Does Your Summer Camp Staff Have Excess Baggage?

Summer camp staff doing "Excess Bagage" at training

Summer camp staff doing "Excess Bagage" at training

Now is the time to plan your staff training sessions

It is that time of year again (hooray!) when we begin to plan sessions for our leadership trainings.  Finding new and creative ways to discuss the same topics each year can be a bit difficult - especially when we have so many returning staff members.

Here is a session starter we used at our May Orientation Weekend that we then revisited at the end of June during our pre-camp training period to discuss camper issues.  

Excess Baggage

Ahead of time:  Draw 2 dimensional suitcases on an 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper.  They do not need to be too large so you should be able to fit 4 on the page.  Your suitcases should show the front and back so that, when cut out, they can be folded in half to make a full suitcase.  You will need to make as many photocopies of these as you need for every staff member to have 1 suitcase.  

You will also need to draw articles of clothing.  Consider the size of your suitcases and know that they need to be small enough to be folded to fit inside.  We drew pants, t-shirts, hats, shoes, etc.  This is where you get to be creative.  The idea, however, is for them to be quite plain, like a colouring book, so that the staff members can put their own creative touches on them.  Again, you will need to photocopy the clothing sheet so that every staff member will have at least 4 or 5 pieces.  The fun begins when you have to cut them all out! (this is a good activity to do with lots of help)  We were lucky to have a few spring staff members move up before our Staff Orientation Weekend so we put them to use but did not explain the activity so that they would not have any inside information.

Have all the suitcases cut out and folded in half.  Glue the edges so that they are partially shut (leaving the top open for clothing).  Take a few, maybe 10% of your staff numbers, and glue them all the way shut.

The Day of the Session

You will need: photocopied and cut out suitcases and clothing items, markers, crayons, etc.

Introduce the session to your staff by having them sit in classroom style on benches facing front. You may wish to ask them to sit with folks they don't know all that well yet. Have a real suitcase with you at the front and have it open and empty.

Here's the order of the session:

Part 1 - be creative

  • Give out the paper suitcases and allow them time to decorate their suitcase with the markers and crayons.
  • When everyone is finished, give out clothing items (you may want to put them in baskets to pass around and ask them to take what they want and, again, decorate these items)
  • This first part of the activity allows them time to be creative, chat with the people around them, and become attached to the items they are colouring

Part 2 - introspection

  • Ask them to write on their clothing items any baggage they have in their lives -- let them know they won’t have to show it to anyone
  • Give them time to do this part of the activity and ask for respectful silence 
Part 3 - the catch
  • Once you see that everyone is finished, ask them to put their baggage away in their suitcases.  Remember that some people have had their suitcases glued completely shut.  When this sinks in around the room, explain that you did this on purpose to show that some people have no trouble putting their baggage away when working at camp but others have a lot of trouble hiding it.  Explain that, of course, it was completely random who received the glued-shut suitcases today -- it was just to prove a point.
  • Explain that during your training in June (or later in the week if this is being done in June), you will be discussing 'camper baggage' but, for now, you will be discussing baggage that staff members can bring to camp with them
Part 4 - group discussion

What kind of baggage do people bring to camp - ask for examples (using NO names and explaining that this could be any camp staff anywhere)

Why might people’s personal baggage affect you as a staff ?

Is camp the place for the suitcase to open wide?  Why or why not?  (be sure you have discussed this concept with your Leadership Team ahead of time - the answer to this question may be different for every camp)

What do we do about it? (be sure that you know how you want these sorts of issues handled before this discussion takes place with your staff)

Part 5 - wrap up

Before you can move ahead, explain that you would like to ask them to pick one piece of their own baggage they are committed to leaving at home this summer and have them come up and put it in the empty suitcase you have at the front.  Ask them to say “I commit to all of you to leave this baggage at home this summer” as they do so. Close the suitcase.

Explain that the baggage you have committed to leave at home will not return with you but that you will return healthy and fully committed to being at camp.

Explain that you will return to this idea when discussing the kind of baggage that campers bring to camp with them, how to recognize it, and what to do about it during a later session.