Transcript of our interview with Riley, Founder and Director
What is unique about Urban Adventure Camp?
We're unique in a lot of ways. First off, as a director and owner of a camp, I'm a lot younger than most. The way that I run my camp is in contrast to how I found other camps were running when I was growing up. I found that they were always really constrictive, and they were always really creative and smaller spaces.
But that's not what I really enjoyed about the summertime as a kid. I wanted to have more freedom, do more, see more. And when I was going to these other camps, I found myself in a gymnasium for an afternoon with lots of other kids there. But we're not that ... We have different versions of tag and dodgeball. I just wanted to be able to expand what the camp experience can be. Our camp works in a way that we are really trying to promote independence, and we're going to do that through pushing kids to go slightly outside of their comfort zone, because that's where we feel the most growth comes from.
What type of child is successful at Urban Adventure Camp?
The ideal camper or the campers who tend to do the best are the ones who come in open-minded, excited for new experiences, and willing to push themselves and indulge in some of the things that might sound a little more wacky than what they're used to.
Is the schedule structured or is it more open?
This year, we're actually going to be taking a different approach and moving it further away from the minimal structure that we had in the past to a really free-choice structure. So in the past, we've had places that we've visited and we've taken kids. And this year, we want to throw that all out and let the kids decide. And the way we're going to do this is by gamifying the camp structure.
So when the kids get into their groups, about five or six campers with one counsellor, they're going to be moving throughout the city and trying to collect points.... The way they're moving throughout the city is going to be decided by them, and the way that they try to earn the rewards is going to be through their own collective decision making. What we really like about this is that when the kids see something that they want to do, they're going to be more engaged with it because they're the ones that decided they wanted to go check out a place like that.
One of the things we try to promote the most is independence and getting kids prepared for that moment in their life when they start moving away from active supervision everywhere they go. And so by allowing them to direct themselves around the city, obviously with a counsellor, but without the counsellor instructing them how to get there directly, that really helps.
So we're going to be giving them the tools to figure out how to get to their places and instructions on the different games and lessons that we have while they're there. But mostly, it's going to be them picking and getting to those places collectively together rather than with our counsellors’ help. And so, yes, we're really trying to be completely spontaneous and have a unique experience for every kid every day throughout every different week of the camp.
How does your staff deal with behavioural issues?
We're going to be doing a long training before the camp goes through. Our philosophy around behavioural issues is two-tiered in a way, when it comes to serious offenses: So kids hitting each other or nasty name calling we have a zero-tolerance policy about. So when a kid hits another kid, they'll be getting a call to their parents, and that'll be dealt with swiftly and partially.
We really don't want to create an environment where kids are scared about coming to camp the next day, or they're worried about speaking up and feel threatened by any other camper. That being said, we also understand that there's lots of conflicts that arise with campers that are learning opportunities. So in a camp like ours that focuses so much on independence and maturity, we want to be able to have discussions with the kids about why what they're doing is wrong.
And so our first thing, once we've evaluated what happened, is to discuss with both of them separately, bringing them together and then trying to work it out in a way that builds on where the infractions came from and learning from it. Beyond that, we also always want to inform the parents and make sure that they know what's going on, what was said, and how we dealt with it. But really, we see a lot of the conflicts, almost all of the conflicts that we've had to date, we have been able to solve because they've been learning opportunities.
What do campers value most about their experience at Urban Adventure Camp?
Some parents really want to see their kid gain those skills that we're promoting —getting on the subway, going downtown, knowing where you are, recognizing different street signs, remembering where you came from and how to get back.
There's some campers who we've seen leaps and bounds over the week from where they started to where they are. And most of the time, that's just confidence that's built up and saying, “No, you will get this.” A lot of parents have really come to us and said, “I'm so grateful for how much I've seen them change and how much more willing they are to be out and about in the city.”
The other thing is, like I was saying in comparison to other camps, is the variety that parents feel their kids get …. And don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic camps out there. But there are also camps that don't feel like they've shaken things up very much.... They feel more like a daycare, in essence, where it's a place to be, but it doesn't really expand on learning new things like you do in the school year. So I think that a lot of parents like the variety and uniqueness of our camp, as well as the actual skills, the tangibles that their kids are learning.
What message do you have for new campers?
Just come have fun with us. You're going to have a good time. And if you come in with that mindset, I promise to keep it up for you. And the only time kids aren't having fun are the same kids who show up on the first day and they have the attitude: I don't want to have fun. And the record of seeing kids come in and they're excited and they stay excited for the whole time, it happens every single week. And so if you come in with some good energy and you're excited about it, I promise to keep it up for you.