Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You.

It's All About Building Camp Community

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As we mentioned in our last newsletter, we're going to take some time this Fall to share activities which help to build small, medium or large sized groups.  They are terrific for teen campers for Leaders in Training (or C.I.T.s), and staff. Here are a few more for you to compile for next summer:

Posters

Great for the first time folks gather at camp and not everyone is arriving at the same time

Before anyone arrives, put up poster-sized sheets around your meeting space with ‘get to know you’ questions. Use large newsprint sheets or large whiteboards.  Be sure to have plenty of writing utensils for everyone to have at least one.  As your people are arriving, explain that they can go around and write down their answers.  They can either write their names beside the answers or not.  These are great conversation starters and everyone can participate, even those who are shy and afraid to share their opinions out loud in front of a group.  You can have fun with the questions or write down serious ones (ex. of all the famous people, who would you like to have dinner with?  What is your favourite cereal?  What is the best book you’ve ever read?  If you could have one super power what would it be?  I believe God is…..) You may choose to take up some of the answers when everyone arrives or simply leave them up for awhile so folks can have a chance to read them.

Creative Answer

Another one for differing arrival times

Leave this note on a table near your poster area. “Pretend that we know nothing about you.  Using only this card and writing utensils, teach us all about yourself.  This is to be done as an individual exercise.”  If your teens/staff members do not spot it, point it out to ones who appear to have finished answering poster questions.  Have index cards ready to be used and paper clips to attach the card to the collar of the writer's shirt for the remainder of the evening.  These spark great conversations!

Silent Interviews

Divide the group into pairs (play or do not play so that the numbers come out evenly - try to mix the group into pairs of folks who don't know each other well. Ask your participants to introduce themselves to their partners. Instruct the group that from this point forward, speaking is not allowed. This includes whispering, mouthing words, and making sounds!

Inform the group that they must tell their partner 3 things about themselves without speaking (similar to a charades game). These things cannot be physical characteristics.

Once all the partners have finished miming to each other, call everyone back into a circle. Tell them not to share their answers with their partners just yet. Ask for each pair to orally introduce their partner to the group, as well as the three things that they learned (or think they learned).  This activity is great as a mixer but also provides a few giggles along they way.

For more articles about building staff community please check out this link.

Six SEO Tips to Help Parents Find Your Camp

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of strategically modifying the content on your summer camp Web site so that search engines can find and present your site to its users. For example, if you operate a basketball camp in New York, using SEO techniques will help parents who do a general search on Google for "basketball summer camps in New York" to find your specific camp among the top search results.

Simple SEO Changes

You can make simple changes to your site to make it more visible to parents who are using search engines to find camps. Here are six easy steps for getting started with SEO:

  1. Determine what keywords or key phrases parents will use to find camps like yours. Think of all the ways someone would describe your camp without referencing the name directly. Your list of keywords will likely include the type of camp you operate (horseback riding, robotics, ice hockey etc.), your audience (boys, teenagers, dancers, etc.), and regional descriptors (Nashville, Twin Cities, Cohocton Valley, etc.).
  2. Include at least 3-5 of your top keywords or key phrases on each page of your camp Web site. Focus on headlines and the first few sentences of any descriptions. Don't rely on images or graphics alone to tell parents they're looking at a sailing camp in Maryland. Make sure the key phrases "sailing camp" and "Maryland" can be found among the text at the top of your home page.
  3. Use your keywords and camp name in the anchor text of your site links. Search engines like finding relevant links on your site that they can share with their users. For example, a link that says "Click here to register for the 2011 Crawford Teen Ballet Camp" is better than a link that only says "Click here to register."
  4. Make sure your page titles are descriptive and include your camp name. Page titles are the words that display at the very top of the Web browser window. Rather than giving a simple description like "Directions," adding your camp name and expanding the title to "Driving Directions to Stanford Kids Day Camp" will help search engines find you.
  5. Submit your URL to Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Registering your camp Web site with each search engine tells them your site exists and should be included in search results. You should also register with the local sections of Google, Yahoo! and Bing so your camp shows up on local maps and directories.
  6. Don't overdo it! Search engines are getting smarter and smarter, so they'll recognize tricks like overloading your site with keywords or using keywords that aren't relevant to your content. Stick with the basics, evaluate your keyword usage from time to time, and focus on contextualizing & describing your content for viewers.

Guest author Phillip Gilbreth is the Camps Sales Manager for MySummerCamps.com and KidsCamps.com, the leading online camp directories for connecting parents with kids and teen summer camps in the United States, Canada and worldwide.  Contact Phillip at pgilbreth@internetbrands.com

(MySummerCamps and KidsCamps appear among the top search results because of our robust SEO techniques. Yet another reason why listing your camp in our comprehensive camp directories should always be part of your marketing strategy!)

4 Things Summer Camps Should Buy By The Roll

Summer camp purchasing is a little tricky.  We’re constantly pushing the line of using our imaginations to stretch out our budgets while striving for a great, safe programme.

There are many things that it makes sense to buy in bulk (duh.) but here are a 4 things that I made sure to buy every summer by the roll. Duct tape you shouldn’t buy by the roll - buy it by the box.

  1. 1/4” or 1/2” inch nylon rope. Great for creating clotheslines by cabins and tents (make sure you use eye hooks - knots around trees can damage the bark and weaken the tree, normal hooks can take out an eye during a wide game), yellow nylon rope can also help tying things down and keeping things secure.  Make sure you keep an old kitchen knife and a blow torch near the roll of rope to give you good, clean ends and prevent unravelling.   I heartly recommend mounting the rope roll inside the shop so that it doesn’t wander off and the site people can watch to know when to order more.

  2. 1” webbing -  a different colour every year.  Any camp with an adventure program (everyone of us, right?) can find great uses for webbing.   We used it to create belay stations at Cairn (the Christian summer camp we used to direct) for the climbing wall and zipline, and cut it into 12’ lengths so that every cabin and unit had a introduction game bag that included araccoon circle (download a free pdf of raccoon circle games from the master - Dr. Jim Cain).  I also learned a great trick from taking my Wilderness First Responder at Outward Bound - every back should have a 3m (12’) length of webbing so that you have gear to make a stretchers and splints on trip.  Plus… more Raccoon Circle games!
  3. Parachute cord (p-cord) - not white. Like both of the above p-cord can be used for many things: Creating bull-rings for adventure programming, as a lazy line for hauling belay lines up through shear-reduction devices, as a throw line for getting rope over a branch to hang your food away from bears on trip.
  4. Shop Towels  - the blue paper towels that you can buy at a big box hardware store are much better for use in the shop then the brown rolls or even grocery store paper towels.   Recommending buying paper products gets my inner environmentalist screeching but with these you have a better product and that means you will use less.

What have you bought a lot of for camp that made a huge difference?

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Are you using every moment of summer camp staff training?

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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?

Passing the Staff Torch at Summer Camp

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One of the smartest and most meaningful traditions we ever began was that of the Alumni Letter.  Every night during Leadership Training in June, at the end of campfire, we would read a letter from a staff member who was with us the summer before (and usually for many years before that) and who was not able to work at camp with us that summer.

It looked like this...after a long day of training, the staff would sit on the floor in front of the fireplace (the mosquitoes are too vicious in June in Muskoka to have a campfire outside).  Travis and I would take our places on our story-telling bench in front of the fire.  I would pull from behind the bench a special box that always held the Alumni Letter of the evening. The staff would unconsciously move a little closer, eager to hear the words of wisdom and love.  We would read one letter each night, a letter that came from the hearts and souls of alumni we had asked to write them months before.

Some day in April, we would send out invitations to former staff members who would not be returning and ask them to write a letter to the staff of that year.  We asked them to share their favourite memories, their best advice, the words they longed to say about camp and the importance of the work we do.

We had no idea at the time just how important these letters would become not only to the current staff who would hear them but also to those who wrote them.  The authors took great care in the writing of their letters and often expressed to me how much work they put into them.  They understood the importance of the task when it became their turn to write one.

Each night, I would smile to myself as I was reading, listening to the staff members whisper, trying to guess the author before it was over (we never told them until the end of the letter).  There was laughter, there were often tears, and there was always the feeling that the alumni were with us, supporting us, helping to guide us, and passing us the torch.

Camp Staff: Guardian Angels and Other Support

There are many ways to give your new summer camp staff members the very best foundation for a superb and healthy staff career.  Here are just a few ideas to add more layers of support for them as the summer begins:

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1.  Secretly assign a returning staff member to watch over a new person during staff training. Have them check in occasionally with their new person throughout the week (they could: hang out with them in free time, sit with them at meals or at campfire, answer any questions they may have).  It is also an important role for the returning staff member.  It helps to affirm their importance in taking care of people at camp this summer.

2. The first night of training (we did this on the first night of our staff orientation weekend at camp in May), give each senior staff member a list of staff members (these groups are divided evenly and with a good mix of new and returning people).  Have each senior staff member make contact with these members at some point during the evening and ask them to hang out after formal activities are over (it must look like this was not planned).  Have each senior staff member do something fun with their group for a short period of time (ex. go to the docks and look at the stars, play guitar and sing, work on a puzzle, set tables and decorate the dining hall for breakfast as a surprise). Below is a copy of the note written to the senior staff members – we then added a list of names to each person’s note :

Grab the following 3 or 4 people after campfire and ask them to hang out with you.  Do not let them know that you have been asked to do this ~ it is a secret mission.  Go do something that is not normally done (ex. do not hang out in the staff lounge).  Take them down to the beach, go out to the playing field and look at stars, play guitars in the lodge, make something in the kitchen (but be sure to ask permission of the kitchen manager first), play cards, or anything else creative that you like.

This is meant to be a chance to hang out with people they normally wouldn’t hang out with “after hours” and to help them to get to know the Resource staff.   If they prefer to go to bed, please let them.

Otherwise, have fun, enjoy one another’s company, and take good care of our counsellors.

3.  Guardian Angels: Find a member of your bigger camp community (alumni, parents, board members) to be a support partner for every member of your staff.  Frontload with your Guardian Angels that this is a very serious task that cannot be taken lightly.  If they feel for any reason that they cannot fulfill all the requirements you ask of them this year, allow them to give you permission to ask them again next year.  Have each adult write a letter at several points during the summer (at least 3) to share words of encouragement, appreciation and affirmation.  Emails are terrific but everyone loves a package that comes snail mail! At the end of summer, you can have the staff members write a letter to their Guardian Angels sharing their reasons for being a part of camp and how much their support meant to them.  Trust us...your adults will love this responsibility and the letters will mean so much to your staff.  We even had Guardian Angels send care packages to staff members, although this was never a request from us!

We'd love to hear and share your ideas.  Please leave them in the comments section below.