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FAQs

When was Four Winds originally founded? What are some of the traditions?

Four Winds Camp opened to campers in 1927. Over the next many years, Ruth Brown (Camp’s founder) encouraged generations of children at camp to explore and discover new friendships, to sing and write about the day’s great capers, to share stories and laughter with others, and to show diligence in learning responsibility and stewardship.

Tradition is important in our camp, and much of that tradition is held in our core values of community, simplicity, and creativity. For so many generations, Four Winds campers have been riding the same trails, singing the same songs, gathering in the same places, sailing the same waters, enjoying the same sense of belonging, and sharing the same spirit of adventure. Though we balance this deep sense of commitment to tradition with fresh ideas and evolving perspectives, the stability that arises from our tradition is a touchstone for campers, staff, and alumni.

Click here to read more about the traditions and history of Four Winds and here to read more about Ruth Brown’s story.

Why are the sessions four weeks in length — that seems long?

We believe in a four-week camp experience. Longer term camps are more common in other parts of the country, but on the West Coast, they’re rare. While shorter term camps can be great (after all, we offer one in our Junior Session), they tend to emphasize fun, activities, and having a successful experience away from home. The magic that you’ll read about all over this website, and that you’ll hear about if you talk with Four Winds campers, staff, or alumni, takes time to build. In four weeks, there is time for a slower pace, for ups and downs, to make a friend, have a fight, and make up again. Four weeks allows for a far greater impact, so we stick with it.

Why do you wear uniforms at Camp?

Uniforms play an important role in the culture of camp. We strongly believe that people should not be judged by the clothes they wear, and with a large financial aid and international camper population, uniforms are a great equalizer. The bloomers (originally an article of clothing from the women’s suffrage movement) and middies have been the girls’ uniform for most of camp’s history. While they are uniquely un-modern most find them comfortable and practical and we love the uniqueness and connection it gives us to the past. Boys wear navy blue shorts and matching shirt. The campers actually love the uniforms they get when they arrive at camp and we often have a difficult time getting them back at the end of the session!

How do I register my child for Camp?

Parents can register their child for camp via our online registration process. Please ensure to fill out all of the information carefully and go through the entirety of the process and click the submit button.

When are the sessions for this upcoming summer?

View the Session & Tuition Page with information about the dates for this upcoming summer.

Where exactly is the property located?

We are located in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The islands are approximately 80 miles north of Seattle.

Four Winds is specifically located in Deer Harbor on Orcas Island, which is one of the ferry serviced islands. Click here and zoom out to view our exact location on Google Maps.

Where will my child live at Camp?

One of the best parts about being a camper at Four Winds is having the opportunity to be close to and live in an amazingly beautiful natural setting!

Female campers live in simple rustic cabins or in canvas wall tents up on wooden platforms. Male campers live in canvas wall tents. In both the cabins and tents, campers sleep in bunk beds with comfortable mattresses. Typically, each cabin is comprised of between four and six campers of the same gender and grade and either one or two counselors.

Click here to watch a video with further information about living spaces at Camp.

Can my child be in a cabin or tent with their friend?

We do everything we can to place first year campers with one friend of the same grade and gender. There’s a cabin mate request form that families are given to complete when their child is enrolled at Camp.

After the first year, campers are welcome to make requests, but we do not make promises about fulfilling them. We fully embrace the adage, “Make new friends, and keep the old.” We’ve found that when we place the same friend group in cabins and tents together year after year that the social fabric of camp becomes cliquish and stagnant, and so we mix the kids up from year to year.

Cabin and tent groupings (and for female campers whether they will be living in a cabin or a tent) will be announced to Campers on arrival day.

What's the story with bathrooms and showers?

We have shower houses dispersed throughout the cabins and tents. The closest shower house is no more than about 50 yards (45 meters) from each cabin and tent. The shower houses have hot running water and electricity, unlike our cabins and tents. Because we conserve water at camp, showers are taken every other day. They are taken in private stalls, with a private changing area attached to each shower stall. There are also a number of gender neutral, one person at a time, bathrooms spread throughout the Camp property.

What if my child is homesick?

Children are at camp for a long time, and homesickness does occur from time to time; it is only natural. It’s a wonderful growth experience when children, with the help of parents and counselors, are able to overcome those feelings and have a great time at Camp. Our counseling staff members are certainly sensitive to this important issue, and are well prepared and able to give support, comfort, and encouragement to your child should they begin to miss home. If this is a concern for you, you can contact the Office Staff at any time before or during camp.

There is one strategy that we’ve found over the years is bound for failure – we call it the “If you don’t like it after a week I’ll come pick you up” strategy. This sets up a situation where the child views the end of the first week as the finish line. Kids who know they are staying at Camp for four weeks are much more willing to let go of homesickness feelings and have fun, whereas kids who believe that they can go home in a week if they’re still homesick will try to hold onto those feelings of homesickness so they can go home. When the end of the week comes, parents are met with a brutal choice between betraying the deal they made with their child and sending them a message that they’re not capable of being away from home.

In place of this strategy, we suggest the “We know you can do this” strategy. Whenever the issue of homesickness comes up, tell your child how confident you are in them. Keep this up when you’re writing letters during the session. We’ve found that when parents are sending this message and our counselors are giving encouragement and support, some 99% of homesick kids feel much better by the end of a week or so, and are dying to come back to camp the following summer.

If you feel you must make the “I’ll pick you up” bargain in order to convince your child to come to Camp, please call us. Chances are, it’s better to wait a year to send that child to Camp.

Four Winds is a co-ed Camp — how does that work in everyday Camp life?

Four Winds was originally founded in 1927 by Ruth Brown as a girls camp and then expanded to include boys in 1931. In the early days, the Girls and Boys Camps ran separately until they merged in the 1960s.

Nowadays, Four Winds is a completely co-ed experience in terms of activities, meals and special celebrations. Accommodation wise, female campers live in cabins or tents on Girls Side of Camp and male campers live in tents on Boys Side of Camp.

Shower houses are located nearby the cabins and tents that include sinks, toilets and private showers. There are bathroom facilities all over Camp for campers to access during the day when they are away from their cabin or tent, including a number of gender neutral bathrooms.

Where do most campers and staff come from? How many campers and staff are there at Camp?

About 20% of our campers come from Washington State and 30% from California with the remainder coming from across the United States and internationally.

Numbers wise, we have 170 campers during our month long sessions and 90 campers during our Junior Session week.

Our staff members are geographically diverse with staff coming from both all over the US and overseas. Internationally, we have employed staff from a variety of countries including Australia, Hungary, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden and the UK.

Numbers wise, we hire approximately 100 staff and, on average, 25 staff members are usually from overseas.

How do you select and screen your staff?

As stated above, our staff come from all over the US and the world. Many are past Four Winds campers who are extremely familiar with the traditions, program and philosophy of Camp. Other staff are new to Four Winds and find us through referrals from former staff or Camp families, through job postings online or through International Visa Sponsor organizations.

We look for dedicated, passionate staff who have had prior experience working with children and putting children’s needs above their own. Our screening process is very thorough. All staff are required to submit a detailed application form and provide three references who submit reference letters on the applicant’s behalf. Successful candidates then take part in an in depth phone or video call interview with our Assistant Director.

All hired staff undergo a full Criminal Background Check (including a state and national Sex Offender check). International staff undergo a full Criminal Background Check through their International Visa Sponsor before being interviewed by our Assistant Director.

What activities are available at Camp? How does my child sign up for activities?

Campers take three classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and another three on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and remain in these for the duration of the Session. Campers pre-register for three classes via online forms prior to their arrival at camp and then choose another three after finding out more about the areas and classes offered on the first day of camp.

Click here to read more detailed information about the Activities offered at Camp and how the sign ups work.

What is the weather like at Camp?

Weather is pretty moderate on Orcas Island in the summer overall – temperatures are cooler in June but warm up to the 80s (high 20s – low 30s celsius) daily in July and August. The evenings are still on the cooler side and it can rain at times so layers are recommended and a rain jacket is a must.

How does my child get to Camp?

We have tons of options. Of course, being on an island affects everything we do with respect to transportation, but we’ve gotten pretty good at helping families figure it out over the years.

For families from the Bay Area and from Southern California, we have group flights that we arrange through a travel agent. Information is given to parents when their Camper is enrolled. For those flights as well as others from all over the world, we have staff at SeaTac airport to pick up campers at the gates as they get off their planes. From SeaTac, campers ride buses with staff to Skyline Marina in Anacortes, where we have chartered boats which bring the campers directly to the Four Winds dock.

We can also meet campers at the Woodland Park in Seattle and at Skyline Marina in Anacortes. Of course parents can also drop off their child directly at our property.

Can my child arrive a few days late, or leave early?

Unfortunately, no. Over the years, we’ve found that the first few days are critical to forming group dynamics and establishing norms within the cabin or tent group, and that the last few days are essential to wrapping up a camper’s experience. The first and last 72 hours of Camp are perhaps the most important times of the session and missing them affects not only the camper that’s gone, but the entire cabin or tent group. We recognize that this occasionally presents a scheduling challenge for families. We stick to this policy because we believe it’s one of the things that makes Four Winds a truly excellent Camp experience, and we appreciate your understanding.

Click here to view the session dates for the upcoming summer.

How do I communicate with my child?

The art of letter writing is alive and well at Four Winds in the summer. Kids love getting letters, and we encourage you to write them. It’s a good idea to talk with your child about how many letters you’ll write before Camp starts so they have a good idea of what to expect. Many parents write a letter to their child and mail it a day to before the session begins so the camper receives a letter on the first day.

If you live overseas or are traveling during the time that your child is at Camp, the Office Staff will arrange for your letters to be scanned, printed and given to your child to ensure that they receive them in a more timely manner than relying on international postal services.

Click here to view the mailing address and shipping information.

Can I call Camp to check on my child?

Definitely. At Camp, we believe that people grow when they challenge themselves. Challenge is, by definition, hard. We recognize that the separation between parents and children that Camp represents is often at least as hard on the parents as it is on the children. If you need a little reassurance, just call. We’re happy to give you a report.

Can I visit Camp for a tour before I sign up?

Families can tour Camp almost any time of year, but coming in the summer time during a session is especially beneficial. Nearly any day will work and all that we ask is that you stop in at the office to obtain a visitor’s tie and name tag before embarking on your tour. It is also possible to have a tour with a staff member with advance notice.

Click here to read more about the options available to travel to Orcas Island.

Can I visit my child while they are at Camp?

Parents can visit their Camper/s during the middle two weeks of the month long sessions, known as the “Visiting Window”.

This year’s dates and further information and guidelines about visits can be found on the Visiting Your Camper page.