First Five Minute Skills - The Scott Arizala Show.

Making Kids Comfortable at Summer Camp

We all know about First Impressions.   We work hard to make sure our website has a great, fresh design, that our Welcome letter really shows off WHY we do what we do, and that camp gives off a good impression from the moment families turn on to our lane.

Are we as conscientious as that with the children that come to our camp?  Do we insist our staff make them feel safe and comfortable as soon as they arrive? Do we begin our relationships with them by providing them tools to be more comfortable at camp.  

If you have trouble viewing the video watch it on YouTube: First Five Minute Skills

About Scott Arizala

Scott is one of the leading experts and premier trainers on kids, staff and the experience of summer camp. He earned his B.A. from Ithaca College, with a double major in Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in Gender Studies. He has been involved with camps and youth development for over twenty years as a camper, counselor, administrator, teacher and consultant.

About Travis Allison

Travis is a former Executive Director of 5 summer camps who now works as an online marketing strategy advisor who specializes in the private school and summer camp industries.  

Travis produces the CampHacker podcasts and blog, the Scott Arizala show, and manages the Summer Camp Professionals group on Facebook.

A Big CampHacker Thank You!

We are so grateful to our Scott Arizala Show sponsors.  We hope you'll check them out and consider them for your camps this summer.

3Adventures - international summer camp staff

Grandparents at summer camp?


Create "Grandparents" at your summer camp to grow your community

We all know the importance of a tight-knit camping community.  Here are a few more ideas for you to incorporate into your summer:


Why not assign all members of your senior staff to a cabin or tent group each session?  They can become the “grandparents” to those campers.  Decide together as a staff how much time they are able to spend with them.  A few of the things they can do include:  eating meals with them, sitting with them at campfire, “tucking them in at night” with a story or quiet songs, offering the counselors a night out of cabin while they stay with the campers, etc.  They can also be available as a resource to counsellors who may need their expertise and wisdom!  We call them “grandparents” because they can go into the cabin group, have fun with the kids and let the counselors look after the hard stuff such as discipline, etc., (just the way grandparents get to come the house, play with the kids and leave the parents to look after the trouble!)

Plant a Tree or a Flower

Plant something to symbolize the growth that will take place in a summer together, plant seedlings or flowers that can be taken care of through the season.  You could also make flowers or small trees out of paper and other art supplies and "plant a garden”.  Leaves or petals could be added by the staff members and/or campers throughout the summer to represent their growth or new skills that have been accomplished.  These visual reminders of your concern for their growth can be very effective.

The Campers are Coming!


Are your summer campers already here?

We've decided to share with you a few activity ideas to make everyone feel welcome and a part of something bigger. These can be done in cabin groups, with Leaders in Trainings, with your staff, or your whole camp.  Enjoy building community!

A Bridge of Hands: create a large 2-dimensional bridge out of cardboard or newsprint and put it up in a prominent place at camp.  Have each person put their hand in paint and leave their handprint in some place on the bridge.  The size of the bridge will depend on the number of people.  You will want to have most of the bridge filled in with handprints.  Once it is completed, this leads well into a discussion on breaking down barriers and building bridges in your community.

Footprints Journey Mural: have everyone trace one of their feet onto construction paper and cut it out.  Then have them decorate it with words or symbols telling about several of the things they do well.  Throughout the summer, have them add the new skills they have learned to their footprints.  You may also wish to create a road of paper onto which the footprints can be placed.  You may even want to move the footprints along the road throughout the summer to signify your journey together.

Are you using every moment of summer camp staff training?


Fill Their Arsenals...for a successful summer camp staff training, make sure you use every moment of every day.  Here are a few examples:

#1  Time to Sing, Dance, and Play

  • Plan to have a few moments between sessions to teach a new song or new game.  The change in pace will help your staff to refocus for your next session and will also allow them opportunities to learn new songs and activities they will use throughout the summer

#2  A Programme Fair

  • Allow each staff member to visit each programme area you offer and have the person in charge of that area explain their expectations for the summer and share their creative ideas to make it the best summer ever
  • You may want to do this in a rotation so that smaller groups can travel together and have more opportunities to ask questions or try some of the activities offered
  • One of our most successful programme visitations was an evening we held inside the dining hall - each programme staff member had advance notice to prepare a display for our "Camp Fair" presenting their area, the activities and 'selling' counsellors and other staff members on their merits of their programme:

The Programme Staff members did an outstanding job creating display boards, pamphlets, and fun activities to get the other staff members excited for the summer.

We also asked the kitchen staff, maintenance and other support staff to prepare displays to talk about what they would be offering that summer.

The evening gave the senior staff a real pride in their programmes and the excitement in the air that evening in our dining hall was palpable.

#3  Reading Rainbow:

  • At the beginning of each morning (after breakfast and duties and before the first session), allow 15 minutes of quiet reading time
  • Have Staff assemble in the place where the 1st session will be held, sit in a circle, and read their manuals (this should be review as they would have received them ahead of time)
  • At the end of Reading Rainbow, we allow questions on what they read that morning
  • The peace and quiet is also a nice way to centre yourselves for the day's learning

#4  Roundtables:

  • Make good use of returning staff members (no matter their role) by holding panel discussions during evening snack each night
  • Ask certain members to sit on the panel each evening and allow counsellors to ask questions
  • Some evenings, you can ask the questions if there are things you want to be sure are covered
  • Later in the week, once the majority of your sessions have been covered, hold an Open Space:

Ask counsellors for topics that they feel they still need covered, narrow down the list and ask senior staff members to facilitate each topic. Allow the range of topics to be limitless - from backpocket games to discipline to behavioural concerns, to song harmonies - whatever the needs of your counsellors!  Counsellors may then spend the time going only to the discussions they feel they need to hear or may attend ones in which they feel they have something to contribute (we usually allow 90 minutes for this activity).

What other ways do you make sure that each camp moment is a Teachable one?

Do It Right: Staff Training


Everything you do should be done right, right from the beginning. 

Summer camp staff training should be one of the most important things you do as a camp director.  Before you begin planning for staff training this year, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  Take some time with other members of your leadership team and decide what your goals are for the summer.

Know Your Goals:

  • Before staff training begins, sit down with your leadership team and determine your goals for camp and, specifically, for training (this is likely best done by everyone writing out their ideas on post-its and narrowing them down together to a handful of goals that cover all that's important to your camp)
  • Try to clear your minds and not make assumptions about your training based on what's been done in past years
  • Make sure you have a way to teach each of your goals (if not through a session (or sessions) then through an experiential activity)
  • As you plan each activity (no matter how small), go back to your list of goals and make sure they jive
  • Before training begins, make these goals visible (put them everywhere at camp - posters, stickers, whiteboards, on mirrors, etc.) so that all your staff members know WHY they are attending training
  • If you have musical staff members, ask them to create a song about all the goals you have established (this will be a fun and effective way for staff members to remember your goals all summer long)

And remember...“Example is a language anyone can read”. So be sure that all your leadership team members are role modelling ALL your goals at ALL times.

Thank you for sticking with us. We hope that you have been enjoying your CampHacker newsletter and have been listening to the CampHacker Podcast.
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