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.

Getting Things Done At Summer camp

 Control Your Camp To Do List

Running a summer camp is a stressful business. In this presentation, summer camp consultant Travis Allison works through ways to "kick the arse of email, hand stress it's hat and out-muscle your To-Do list".  This is very practical seminar that is available for you to download to use in your training (click on the Slideshare link).

Because Travis doesn't use a One-Slide-Many-Bullet-Points presentation style you may not get everything that this presentation has to offer just by looking at the slides.

If you are interested in Travis giving this presentation to your summer camp or private school organization, please fill out the Request a Speaker form.

Getting Things Done at Summer Camp - 2011/2012

Camp Staff Training Activity - Map Your Life

Life Maps Allow Camp Staff to Tell Their Own Story


This activity takes about an hour and a half in total.  You will need a large sheet of newsprint per person (if you are using poster-sized newsprint, cut each sheet in half) and lots of scissors (one pair per person, if you can), glue and magazines (try to collect a variety of magazines from fashion to sports, home decor to adventure, etc.).

Turn on some great music in the background while you do this activity. Ask each person to take a look at the magazines and rip or cut out all the words and pictures that speak to them.  Ask them not to think about it too much; just react.  They will then glue all of them onto their own sheet of newsprint.  This can take up to an hour. You would not think it will take this long but they will enjoy discussing all the things they find, the ads in the magazines, and the search.

Be sure to give them 10 and 5 minutes warnings of when you expect them to be finished.  On your signal, ask them to pair up with someone they do not know very well and share their “map of life”.  Ask them to explain why they chose these words and images and why it is displayed as it is.

After both partners have had a chance to share, ask the members to examine their own work.  Ask them to decide what is important to them, what is missing in their life and what they want to change.  Have them WIBYT (Write It Before Your Talk - Thank you, Michael Brandwein!) these thoughts in their journals; explain they will not be shared with anyone.

Helping Staff Transition Home From Camp

Summer Camp is a Hero's Journey


For many staff members, their time at summer camp is extraordinary.  It is a Hero’s Journey where they experience a world so much different and quite often so much better than what they find during the school year.  It can be very difficult for them to transition back into the Mundane World - a world without costumes, flash mobs, and nightly campfires - a world where people do not always treat one another with the respect and kindness they experience at camp - a world in which they are no longer the leaders.  Add to all this, the fact that they are missing the closest relationships they will likely ever have and you could have some very sad staff members.

Here are a few ideas to help them get settled into school life and bring a little of camp along with them:

  1. Stay in touch. Those relationships they gained during the summer have literally changed their lives.  Be sure to connect with them through email, your camp blog, telephone calls and even good ‘ole snail mail.  Even a simple postcard with a few words will brighten their day and remind them how special they are.
  2. Encourage them to get together as often as possible.  We spend our days as camp directors teaching our campers and staff members the importance of face to face relationships.  Post opportunities (and ask them to do so too) to connect in person like concerts, sporting events, days at a park or skating rink.  The possibilities are endless!  Be sure to make it yourself to as many as you can.
  3. Take them out for dinner.  Living in residence, students can soon tire of cafeteria food.  When you are on the road promoting camp throughout the school year, plan to visit as many universities and colleges as you can.  Let the staff members know ‘when and where’ and have them join you for dinner.
  4. Plan a Christmas Vacation Reunion.  Book a space and a date now for all your staff to get together over the school break.  Let them know as soon as you can so they can put it in their calendars.  Especially for students who come home for Christmas Break, their schedules are pretty full.  If you are able, find a space where you can all stay overnight so that you can be together even longer.  Churches, Lodges, and sometimes schools will often allow you to use their facilities for a camp reunion.
  5. Create a Facebook group just for your camp news.  Post, at least weekly, everything that is happening up at camp or in the camping office.  Let them know about new buildings, new fun purchases, hiring dates, conferences, camp fairs and promotions - everything you can think of to gear them up for next summer.  Ask for their ideas and input and get them planning!  This is also a great way to share inspiring messages with them to continue their camp ways back in the ‘mundane world’.
  6. Let them know you are there for them.  Be sure they know they can contact you if they are finding the transition very difficult.  If you are not the person to best connect with on your staff, set up the one who is.  Sometimes teens and young adults need to know it’s okay to ask for help.

We’d love to hear your ideas!  Help us to share them with our readers by sending them our way.

Enjoy the quiet transition of September.

10 Rules for Approving Camp Names at Your Camp

Camp Names are serious business


When your summer camp decides to use nick names for your staff it is important to be mindful of what names are chosen.  It is crucial as a director that you put some thought into your process of approving camp names so that you eliminate potential problems in the future.   It's a long camp life!

At our camp, you could earn your camp name only when you became an LIT or were on staff.   We always felt that a camp name was a privilege that you had to earn.

10 Rules for Approving Camp Names:

  1. The namee must like their name (believe me, sometimes that's a hard first step!).
  2. The Camp Director gets final say.
  3. Potential camp names should be tested with a few staff members just to make sure they sound appropriate to everyone. I once had an LIT who wanted to be called Philly, which seemed fine to me, but another staff member nixed the name because she found out it was a reference to smoking weed.   (BTW, that LIT never got hired).
  4. The camp name mustn't be a proper name (Bill or Jennie).
  5. The name must be original to the camp - no repeats (this means that you have a list of staff members and their camp names as far back as you can remember).  Sometimes you need to call old camp directors to check out new names.
  6. The name must pass the Peche Test.  Brad "Peche" Cross was a great staff member of ours who had a brilliant ability to try out any camp name and see if there was a way that kids could make it dirty.
  7. The name could make reference to your skills but not your physical appearance.
  8. Camp names should bolster people's self esteem and make them feel part of the community.
  9. The name must not scare parents away - no Killer, no Psycho, no LovesToHug.
  10. Camp names are an honour and are earned by your commitment to the community.

What is your camp name?   How did you get it?

A Time for Saying Thank You

Say Thank You to Your Camp Staff with Class


If you had incorporated the Guardian Angels idea at the beginning of the summer, now is the time to be sure each person on staff takes the time to write a letter of thanks. Hopefully, they have received several letters by this time from the person who has been their Guardian Angel throughout the summer. Ask the staff to write a short letter explaining what summer camp has meant to them and how they have grown.  Be sure the letters are mailed out this week before the Fall gets underway.

Your Turn to Say Thanks - In September, take the time to send a hand written note to each and every staff member.  Thank them for the summer, for all their hard work and dedication and be sure to note something special that you appreciated about each individual.  This make seem a time consuming task but the dividends will be well worth it.  If your staff is simply too large for one person to write all the cards, divide the task among a few of your full time people.

Letting people know how much they are appreciated is such an important part of Camp.

Hope your summer was simply amazing!