We had just finished the first session at camp and everything was running smoothly. Great weather, great staff and the campers seemed to be actually listening to what we had to say!
Out on the field a set of tents was set up as a returning group cleaned them out after a rugged three-day hike. I wandered over to the tents to check in with the staff from this particular trip.
It was a co-ed hike made up of the oldest guys and girls in the camp, and the trip seemed to be very successful. The trip director came over to say hello when I noticed that the number of tents did not match the number of tents I thought was necessary for the co-ed hike.
When I asked about the discrepancy, I was told that they were short a tent for the hike. During staff training we had drummed into the heads of the staff that you should never sleep in a tent alone with a camper, so to solve the problem the co-ed staff ended up sleeping together in a tent!
It was one of those moments when the blood pressure rises and you start to imagine the phone calls you will receive in a couple of weeks from concerned parents regarding the behavior of your staff!
One of the most frequently asked questions prospective parents ask about our co-ed summer camp program concerns the amount of time that the boys and girls are together. Typically, this is from the parent of a teen-ager who is enveloped with a case of raging hormones. The parents simply want to be considerate of the camp; they want to leave it standing!
Camping at the younger ages does not have these same challenges and interactions. Young male campers have no real earthly idea why God would want to create girls, and the girls are too young to care. There does come that magical point in development, usually around 13, when the girls start to get "interested" in the guys, who are typically lagging behind and still have no clue about the opposite sex.
Programmatically you need to be intentional when dealing with a co-ed camping experience. The draw of certain activities will allow you time for same-gender activities and for co-ed experiences.
Regardless of what is often being passed as "conventional wisdom", there are differences between boys and girls. For some reason the girls are not beating down the doors of the program director so they can take fishing and rocketeering.
Likewise, the boys are rarely to be seen signing up for papermaking and crazy crafts. There is enough common ground in activities to enable some social interaction.
The most popular activities seem to be those involving the waterfront such as water skiing, sailing and scuba. Volleyball, climbing wall and riflery are also popular activities.
The operation of a boys' camp and a girls' camp sharing some key activity areas and programs allows healthy amount of interaction when needed yet allows you to program separately too!
We purposely do not plan co-ed evening activities. Boys and girls need time with members of their own sex, free from the pressures of posturing and looking good to impress someone else you really don't know!
Last summer I "interviewed" a set of 16-year-old girls who had just arrived back from an extended co-ed trip. I asked them if they would rather have the boys on the trip or would they like to do it without the boys? The answer surprised me.
I thought they would want the boys on the trip, but the opposite was true. They saw some value in having time with the girls without the pressure to "look good" when the boys were around. I concluded that we continue to need to be intentional about our programming. Do things for a reason.
Staffing a co-ed camp has its own unique flavors. Besides the obvious creative "after hour" activities between staff members, the approach to the daily program adds a unique twist to the day.
Don't let the staff talk you into a co-ed activity without carefully thinking about the impact to the campers. Of course the counseling staff would rather do an activity in the companionship of the female staff, but is that the best thing for the campers?
When planning an evening activity the male staff will be quite comfortable to decide after dinner on the way to the evening activity. The females would rather know days in advance so they can take a trip to Wal-Mart to purchase the necessary supplies, and then spend the afternoon in a planning session.
God wired us uniquely, and it is the responsibility of the camp director to understand these wonderful differences and use them to nurture a harmonious program.
Staff training time is the best place to proactively set the standards of the camp so that your staff can always be good role models for the campers and meet the expectations of the parents.
I've discovered that if the standards are clearly articulated then the problems down the way are small. Of course every year, like the sharing of the tents, something new pops up and needs to be added!
Bob Strodel is a second generation Camp Director serving as the Executive Director of Christian Camps and Conferences, Inc. They operate Camp Brookwoods for Boys, Camp Deer Run for Girls, the Brookwoods Conference Center and Moose River Outpost, a camp for Angel Tree kids. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.