Day Camp Excursions

By Susan Grosse

Day camps are big business with fierce competition. Sports camps, YMCA and YWCA camps, recreation departments, churches, and community camps are all vying for the interest and attention of parents and children.

The more quality activities a camp can offer, the more likely it will be a first choice for families.

What makes a day camp most attractive? Water!

Exactly what the allure is when it comes to water remains a mystery, but there is no doubt it is an attraction for both adults and children.

Water provides a chance to cool off, have fun, and learn new skills. It can be found in a swimming pool (indoor or outdoor), lake, pond, river, splash pad, wading pool, or waterpark.

It can even be from a hose, sprinkler system, or collection of buckets and tubs.

And the activities are endless--swim lessons, water exercise, recreational water games, small-craft activities, fishing, science experiments, and waterpark adventures--and all fall under the umbrella of enticement and enjoyment.

If your organization owns a pool or is situated on a natural water source, you probably already have made safe aquatic participation a high priority, and have a risk-management plan in place.

Those who do not own an aquatic venue should consider a field trip to a local pool, waterpark, community park, outdoor water venue, or area splash pad.

On the other hand, kids can have just as much fun creating a water experience using a garden hose, Slip ‘n Slide mat, buckets, or tubs.

If you are going to another location, be sure that a safe experience can be provided for campers.

Contact that venue ahead of time to ask:

• Are there lifeguards on duty?
• Are the lifeguards currently certified by a national agency? Which agency?
• What is the lifeguard-to-patron ratio?
• Are there separate water areas for non-swimmers as well as for deepwater swimmers?
• Are swimmers required to wear swimsuits and swim caps?
• At what age are swimmers permitted in the water without a parent?
• What is the length of time swimmers can stay in the water?

If you are going to a park, community playground splash pad, or other natural water area, visit the venue ahead of time to consider: 

• Is the water area such that a child could drown?
• Who will act as lifeguard and assume the responsibility of keeping surveillance on participants?
• How would 9-1-1 be notified if necessary?
• Are there any staff members (such as a park ranger) available during the visit?
• How many staff members are needed for supervision?
• Will children need a change of clothes?
• Are bathroom facilities on site?
• Is there an additional activity charge, such as a fee to rent paddle boats, etc.?
• How clean is the venue? (Check both water and land for human trash, as well as for animal droppings.)
• Do you have an emergency action plan for an activity at a venue away from camp?
• What additional permission forms are needed?
• What safety rules will be needed while at the venue?

If you are staging your own water experience, plan it with the staff members.


• Planning age-appropriate activities, rather than just “free time.”
• The area where activities will be staged. (Evaluate to ensure it is free from hazards, clean, and an appropriate surface for barefoot activities.)
• The setup and takedown of the activity. (This should take place before the children arrive and after they leave.)
• Safety rules needed for the activity.
• The staff member who will be responsible for responding to an emergency. (That person should be currently certified in CPR and first aid for the age level of participants. Remember, child CPR is different than adult.)
• Is there an emergency action plan for staged water activities?
• What the children will wear for the activity. (Is a change of clothes needed?)
• Ways of limiting contagion risk in sharing non-chlorinated water, as well as in sharing equipment.
• Any additional parent permission needed.

Water activities are a high point of summer for millions of children. Promote the activities in brochures and on your website. Let parents know that you are planning for the safety of each child.

Depending on the type of venue and water activity, precautions might include:

• Limiting the type(s) of water activities available to various age groups
• Ensuring certified lifeguards are on duty
• Monitoring lifeguard-to-participant ratio
• Increasing staff-to-participant ratio during aquatic activities
• Requiring a preliminary swim test to determine skill levels.

Although water is a highlight and attraction for day camps, it also requires a little extra planning to ensure it is safe. With a few additional steps, you and your parents can have peace of mind while the participants have a ball!

Susan Grosse is a Water Safety Instructor Trainer and Lifeguarding Instructor Trainer for the American Red Cross. She is nationally recognized for her presentations, as well as publishing in the area of aquatics. Her areas of specialty are risk management, instructional swim, therapeutic/adapted aquatics, aquatic exercise, and canoeing. She has worked at both day camps and resident camps in Wisconsin. She can be reached via e-mail at