Summer Camp Spotlight: Tumbleweed

While visiting area summer camp fairs, I learned about Tumbleweed in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. It’s been around since 1954 and has a lot of qualities of a traditional camp: outdoor play, songs and games, appreciating nature, and best of all – it’s unplugged! No iPads or phones allowed here. Of course they use technology on the admin end (very easy enrollment process), and make sure parents always have a way to reach their camper. In addition, their website and e-mails are chock full of information to assure your child has the best camp experience ever!

Below is my Q&A with Tumbleweed Camp owner Liz “Tuk Tuk” Kimmelman:

Tumbleweed Camp owners Liz (“Tuk Tuk”) and Andy (“Landshark”) Kimmelman

Q. Your camp has been around for a long time (1954)! What are some significant changes since then, and what has stayed the same?

A. Much of what our founders, Patti and Gene Tucker, originally envisioned in 1954 is still around, and we love when alumni (many of whom are now camp parents or grandparents) stop by and notice how much has stayed the same! We’ve always focused on exploring nature and playing outdoors while building new friendships and challenging ourselves to try new things. Back in 1954, camp counselors picked up campers in their personal vehicles (and probably didn’t use seatbelts), so that’s been a change for the better. Over the years, programs and activities have come and gone, but the heart of Tumbleweed has been constant. Fred Rogers once said something about how the world outside is always changing, but kids’ insides stay the same, and we like being an island of stability for our youth amidst all the ever-changing landscape of childhood.

Q. Because Tumbleweed is an “un-plugged” camp, do you see kids rushing home to “plug-in” or do you see a gradual weaning from technology?

A. That’s a great question. We don’t often get to experience what life is like at home after the camp day. What we do know is that campers are not trying to “sneak” electronics into camp or hide using them on the bus. We also know that campers get home tired, messy, and happy, and are usually in bed earlier than after a normal school day. Many of our parents report that children a less stressed, calmer, more social, which leads us to believe that even if they are going online or using screens at home, that the unplugged environment at camp is having a positive impact on their lives.

Q. How much training do your counselors have? Do you run background checks?

(L-R) Brooks “Toaster” McCall South Program Director and Community Programs Director; Josline “Bingo” Portillo, Summer South Assistant Director; Cara “tigerlily” Djiji, Summer South Assistant Director; Chanel “Froyo” Sudds, Summer South Director)
Tate “Sassafrazz” Castro Director of Expanded Learning and Tumbleweed North

A. SO MUCH! All joking aside, our counselors, at a minimum go through a full 40-hour week of on-site training that deals with everything from child development to first aid to best practices in leading camp songs. Prior to arriving at camp, counselors spend about 15 hours learning from interactive webinars and staff handbooks. All counselors who are also drivers must attain a California Class B commercial license which adds many hours to their training. All of our lifeguards go through testing and training on site in addition to their 40 hour orientation week (even if they already have their certifications). The same is true for our directors, equestrian counselors, and ropes course counselors – these positions require at least 30 additional hours of training, prep, and professional development. We know that we have a serious job to do, and we make sure that our staff are prepared for that job.

About 85% of our staff are CPR and first aid certified. The 15% that are not are assistant counselors, who are under 18, and are always with a counselor who is certified.

We run background checks, including federal, state, and county-level screenings, plus a check of the National Sex Offender Public Registry.

Q. One of your philosophy statements, “Tumbleweed offers a positive and accepting community, battling isolation.” How do you identify children that may feel isolated, and how do you distinguish that from being introverted?

A. Campers who are feeling isolated will often voice their concerns about other campers in the group, about being left out, or about not knowing what is going on. Even campers who are too young or feeling too isolated to speak about how they feel are identified by who (or lack thereof) they sit next to at lunch, what they are or are not excited about at camp, and how often they are only interacting with the counselors in the group. We find that campers who feel isolated and alone outside of camp find a great reprieve when they are at Tumbleweed – they no longer have the 24 hour stress of social media or school, and they are invited into a completely new environment where they can be whoever they want to.

I think the biggest difference between isolation and introverts is who is deciding when a child is left out. If the child is opting-out themselves from activities and choosing what they want to do and who they want to sit with, that’s more of an introvert. Isolation is when others are pushing the child away from activities and intentionally leaving them outside of the social unit. This isn’t acceptable at camp.

Q. How does your staff deal with “bullying”?

A. Relational aggression or bullying can be a problem anywhere children spend their time, and so we work hard to prevent and counteract it. We give our staff lots of tools, before camp begins, so they’re ready to make sure that everyone feels welcome and safe at camp. We’re a bit different in that each camper is in a group only with other kids their own age, and that does a lot to prevent the common situation of older groups picking on the “little kids.” Within the group, our counselors set the expectation that everyone at camp treats everyone with kindness and inclusivity, and they proactively help campers make new friends by connecting them with each other. Throughout each day, our counselors always engage closely with everyone in their group, so that when situations of relational aggression do arise, they can step in right away. They talk about kindness, validate feelings, and work to get everyone back to a place of emotional safety.

Q. I’m sure the horses are a huge draw at the camp. Are they a part of the regular camp curriculum or only as an extra program?

A. Yes! They are a big part of our program and are a regular activity that campers enjoy at camp. Each group at camp starting with our rising 1st graders get to enjoy horseback riding and horse care at least once a week. Our program that is offered after the camp day is called Twilight Riding. This is a great option for campers to dive deeper into horsemanship and riding with semi-private lessons.

Q. I see you have “Camp Dogs”! How are they involved with the camper’s activities?

Shasta A.K.A. “Bean”
Boomer A.K.A. “Boom Boom”

A. We have two camp dogs – Boomer aka Boom Boom and Shasta aka Bean. Shasta has been the camp dog for almost 7 years, and Boomer is going on year two. Since Shasta has been around longer, most folks recognize her as the camp dog – she can usually be found in the main office keeping an eye on our littlest campers. She gets to venture out often and meet campers, nosh on some lunch crumbs, and get lots of belly rubs. She really comes in handy when we have a camper who is feeling a little homesick or down – nothing cures stress, anxiety, or sadness like a cuddly pup.

Q. What ages can participate in the overnight program?

A. Our one night overnight is for campers at Tumbleweed North, rising 3rd-8th graders.

Tumbleweed Camp

Located on over 100 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains, Tumbleweed Day Camp lets kids enjoy the wonders of nature just minutes from the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Offering summer camp programs for kids and much more!

Tumbleweed Day Camp is located at:
1024 Hanley Ave Los Angeles CA 90049
(310) 472-7474

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Tumbleweed Camp. An agreed upon trade was made in exchange for advertising. All opinions are honest and 100% my own. Images provided by Tumbleweed.