Over the past decade, I’ve received countless thank-you notes from parents and campers on behalf of our camp staff and summer camp program. Although we spend our year raising money for new bells and whistles at camp, no one has ever sent me a thank-you for installing the new high ropes course, or purchasing new paddleboats. It’s not that the campers don’t love the fun stuff, it’s just not the reason they love camp. Every note has always been about the positive impact that a camp staff member, or staff team, has made on a child.
Camp has always been about building strong relationships. Ask any camp “lifer” to tell you about camp, I guarantee they’ll tell you tales of adventure involving the craziest camp characters, the coolest camp counselor, and about the friends they made. Good camps provide exciting activities, GREAT camps provide opportunities to make friends to share in the excitement. I share this as cautionary advice to my fellow camps, who are forever chasing the perfect new amenity or toy. As camp staff, we need to remember, making fun and making a difference are not the same thing!
For a successful summer, make time to build relationships between fellow campers, campers with staff, and campers with the camp. Here are a just a few time tested tips, feel free to add some by emailing me…
- Learn a few good icebreakers.
- Play icebreakers that help campers learn something new about each other. Start your session off by helping campers find out what they have in common with each other, as well as the interesting things that make them unique.
- Name games that encourage campers to share hobbies in addition to their names are great. As are activities in which campers need to “interview” one another.
- Here are some suggestions: Postman,Toilet-Paper Tell-All, or Face to Face. You can adapt most name games to include more personal information.
- Choose “favorites” – one at a time.
- Every camper should feel that they are getting special attention from you at one time or another.
- Pledge to give every camper your undivided attention for a few moments each day. Some days you can talk with a few campers about their favorite movie over lunch, and sing a silly song with others in a canoe in the afternoon, etc. As much as possible, take advantage of moments when you can talk to individual campers about life, camp, or whatever. The topic doesn’t matter as much as the time.
- Be conscientious about which camper you sit next to during an activity, or lunch, or who you call on first. Keep mental notes about which campers you need to assign special tasks, choose as a buddy, etc.
- Eat lunch with your group.
- Our days are so packed with activities, that lunch is one of the few “down-times” that you have to sit with your campers, in a circle, and chat.
- Establish this type of routine from the first day on. Tell your group that it is important to the group on the first day, and they will most likely go along with it.
- Praise in public, critique in private.
- Praise campers in front of the group, say something positive to their parents when you call home, and always give campers a chance to shine. This builds self-esteem, reinforces the value of RESPECT, and strengthens your relationship with the camper.
- Things do not always go smoothly, and there will be times when you need to address issues. You will be surprised how much campers will listen to you when you respect their feelings and address issues away from their peers. People often remember their heroes for how they made them feel when they were most vulnerable.
- Create a group identity
- Make being in your group something special. A secret handshake, group cheer, special lunch activity, wear a certain colored hat, create a group t-shirt, etc.
- Creating a sense of group pride from the first day enables you reinforce values that are important to your group. Example: “As Nehantic 6, we want to be the group that is called first for lunch because we’re the quietest.”
- The more fun that you make your group’s identity, the more likely campers are to do activities as a group, not as a set of individuals traveling together.
- Love your job!
- The expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees” is a great way to summarize how easy it is to get wrapped up in the daily routine, and forget that you are there for the sake of working with campers.
- Have fun with your campers – it’s ok to really enjoy yourself! Tell jokes, share appropriate stories, participate hands-on as “one of the gang” and get excited about what you’re also going to experience.
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