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The spring outdoor education season is in full swing at the Ranch.   Schools from across the state of Florida converge at Circle F for their trips.   These one, two, three, and in some cases week long trips, expose their student population to a whole new world.   Stepping out of the classroom is an adventure for both the teacher and students.

Effects of Outdoor Education

The schools we partner with all have an outstanding educational curriculum.    Outdoor education is not about replacing a school’s current curriculum.  Instead it compliments their program and helps to bring new exciting facets.    Every educator knows that bringing students outside of their normal learning environment acts as a catalyst to expanded learning.

Stronger Relationships

Great outdoor education programs help schools improve student relationships.    The Ranch’s program, for example, has a no electronics policy.    When students look at each other instead of their phones their communication skills improve.   Experiences in teambuilding programs, rock climbing, horseback riding and other programs bring students closer together.  This also helps them to learn how to better trust, support, and communicate with one another.

Teachers also experience an improved relationship with their students.     Students and teachers share the experience of being together outside of the classroom together.    The Ranch’s outdoor education program allows teachers to step back and observe their students while our experienced staff run the program.     This gives teachers the luxury of being able to mentor students without worrying about being the authoritarian.

Green Space Makes a Difference

Most school campuses are beautifully manicured and maintained green spaces, there is no comparison to the actual wilderness.  Many students have never experienced the outdoors.  The peace and connection that comes with being in the forest is something that can’t be measured.  Tie that with the hands-on lessons of forest or fresh water ecology and students have a real opportunity to grow.    They are able to see hands on in person examples of what they have studied in their classroom.

Outside the Comfort Zone

For some, a trip into the woods will place them outside of their comfort zone.   This might be the best effect of all.   When students push beyond their normal limits, they grow.   That growth can be expanded into other areas of their life. Each time a student succeeds in something they did not think they could do, they become stronger. The programs of most outdoor education centers help students confront their fears in a safe and supportive way.

Making a Trip Happen

No school trip just happens.   It is through the dedicate work of teachers, parents, school administration and the outdoor education facility.   Here are a few simple tips to help you and your school make a trip happen.

Know why you’re going.

At Circle F we believe that each trip should be unique to the school.   Strong outdoor education programs will help schools tailor programs to their needs.   Therefore, the school should know what they want out of a program.   Is this trip about student bonding, ecology, leadership development or all of the above. Remember to work with your school administrator in crafting your goals.    Knowing what you want and having the support of the administration is important to having a successful trip and picking the right facility.

Develop a budget

Most schools will develop a budget for their trip.   Here are a few of the big things to consider if you have never planned a trip. How much will the facility cost?  What extra costs, if any, are part of the program or facility?  Factor costs for transportation to and from the facility.

Choose a facility

Once you know your budget and what you are looking for in a trip, you can choose a facility.    Make sure to talk with the facility director.   Understand how their program will support your goals.   Discuss who will teach and run the program and ask about their credentials.   For example, the Ranch uses college graduates with backgrounds in communication, camp leadership, education and youth development.   Our staff are trained by outside contractors to insure third party independence.    A great outdoor education facilities should meet these standards.

Beyond staff, the facility should have developed lesson plans with outcomes that they can share with the school.   These plans should be designed to meet the standards of the state or match the standards of your program.   These plans help to maintain continuity in teaching throughout the whole program.

Learn about the logistic of the facility.   How are meals served?  What is the menu?  How are dietary needs handled?   What are the sleeping arrangements?  Remember to have a plan for your chaperones and understand how the facility handles their sleeping arrangements.   These by no means are all of the questions to ask.   Don’t be afraid to ask to tour the facility.

Out of the Classroom and into the Wild

The Ranch prides itself in helping facilitate amazing and memory-making experiences for our schools.   If you have never taken a trip with your class, we encourage you to step out of the classroom.   Start with a one-day trip and build up to something longer.   All outdoor education facilities will be happy to help you in the right direction.    We know you and your school won’t regret it.

 

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp and Outdoor Education Center in Lake Wales, Florida.   The outdoor education center hosts thousands of students every year from private schools across the state of Florida.    He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in the camp and outdoor education industry.

What is a Summer Counselor:

Many college aged young adults think that being a summer camp counselor sounds like a fun summer job.  Hundreds of counselor’s applications flood into Camp Director’s email boxes every year.    They dream of an easy summer job.   The real work of a camp counselor is much more difficult, but can be very rewarding.  

The magic that is camp happens when the camp activities, program, and staff come together.   When they work together they provide campers with positive impressions that in turn result in growth in the camper’s life.   The reality is that every activity or program only happens through the dedication of the staff that run them.   Any Camp Director will tell you that a camp is only as good as the staff in the cabins and the activities.   

True counselors are positive role models that campers inspire to be like in their own life.   Counselor’s actions, words, and behaviors are closely scrutinized by campers.    At Circle F Dude Ranch Camp, we have seen campers attempt to dress like counselors, talk like counselors, and even change their hair style to match counselors.    On a deeper level, we see campers demonstrate compassion, kindness, and respect as they have seen modeled by counselors around them.

These things do not happen overnight.   They happen because of the counselor’s 24-hour caregiving and modeling.   Counselors at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp find themselves working days that start at 7 AM and end around 10:30 PM.   They all sleep in cabins with campers, along with their co-counselor.   There are very few jobs that college students hold that require that length of time and dedication.   During those days’ counselors find themselves as caregivers, coaches, big sisters, big brothers, and guides.    Their attention to their children ensures that each camper has a wonderful experience. 

Traits of a Great Summer Camp Counselor:

The traits of any great counselor start with a deep passion for working and educating young people.    This must be translated into the willingness to work long hours and a dedication to their campers.   An ability to take initiative when they see things that need to be addressed.   Camper will model the behaviors they see.  Every counselor must demonstrate a lifestyle that allows them to be engaging and worthy role model for the camper.

As a Florida Summer Camp, we work with Universities and Colleges across Florida, the United States and World.  We seek to attract counselors with the right mindset.   Circle F often hires staff with major’s in education, hospitality, psychology, and exercise science.  Further more most camps are open to all college majors, and in recent years we have seen majors that span from business to astrophysics applying to camp.  The key factor is not the major but always the individual’s personal desire to provide positive impacts on kids’ lives.

Becoming a Summer Camp Counselor:

CIT or counselor in training programs are great opportunities for younger individuals.  It provides experience in working in a cabin without all the pressures of being the full-time caregiver.   Circle F started a CIT program several years ago, that helps to train 17-year-old campers the skill sets needed to step into a counselor role at 18.  

A camp counselor is more than being a summer baby sitter it is truly a youth development specialist.   One will work long hours in the outdoors.   Need to love working with children.  Most important, Counselor must want to make difference in the world.  If one is willing they will find there is no job more rewarding then summer camp work.    Do you have the right stuff to be a counselor?    Join our team.   We encourage you to check out our website and apply. 

4 Steps for Better Play with a Purpose by Ben Moss

Not long after I started as the director of Circle F Dude Ranch, I found myself in a conversation about the camp’s mission with Paul Wells, owner of camp.   We discussed many things but one of the things we came back to often was that children do not have enough opportunities to play outdoors.   We both agreed that play is critical in the development of children and needs to be part of every camper’s experience at camp.   Paul often tells me that our campers should “Play with a Purpose.”

So, what does this mean?  I think to understand “Play with a Purpose,” we should start by exploring play overall.   Play can look like many things.  It could be time spent on a playground, riding a bike, video games, board games with friends, toys, or even make-believe.  For children, almost all aspects of play are teaching them basic and needed life-skills.   Furthermore, outdoor and imaginative play is teaching a child to be creative and non-linear problem solver.    Play with other children helps focus on teamwork and conversations, which in turn helps children to expand their interpersonal communication and conflict management skills.

Play with a Purpose is realizing the underlying life skill growth that happens when we play.   Learning to allow others play with our toys, such as blocks, helps us to learn to share and be flexible in the future.   Taking turns while playing a board game teaches us the importance of patience and being part of a team.   Play that requires concentration and practice to become better, like learning to dance or shooting a bow, helps us to learn patience and perseverance.     It doesn’t take much to see the deeper value of play.

Some things in our society have begun to stand in the way of this type of play.   The days of parents telling their children to go outside and not come back until it is time to eat have disappeared.    Computers, phones, and gaming systems often take the place of sand boxes, swing sets, and riding bikes.    My focus today is not to dwell on technology; I do not see it as an evil that is destroying our children. Technology is extremely valuable and in many cases, can teach some of the life skills we have been discussing.  Like all good things, technology must be approached with moderation.  My daughter is allowed a limited amount of “screen time” each day.   Technology, however, can’t replace classic interpersonal play.   It also can’t replace the tactile experience of the real outdoor world.

So how do we provide better play with purpose times for our children?   Like many things in life there is no easy pathway.   Turning off a television or video game can be very difficult, especially if your child does not want this to happen.

Step One:            Identify and maintain “no electronic” times daily.

More and more, child physiologists and doctors are recommending that there be an unplug time every day within our homes.    A time when the television, internet, phones, or video games are turned off.    This requires our children to pick up books, play with toys, or go outside.

Step Two:            Find an outdoor playground or park to go once a week.

I always find it funny to see people play games like tennis and golf on a computer screen when they could often head to a local park to play for real with other people.   Children love playgrounds.    Within the last week, I saw the smile of my daughter as she went down a slide for the first time.    Playgrounds offer the chance for your children to meet other children and to create imaginative play.   It also can’t hurt us parents to get outside and maybe even play a little ourselves.    This is where I note how much my wife enjoyed a swing at my daughter’s playground.

Step Three:         Play with our children at least once a day.

I know we all live busy lives, but finding 15 minutes to play with our kids teaches them the world.   Any parent out there understands how our children mimic what they see.  Sitting down to play with your child gives you the opportunity to be at their level.   Teach them values in a fun way.    For example, my daughter learned to say “please” in sign language through play.    Now when she wants a block or doll that Dad is holding, she says please.   In many cases 15 minutes can become an hour when you let it.

Step Four:           Sign them up for experiences with others.

We as parents have become very guarded with our children, but their growth depends on our ability to let go and allow them to be independent.   As they get older we must give them that chance.   From a one-day field trip, to spring break camps, to two weeks of summer camp; these fun and playful opportunities to get out into the world with their peers can really change their life.

As a new year begins, I encourage you to seek out more play opportunities for your child.    Remembering that in the end its more than just fun; its teaching them to be smart, polite, and talented individuals as they grow up.

Ben Moss is the Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp in Lake Wales Florida.   He has a degree in Speech and Interpersonal Communication from Southern Illinois University.   He has worked in the field of youth development  for over 20. 

“Really me? I can’t believe it; I am so honored,” were the excited words of Dori a 15-year-old third year camper selected to light the 2016 opening campfire at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. Her contagious positive attitude mixed with an amazing approach to camp made her the perfect representative to be honored with the opening of our camp season. Months of planning, weeks of training, and days of final preparations came together in that moment. The mission of Respect, Inspire, Play, Positive Thinking, Leadership and Engagement came alive as campers and counselors began to interact.

Sunday proved to be a day of both happy reunions and the start of new friendships as campers found their way to cabins. With swim and health checks complete the real fun began with team building games, leather stamping name tags, and cabin bonding. One truly unique moment happened later in the day was when Neil a 9-year-old third year camper impressed the Circle F Staff when he noticed another camper taking an extra soda from store; something not allowed; and had enough courage to take the soda from the camper and return it to the store.   When asked why he did it he said “because it was the right thing to do.”  His leadership was not ignored because later in the week he was nominated and won the first leadership pillar award of the camp season.

IMG_0675The first few days of camp has proved to be fun-filled as campers settled into an activity schedule of climbing, swimming, skate park, wilderness camping, horseback riding, archery, arts and crafts, photography, and many others.  14-year-old third year camper, Jenna, led the way in the area of play as she actively participated in programs and made sure everyone in her group had a chance to take turn and play.  Counselors said everyone in their group had fun because of her enthusiasm. Great campers like her help other campers have an amazing summer experience. Camp always facilitates new friendships new activities being tried, and ultimately camper becoming stronger individuals.

Saturday brought the first Olympic day of the summer. Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow teams battled it out throughout the day. Campers and counselors alike took part in volleyball, kickball, tug-a-war, dodge-ball, poster making, sand castle making, knockout, and water balloon tournaments to score points for their teams. Counselor Sydney brought her normal high energy approach to the games to keep everyone involved. She was ultimately nominated by camper and counselor and won the engage pillar for the first week. The Yellow team was victorious during first session. Winning a pizza party for their team.

Last week also saw a trip to Disney’s Blizzard beach water park. A great way for the whole camp to splash around together and try out slides. Sunday brought another camp trip to Universal studios where many campers conquered roller coasters and explored the world of movies like Harry Potter.   Some camper opted to stay back at Circle F on Sunday for a fun filled day relaxing by the waterfront and playing games.

Overall week one has been non-stop fun. I have to admit as the Director I am exhausted just thinking about everything we did last week. One week of camp equals a month of fun back home. More important is all of the amazing things our campers are learning and the way they are growing as amazing young individuals. Through everything we have grown in Respect, Inspiration, Play, Positive Thinking, Leadership and engagement. At camp these are more than just words they are how we approach everything.

From water parks and amusement parks to camper activities and cabin time we are driven to be the best camp in the universe by the way we interact with each other and the world around us.   So happy to lead the best campers and staff anywhere this summer. To our parents, thank you for choosing Circle F Your children are amazing.

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.

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We have all become accustomed to instantaneously communication with our friends and loved ones through our phones, computers, and other devices.   I recently saw a refrigerator that can receive text messages and display them on a screen on the door.  I am not sure how I feel about this, but it is clear that electronic communication is part of our world to stay.   So it is very normal for parents and guardians to become a little nervous when they think about sending their child away to sleep away camp without these normal means of communication.   In a world where our children are only a text message away, how should we approach this beneficial shift in our summer communication style?

First I think there is value in all of us realizing that if we want our children to become stronger and independent individuals we must allow for space for that to happen.   Camp is the perfect place for this independence.  Campers are surrounded by caring individuals in a safe environment that encourages exploration.   We as parents are able to step back and allow for the growth.

I am, of course, not advocating that we completely stop or cut communication during the summer.  Most camps provide multiple ways for families to have positive interactions with their child while at camp.  At Circle F Dude Ranch Camp, we use a multi-level approach to communicating.   Parents and Guardians always have access to the Camp Director and Assistant Camp Director for questions or camper updates.   This is a great way to check in on your child without them realizing it.   Circle F Dude Ranch Camp counselors complete camper reports daily about every camper, including information about their activities, how well they are building friendships, and overall well-being at camp.   As directors we are always happy to share with parents how their camper is doing.IMG_0601

Our parents and guardians also use our Bunk One email and photo system.  This password protected site allows parents to send emails to their campers and receive responses back from campers with in a 48-hour period.  The emails are printed and presented to the campers with daily mail.  Parents can choose to ask their camper to handwrite a message back, which are scanned at the camp office and emailed back to the parent.   It is a modern form of letter writing.   Parents are also able to see photos of their camper in the photo galleries.

At Circle F we understand the importance of one on one communication with a camper and this is why a 5 minute phone conversation is set up each week between our campers and parents.    This allows the parent to actually speak with their child and hear how camp is going while not interrupting their camp process.   Campers love sharing their experience from the week and having that short time to talk to people from home.

Often the best way to communicate is the classic hand written letter or package.  Campers love receiving mail from home.   A fun package with things to share with their cabin is always appreciated.   Before sending packages a parent should check with a camp to find out their rules on things like food and other items in the cabins.    Post cards, letters, and notes always make campers smile.

Even with a disconnection form the electronics that drive so much of our communication today, it is still possible for families to have a great dialogue with their camper.    You might be surprised at the end of camp that your camper might even be a better communicator overall.   Less time on the phone almost always equals more face to face conversations and relationship building with cabin mates and the caring adults of camp.

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp.   He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.

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Last week was a super exciting and busy week here at camp. With just two weeks to the start of staff training and a little over three weeks to the start of summer camp, everything is abuzz with activity in the office.  This week saw the arrival of extreme sports Department head Jeremy Freeman and other leadership team staff will be arriving in the next few days.   The program department is hard at work putting together final details and testing program ideas. Our days are long, but every bit of it is worth it for our camper community.

It is hard to believe but even during our busy time Program Coordinator Afton Weiner and I found time to shoot our first Blog (They tell me that’s a video blog).   You can watch it by clicking HERE

It was a lot of fun to film here at the office and gives a lot of details about our new programs for the summer. Watch out for more blog posts coming in the future.

One exciting announcement in the blog was the arrival of the Glacier inflatable slide. There are only 3 glaciers in the US and only one in the state of Florida, which is right here at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp.  This slide is a giant and sure to be a challenge to any camper or staff climbing it.   The slide is over 17 feet tall and when standing on top you find yourself looking down on the summit slide and the blob launch tower.  The slide provides a steeper drop and a really fast experience.   More photos and information about the glacier are coming soon to our Facebook and YouTube channel keep an eye out for it.

Summer camp is almost here and I encourage all parents to make their final reservations for the summer before time runs out. Well, I know it’s a short blog this week but there is a lot of work to do here to get things ready for the summer. Check in next week when we return to our normal schedule of topics and talk about communication with camp.

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.

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OVERCOMING HOMESICKNESS AT CAMP! By Ben Moss

The number one reason parents give for not sending their child to sleep away camp is that the child is not ready for camp.  Most parents fear their camper will face homesickness and not be able to handle the camp setting.   In a recent blog post I wrote about techniques that parents can use at home to prepare their child for summer camp. Today, we will explore how great summer camps like Circle F Dude Ranch Camp handle homesickness.

The first thing to understand is that no matter the camp, the location, or the activities most campers at some point will experience varied levels of homesickness.   This includes even campers that have been to camp before.   It is perfectly natural to miss our home, family, and friends.   Camp can be overwhelming for some in the first day or two.

This is why great summer camps train their counselors on the signs of homesickness.   In the first few days of camp from the minute they arrive, and when needed even longer, staff keep close eye on camper interactions.  An active camper is often a camper free of homesickness.  Counselors and senior staff design opening day and the first few days of camp to be action packed with little down time.   The less time a camper has to think about home the better they will acclimate to the camp community.

When campers have friends to experience summer camp activities together, they almost always do better on the homesickness front.   This is why Circle F Dude Ranch takes a family camp approach where all of our campers and staff are viewed as brothers and sisters.    Counselors work hard to form bonds between campers early in the camp process.   They play games, do icebreaking activities, and lead activities to help campers get to know each other.   These things make huge impacts on the success at sleep away camp.

We also work to control communication between home and campers.   Campers need about three days away from home to settle in and get used to camp.   After these three days, phone calls usually help; however, sometimes they will reset the homesickness clock.   We have seen campers laughing and smiling at camp, but crying when they get on the phone with parents and guardians.   This is where you have to trust your summer camp team.   Always remember they are working to ensure your camper has the best experience.    If your camper is showing signs of homesickness through letters home or via the phone, then make sure to contact the Camp Director.

Camp Directors will work with parents to help their camper better acclimate.   When parents work with their camp team and follow the advice their campers often quickly overcome their homesickness.

At Circle F Dude Ranch, we are looking forward to our 64 fantastic summer camp season.  My last words of advice are if you are concerned about homesickness, talk with your camp directly; they will always be happy to help.

Next week we explore techniques for communicating with your camper while they are at camp.

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp.   He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.

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It may be hard to believe that the sleep-away camp season is right around the corner, but in our case at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp we are only little over six weeks from the start of our first summer session. Many parents ask us how does our overnight camp deal with homesickness issues? While there are many techniques that are used by our trained staff, there are several important things that parents can do from home before their camper ever depart for camp.

Camp is an amazing place where campers learn personal reasonability, experience the outdoors, and grow in their interpersonal relationships. This growth is facilitated by a camper’s separation from their parents during their camp session.That being said, every camper experiences a little bit of sadness when they leave their parents.As a parent myself, I think we all hope that they miss us at least a little bit while they are gone.

How we as parents manage that sadness often directly affects the success of our child while at sleep-away camp. We often forget that the words that we say and how we act has a great amount of bearing on our children.Parents who spend the weeks leading up to camp talking about how sad they will be while their child is away will in many ways are set their child up to not be successful at camp. Children hear that their parents need them and can’t survive without them.

Often at summer camp we will hear from campers about how their mother or father need them to be home and they need to leave. Campers often receive letters from home about how everyone misses them at home including the dog, cat, and other pets and they wish they were there. As parents we have to ask ourselves, what is the message that I am sending to my child? Is it a message that suggests that they need to return home? Messages like this in turn fuel homesickness in most campers.

I am not saying that we should refrain from telling our children we will miss them. We, however, must focus our message on the positive. Our campers must hear from parents how important this experience will be for them. How the parent wants them to have this positive and fun camp experience and that as parents, we are behind them always.

Furthermore, taking the time to show the camper the camp facility, the camp website or pictures can be a huge help. If possible, it is even better to schedule a tour at the camp. Our Florida summer camp has hundreds of visits every year with parents and campers. The ability to see the place they will be attending camp and meet staff in advance always helps campers. Most important is to have a positive conversation or conversations about camp before the overnight camp starts. Answer your camper’s questions and if needed be in contact with the summer camp director for help answering questions.

As a camp director, but more as a parent, I want to see all of our campers be successful as they experience summer camp.I hope these tips help point you in the right direction as you start preparations for this summer. Know that the summer camp director is always happy to help you and if you have any questions you should always feel comfortable contacting your camp’s staff. At Circle F Dude Ranch, we happily take calls all day long and on weekends as we prepare for the summer.IMG_9355

Look forward to seeing you this summer. Check out our next post to find out more about the techniques we use here at camp to combat homesickness and help our camper acclimate to camp.

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.

As a director at Florida’s premier summer camp I often get asked the question by parents “Is my child ready for sleep-away camp?” While there is no simple answer to that question there is a few things that any parent can look at to evaluate their child’s readiness for camp.

Most parents need to start by asking themselves if they are ready to let their child go to sleep away Camp. In the late 1990’s a trend of parents struggling with separation from their children began to emerge. Today we see more parents that are dealing with separation from their children then we see homesickness with the campers.

As a parent you have to ask yourself the important questions about the value of allowing your child to build independence from you. Many times children are ready for camp, but parents have to let go. All too often I see campers that are fully ready for camp, but their parent’s unwillingness to separate from them holds them back.

Camp is an amazing place where children learn independence, build new relationships, confidence, and experience the outdoor world in a safe environment. With that said it does require some basic skills for success from the child.

If this is the first sleep away camp experience for your child, they should be able to demonstrate they can spend small amounts of time away from you. This may have been an overnight with a grandparent or a sleep over at a friend’s house. In some cases, this does not even need to be an overnight, but simply able to spend the day away from a parent.

Campers should also be able to manage some basic hygiene. For example, at our camp all campers must take a shower once a day. Counselors will help younger campers lay out their clothing, ensure they brush their teeth and help with most hygiene issues. A camper, however should be able to take a shower on their own or at the very least with minimal assistance.

Children should also be able to understand how to follow a base schedule for the day. In the case of Circle F Dude Ranch Camp our younger campers are escorted to activities while older campers change between activities on their own. Most campers who attend school and function on that schedule are able to be successful at camp.horses

Success at camp is as much about the camper and family as it is about the camp itself. All parents and guardians should take a close look at the summer camp where they choose to send their son or daughter. Quality camps have staff trained to help with campers with homesickness, building friends, and having the best experience possible. Their teams are invested in the power of camp and how to make a positive impact on your camper. At Circle F Dude Ranch Camp, we encourage you to tour our facility and speak regularly with the camp directors. There are no wrong questions when it comes to the well-being of your child for the summer.

Check out our next week’s post on how to prepare your camper for the Summer!

Ben Moss is the Camp Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. He has over 20 years of youth development experience working in youth programing and summer camps.