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Kim Aycock, MST

You might be surprised to discover that even in today's frenzy of corresponding through text messages, e-mails, tweets, and other social media avenues, letter writing is still being used as a way for camps to communicate with parents. Many camps post a daily blog and upload photos for parents to view online so that they have a window into their child's camp experience; however, these efforts represent only a small piece of the big picture.

Many camps have staff write a letter (or similar correspondence) to each parent.

The Benefits

While times have certainly changed, and technology has added new options to the process of sending correspondence from staff to camper parents over the years, the benefits for using this form of communication remain worthwhile. First-time camper parents Lee and Joseph Cazayoux were thrilled to receive a letter from their nine-year-old daughter while she was attending a one-week camp in North Carolina. It read, "It is the first day. It is going well. I love camp. After this we are going to Splash. That is when you get to play in the lake." There was no "Dear Mom and Dad" or "Love, Sarah," but it was priceless nonetheless.

To the Cazayoux's and other camp parents, receiving a note from the counselor helps provide specific details that are often missing from the camper.

Christine Peterson, assistant director of Cape Cod Sea Camps, shares that they have been doing camper reports since the beginning in 1922. She feels that "it is important to inform parents about campers' progress and their accomplishments." Peterson continues, "Some campers don't share what happens in their 'camp life' because they like to keep it separate. They may pass along tidbits here and there, but I feel that it is important for the camp to share information about activities tried, friendships formed, and challenges tackled. It is so vital to provide feedback so that we can help campers recognize what they've learned and keep an open line of communication with parents."

Emily Riedel, executive director of TIC Day Camps, finds that "parent reports are a wonderful opportunity for families and staff. It is great PR for families (if done right) and a glimpse of what kids learned while at camp. It gives staff writing practice for their school and professional lives, and it forces them to get to know campers individually so they can cite specific examples and concepts learned."

Writing Skills

First drafts often lack the basics of spelling and grammar as a result of the habits many staff have formed from using "shorthand" to text and e-mail, and correcting these things can also add to time spent on the editing process. Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Camp Alleghany assistant director, stresses to her staff that "we have a reputation to uphold, and we do not want sloppy, misspelled, or grammatically incorrect literature going out to the parents."

Some camps have moved away from the handwritten letter to parents and are having staff use a computer as a way to reduce the time needed for rewrites and streamline the process. Letters can be typed and saved on a flash drive or to a central location for editing. oAuthor Heather L. Montgomery (2012) states, "One of the most challenging things about writing is getting the details down. Believe it or not, this is usually not because we are not writing well enough, but because we are not observing carefully enough."

Originally printed in Camping Magazine, excerpted and reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association 2013 American Camping Association, Inc.

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