About Dan


Dan Weir has been working in youth development & summer camp for over 20 years. He is a host on the CampHacker Podcast, volunteers at with American Camp Association NY-NJ & the New York State Camp Directors Association, and works at the YMCA of Long Island. He tweets at @danlovescamp.



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Entries in summer camp (6)


The most intense moment of dodgeball

This is the most intense moment in any dodgeball game. 

It's the moment when someone decides are they going to go for it? hang back and hide? hang back and taunt?  There are fewer decisions in a camper's day that are so telling.


Summer Camp & Comedy

Watch this skit by comedians Kristen Schall and Kurt Braunohler. This is summer camp!



An elevator speech that works.

For years I've been hearing from industry leaders like Gary Forster that a summer camp director needs to have a great elevator speech. 

The term "elevator speech" or "elevator pitch" refers to a concise and compelling description of a product (in this case summer camp).  Roughly in a minute, a director wants to be able to convey to a stranger the magic, purpose, and need for a child to go to summer camp.  In a field that is based so heavily on having a positive relationship and trust with parents, it is key that your speech is dialed in to your audience.

BusinessWeek wrote a great article on "The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch" but it is missing something.  It is missing the important question "Why?".

This question is answered in the TED Talk by Simon Sinek. Simon's lecture featured below is is titled "How great leaders inspire action."  His examples of Apple, TiVo and other tech companies are great comparisons to the differences in a camp directors' elevator speeches. 

In a minute, summer camp professionals need to get past their bells and whistles (waterfront inflatibles, climbing towers) and answer the question "Why?".  Why should my child go to your camp? Why should I trust you with my child?  Why should I pay you $1500 to do what my town recreation program will do for a quarter of the price? 

If you can't answer any of these questions, it's time to re-think your speech.  Parents don't care how much you've spent on a water slide or an ATV.  They care about the impact your camp is going to have on their child's life.


For parents: Top 10 questions to ask at a Summer Camp Fair.

This will be my fourth year of attending ACA NJ’s and ACA NY’s Summer Camp Fairs as a camp director.   As a parent, I can’t imagine what it is like to attend a fair.   While every camp at these fairs is part of the American Camping Association, each one offers a completely different experience. At a camp fair, 30 summer camps displays can all look the same after a few minutes (even some use the same photos!).   Every booth has pictures of swim areas, ropes courses, basketball courts, and smiley campers.

Most camp directors will talk about what you want to hear – kids having fun while being safe with an experienced staff.  Here is a cheat sheet for the “tough” questions to ask a camp director.  “Tough” is in quotations because any experienced camp director will be thrilled with these questions.  These questions will not only paint an accurate picture of the camp but make you feel like you had a real conversation about the camp (nothing is worse than sales pitch!).

Top ten questions to ask at a Summer Camp Fair.

1)      Do you have open houses or camp tours available before the summer? Trust me, you want to see the camp.  You want sit on the bed your child might sleep in, taste the food your child would eat 3 meals a day, see the lake/pool they would swim in.  If you can’t tour the facilities prior to camp, this place isn’t worth your time.

2)      What is the mission of your camp? This should be an easy question for a camp director to answer.   Every camp has a type of experience it provides.  If they are “a sports camp” or “horseback riding camp”, what else does the child get out of the camp? If they can’t answer this, definitely move on.

3)      What type of child comes to (or succeeds at) your camp? With this one, watch carefully how the camp director talks about children.  You’ll know immediately from their tone if this matches up with someone you want watching your child. Don’t be afraid to describe your child in detail and ask them “will my child fit in at your camp?” 

4)      How experienced are you? Where do you live on camp?  Ideally the camp director will answer “this will be my 14th summer working at camp, 6th summer as a director; I’m currently earning my Master’s Degree in Youth Development; I live on site literally in the middle of camp.” (This is my answer!) The camp director should have at least 4 years experience working with children.  If the camp director does not live on site, ask "how do they handle issues that happen at night?"

5)      How experienced are your summer staff?  How many are returning from last summer? A high retention rate (55% or higher) of staff is a good sign that the camp has positive culture.   Camp is about creating a community.  A solid community among the staff will trickle down to the campers feeling welcomed at camp.   You should be more concerned with the staff members’ experience working with children than the employees' age.

6)      How many staff live in a cabin with my child? Who else lives in the cabin? Camps will tell you they have a 1 staff to 4 campers ratio, but that doesn’t mean that is who they live with.  A sneaky camp director might factor in the maintenance or administration staff into this ratio.  Find out who sleeps in the same cabin as your child and you will get a feel of who really watches your child.

7)      How experienced is your medical staff? Ideally you want a doctor on site.  All ACA camps should have a doctor on retainer that visits the camp when needed. An experienced RN is a great second best.  Some camps will only have an EMT on site.  If this is the case, how experienced is the EMT?  Follow it up with questions of medical emergencies and allergies if needed.   They might say all staff are First Aid/CPR certified, but still ask about their lead medical staff.

8)      How did you score on your last ACA site visit?  This will automatically make the camp director freak out.  If they say anything less than 100%, ask them what they had a “no” on.  An experienced camp director will be comfortable answering this question.

9)      How did you handle the H1N1 last year?  Every camp director should talk about hand washing and sanitizing food and living areas. If they stare blankly back at you, run away!

10)   Can you tell me about your staff training? Ideally their staff training is at least a week long covering every topic from how to fight homesickness to blood bourne pathogens.  Every experienced camp director knows a great staff training leads to a great rest of the summer.

Bonus question if you are feeling saucy: “if your camp is doing so well, why are you here?”.  An inexperienced camp director’s jaw will immediately drop.  An experienced camp director will talk about how they actively recruit for new families to join their solid program.


Featured in an article titled "Amped for Camp" in the NY Post in June '08 

From http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/item_4RUXND1CcYg2QO5DddKq9K


Last Updated: 12:08 AM, June 21, 2008
Posted: 12:08 AM, June 21, 2008

FOR some parents, it's the most wonderful time of the year - when kids with trunks full of newly name-tagged togs set off for sleep-away camp.

Color war, talent shows, campfires . . . and hazing, homesickness and mystery meat. All that and more are recounted in "Camp Camp," Roger Bennett and Jules Shell's fun new, photo-heavy book, tellingly subtitled, "Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies."

"Camp really is a place of so many firsts, where many people come of age, all at the same time," Bennett tells The Post. "It's a petri dish of achievement, accomplishment and experimentation."

It's also a challenge, especially for first-time campers - and the parents who send them. Below, some tips from the pros.


"The secret of camp is that everybody is homesick, no matter how often they've been away," says Bennett, a former counselor.

And while it's hard to ignore a child's pleas, don't rush out to retrieve him, says Frost Valley YMCA's Dan Weir.

"A good parent will say, 'I'll come get you,' and that's a way to be supportive and be there for your child, but that leaves a little bit of a window of self-doubt for the child to wiggle into," the camp director says.

"[But] a great parent will say, 'This isn't a punishment, we really want you to give this a good try. If you don't want to go back next year, you don't have to.' This really sets the child up to succeed, since all the child might need is a few days of getting acclimated."

Way before your child gets on the bus, talk about camp as the vacation it is - one filled with fun and freedom.

Just make sure you don't cry when you say goodbye. If you do tend to get misty, wear sunglasses!


Kids love presents - especially when they're far from home.

Just don't send them candy.

"Food allergies are such a big deal," says Weir of the YMCA. "We want to make sure every child is able to come to camp."

Don't even think of smuggling in brownies in a hollowed-out Harry Potter book. Camp staffers have gotten pretty savvy to subterfuge. Nor should you send valuables, such as iPods, which can go missing in a hurry.

Instead, send gifts an entire bunk can love, like card and board games, Frisbees, mini- water guns and Mad Libs, the kinds of things that Weir says "build camaraderie and the friendships they're trying to make at camp."

And don't overdo the e-mail. Multiple messages per day will make a child feel as if he or she is needed at home - or abandoning the folks - and may only fuel homesickness, not foil it.


Getting your kid to get over the idea of having to bed down with a bevy of bunkmates - and share showers and sink space - is easier than it sounds.

"Children love sleepovers, and if they view camp as a group sleepover that lasts a whole summer, they'll generally embrace the idea," says Susan Inglese of camping resource site funcampstuff.com. After all, how often does a child get to have a dozen pals over for a sleepover that lasts for weeks, without pesky parents around?

"It's all how you pitch it to a child," Weir adds. " 'You'll never have any privacy,' is the worst thing you can say to a child, but saying that their new bunkmates are a second family . . . is a great way to set up kids' expectations."

Don't worry about the food, either. It probably won't be as good as their usual sushi in the city, but they won't starve. In fact, Weir says, counselors - who aren't much older than the campers - are often instrumental at introducing them to new foods.

You may want to tip them (or at least thank them) later.