There are thousands of English Summer Camps being held all around the world every year.
Some organizations are well equipped with books and a day-by-day program, some offer drama classes and games, some other will be based on sports and the outdoors... which by the way are all great opportunities!
But what is really making a difference? Well, there are many factors and here are my 6 tips to help you organize the best Summer Camp, even if this is the first time you are willing to try this on your own.
Tip # 1 - Location, location, location
Identifing the right place for your day camp is key to your success. Most schools offer a summer program on their grounds, but I find it quite disheartening -and not really summery- for the students who've just finished school and they have to go back to it! In my experience, kids will be more willing to come if your camp takes place in a typical summer location. it's best to choose a place where most of your activities can be done outdoor but, in case of rain - or exceptionally hot weather! - you should be able to keep the kids indoor: a guest farmhouse, a restaurant with a garden, a sports club or a city park... whatever screams holiday and fun!
Tip #2 - Safety first
When choosing your location you have to keep in mind some safety rules and make sure that the place you have chosen fullfills those standards. Here are a few examples:
1. Fenced property
Since you'll be working with young children, this is the most important safety standard your location has to fit: children will have some free time during the day and you want them to be safe at any time!
2. Child-friendly environment
A nice guest farmhouse can be a great place, surrounded by nature, open spaces, farm animals and vegetable gardens... but make sure that the property complies with all the safety rules and that the owner can designate a specific area for your activities. In case there is a swimming pool, a pond or a lake nearby, make sure children don't have free access to them: if this is not granted, you might want to consider another location.
3. Appropriate outdoor and indoor spaces.
These spaces have to be suitable for the number of children you will set as your maximum group size: you don't want a place crammed with furniture or other things that may fall off and be harmful.
Tip #3 - Tutor - students ratio
Once you have set your group size limit, you should consider this important aspect, because you want your camp to be interactive. I usually suggest 1 tutor per 7 or 8 children maximum. This will give you the opportunity to talk and interact with each child during games, activities and lessons.
How large should your groups be? Well, the sky is your limit, but our experience tells us that keeping it under 30 makes your camp a lot more manageable and you will deliver a good quality product. If you wish to open it to a larger number then you should consider 1 tutor per 7/8 children and at least 2 supervisors.
Tip #4 - Plan ahead
Planning is a must and you have to do it in advance: you need a timetable with all the activities, crafts, games, free time carefully scheduled, even a back-up plan -what if it rains and I need something to replace my outdoor activity?-.
Once your program is laid out you will be able to organize your material: printing worksheets, creating flashcards, buying or collecting materials for your crafts. For example, we love recycling and teaching kids the importance of reusing, so during the rest of the year we become serial hoarders, literally: cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, plastic bottles... anything can become a work of art!
Tip #5 - Mother tongue or bilingual tutors: what's the difference?
This is the second best question after "Who came first the chicken or the egg?". In our camps we experienced both cases and I have to say that unless they have a basic notion of the native language, tutors cannot fully relate to children between 6 and 12 years old. Of course, some countries may be far more advanced than Italy in teaching English in public schools, but in our experience children are still not able to understand all it is being said and they often "check information", which means that they will ask you in their native language if what they understood is what you delivered. If the tutor won't be able to confirm it or correct the child misunderstanding, then the camp becomes less effective: tutors and kids will never make that special bond that develops into a urge for communication in a foreign language and it would turn into a repetition of words and songs without a real connection to English as a "living language".
Tip #6 - Staff meetings
Your program will run smoothly if everybody in your team knows exactly what to do: first of all put on your board a printed copy of the program with all the activities day by day. Everybody should be able to look at it any time during the day and know exactly when, what, for how long they will have to carry the activity on. Every morning take a few minutes to show them the materials and the worksheets they will be using (they should be listed in the program anyhow!) and invite them to share their opinions: sometimes an activity can morphe into a whole new experience thanks to their ideas!