased substantially and during the past four decades programs have expanded. There are specialized camps which feature specific sports, drama, music, academic advancement at the child's own speed, special needs camps and faith based camps. The Ontario Camping Association lists close to 300 accredited summer residential and day camps (87day camps), which have met over 400 standards covering, health, program, staff training and certification, administration and more. There are hundreds of other camps which may meet local standards for health, supervision and safety but do not belong to the association.

The Need for Day Camps - Some Statistics.
Data furnished through Colin Lindsay's office at Statistics Canada, Ottawa revealed the high percent of parents who work and need day-time child supervision.

  • 75% of two-parent families with a child under age 16 have both parents employed.
  • 77.9% of employed women with spouse have the youngest child under age16
  • 22.0% of unemployed women with spouse have the youngest child under age 16

Typically the mother is the chief caregiver of children. The number of women in the paid work force is increasing as documented in Women in Canada (published by Statistics Canada, a gender-based report, 2004). (Paid work force is defined as anyone who is paid for work.)

  • 58% of women age 15 and older are in the paid work force, up from 42% in 1976
  • 47% of the paid work force in Canada were women, up from 37% in 1976
  • 68% of women who were single parents were employed, up from less than 50% in 1976
  • 70% of women whose youngest child was aged 3 to 5 worked, up from 37% in 1976
  • 37% of employed women were in managerial positions, up from 30% in 1987, though they tended to be represented in lower level, managerial positions.
  • 27% total female work force in part-time employment whereas only 11% of the male population were part-time employed in 2004
  • 70% of part-time employees were women, a figure which hasn't changed since the 70s

The percent of women living with their spouse declined, more women were living alone, women make up the majority of Canadians with disabilities.

What Do Parents Say?
Katrina, who is a Play Therapist, not only needs child care but wishes for her nine-year old son, Jeremy, to have outdoor experiences which she can't provide. She pays about $200 per week for Day Camps. Typically she chooses "specialty camps" that teach specific skills like circus camp, sailing camp, soccer camp, Toronto Island nature camp. She wants her son to develop confidence in new situations with new people, develop new skills and to gain knowledge. During his first camp he stayed by himself and slowly warmed to counselor now he is more open to new situations, less anxious and hesitant. Jeremy says the counselors were his best friends because they made sure he was always included. He liked rope climbing best. He learned how to tell directions from the moss on trees and about Aboriginal customs.

Jeremy, age 9, demonstrates his acrobatic skill

Carole, a hair stylist, and her husband, an electrical engineer, want their daughters to get experiences they can't offer because of time restriction. Even though they could afford resident camps, they want to spend time with the girls every evening to hear about their activities. All three daughters, now 12, 15 and 17, began going to Day Camps in near-by parks where crafts and out-door games were provided and later turned to specialty camps like tennis and drama. Emily, now 17 and fully employed in a coffee shop for this summer, went to a Musical Theatre, Dance & Drama Camp in The Beach, current cost $200 per week (less for multiple sessions) and was offered employment as a senior leader during her final two years. Carole believes that camping helped her daughters build self-confidence and introduced them to children from other cultures.

Though Lisa is a stay-at-home mother, she and her husband, Russ, responded to their eight-year-old son's wish to attend Royal Soccer Day Camp. The one week camp costs $125. James has a younger brother and sister and wanted to be with his friend at camp. He would come home and demonstrate the skills he had learned to his aunt and friends. He knew the leader appreciated their efforts because he took them swimming afterwards when they played well. Lisa wonders if he would have made more friends if he hadn't known his chum before camp.

What Do the Professionals Say?
Michael Brandwein, Educator and Author, described five benefits of camping in The Ontario Camping Association 2006 Camping Guide. (1) Children learn best by doing, hands on discovery, and in small groups, characteristics of the camp programs. (2) Camp communities remove the pressures of school where grades and permanent records prevail. Achievement is rewarded for persistent and positive actions. (3) Keywords in preparing children for life are "teamwork" and "responsibility for independent problem solving." Children are constantly put into situations that call for cooperation and compromise. They learn to meet responsibilities which affect others in their groups. (4) Camps encourage dabbling. A child can participate in a wide range of activities without the need to feel he must become an expert. They are introduced to a host of interests which they might like to pursue. (5) Camp is about belonging. The rituals inspire loyalty, making positive connections since campers are encouraged to include, not exclude others and build respect for differences between people.

Bob Ditter writes "Children learn through play. Imagination allows us to dream, to see things never seen. Though camp is certainly about making friends and having fun, it is also about being on your own and being a part of a community. We hope that people will figure out how to disagree peacefully, resolve differences and co-exist." (Camp, An American Camp Association Resource for Families, ACA, 2006)

In the publication Our Kids go to Camp writers comment: The child learns to be responsible for his belongings. Learns to define him/herself beyond the perimeters of family and school. They learn to trust adults other than their parents and teachers and form role models. Children learn to take care of themselves. The child can take risks in a supportive environment. Camp is a good outlet for the independent-seeking preteen where boundaries are expanded under supervision. The child gets a sense of belonging. (Our Kids Publications Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario, 2006).

Staff Training and Staff to Camper Ratio
In most cases the owner or director of the camp has a background in fields like out-door-education, physical education, teaching or is a specialist in his field. Often he became interested in camping as a young camper. Traditionally camps offer junior-leader jobs to campers who have attended their camp for many years and are in senior high school or university. These juniors are given leadership training before and during the camp session. The Ontario Camping Association recommends that the ratio of counselor to camper for children under 7 be 1:8 and 1:12 for children 8-16. In choosing a camp parents should look at: the training and experience of the director, the objectives of the director, the safety measures, return staff rate (which usually indicates a happy atmosphere), the program, the opportunities for the child to choose activities within the program, description of how the camp handles homesickness, bullying and special needs and the health care facilities. An African proverb says "It takes a village to raise a child." Day Camps are "villages" which nurture our children.


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