Proven Methods for Building Teen Leaders at Summer Camp

S.T.A.N.D. and Be Counted!

 #STANDatCairn teen leadership campers

 #STANDatCairn teen leadership campers

For years now, I have been watching the change in teenagers. As a fellow camping professional, I too have battled the increasing media barrage of what teens “need” and “must have”, grieved their loss of a true childhood, wondered where this sense of entitlement came from and what to do about it, and stressed over staff members who seemed to be there just for themselves - all the while trying to keep up with ever-changing technology and its affect on teen culture. I spent years addressing each new issue during staff training and changing policies accordingly.  It was exhausting.

I decided it was time for me to compile all I had learned (then and since) and create new and inventive ways to help teens make better choices, to realize they can make a difference and to use their voices to create a kinder, more nurturing world. I wanted to pull it all together in one tightly-woven package. 

I began with some questions.

  • What if we offered them intentional teaching every day?  
  • What if we reinforced it with individual cabin sessions throughout the week?  
  • What if we opened and closed each day with more emphasis on the lesson being taught?  
  • What if we added special touches throughout meals, campfires, and programs that underlined all that we were trying to instill?  
  • And what if we gave them lots of opportunities to practice these new skills in a safe and loving environment? 

Could we see changes in only 1 short week?

I had the privilege of running the pilot program at Glen Mhor Camp, part of the Cairn Family of Camps in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada.  I was invited to attend their Teen Week Camp for teens ages 13-16.  It ran for a week in the middle of August. With the camp’s session beginning on a Sunday afternoon and finishing on a Saturday, I decided I had 5 full days to hit these lessons home (plus the bonus of the time on either end).  With the grace of the Camp Directors and the enthusiasm of their hard-working staff, I was given the flexibility to work around their daily schedule and suggest changes as I saw fit.  

If I wanted them to be intentional human beings, I had to be intentional with EVERY DETAIL.  Everything was frontloaded - from the staff meeting the day before the session even began to daily announcements at breakfast about the session’s expectations.  Every morning, the entire camp (and many parents and alumni - but more about that later) gathered in the lodge for an hour long leadership session.  Skits, games, short videos, small and large group discussions, singing and other activities all came together to teach teens and staff the lessons of the day. Throughout the rest of the day’s programming, we reinforced what was taught and caught the campers doing it right.  The changes we saw were more than I could have ever hoped.  We challenged them with high expectations and they rose to each and every one and then surpassed them. 

Over the next series of newsletters, I’ll go into more detail but for now, let me leave you with the name of the program.  For anyone who has ever worked with me, they know I love a good acronym.  I’ve always found them an invaluable way for staff (and campers) to remember important things. With that in mind, I decided upon the 5 significant lessons I wanted teens to learn and S.T.A.N.D. was born.

Each letter represents the daily lesson:

S - Social Graces, if you please

T - Take Responsibility for your own Actions

A - Ask Intelligent Questions

N - Never Miss an Opportunity to Pay a Kindness

D - Do All Things with Integrity

So I’m throwing my hat in the ring.  I’m putting my money where my mouth is.  I’m standing up for what I believe in.  I’m joining forces with all those family members, educators and camping professionals out there helping to create teens who are confident, resilient decision makers and positive contributing members of society.  I look forward to sharing more of this grand adventure.

Click for more S.T.A.N.D. Leadership Training articles.

Summer Camp Photographer - Camp Kintail

Camp Photos for Marketing Purposes

Camp Kintail is an ever growing Presbyterian Church Camp on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.  Kintail is my first summer home - as many long-term listeners and readers will know I grew up there (so did my mom & her brothers and my grandparents).   It is always a special time for me to get to go back to Kintail and shoot for them every year.

If you are interested in professional photography to help improve the image of your website, blog, newsletter or brochure please contact me.

Don't Forget Yourself...

A Self-Evaluation for Camp Directors

Summer Camp Director: Self Evaluation

Summer Camp Director: Self Evaluation

As Camp Directors, we are quite intentional about evaluations. We evaluate everything from people to program, food to finance, and policies to procedures. Like many things at camp, however, we often forget to put ourselves on 'the list'. 

At this time of year, when, for many, the last of the rental groups has finished and the docks are coming out, it's important to take the time to self-evaluate.  If you have a Co-Director or a Leadership Team who works full-time with you, it can be beneficial to share some of your answers as part of the process. 

CampHacker's Director Eval:  

Everybody's Got Skills 

Why do you think you were chosen you to fill this role at this time in your camp's history?

What skills do you bring to the role of ____________ which make it a successful partnership with your organization?

On which skills would you like to see yourself improve?

On The Job 

What 3 things are your favourite parts of this job?

What 3 responsibilities give you the most stress about your job?  Please be specific.

Whatdaya Need?

What do you need from your (Board, Governing Body, Camp Community)  in order the do the best job possible?  (we are assuming here that you are not already receiving these things)

What outside resources do you need to access to be better at your job?

Looking Back...

What 5 words would you use to describe this year's season at camp?

List 3 things you did very well this camping season and of which you are most proud.

What was your biggest mistake -- one you will never make again?

What advice would the “You” of today give the “You of last spring/summer?

Working Well with Others

How would you describe your working relationship with your Leadership Team this camping season?

If anything, what would you like to improve in your relationship?

What 3 things would you like to have told your Team at the end of the summer?

How can you be a better support to your Leadership Team next spring/summer?

Looking Ahead...

What do you fear most for next summer? 

What are you looking forward to most next summer?

What projects should you be doing this Fall so they are out of the way come next Spring?  (list with realistic dates by which to be finished each project)

How will Leadership Training next summer be different from this year’s?

What is your most exciting idea for next season?

We would love to hear the questions you ask yourself at the end of every year.  Reviewing and evaluating ourselves on a regular basis helps us to be more intentional in our roles as Camping Professionals.

Hello from the Head Counsellor - Head Counsellor - #0

Ideas for your summer camp Head Counsellor!

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

CampHacker Matt Honsberger

Hello everyone! My name is Matt Honsberger, at camp they call me Iscus. I play a bit of a behind the scenes role here at CampHacker, but Travis was kind enough to have me write a little bit for the site about my thoughts on something that I am very passionate about, summer camp.

Summer camp started for me at the age of 8 at small residential camp in Paris Ontario called Ganadoweh. My parents registered me for the “Wilderness Experience” trip. So I went, and for the first time, paddled a canoe, pitched a tent, sang campfire songs and experienced what missing home was really all about!

From there, I guess you could say that I really became a “child of the North”. My best friend connected me to Cairn (at the time, Glen Mhor Camp) and for 6 years, I would spend the best week of my year up there. Then, I took the fairly typical camp leadership journey from the month long LIT program in 2006, to counselling in ’07 and ’08, to being the Assistant Maintenance Director (I like to add the -Director for resumes) in 2009, then co-directed the LIT program for two years and this past summer, had the honour of being Cairn’s Head Counsellor.

I can honestly say that my 13 summers at camp have left the biggest impressions on my life and have shaped me into the leader that I am today. By no means do they make me an expert or a camp visionary, but I have definitely had some life-altering experiences and learned some lessons that I think can only really be learned at camp. In that time, this past year at camp was particularly impactful for me. I can’t think of another time in my life where I was so stressed out, so frustrated and so challenged yet so content and driven. 

That confusing inequality of emotions is exactly the type of thing that I am excited to share on this blog. Below, you’ll find out some of my insights on being a head counsellor based around the kind of experiences and encounters that I had. Once again, I don’t claim to be a visionary but I hope that my thoughts will spark some of your own and that together, we can come out with something visionary-ish. 


[Travis' edit: You can connect with Matt on Twitter @Iscus

Next article - The Job Description(ish.)

Camp Scully - Camping Coast to Coast

We are Camping Coast to Coast a two-person organization consisting of Jack Schott and Laura Kriegel. This fall we are traveling across the US and Canada learning from and giving back to camps. 

Our first stop was to visit Colin Stewart at Camp Scully. Camp Scully is a small resident and day camp outside Albany, New York and after just two days their we were in love with the place. They have made a commitment at Scully that no campers will be turned away because of financial reasons. Which I am sure creates a ton of finiancial and logistical issues but is an incredible mission to be able to hang their hats on.

What impressed us the most about Scully was the amazing creativity Colin and his staff have shown to make the little parts of camp magical. There are just two quick examples.

Thank you Colin so much for your hospitality and love!

Jack and Laura

Things I Wouldn’t Know If I Didn’t Go To Camp: Part 6

I am Approachable because of Summer Camp

Summer camp counsellor practice being approachable.

Summer camp counsellor practice being approachable.

A camp is a business.  The camp organization may not always visually look like a business that operates out of a tall office tower, but there are some similarities between the two.

In any business, there are junior employees, mid-level employees, and senior employees (who are sometimes business owners or camp directors).  One common problem felt by the junior employees is that they want to do good work for their bosses without looking like they need too much coaching.  Not only do they want to look good (perhaps it is more so avoiding looking “stupid”), they are also sometimes afraid of the senior employees, who have lots of experience and knowledge that make them experts in their field.

In staff evaluations at camp, the area staff (senior staff) would regularly hear feedback that encouraged them to be a little more approachable and open to the CITs.  This was sometimes strange to hear as we thought we were always open, friendly, and available for all staff to approach us. I’ll ask this question then:  Were we, as senior staff, not as approachable as we should have been, or were the junior staff just too shy and scared to approach us?

At the time I always thought the correct answer was the latter.  I do believe both senior and junior employees need to work together to create an environment that is safe and accommodating for everyone.  When the junior employee can feel more confident knowing the senior person is available and open to listen and support, they are more likely to approach that person.

Camp taught me this lesson about the employee hierarchy and the communication challenges that sometimes exist.  I am still confident that camp is the friendliest place on earth, yet I do recognize, from my own experiences as a young counsellor, that it can be scary to talk to a more experienced and popular senior counsellor. We sometimes get tricked into thinking the senior staff will ask us to do stuff for them, when really they are looking for us junior folks to show initiative and volunteer to help out or ask if anything needs to be done.

It might only take a quick interaction, initiated by the senior staff while entering the dining hall to say “Hey, anytime you have something on your mind or any question, come talk to me”.

Lead by example.  Become approachable by approaching.

Last weekend I launched my book “The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned At Camp” and I invite you to grab a copy for yourself at!