12 Tips to Improve Your Staff Training Now

Camp Training Can Be Better

A couple of weeks ago Gab and I recorded our staff training duet - a quick back and forth with some of our best training ideas.    

Check out our best tips from our combined 30+ years of training. 

You can also listen to the show on our Podcast page.  If you are having trouble seeing the video you can watch it directly at http://youtu.be/k_ZqNvbQrus.

A number of people have been asking, on the CampHacker YouTube Channel and on the Summer Camp Professionals group on Facebook, if we could share some of the resources we mentioned. 

Our 10 Camp Staff Training Tips

  1. Expectations about Time: "We are working by _____" instead of "We are starting at ______".   Set unusual starting times - nothing on the hour or half hour. Everyone has to wear at watch. 
  2. Expectations about their Every Day Carry: First Aid Kit, aka FAK; pen and notebook at all times; whistle.
  3. Make a Pocket Counsellor (Monitrice de Poche) for your staff (download the guide to make your own at that link.).
  4. BURP'ing Night - Blurbs for Understanding your Responsibilities Perfectly or the New IGNITE format where people have 5 minutes, 20 slides set to advance every 20 seconds. 
  5. Review Crew. Michael Brandwein's idea to have a group of people review the topics from the day... in costume (How is this going to help you in your job? What is most important in this topic? Plus your conclusion) .
  6. SQRT (Super Quiet Reading Time): 15 minutes a day for staff to sit quietly and read through their staff manual. New staff must write down 1 question that comes up for them.  Partner with a senior staff person to find the answers
  7. 100 Challenges to do at camp (see the photos below for Cairn's 2012 list)
  8. Record sessions visually.
  9. Manage people's attention: make standing desks available for those that need to change position; allow people to duck out and come back 
  10. Clumping vs Cliques
  11. Secret friends for new staff members
  12. GoPro Challenge. Shoot a part of camp.

Getting the Story Straight - Guest Post from Michael Thompson

Making the most of your summer camp marketing opportunities

Excellent overnight summer camps - Lantern Camps

I love it when I pick up the phone to interview a camp director.  With rare exception, there’s a palpable passion that comes through, an absolute joy and pride in his or her camp home and the experience that’s created each summer.  When this shines through, it’s difficult not to get swept up into the director’s personality and love of camp. 

I’m struck, however, by the common refrains I hear once a director begins to explain his or her camp.  I’m in a unique position, having spoken to nearly 80 camp directors in an in-depth way that most parents don’t get to hear.  Part of the reason I get behind the curtain is that I know the right questions to ask. Without those, I confess that I’d be lost in a sea of commonality; left in a cloud of confusion about what is truly unique among camps.  Are we all really just the same? I fear that some parents think so.

So what do I hear?  Let me ask how many of us have ever uttered the following phrases, or something similar:

  1. “We’re a family-run camp” or “have a family-feel” or “become a part of a summer family”
  2. “We are definitely top-tier” or “we have a top-tier ‘x’ program”
  3. “Our camp is set along a pristine lake” or “nestled next to a gorgeous lake”

The list goes on…

I have no doubt that each of the statements is true, and that each is somewhat consumable among families who drink the camp juice.  Also, I am not suggesting that these aren’t valuable marketing points.  

What I’d like to challenge, however, is the messaging.  As parents try to sort through the noise of summer choices, these common refrains are not distinctive.  They become hollow, sound well-rehearsed, and dare I say, seem disingenuous.

So what are we to do?  Yes, a family-run camp is a potentially powerful marketing point.  Yes, lakes are lovely locations for camp, and yes, if you believe you have one of the top facilities or ‘x’ programs, then it should be noted.  The key is how you message it.  It is about authenticity.

I’m an advocate for story-telling to connect genuinely with prospective families.  A good story is engaging and illustrative in a way that catch-phrases or slogans aren’t.  Anyone who’s run a camp and loves kids has no shortage of great stories.  It can be a powerful way to illustrate what a family-run business means, how homesickness can be overcome, how hiring top-talent to run programs produces results, etc.  It speaks to parents in an authentic way and allows your passion to shine through.  I often advise parents to ask specific questions to get to the heart of a camp director. I am a believer that a camp is a direct reflection of its leadership, so if you discover more about the passion of the director, you will be more likely to learn more about the camp.

Great stories aren’t long ones.  They are succinct and often humorous or poignant.  Take a little time to think about the “why” for each of your selling points, and then think back to a moment, a time or an experience that illustrates it.

~Michael Thompson, Guest Contributor

[Travis' Note: Michael is one of our partners in the CampLighter Marketing Awards and the owner of Lantern Camps - a directory of fantastic sleepaway camps. He's a righteous dude.]

Thriving as a Camp Professional in the Fall - Getting Things Done Right

The Off-Season isn’t getting any longer...

Summer Camp Pro from Cairn Family of Camps

Summer Camp Pro from Cairn Family of Camps

Camp people handle the end of the summer in lots of ways. Some leave town for vacation the day after camp ends. Others cozy up in their homes and turn on Netflix and catch up on sleep for days on end. Some camps turn around and start with rental groups or schools right away. Still other camp pros manage to plug away for a luxurious nine to five schedule while their peers have disappeared for the week.

I tend to fall into the category of needing a week to clean, reorganize, and shut the door on the summer. Camp is like school in that it is cyclical in its work flow. There is a definitive beginning and end to a summer. As soon as the last staff member departs the parking lot on closing day, I often feel exhausted at the fact that it is now time to start assembling my team for the next year.

I tell my staff that marketing for next summer begins the day campers arrive this summer. Though I have been looking towards next summer a whole bunch before the current one comes to a close, there are some absolute musts that all camp professionals should do prior to charging forward with the next year.

Absolute Musts Before Starting to Think About Next Season

1. Stop working. Seriously. Stop. A few days away from work, away from the facility, and away from your email are critical to processing. A director’s job is to be able to take a step back and it is hard to do that when you are still in the throes. I find that I need a few days before all the lost and found emails and requests for recommendations quit streaming in. About a week after camp ends is when I take my time to have a camp-free weekend. I try to connect with one of my many friends working other cool jobs--whitewater rafting? A zipline tour? A massage? Reward yourself for a job well done and do something that will truly take your mind off camp.

2. Rest. Though we have trained ourselves to function on very little sleep, camp directors are far more pleasant and happy when we have had a full night’s rest. Every year, I get caught off-guard by how exhausted I am during the month of August. The sleep deficit will catch up with you--so expect it. If you insist on working, bust out the hammock and allow yourself to take a rest hour every day for at least a week.

3. Get your work space off-season ready. I am a nester. That means that by the end of the summer, my office tends to resemble that of a horrifying episode of Hoarders. File all that paperwork. Throw away materials you don’t need. And if you are feeling it, have a cathartic bonfire with all those staff manuals and training schedules that were left behind.

4. Tidy up loose ends. Call the parent that gave you a negative evaluation. Answer the emails that are still in your “Starred” folder. It’s hard to have closure when there are little nagging things bringing you down. Often these will be the points that need to be improved upon going forward.

5. Write down your thoughts on rehiring staff. Your feelings tend to be much stronger at the end of the summer than they will be when they finally submit their applications in March. You don’t have to necessarily make hiring decisions, but write down what it is that staff need to work on before they would be considered for a position. Then you can discuss these in interviews or have them available when turning somebody down.

6. Visit another camp. It doesn’t have to be a formal visit. Whatever the occasion, take the time to visit another facility, whether they are running program or not, because there is much to be learned by simply seeing what others do and how their facility is set up. Have coffee with the director or bring them some fresh produce (because after a summer of camp food, I want nothing more than delicious fresh fruits and veggies) and talk about one another’s areas of excellence and areas for improvement.

7. Debrief. Get your entire year-round team together and talk about how the summer went. So many programs skip this step and jump in to doing things the way they have always done them. The ability to gain perspectives across the levels of administration and across your programs will lead to insights that will be valuable to making camp great. Many accreditation programs require some sort of annual review of incident reports or policies so this is an easy way to ensure that occurs.

Ruby Compton, CampHacker & Camp Code podcaster

Ruby Compton, CampHacker & Camp Code podcaster

Onward with next summer and happy off-season to you all.

~ Ruby

[note from Travis: Thanks to CampHacker Ruby Compton, program director at Green River Preserve in North Carolina, and all-star co-host of the Camp Code podcast, for writing this article.  We look forward to many more wise thoughts from Ruby!

You can subscribe to Camp Code, our podcast full of amazing ideas for summer camp staff training for free.  Click to Subscribe in iTunes.]

Camper engagement is the key to high retention rates

This is your most productive & creative time at Summer Camp

Summer Camp Staff Training

Summer Camp Staff Training

The days are flying by and camp is almost here.  There are so many details to address and you are at the top of your game.  That is why I am sending three short 'HINTS' this week to enhance the work you are doing to create an even better camper experience. ~JWS

Directors all over the country know that camper engagement is the key to high retention rates, but they complain that their counselors and staff do not naturally connect with kids.  What can you expect from those who would rather sit beside each other and text their conversation rather than speaking with each other?


  • Start at the top.  Prep your leadership team about your focus on engagement.  Define precise steps that you and they can take to create a culture of engagement and establish it the minute that staff arrive.
  • Role model engagement during orientation.  Use people's names, encourage eye contact and expect friendly acknowledgements when individuals pass each other.
  • Script out a 'perfect' activity.  Detail how the program should start when the first camper arrives and how staff should be leading, coaching and engaging campers in the fun until the period ends.  Focus on athletic as well as creative environments and plan for all staff at the venue to be involved.
  • Run engagement workshops.  Show staff PRECISELY how you want activities, bunk time, meals and events to run.
  • Monitor performance.  In focus groups, counselors are unanimous.  Most realize how important their work with kids is ... and they want to be mentored so that they can increase their impact.

Camps that have worked on engagement in this way have increased their retention rates by 3-5%.  Go for it!


Need an objective perspective on any aspect of camp?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)