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Observations on Using Camp Charter Buses

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Why do some camps require campers to arrive by chartered bus?

One reason is that many ‘child experts’ recommend riding chartered buses to camp as psychologically smart.  Admittedly, the first time I heard that at a conference, as a mom, I was skeptical…but ‘the expert’ offered several compelling arguments!

Let your child leave you, rather than vice versa.  He (or she) is leaving you, the parent/guardian, behind, while he/she is heading off for camp and new adventures.  The parent is the one usually in tears seeing off the bus!  The alternative is parent/guardian taking him/her to camp, settling him/her in their new bunk…then driving off, leaving him/her in an unfamiliar place where he/she may not know anyone, and often the camper is in tears, acting abandoned! More on this later…

Camp starts earlier when one rides the bus – one makes new friends on the bus, many watch the camp DVD, sing camp songs and hear tales of camp lore from experienced campers (which may or may not be factual) and by the time they arrive at the camp gates, even if they are a first timer, they have friends and feel part of the group.

Costs.  A dad called about forty years ago with two requests/suggestions: chartered buses to camp and cut down the end of camp activities (Stewart had 3 days back then). He was delightful in his campaign, ending with “if I take my boys to camp and pick them up at the end, the costs of gas, hotel/motel stays and eating out costs almost as much as the camp fee itself.  Even for those clipping coupons, that gets expensive!”  (He was making a point: he worked). Using the bus allows parents not to take off work for camp opening, justifying taking more days at the end of camp when it is so important to campers to share their adventures with their parents! Many families say they use the end of camp as a ‘mini-vacation’ family celebration.

Safety. Chartered buses are statistically safer modes of transportation than private cars. Campers are asked to bring a snack/drink and since each bus has a bathroom, there are no scheduled stops until they arrive at camp (except for designated camper pickups).  Cell phones enable the camp to stay in touch with the bus during the trip.

If it is so much better for campers to arrive by chartered bus, why doesn’t Stewart/ Heart require it? Empathy for Parents.  A few years ago the majority of campers arrived by chartered buses from around the state, but then the era of ‘helicopter’ parents came into being. Parents became more fearful and some felt they had to meet the counselor in person. Si and I empathized.

There are others on the advantages list for chartered buses – some strictly emotional!  My first exposure to this was in 1967, Si & my first summer at Stewart.  A darling towheaded little boy about 6-7, was a second year camper but when his mother started to leave, he clung to her car door handle, sobbing loudly and piteously, running along the side of the car. Tears ran down my face as I watched, not believing she could actually drive away and leave that baby.  I can still see her driving out the front gate, when he turned around TOTALLY DRY EYED and said “Hog Dog, she is finally gone, now we can have fun!”  I was stunned and speechless in disbelief.

Later, I asked him what all that was about on Opening Day and this was the answer: “Aw, Kathy, she expects me to cry and act like I don’t want her to leave. If I didn’t, her feelings would be hurt.” (Remember, he was 6-7).

Over the years I have heard that same statement many times and wondered how we as parents communicate that to our children.  I do not have the answers.  Then there are those few campers who fear separation so much they need to be consoled while their parents drive off:  that is gut-wrenching on parents, child and staff!  When those same campers get on a chartered bus, few will make a scene because they don’t want to lose face in front of their new peers!

It is understandable for parents to want to meet the counselor(s) but I have never known any parents to meet the counselor, then not leave their camper.  When I queried an ‘expert’ on what to tell parents who felt they had to be able to look the counselor in the eye before leaving, the reply was “If they have researched the camp and made their decision, then they have to have confidence in the camp’s ownership/leaders to have picked the best staff possible. After that, it too often becomes about the parent, rather than the child.”

Heart and Stewart make every effort to meet the needs of concerned parents before and during camp as we want both campers AND parents to enjoy the camp experience! It has to be a team effort, starting before arrival!

As a parent, I personally have done both arrival methods. As a camp owner, I have seen the advantages and disadvantages of both. My experience is that campers arriving by chartered bus usually make a faster adjustment to camp and show less anxiety on Opening Day.

Years ago wanting to be the first to select a bunk caused campers to want parents to bring them –and some would be waiting for the gates to open!  Both camps established bunk lotteries (another parental request!) to make this a non-factor.

In today’s technological world the posting of hundreds of photographs on Opening Day (as well as every day) enables parents who utilize a chartered bus to experience Opening Day vicariously. Emails of adjustment concern to George, Jeb, Meredith at Stewart and Jane, Hannah and Monique at Heart are answered as quickly as possible – after checking with both the camper AND his counselor – to see how he/she is adjusting.  Times have changed since 1967 in communication to/from camp!

Taking advantage of the chartered bus (if there is one from your area) is food for thought: sending a child to camp via chartered bus definitely has advantages!

But bottom line, both Heart and Stewart are going to welcome your camper however he/she arrives! We recognize that each camp family knows his/her child better than anyone and knows what is in the best interests of that child. We are just so excited to be spending time with them and humbled that parents have entrusted their most precious beings to us!
Kathy Ragsdale

Editor’s Note: Kathy Ragsdale is the matriarch of Camp Stewart and The Heart.  This is her 49th summer at Stewart and 39th at Heart to be passionately involved on a daily basis. She is convinced that if everyone had a summer camp experience the world would function better – especially politically!

Reference: Buy A Bus By Matthews Buses.

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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