Summer camps can be some of the most exciting and memorable things that kids experience. Learning in school is fun, but it’s a whole different experience when children get to devote days to the subjects and activities they love.
What really takes the cake is when campers get to meet their heroes, the people doing what they love day in, day out. Whether your camp is focused on coding, engineering, or the performing arts, few things will be as unforgettable for kids as getting to meet and learn from real-life developers, rocket scientists, or dancers.
Finding, reaching out to, and organizing these experts might seem like an impossible task. But by approaching it one step at a time in a systematic way, you’ll be able to give your campers an experience they’ll never forget.
Finding experts and business leaders willing to collaborate
Try contacting local teachers. Most will already know a few industry experts or business leaders to reach out to. At the very least, they’ll know someone who knows someone. That’s why the quickest and easiest way to find people is through word of mouth, education writer Janelle Cox says.
If a teacher recommends someone, chances are that expert has presented to children before and knows how to speak to them.
Don’t worry if you can’t find any appropriate people this way. There are plenty of organizations you can reach out to. Francine Fabricant, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark at Cengage have compiled a fantastic list of resources in their book, Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work.
Those resources include
- The alumni office of the local college or university
- The campus career center
- The leaders of campus clubs and organizations
- Professional business associations
You don’t have to restrict yourself to your local community when searching for experts to speak at your summer camp. Microsoft offers summer camp organizers a fast and easy way to find and approach potential guest speakers through their Skype in the Classroom service. If you host a science or STEM-based summer camp, Skype a Scientist could also be a fantastic resource.
Reaching out to experts
Reaching out will probably be the toughest part of the process. Give each expert all of the information they’ll need to make a decision right off the bat, says John Stackhouse, a professor at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada. Rather than being coy, you should be up front about who you are, what you want the potential speaker to do, whom they will be speaking to, and on what date you would like them to attend.
If you have a number of dates available and several subjects that an expert could give presentations or demonstrations on, you may want to include an online form with your initial message. That way, the person can reply quickly, and you’ll have all of the information you need in one place.
Increase your chances of success by making clear what your experts will get in return, says Teri Stokes, principal at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama. “I think it is important for businesses to know they will get something out of our partnership too — such as recognition in the weekly newsletter, which in our case, is seen by parents of 550 students,” Stokes says.
In your case, it might be having the company’s brand on display at the camp or on the camp’s website. Giving back to children and the community will be enough for most experts, but it never hurts to make clear what you can offer.
Do the preparation work for your guest
Things go smoothest when you don’t force your guests to do homework before their presentation. Instead, have your campers do the work as part of the experience.
Once you have confirmed one or more experts, reach out to them again with a short form that asks for details about who they are, what they do, and how long they have been doing it. This information can then be used to “prep your class with background knowledge and inquiry stem questions, and get them excited for your guest,” says teacher Lindsey Petlak. Make sure to frontload the information so kids get the most out of the experience.
Prepare campers further by having them develop questions based on the work of the expert, says Gillian Parrish, a poetry teacher at Washington University in St. Louis. You don’t even have to require guests to attend the camp in person. Skype and Zoom are both excellent ways to host virtual guest speakers, Parrish says.
If this is a route you are considering, an interview format could be helpful. It requires even less preparation time of your guest and is an excellent way to use your camper’s questions.
When it comes to making your summer camp experience as memorable as possible, there’s no time like the present. The schedules of experts and local business leaders can fill up fast, so start reaching out now.