Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp - Part 4

Breaking Down Challenges Into Smaller, More Manageable Pieces

Three whistles, a siren, and a foghorn.  The three signals of a waterfront emergency at camp (when I worked there).  As a staff member, when the signals sounded, it was our job to find the missing camper as quickly as possible.  

A missing camper is a terrifying thing.  And it is at this time, when a camper may need us most, that we have to overcome our fear and anxiety for the situation, and perform out best search as a team, on land, and in the water.

With a heavy load of responsibility on our shoulders, we learn a critical lesson for leaders.  Finding a missing camper is challenging, and the protocol we deploy as a team of staff members is one of the most tactical and strategic out of all of camp’s protocols.

I’ve already used the word team in this blog post twice.  That too, like the search procedure was tactical.  As a staff, we would not be effective at all if we just started yelling and running around camp looking for the missing person.  We also wouldn’t be working as a team either.

The emergency search protocol is a team event, where the big challenge of finding a missing camper as quickly as possible is broken down into more manageable chunks (or roles).

There are a few major divisions of responsibility that help us act more quickly and increase our effectiveness.

The first is identifying who on staff, in the event of an emergency, would be a runner (ground search) and who would be a diver (water search).  The runners would be further split across three land routes, and deployed in a beginning-end or end-beginning fashion in order to have the most coverage of the surface area of camp’s property.

The divers would also be split.  The swimming area was divided into four lanes, and each lane had a different depth at the bottom of the lake.  The divers would always be in the same lane, with their own team for lane 1, lane 2, lane 3, and lane 4.  There would also be divers who covered the boating docks, the shallow end, and the shoreline.

No single person was responsible for finding the missing camper.  By splitting up the staff across the various roles, we acted as a team.  Acting as a team made the bigger challenge much more manageable.

Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 3

Two Completely Different Bus Rides

Today on Twitter I was part of a very brief but interesting conversation about the bus ride to camp (Follow me: @jay_gilbert).  As a staff member, I would occasionally volunteer to be one of the staff on the camp bus at the beginning or end of a session.  The bus ride to camp and the bus ride from camp couldn’t be any more different.

On the first day of any particular camp session, the bus will wait in the parking lot for (potentially) eager campers to arrive.  In our hideously bright staff t-shirts - it would be impossible to miss us, plus we had giant smiles on our faces - see photo, the group of 3-4 staff would enthusiastically greet everybody who arrived at the meeting spot to head to camp.

Some campers were returning campers, and they knew the drill.  Drop the bags under the bus, say goodbye to their parents, get on the bus, and find a seat for the next couple hours.

Some of the campers were new.  Not only were they new, they were also afraid.  Some of these little boys and girls were leaving home for the first time and weren’t sure if they were ready to be away from home for two weeks.

We did our best to get the campers excited to be en route to South Waseosa Lake Road.  We would work the aisle - go up and down the bus talking to campers, making sure everybody was comfortable, answer questions from the returning campers such as “Did Seeley come back to camp this year?  Who’s my counsellor?  What cabin am I in?  Who’s the craft lady?”

Despite all the positive energy of the staff, the bus ride to camp is very quiet.  The energy that so magically comes out at camp hasn’t hit yet, and the first time campers often feel overwhelmed, nervous, and scared.

Fast forward two weeks.

It’s tough to get the campers on the bus to go home.  Nobody wants to leave.  A dozen pair of best friends reluctantly board the bus.  At least they have seat mates for the ride home!  The volume of conversation on the bus ride home is noticeably louder and the air is filled with laughter, chatter, and some sniffles.  Not long after the bus rolls away from camp everybody starts singing.  This bus ride is completely different from the one two weeks prior.

Having had these two opposite bus experiences did teach me that it only takes two weeks to change a kid’s life.  That first-time-away-from-home ten year old who arrived at camp shy and quiet, jumps off the bus with more stories to tell his parents than there are minutes in the car for the drive home.

Taking the bus to camp is absolutely a great idea.  It’s the first chance you have to make a new friend

50 Branded Facebook Cover Photos for Summer Camps

Get Inspired to Change Your Camps Facebook Marketing

Summer camps that take advantage of the new Facebook cover photo design can easily set themselves apart from others marketing to the same Ideal Client.

Take a quick look at this some presentation for some inspiration of what you can do with your Cover Photo.  Remember that Facebook is a very visual medium.

Have you done something awesome with your Facebook cover photo?  Please leave us a link in the comments.

Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp: Part 2

Can you start a <insert style> gimp bracelet for me?  This was a very frequently asked question posed by campers when I was on craft shop patrol.  I must admit, I actually didn’t learn how to start a diamond gimp bracelet at camp.  Diamond was the tricky one.  I could do zipper, flat, cobra, square, and circle.

How basic is a bracelet?  A gimp one, or a hemp one?  One of these bracelets is a few pennies worth of material bended and knotted together to form a nice pattern.  Why then, are these incredibly invaluable, handmade pieces of jewelry (often with errors on every third knot), so precious to us?

A tradition we would regularly do with our campers, especially upon the completion of a great canoe trip, was to take a long piece of very thin climbing type rope, cut a custom piece for each person’s wrist, and using a lighter, heat and bind together the two ends of the rope to make a bracelet for each person.  The bracelet was a representation of a special bond we shared.

The rope cost a couple bucks from the camping store.   The materials themselves had almost zero value.  What I learned through these bracelets, representing the shared experiences of a close group of friends, was that the sentimental value, confidence, and trust that lives within the bracelets is incredibly strong.

One summer during A Camp (the first session of the summer) I was a ‘regular’ at ropes which meant for every interest group (camper rotation) I would work at the ropes area.  At the end of the session, Jaime (the ropes girl) gave Brianna (the other regular) and me a blue rope bracelet.  The three of us put them on together, and I can honestly say that my rope was no longer blue by the time I took it off.

Two full years later, the two ends that had melted together to form the strong bond that held my bracelet on came apart.  That bracelet was the most important piece of “flare” that I wore on a day to day basis.  It reminded me of the good times at camp as well as my great session as the ropes regular.  I always had something positive to think about, even if I was having a down day, just by looking at my wrist.

The lesson is - even the most inconsequential, invaluable little token represents something so much bigger.  The shared experiences, the friendships, the memories of camp.  If I hadn’t gone to camp, I wouldn’t have realized how a little piece of rope can leave an impact on many lives for years.

I still have to learn how to start the diamond gimp pattern though!  I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, and one I appreciate so much because of camp.

“The greatest things in life aren’t things.”

I will take this opportunity to share that my book “The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned At Camp” will be launching on April 7.  The launch event will be at the Indigo Bookstore in the Eaton Centre in Toronto from 12:00 - 4:00.  It would be great to see you!  For those outside of Toronto and even Canada for that matter, the book will be available for purchase in paperback and eBook formats through  I hope you pick up a copy and pass the book along to your summer camp leaders!


Community at Summer Camp is Intentional

Previously, we shared an acronym we developed to help us give the best to our staff during training. We shared one activity under each heading. This outline is to get you started thinking about training.  We encourage you to take time in the next few months to put all your pre-camp activities into one of these 4 categories to ensure you have a balanced training programme.  We promised to add more ideas in the coming weeks so here you go:

C          COMMUNITY - laying the foundation

Puzzle Piece Name Tags: Draw a puzzle on bristol board or wood with as many pieces as you have staff.  Cut out each piece and sand if necessary.  Hand one out to each staff person.  Have supplies set out for staff to decorate their own piece.  Encourage them to personalize their piece with symbols that are meaningful to them.  You may choose to have a hole in each piece so that they can be used as name tags.  At the end of the day, have the staff put the puzzle together.  Make note of the fact that each individual was required to make the puzzle complete and that all people have gifts and talents to bring to the community.

A          ATTENTION – supporting staff

Group Journal:  This is a great idea by Catherine Ross in her “How to be a Camp Counsellor” book.  She suggests that each cabin has a group journal in which campers can write every day and counsellors can answer every evening so that the campers can read it when they wake up.  Why not do the same with your staff.  Start the idea at Leadership Training and have a staff journal in which you invite any member of staff to write their thoughts, questions, etc.  Have the director and assistant director (maybe head counsellor too…whomever you wish) take turns responding to the journal entries so that staff can read them in the morning.

M          MAGIC – the special little touches

Singing to One Another: during leadership training, divide your staff into smaller groups and ask them to prepare a song to sing to the other groups.  Tell each group separately so that they are not aware that the other groups are doing the same thing!  You may wish to divide the groups into different camp areas (waterfront, adventure, office staff, counselors, etc., or mix the groups so that people get to know one another better)  Have each group work on a song about camp, friendship, supporting one another, etc., and have them perform at the last campfire of training.

P          PLAY – spend time with them

This group activity works well after a particularly difficult or important, but not so fun, session during leadership training.  If they have been sitting for a while and dealing with serious issues or simply so many sessions that they need a break, staff enjoy this opportunity to play and enjoy one another's company.  It costs very little and take very little time to prepare. It also helps staff remember the joy of childhood.

Bubbles: everyone loves bubbles.  Have lots of bubble soap and things to blow through (wire works great).  You can make different shapes and bubbles within bubbles.  If you make your own bubbles, don’t forget a drop of glycerin.

Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 1

What I am going to do today is begin a series of blog posts titled “Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp”.  I’ll periodically write about some cool facts or stories that have taught me something that I can honestly say I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t gone to camp.

I’ve seen the term nature deficit popping up much more frequently lately.  It is true, we are not spending enough time in nature.  So, I’ll draw from my own knowledge of mother earth to share with you the first thing I wouldn’t know if I didn’t go to camp.

Here’s how the story goes.

At Camp Huronda, a camp for children living with type 1 diabetes, there would be four two week sessions throughout the summer.  Each two week session, one male and one female counsellor would be selected to be the “night nurses”.

The night nurses had a very important role.  For two weeks, these two counsellors would become nocturnal.  Sleep during the day and stay awake all night.  The purpose of this job was to perform blood checks of the diabetic campers whose blood sugar was below a certain level at bedtime.  By having night nurses, our campers were much safer from experiencing overnight low blood sugars.  If the night nurses tested a camper who turned out to be low, they would have juice and cookies to feed the campers in their beds.

I actually took the role of night nurse three different summers.  It was one of my favourite jobs and one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s pretty cool to be the only two people awake at camp for 7 hours.

When our night nursing rounds were done, my night nursing partner and I could do lots of stuff.  Raid the kitchen, go for a paddle on the still lake, write letters home, play pranks, work on programs, etc.

When the morning comes, it is often tough for everyone to get out of their warm beds, because camp mornings can be especially cold.  Often I would be wearing my winter jacket and toque to breakfast, and of course later I’d be in my tank top and board shorts.  Quite the temperature swings.

Well, being awake all night allowed me to realize when the freezing morning temperatures roll in.  Throughout the night, the temperature would remain relatively consistent.  We’d put on our sweaters around 10:00pm and be fine until....


Around 5:30ish when the sun began to rise and daylight was coming back the temperatures would instantly drop by what felt like up to 10 degrees.  Who knew!  Sure, we all knew the temperature changed overnight, but the consistent pattern between sunrise and temperature drops would be something that I never would have figured out.

So that’s it for today.  Stay tuned for next week’s post!  Maybe it will be “Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 2!

By the way, I checked the timestamp on the photo I've attached to this post.  The timestamp is 4:41 AM.