Things I Wouldn't Know If I Didn't Go To Camp - Part 5

Becoming a role model

I have to say that yes, if I didn’t go to camp, I’m sure I would have found other ways to learn about the various topics in my “If I Didn’t Go To Camp” posts.  However, I will acknowledge that because I did go to camp, it was the first place I learned many of these lessons and my camp experiences helped me accelerate my growth in many areas of leadership.

One area is being a role model.  Becoming a role model doesn’t only happen once you join staff.  Oh no, it happens much before.  When you’re a camper, you influence campers who are younger than you.  Maybe it’s your perfect swish from the foul line on the basketball court that grabs an interested camper’s attention.  Maybe it’s your bulls-eye count on the Bob’s Bullseye tracking sheet at the Trip Hut.  Whatever it might be, you lead before you’re in a leadership role.

On the first night of each camp session after the opening campfire, the campers would be sent to begin their bedtime routine.  The camp director asked the oldest boys and oldest girls cabins to stay back though.  In her three minute speech, the director empowered the oldest cabin groups to be leaders and role models.  She asked these campers to lend a hand to the younger campers, especially when they needed help.  Maybe it was helping to lift a canoe or kayak back onto its rack, maybe it was to walk with them to the dining hall and make conversation, or maybe it was to cheer them up when they could sense a camper was homesick.

When you do join staff, your role modeling continues.  The campers follow your lead.  You are the coolest person they know.  What I thought role modeling was at first, was setting a good example for my campers.  What I learned later on though, was how powerful I was as a leader, and the way I found out was one I never could have predicted.

In an earlier post (Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 1) I talked about the role of night nurse at Camp Huronda.  When the camp sessions changed over, the two counsellors who were selected to become the night nurses would need to reverse their daily pattern to become nocturnal.  This included staying up all night during “changeover” (the night between sessions with no campers on site) and going to bed around 8am the next day, or as late as the counsellor could stay awake.

There are three small cabins tucked away behind the trip hut field where area staff and night nurses usually reside.  These were my absolute FAVOURITE cabins.  One afternoon, I was sound asleep after a full night awake when I was awoken by banging on the door to my little cabin.  I heard someone yelling outside “Gilby, Gilby, Gilby!”  I was aware of what was going on and said “come in”.  I had a feeling I knew who it was, even from my subconscious awakening.

It was my previous camper Adam!  As soon as he got to camp, he asked if I had returned and he found out where I was so he could come say hello immediately.  WOW.  I will never forget that moment.  I realized then that I truly had become a role model for Adam.  I too was very happy that he came back to camp.  So, I gave him a hug, and told him we could catch up at dinner because I would sit with his table.

I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 5:00pm knowing it was going to be a great two weeks.  It was quite a humbling feeling having a camper so excitedly return to camp looking for me.  I learned this lesson many times, but I think this was one of the most memorable ones.  I had the pleasure of working on staff with Adam a couple years later when he joined staff as a counsellor in training and could be the leader to others that I was to him.

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.

Setting Goals with Summer Camp Staff

Start Your Training With Setting Goals


As staff gather each morning during training, have them sit in small groups and make a list of goals for that day.  At the end of each evening, have these groups reconvene to discuss the accomplishment of these goals.  You may wish to switch groups around each day or keep them the same.  Purchase a few journals and label them ‘Our Goals For Training’ (or for the summer if you plan to continue it).  Have them ready and set out at the beginning of each morning.  Soon enough, the staff will get into the routine of writing in them when they gather and will already be started on great goals for the day before you begin your first session!

How do you set goals with your staff?

Back in My Day...

Getting to know your 2012 camp staff


If you ever wanted a window in to the life of your summer camp staff... I found it.   It's not perfect.  A little more leaded-glass than 3 pane, argon-filled vinyl casement window, but still a good window.

I will admit that even though I am an internet obsessed, social media consultant I still don't know enough about the people who are working at camp this summer.  Now that our kids are grown men with jobs, I bet even they would find some of the things on this surprising.

The Beloit College Mindset List

Every August since 1998 Beloit College has released their Mindset List to help their staff and educators get to know the young people who will be attending the college.  Lucky for us.  Those same young people work at our camps.

Highlights for the class of 2011

  • What Berlin wall?
  • Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.
  • They never “rolled down” a car window.
  • They have grown up with bottled water.
  • General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
  • Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
  • Pete Rose has never played baseball.
  • Rap music has always been mainstream.
  • “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
  • Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
  • They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day.
  • Half of them may have been members of the Baby-sitters Club.
  • No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
  • Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
  • They were too young to understand Judas Priest’s subliminal messages.
  • Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.
  • They grew up in Wayne’s World.
  • U2 has always been more than a spy plane.

Check out the list for the class of 2015.

(hat tip to Guy Kawasaki for mentioning this on Facebook)

All my life's a circle... when I'm on camp staff

The Power of Circles at Summer Camp


It will be important in the first few hours and days of camp to spend time getting to know one another better.  We have always found playing games, running 'talking & listening' sessions, and having staff meetings in a circle to be a very powerful experience. Rather than having someone at the front speaking or people spread out across the space of your meeting area, placing people in a circle makes everyone feel part of the group.  Sitting or standing in a circle also provides an intimate setting which makes people feel safe and allows them to focus solely on the task at hand.  So go ahead...give it a try!  (If you are thinking, "I have so many staff members the circle would be huge!!", then simply put smaller circles inside one another so that you are all still together).

Here are a few activities to try:

Concentric Circles

This is one of the best ways to get people talking.  Have them sit in 2 circles, one inside the other.  The inside circle faces out and the outside circle faces in.  Everyone should have a partner.  If you have an odd numbered group, simply make one grouping a group of three.

Now explain you will ask them a series of questions.  After the first question has been answered by both partners, ask the outside circle to rotate 2 spaces to the right.  After the second question has been asked and answered, ask the inside circle to move 2 spaces to the right.  Make sure to have the appropriate people rotate spaces after each question so they always have a new partner.  If your group is small, it is okay if they wind up paired with the same partner several times throughout the exercise.

The 'just getting to know you' version:

1)  what is one of your first memories?

2)  what do you remember about your first home?

3)  share something that happened to you in grade 4? 

4)  who was your hero in elementary school?

5)  share your funniest memory from grade 6

6)  feel free to add any questions of your own 

Concentric Circles - The 'we feel comfortable with one another and are now moving to the next step' version:

1.  To make life better, I would like to invent……….

2.  What I liked best about today is…………….

3.  A time when I was very happy was………

4.  I feel frustrated when…………

5.  When I think about the future I see myself……….

6.  One thing that I treasure most in life is…………..

7.  Something I always have wondered about is………….

8.  To me, God is like…………..

9.  I feel rebellious when………….

10.  I feel lonely when……….

11.  One thing that I enjoy about life is………

12.  One thing that depresses me about the world is…………

13.  If I could change one thing about myself I would………

14.  Something I like about myself is……….

15.  Two things for which I am thankful are…………

What’s the Answer?

This is a great activity for the first time your group is together.  It's best if you have staff/campers beside people they do not know very well. Ask your group to ‘circle up’.  It does not matter whether they are standing or sitting. Explain that you will be asking them a question about the person to their left.  Have a list of questions prepared ahead of time to ask (what is this person’s favourite sport, what does he like to wear to ‘lounge’ in, who was her favourite teacher, etc.).  The person must answer the question as he or she thinks his or her neighbour would answer it.  Obviously, the guesser may not know the correct answer -- this is half the fun.  Once the guesser has responded, allow the neighbour to share the correct answer.

So go ahead...give it a try!  (If you are thinking, "I have so many staff members the circle would be huge!!", then simply put smaller circles inside one another so that you are all still together).