Using the Parking Lot for Staff Training

We spotted this great CampHack this week when we were leading some camp staff training at Cairn: the Parking Lot.

Create a white board or flip chart space where staff can park their questions and ideas until a later time.  That way interruptions to the session are minimal and staff can be confident that you will come back around to them when the time is appropriate.

Make sure you schedule the time (at least an hour) to go over or "take up" the questions on your Parking Lot.

We hope it was a great training week for you and that every camp has a safe and happy summer!

Start off the Summer Write


Begin Camp Staff Training on the Same Page

The first activity of your pre-camp training needs to have the right combination of purpose, creativity and anticipation of the adventure about to begin.  Once they are all moved into their cabins or tents and you are ready to begin the formal part of your training, bring your staff members together and get yourselves on the same page.

The Page is Yet Unwritten - Have your staff members gather together outside your staff room or lodge.  Hand out a blindfold to each one.  To set the mood, have some instrumental music playing in the background.  Explain that you would like them to silently enter the space, find a space alone on the floor and put on their blindfolds.

Once they are all blindfolded, place a very large book that you have already made in the centre of the room with The Page is Yet Unwritten as the title.  Make it as big as you can (ours was 8' x 4').  Ask your staff to listen to the song, Unwritten, by Natasha Bedingfield.  As they are listening, quietly go around the room and leave a journal and pen on the floor beside each person.

Once the song is over, ask them to remove their blindfolds and take a few moments to write what they want out of this summer - their goals, their hopes, their dreams - for themselves, each other and, of course, your campers.  After having them share some of their goals in smaller groups, have them write their goals in the huge book.  You may want to play the song again as they write in the book.

You may wish to return to the book several times through the summer to see how they are doing with their goals.

How to Make the VERY most of your Pre-Camp Training

Explain EVERYTHING in your Staff Training


The best way to ensure that your summer staff members are fully prepared for their positions is to make sure to arm them with ALL the information they will need to succeed.

It will be up to you to decide what members of your staff need to know the information: is it just for new people, section heads, programme staff, counselors? If not everyone needs to know what you have to explain, you may want to use those already in the know to help you do the teaching.

During your time of staff training, it is your job to ensure you cover it all and that you do so in a way that helps your staff to remember.  So be creative!  Returning staff members love to get involved - just be sure to fully frontload your expectations so that returning staff understand their roles perfectly.

Your list of what to explain will include: all the rules, the location of everything, what time meals are, when free time is, when they are allowed to leave site, how to stay warm at night, what your camp words mean (all camps have their own lingo) and the list goes on (and on, and on).

Here are 2 examples of 'the location of everything':

#1 Your new staff members will need a complete site tour.  Even if they have been campers at your camp before, there will be areas where they have never been and it is important that they now see all areas of camp from a staff member's perspective:

  • If you are able to drive around your site, get your camp bus or van ready (of course, if you don't have a vehicle, a walking tour is always in style)
  • You may want to begin with a fun and creative announcement at the end of your first meal.  Have a senior member of staff dress as a bus driver and one as a tour guide, complete with clipboard and whistle.
  • They can disrupt your announcement time and call forward all the new staff members.
  • Have costumes ready for your new people to dress as "tacky tourists" (hawaiian shirts, old cameras, funny hats, bermuda shorts, socks with sandals - you get the idea).
  • Put them on the camp bus and give them the guided tour. Amusing accents are always a nice touch!


#2 This activity is for all staff members but, of course, allows the new people to see the site during the process:

  • Ahead if time, take photos around your site of very small objects (ex. the padlock on your boat house, a plaque in your chapel, a mail slot in your office).  Take 3 or 4 of each object from a greater distance each time. The first photo and perhaps even the second may be difficult to determine but the third of fourth photos should be more obvious.
  • Print out the photos - one set for each group (don't make the groups too big).
  • Divide staff into well-mixed groups and have the groups begin at different starting points (you will know where each group should begin according to the order you will have determined for each group).
  • Ahead of time, you will have numbered envelopes and put all the 'first' photos (except the very first one you will hand them at the start) at the appropriate spots so that each group has their next photo available to them when they find their object (like a treasure hunt).
  • Be sure to only give them the 1st photo of their first object to start.
  • Should they be unable to figure out the 'first' picture, they may come back to you (tell them where you can be found) for the next picture in the sequence of that particular object (which is larger). They may continue to return for the next larger picture until they figure it out and can move on to the next object.
  • Have a race to see which group can figure out the identified objects first.  How  many objects you use will depend on the amount of time you would like to spend on this activity.
  • During this activity, each group will be traveling your property so, before you begin, be sure to frontload that part of the exercise is to allow your new staff members to learn all about your site.
  • Encourage conversations about your site from returning staff members on the way to each area that your groups are exploring.  This is their chance to explain what all the areas are used for and how they are used specifically at your camp.
  • When you debrief at the end, you can ask to hear from your new staff members what and how much they learned and add points for the best 'explainers' too!

This is just to get your brains started. Every activity during your pre-camp training can be created to allow your staff members to truly experience the magic of camp.  We'd love to hear your creative ideas - please leave your suggestions in the 'comments' below!

Our Most Important Summer Camp Lesson

photo by Travis Allison (@ Camp Kintail)

Community is INTENTIONAL.


You should think about it in every aspect of every program that you offer during summer camp and in all contact you have with your campers and staff outside of the summer months.

This is a difficult task. We hope we can make it easier for you. Here is one of the best things we ever developed at camp...

The 4 S’s - In our many years of camping, we discovered that it was imperative to create guidelines for young people to make wise decisions, decisions they could make on their own without too many rules to remember. In our second year of directing, we developed the 4 S’s, a test by which any activity at all could be rendered appropriate to the community or not.

A person must answer ‘yes’ to all 4 S questions before doing any kind of activity (large or small). If they cannot answer ‘yes’ to all 4, it does not help to build community and, therefore, cannot be done. This is an excellent way to empower your young people to make decisions on their own and to make them feel safe and wanted in the community you are building with them.

The 4 S’s - Safety, Stewardship, Servanthood, Self-Esteem

  • Safety - is it physically and emotionally safe?
  • Stewardship - are you being a good steward of the earth?
  • Servanthood - are you serving other people and the community?
  • Self-Esteem - are you building someone’s self-esteem?

What do you think is your most important summer camp lesson?

Ouareau's Pocket Counsellor

quip Your Camp Counsellors with the Tools They Need


Gab has talked a few times about the Pocket Counsellor that every staff member receives at Camp Ouareau.  She was nice enough to send us in an example from this year.

Click here to download it.

2019 Update

Gabrielle has been kind enough update to the Pocket Counsellor / Monitrice de Poche download AND to offer to help create yours with you. Please check out the options at