In Another Campers Shoes

Teaching Empathy in Summer Camp Staff Training


As we begin another year, we, of course, turn our thoughts to another summer.  We have likely begun planning for our 2012 season months ago but now preparations are "full steam ahead".  We thought it an appropriate time to share with you an activity which works extremely well at the start of a new season of camping, especially if you are bringing in new folks as part of your staff (particularly if they have worked at other summer camps).

Put Yourself in Their Shoes...

Form lines with the same number of people - 8 is a good number but you can decide based on the number of staff members you are training.  There must be at least 2 teams.  Have the first person from each team run to the other side of the room and take his/her shoes off and run back to the end of the line. The next person in line runs to the first person's pair of shoes, takes his/hers off and wears the other person’s back to the end of the line.  This continues until the first person is at the front of the line again still without shoes.  They have to run to the last person's shoes and wear them back.  The team then has to get back into their original pair of shoes.  The first team to finish wins.

This is not only a fun activity but a great debriefing tool.  Begin by asking your staff members why they think you did this activity.  What did they learn from it?  Sure, there will be some funny answers like “Joe has very big feet” but there will also be some serious ones.  You will want them to understand, of course, that everyone has a different walk in life and sometimes we need to appreciate other's situations or responsibilities in order to understand them better and to work together to the best of our abilities.

Another truth you may want to explore with them is that, during the course of your summer together, your walk will not always be comfortable.  Sometimes you will ask them to wear 'a different pair of shoes', to 'walk differently' than they may be accustomed to doing and take risks.

It is a great starting place for your first leadership training/pre-camp activities.  This activity is also a terrific lead-in to the Journey Mural exercise we shared late last year.

We'd love to hear other ways in which you use this debriefing exercise