For the past two years, I have had the pure delight of spreading the word about Camp Stomping Ground, a truly exceptional summer camp run by a passionate team of visionary thinkers with decades of experience leading, advising, and training many traditional summer camps all over the world. Seeing what works well, and what's still missing at even excellent traditional camps, Stomping Ground directors Laura Kriegel and Jack Schott decided to create a camp that incorporates the best things traditional overnight camps offer--fun land and water-based activities around a lake, opportunities for friendship and team-building exercises, arts and crafts, fun and thoughtful games, theater arts, baking, etc, while incorporating truly revolutionary principles like self-direction, inclusion, cooperation, and radical empathy.
Stomping Ground's focus is on more than enjoying nature, building friendships, and developing autonomy; they aim to provide the kind of experience that transforms kids' vision of what is possible, and to empower them to be a force for good in a changing, challenging world. They do this by providing lots of support for kids as they learn to listen to their own voice while developing empathy, comfort with diversity, conflict resolution skills, and emotional regulation/social skills.
The staff to camper ratio is very small, which allows their highly-trained and well-supported staff to provide a space for every child to feel supported, validated, and respected--all while having tons of fun and making new friends, which, again, they actually facilitate and support, rather than simply providing the opportunities and letting kids find their own way, which is how many camps operate. Hiring diverse staff who have demonstrated experience in child-centered approaches, and then training them extensively in cooperation vs. coercion-based leadership approaches is one of the things that makes Stomping Ground different, along with their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and affordability, which is reflected in their voluntary sliding scale fee structure, which starts at just $499 per week--a fraction of what similar sleepaway camps in the Catskills charge! They are also committed to working with people who can't afford the minimum to enable kids to come who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend, which speaks volumes of their commitment to economic diversity and making this incredible opportunity available to as many families as possible.
From personal experience, though, Stomping Ground has been an incredible gift to our family. The kid I picked up after that first week at camp was a different kid than the one I had dropped off. My sensitive, sometimes-socially-anxious and insecure-but-feisty-and-fun, picky-eating son was confident, relaxed, and joyful after a week away trying new things and basking in such a child-centered culture. The Staff and Directors spent the week paying close attention to and delighting in my son and he was transformed by the experience. He made meaningful connections with a lot of new people and made a few good friends, and he literally tripled his food repertoire. Sun-Nut Butter, who knew?! He decided then and there that he would be returning the next year, but for TWO weeks, and he regaled us all the way home with highlights of his week, which included an epic spaghetti battle, all-camp night games, gaga, foam swords and LARP, fishing, making his own bow, and mattress races on the lake. The substantial time that Laura and Jack had spent personally talking with me and Sam over the phone and visiting us at our house to get acquainted months and weeks before camp really helped us feel connected, as did the follow up phone calls to process and help them plan for next year--they bent over backwards to meet all of our specific requests and suggestions.
New this year, they have added round trip van transportation from Chestnut Hill to their camp in Deposit, NY, which is in the Catskills, just outside Binghamton, NY. When my son heard this, he informed us he wants to ride with the other kids in the van--he's looking forward to the 3 hours of singing, games, and ice-breaking activities they will do. I was surprised, but not really, given how much trust he has developed with the Stomping Ground staff who will be accompanying the kids on the ride.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have about my family's experiences with Stomping Ground, and you can get a great sense of who they are by checking out their website: campstompingground.com, but if you are at all curious, please come out to their local Meet and Greet/Open House event on Sunday, January 29th at Earth Bread and Brewery between 11:30 and 1:30. You and your kids can get acquainted with the directors and many of the key staff while enjoying free pizza and refreshments, and also meet some of the other local families who will be going this summer. The directors will also be at the SCH Summer Camp Fair the day before, so feel free to check them out there, if Sunday is not an option for you. Info about the Camp Fair is available in a separate post and also at http://www.sch.org/page/about-sch/2017-camp-fair
Best of luck in your camp search,
Mary A. Harris,
Proud mom of Sam, Camp Stomping Ground camper