Welcome to Talk Camp!

Thanks for stopping by! Years ago, Talk Camp was an active forum community where camp counselors from around the world discussed their ideas and stories about working at camp. Over the years, the community slowly died. There was so much useful information, when I decided to close the forums I wanted to make sure everyone could still benefit from the articles our members had written. This blog will feature those articles. Every month, twice a month, new articles will be posted until they have all been posted. The information posted on this blog is exactly what was posted on the forums (with some minor spelling and grammatical corrections) — so even though I’m the “author” of each article, keep in mind that they were written by many different people.

As the months go by, this blog should grow in size. I encourage visitors to leave comments. Also, if you have an article you would like to see published, let me know! I’d love to add some newer content.


What Campers Want and Need


This comes both from the group and from the leader.  It is achieved through little things: friendliness, praise, and a moment alone.


Campers miss their familiar routines.  Establishing structure will help campers feel secure (familiarity with campgrounds and procedures.)  Consistency in leading will also contribute to a sense of security, as will the establishment of trust.  Fear of being ridiculed or hurt interferes with a camper’s physical coordination.  Reactions may include: stuttering, retreating into a shell, fighting back, criticizing others, or gossiping.

New Experiences

New and different things are exciting for campers. It is important to remember that campers should be able to understand why something is different.


Campers want to stand out from the crowd.  When a camper is reluctant to participate in an activity, it may mean that they are afraid they “can’t” or “won’t” do well.

The desire for recognition may cause a camper to misbehave, especially if they are not receiving attention any other way.

Twelve Commandments of Discipline

Thou Shalt:

  1. Foresee problem areas and seek to deal with them before conflict develops.
  2. Understand that a positive action elicits desirable behavior sooner than a negative reaction.
  3. Use praise more then blame; encouragement rather than nagging.
  4. Avoid arbitrary rules.
  5. Strive for fairness.
  6. Be consistent but not inflexible.
  7. Avoid ridicule and sarcasm.
  8. Never threaten a child.
  9. Not humiliate a child in front of other peers.
  10. Delay severe punishment until you are calm and controlled.
  11. Listen to explanations before making final conclusions.
  12. Explain your decisions.


The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciple – a pupil, to instruct, educate, train.

True discipline includes nurturance and restriction – two necessary elements of growth.

The child that does not know boundaries for behavior feels insecure.

Punishment is only a temporary deterrent not a permanent solution.

The Threat of Physical Violence

This is (hopefully) a rare occurrence in a camp environment, a situation where a camper is in a position to be a physical threat to her/his counselors. In order to place this in context, I’ll talk about a scenario that I found myself in two summers ago, and explain how I dealt with it.

To use the kayaks in boating sessions, our campers have to complete 25 lengths in our pool, and to help them achieve this, counselors sometimes get in and complete it with them, cheering them on. I was doing just that. I had not swum properly for a while, and so was finding it just as hard going as the campers! When I had finished, I got out of the pool to an ongoing situation with my co-counselor and a camper. The camper had become aggressive, and was shouting at my co, and flicking a towel around at him. Rightly so, my co was not reacting to that, and trying to get him to calm down, my co-counselor was doing everything right, but it just wasn’t working.

I volunteered to be a ‘new face’, and take over where my co left off, just as the camper ran into the pump room of the pool. I followed him in, and he continued to be verbally aggressive, and to flick the towel at my face. I continued my co-counselors responses, trying to calm him down and get him out of the pump room. As he didn’t get the response he wanted, he picked up a wrench that was nearby, and started waving it around.

This is the point where the situation changed from inappropriate, to dangerous. As this was not going to resolve itself in a favorable manner (well for me anyway!), I took the wrench from his hands, and escorted him out of the pump room, where I made it quite clear how unacceptable this was. He was then passed over to a member of our Support and Intervention Team [SIT].

I think that this is the crux of my argument, that when circumstances like this occur, as rare as they are, they have to be resolved quickly, and in a way that you may not usually want to conduct yourself. At camp, I am easy-going and will attempt to talk to campers in a way that doesn’t show anger or condemnation, but helps to reason through their behavior with them. After this event, I had a long talk with my Unit Leader, as I felt very guilty and upset about how I had handled it, but now I don’t believe there was another way, because of what could have happened.

The Growing Camper

Understanding the typical developmental traits of children
by Sandy Cameron
(taken from my camp’s staff manual)

The Elementary Years
Five-to-seven-year-old campers are curious and excited. They are learning to share and play cooperatively in small groups. They see the world as a place to be explored. Other typical behavioral traits include:

  • A strong attachment to their home and family
  • A short interest span
  • An awareness mainly of themselves and their own desires
  • A preference for imaginative, make-believe play
  • Curiosity, a desire to explore their expanding world
  • A desire for repetition of enjoyable experiences
  • Being easily upset by changes in routine or environment
  • Boys and girls playing together readily
  • Depending on adults to meeting physical and emotional needs
  • A need for patient understanding and close supervision

Beginning Independence
Seven-to-ten-year-old campers are beginning to socialize with children their own age. They want friendships and enjoy playing together. They also:

  • Are ready for a live-away experience
  • Have a longer attention span
  • Are aware of others and are willing to share
  • Desire acceptance from their peers
  • Need close friendships with playmates
  • Are able to express themselves freely in art forms and play
  • Desire better skills performance are interested in group games and activities
  • Want everyone to obey stated rules and regulations
  • Strongly identify with own sex and age group

The "Tween" Years
Not quite children and not quite teenagers, camper’s ages ten to twelve are beginning to gain more awareness of themselves and their skills. Making friends and being accepted by their peers is a growing concern. Campers in this age group also:

  • Have a strong desire for a live-away experience
  • Want to be together in groups and teams
  • Have the patience to work toward short-term goals
  • Form cliques and friendships with own sex and age group
  • Seek status through excellence in skills and knowledge of grown-up things
  • Are fairly competitive in teams and individual activities
  • Have a growing concern with their physical size and appearance
  • Boys and girls can work and socialize in programs where they share planning responsibilities
  • Like to make, do, and collect things
  • Enjoy being mischievous and daring

Seeking Independence
Camper’s ages twelve to fifteen are becoming more independent, growing away from family ties and influences. However, they still want adult supervision and adult attention to their daily needs. Other traits include:

  • A strong drive for conformity with own age group
  • Intense feelings and emotions
  • Being greatly influenced by popular adults and teenage idols
  • Rapidly changing interests and ambitions
  • A long interest span and increasing capacity for self-discipline
  • A preference for competition with outside groups over competition with friends
  • Idealism about the world at large
  • Concern with their personal appearance, self-consciousness and inhibition
  • The state of puberty; girls begin to menstruate, boys’ sex glands begin to function actively
  • Boys and girls can work together on projects better than they can socialize

Impatient to Grow Up
Campers ages fifteen to seventeen are eager to grow up. They want independence and responsibility. At the same time, they are beginning to think about their future and possible career plans. Campers in this age group also:

  • Want to earn money for independence and freedom
  • Desire increased responsibility
  • Need to be treated as young adults
  • Occasionally revert to childish behavior
  • Are very critical of self
  • Seek prestige and belonging to the power group
  • Are able to concentrate and specialize in selected skills and interests
  • Expansive and changing ambitions
  • Are encountering a conflict between idealism and materialism
  • Develop crushes with depth of feeling
  • Tend to cover own weaknesses with similar weaknesses of the group

In addition to these characteristics, all children and teens want to know what they are respected, loved, and valued for who they are. Show campers that you care, and they will show you respect.

Information in this article is from Camper Guidance: A Basic Handbook by J.W. Bloom and A.C. Ballentine, et al. A related book is Camp is for the Camper.

Originally published in the 1999 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.

Camp Story: Full Life

There was this kid in my bunk last summer, let’s call him Johnny. Well he was really into video games. His favorite video game was Half Life. This was also Johnny’s first summer at camp, so he obviously didn’t know anyone.

One day, he was telling me about how he loved to play Half Life. I thought nothing of it, but I humored him and talked to him about it. A few days later he was having a bad day. He’d get to camp really early, and before any of the counselors in our bunk got to camp, some of the kids were making fun of him. When I got to camp I saw him sitting at our bunk table crying. So I started talking to him. He told me what happened and I told him I’d deal with it. Then I started to try cheering him up. I remembered he told me his favorite game was Half Life. Well to be creative, I told him I created a game called Full Life. At first he didn’t believe me, but I kept telling him I really did create that game. (In reality I didn’t.) He got really into it and started talking to me all about it. It was like the sadness he just went through went away. He had a big smile on his face and he was pretty happy. The rest of the day he was in a good mood. I was just glad I could help him feel better on a day that started off pretty badly for him.

For the rest of the summer, we’d talk about Full Life. I’d tell him that there were really 20 games in the series, and that the newest one was based right at our camp. He loved that. Every day he’d come in and tell me how he beat another level of Full Life. He had a good imagination I guess. I’m sure he knew the game was fake, but I think he had a good time making up stories about how he beat a level and whatnot. So I played along. It was our little thing for the rest of the summer no one else understood.

On the last day of camp I got a note from his parents with my tip. None of the other counselors in the bunk got a note. It said that they wanted to thank me for helping him have a good summer. They said he was nervous before the first day of camp, but after a few days (probably after I told him about Full Life) he’d come home and tell about how good his day was. Apparently he mentioned my name a lot as well. That was really nice, I thought. I was glad I could help him have a good first summer at camp. I’m hoping he comes back next summer so I can talk to him again.

The Fine Art of Game Leadership

Games are more than fun: they can be played to accomplish many goals.  Games can help children get acquainted easily and enjoy being together. Games can meet the needs of the whole group and individuals at the same time. For example, games give children a chance to:

• Be active and noisy

• Learn teamwork and fair play

• Learn to win, loose or draw good – naturedly

• Be both a leader and a follower

Games can present new information or skill in an attractive way. Games can help children appreciate diversity. Games help children learn the importance of cooperation.

Basic Rules of Thumb for Good Game Leadership

1. Keep the game snappy and vigorous.

2. ALWAYS end the game BEFORE it goes dead.

3. Select the game with the abilities of the group in mind.

4. Know the game your self before trying to teach it.

5. Make sure that everyone understands the basic rules of the game, however, teach only the minimum essentials.

6. Have all your game equipment ready and be sure the play area is safe and adequate.

7. Get the attention of the group before trying to explain the game. Explain the game with the children near you. Yelling to the outfield or shouting about the noise of a group will only result in confusion and a sore throat.

8. Get the play started as soon as possible. Refine later.

9. Alternate high activity games with quieter games.

10. Stress cooperative games.


Remember, you are teaching individuals…not just a game. Decisions must be fair and rules must be enforced.

You’ve heard it before but it is most important aspect of playing a game: “It’s not who wins or loses that really counts, but how the game was played.”

Plan Ahead

A game period should be well-planned, just like anything else you do in a camp setting. Nothing will kill a game faster than poor planning.

10 Commandments for Good Listening

1. Stop Talking.

Polonius (Hamlet): “Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.”

2. Put the talker at ease.

Help others feel they are free to talk. Create a “permissive environment.”

3. Show that you want to listen.

Look and act interested. Listen and understand rather than to reply.

4. Minimize distractions.

Don’t doodle, tap your fingers, or shuffle papers. Attention is a sign of valuing.

5. Put yourself in the speaker’s place.

Try to hear to understand the speaker’s point of view.

6. Be Patient.

Allow plenty of time. Do not interrupt.

7. Hold your temper.

An angry person often interprets the wrong meaning from words.

8. Go easy on argument and criticism.

This puts the speaker on the defensive. In an argument, even if you win, you loose.

9. Ask questions.

This encourages the speaker and shows you are listening.

10. Stop talking.

This is first and last, because all the others commandments depend on it.

Gaining Cooperation from Your Campers

1. Mention positive rather than negative points. Explain to your campers what he/she is allowed to do, rather than focusing on what he/she is not allowed to do. Role model position behavior.

2. Participate in all activities with your campers. This will show them that it is fun to try all activities. They are less likely to sit on the sidelines if they see their counselor participating.

3. In supervising campers it is important to be able to see what is happening with the entire group. Choose a position at each activity that will allow you to see everyone.

4. The best way to handle a problem with a camper is to prevent it. Be aware of tension and safety all of the time, and usually you will be able to prevent trouble before it gets out of proportion.

5. Every camper is a person. Show that you respect your campers as you respect adults you will encourage the campers to respect you. Blaming, criticizing and labeling are not respectful.

6. One of the goals of camp is cooperation. Comparing one child with another encourages the campers to compete rather than cooperate.

7. Originality and creativity are prized in the camp environment. Asking a child to copy what you have done, or encouraging him/her to duplicate a model inhibits natural creativity.

8. Independence is a goal of the camp experience. Each child should be encouraged to do whatever he/she can with the minimum amount of assistance from adults. Often, however, the child needs help, particularly if a skill or activity is new to him/her.

9. Let your camper make as many choices as possible, but only give them a choice when you intend to let them make the decision.

Activity Idea: Run the Bases

This is another favorite game in our camp. Most people have played this game before, but I’ll explain it anyway.

  • You start by choosing two trees, poles, or any two objects to be the ends (bases).
  • Then choose two people (campers or counselors) to be the enders. These people stand at the two bases and throw the ball to each other. They try to get the runners out.
  • Depending on the rules, runners may run whenever they wish or there is countdown to when everyone runs at the same time.
  • You get out if an ender hits you with the ball (either by throwing the ball or tagging you with it, depending on your rules).
  • The winner is the only person to not get out.
  • You cannot get out if you’re touching one of the bases.
  • Often, the enders will trick the camper runners (and some counselor runners) by pretending to throw the ball, but really holding on to it. Then when the runners leave the base, the ender can get them out easily.
  • In return, runners often distract the enders by not touching the base. When the ender goes to get that person out, everyone else runs to the other base. This is a popular strategy for campers in our camp.

Recognizing Someone’s Escalating Behavior

Recognizing Someone’s Escalating Behavior:

Tips and Techniques to Use to Help Stop an Out of Control Person

We can recognize someone’s escalating behaviour and try to stop it:

Two stages can be identified:

1. The individual becomes anxious.

We can recognize anxiety in an individual by noticing a change in their typical behaviour, (pacing, staring, finger drumming, fidgety, fast talking etc.)

Staff should:Be supportive, use empathy and be non-judgmental. Talkto the person to try to figure out what is bothering them.

2. The individual becomes defensive.

They can show defensiveness by being argumentative and challenging.Staff should:Set limits and/or give choices and consequences.

When we notice an individual is anxious or argumentative, it is important to keep in mind Non Verbal Behaviours.

1. Personal Space:

Usually 1 to 1.5 feet surrounding us. People see this space as an extension of themselves. Some factors involved are:

i. Relationship to the person

ii. Their culture

iii. A person’s hygiene

iv. Their body language

v. Their emotional state

vi. Their gender

vii. Personal history

– It is important to understand that almost anything can be a factor in determining Personal Space.

– Not allowing a person to have their Personal Space can elevate their levels of anxiety, and escalate the situation.

2. Body Language:

– The non-verbal aspects of communication transmitted through body posture and motion.

– You can read someone’s body language be watching their eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture, and movements.

Another aspect of communication is Paraverbal Communication.

– This is the vocal part of speech, other than the actual words, (how we say, what we say). Some elements involved:

Tone of voice

Volume (loud or soft)

Rate and rhythm of speech

*55-80% of what people are trying to communicate is through Non Verbal communication*

When we are talking to an individual, we want to keep in mind the way we (as staff) are standing. We should be at a relaxed posture, with our hands to our sides and palms open, off to one side at about a 45-degree angle, paying close attention to personal space. If the person is much shorter than yourself or in a wheel chair you may want to lower yourself to their level.

When a person is being defensive (being argumentative and challenging), it is a god idea to allow this person to vent. Try to remove them from the group or move the group away from the person who is being defensive. This will allow the person to “blow off steam”.

If at this point, staff need to set limits, because the person is being argumentative and challenging (defensive), this person may start to ask questions. There are two types of questions that may be asked.

1. Information seeking question. Staff should answer this question if they are able to.

2.Challenging question. Staff should ignore this question and re-direct the individual back to the topic and hand, or set limits.

Keys to setting limits:

They should be







-Age appropriate

-Immediate (if possible)

Verbal intervention tips and techniques:

Staff should:

-Remain calm

-Pay attention to what is being said

-Assertive (without being bossy)

-Be non-judgmental

Staff should not:

-Be threatening







Empathic Listening:

Trying to figure out what someone is trying to communicate.

Staff should:

-Give undivided attention

-Use paraphrasing/ restatement to clarify conversation

-Use silence for refection

-Listen for feelings and intent, not just facts and content

-Be non-judgmental

Precipitating Factors:

Precipitating Factors are internal or external causes of acting out behaviour.

Possible factors:


-Need to maintain self-esteem

-Current events

-Family life

It’s important to understand that almost anything can be a Precipitating Factor for someone.

Important Terms:

Rational Detachment:

Our ability as staff to maintain professionalism and not take the acting out behaviour personally.

Integrated Experience:

The idea or concept that staff attitude and behaviour will affect client (camper) attitude and behaviour and vice versa.

This is more of an outline of a presentation from my camp’s training session. We are able to get a lot more out of it by talking about it as a group and using examples.