Can’t Get Your Campers to Line Up? Here’s a Solution

If you have trouble getting your campers to line up when getting ready to leave an activity, here’s one solution. (This works best with younger kids.) I was taught this during a pre-camp seminar by an “expert” in camp counseling.

What you do is you tell the kids what’s going to happen and what they should do. Tell them that when you say “All eagles to the flock” (the example he gave us), or something similar, they should all line up behind you. You’re going to turn your back to them, count to 10, and give them time to line up. They’ll all come running to line up before you get to 10. When you count to ten. You turn to the right and left, pretending to look for your campers (knowing they’re all lined up behind you). You keep saying that you can’t find them and you’re wondering where they are. They’ll probably start laughing. When they do, turn around fully so you’re facing them. Then act surprised to see them all lined up.

I’ve never tested this method, but it sounds like a good one that might work. I’m going to try this next summer.

The Camp Lover’s Guide to Perfect Programming

So you’re having some problems planning a successful program? Well you’ve come to the right place. Here is a complete guide to planning and facilitating programs. Included are the eight major phases to planning the perfect program, some random tips, and a list of some great activities. if you follow the phases step by step you shouldn’t have too many problems. Remember that some programs require more planning than others so you might be able to skip steps for some programs. The longer you use this 8 phase method the more natural it will come. You will find yourself avoiding the unexpected by planning ahead. Best of luck and feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Phase 1: The Brainstorm

Wait, what? You don’t have an idea? That’s alright, it’s not that hard. Review previous calendars and schedules, think about what programs have been successful in the past and if you’d like to repeat them, speak to program directors, friends, even ask the campers what activities they like. If you’re looking to make up a program that’s never been done before try opening up the yellow pages or the dictionary- take a few businesses or words, mush them together and create something new. Just remember, phase 1 is all about brainstorming! You might think of some truly amazing things or some terrible things, but write it all down because brainstorming is not about getting it right the first time, it’s about getting the process started.

Phase 2: The Vision

Once you are past brainstorming you may think you have an incredible idea, but you have a few things to consider. First of all, what you see in your mind, is not always what comes out of your mouth. Write down a rough idea of how you would like the event to go. After you read what you wrote you might realize something is missing, if that happens consider going back to Phase 1.

Another important thing to consider is who is your target audience? You may be planning an incredible program, but if it is geared toward teens and your campers are seven, you are probably headed in the wrong direction. Along the same lines it is so important to consider what is appropriate. This means on movie night, don’t show a Barney video to 16 year olds and don’t show a gory action film to nine year old girls. The main thing to focus on in phase 2 is getting your idea on paper and making a rough schedule of the activity.

Phase 3: The Approval

Unless you get nervous around authority (which is a possibility, and ok – so maybe that’s something you might want to work on!) this is a fairly painless step. If your camp requires you to get approval for programs take your plan to the appropriate person and make sure that you are able to explain it clearly. If they think changes should be made, don’t be disappointed because 9 times out of 10 they are usually right. Make sure to be professional; if they are impressed by your presentation and demeanor, you might find yourself getting rewarded with more opportunities to plan or facilitate programs!

Phase 4: The Schedule

This phase is small but important. Chances are if you are a counselor planning a program someone higher up has already given you the date and time of your activity. If you are in a program director or unit leader position, you have a few things to consider in terms of scheduling.

Some things to think about might include: Is this a water event right after a water event? Is this a land event right after a land event? Is this a highly active event right after a meal? Do you need to include time for the campers to prepare? Will you have your full staff or partial staff that day? Is this program coed, will that make a difference in the outcome? Is this an activity that can be facilitated at any time of day, or on a rainy day? These questions obviously do not apply to everyone or every event; however the time of day/week you place your event can make a difference in the outcome.

Phase 5: The Planning

This is 7.5 on the treadmill after a slow walk around the track. It is time to literally sweat out the details. This phase is divided into 5 subgroups. They are all equally important so make sure you consider each of them.

    1. Play-by-play – Make a tentative schedule. Example:

      7:00 – Campers arrive, allow time for noise, it will happen.
      7:05 – Explain activity.
      7:10 – Divide into groups. Ashley leads group 1, Daniel leads group 2, Tiffany leads group 3, Michael leads group 4.

7:15 – Begin activity
And so on…
  1. Timing- This subgroup goes hand in hand with phase 4. The big thing about this is making sure you have enough time to do everything you want to do. If you don’t the only option is to cut parts of the program down. Remember quality over quantity. You may have 5 events planned for a 1 hour activity period but if they all suck because it is so rushed no one is going to be happy. If you switch from 5 events to 3 and really focus on those to make them fun you might find your program more successful. And remember what you don’t do now, you can probably do another time.
  2. Location/transportation – If you are going to be on camp, make sure you block out the location for your event. You wouldn’t want to get there and find that someone else is already playing red rover when you had a really cool obstacle course planned. Think about if that space will be big enough for everyone and if you are splitting up where everyone will go.

    Just important as the actual activity is the before and after. Do you need to prepare the space before the campers get there? If so make sure you have time to do this before the kids get there. You wouldn’t want them waiting outside while you are hiding clues for a scavenger hunt. And even more important than before is obviously after. You can have a flawless activity and all the campers love it but if you don’t clean up your mess chances are someone will get onto you. Leave the location cleaner than when you got there; it will make you look good too!

    If this activity is off your camp property make sure the place you are going knows you’re coming. Purchase tickets ahead of time. Allow extra time for travel. Be kind to your host location if you plan to return someday. If you need a bus make sure you have that lined up. And so so important- make sure you have all your kids.. but you knew that!

  3. Supplies/budget – You should consider making a list of things you need to purchase or bring. You might want to put what everything you need is for just so you don’t forget. Don’t write it on a napkin- you might accidentally throw it away with your frappachino. A higher-up might want to see your list of supplies; if you are responsible for turning it in, make sure you get it to them on time so your supplies will be available on time. Also consider that some items may need to be purchased. Check to find out if your camp will pay you back for your purchases. If they will, keep your receipts and don’t go over their set budget. Don’t buy things you already have and if it belongs to a different area of camp or another counselor, make sure you ask before you take!
  4. Assistance – If you need assistance leading, make sure you know who is helping you lead the event and it is always nice to tell them ahead of time- they’ll thank you for it. Make sure you can be articulate in explaining to those helping you their specific responsibilities. If you are obsessive compulsive, then make them a checklist. Also if you want to invite any visitors your program such as the camp director, please remember they have busy schedules so invite them far enough in advance that they can easily work it into their schedule.

Phase 6: The Hype

Surprisingly, at summer camps the staff frequently forgets to market their program once the kids get there! Getting everyone there is only half the job. You don’t need a full-on advertising campaign for every evening program but sometimes it is nice to have your staff participate in a skit or to announce the activity instead of just saying “Hey yall, today we’re uh, um, going to do Clue, so see you at 3:00 in the reck hall, or something.”

For activities that are really special think about sending out themed invitations, or keep your kids guessing. Start announcing Friday’s activity on Monday by giving clues to what it might be. Let the kids guess but never tell them if they are right. Let the hype getting bigger everyday until it actually happens. Something I have noticed over and over is that if you are positive the kids will be positive, if you are negative the kids will be negative. Even if you’re worried that your program blows, look happy and excited and have your counselors tell the kids the activity is going to be awesome. After it’s over if it really did bomb make sure your staff says to your campers “I had a lot of fun at that program, my favorite part was ___. What was yours?” If the kids didn’t like the activity at least it will give them a chance to think “wow, maybe it really wasn’t that bad” or “hey that was so funny when ___.”

Phase 7: The Prep

If you have preparations you need to make for the actual event make sure to get there ahead of time. If there are things you need to bring, make sure you have them so you don’t have to run back to your cabin on the other side of camp at the last minute. Have everything set up before your kids arrive; don’t keep them waiting because they can get restless at any age.

Phase 8: The Execution

What left is there to say? You’ve made it! You planned an excellent program; now carry it out! If you feel prepared and confident, your campers will have fun! Don’t forget to breathe. And when it’s over be sure to take note whether they liked it or not. If they did-,put it on the schedule for next session. It will save you some planning time!

Other Tips

  • If food is involved, make sure you turn in your camp’s request forms on time (if they have them). Also consider if the food is appropriate. You wouldn’t want to use pork chops during a program at a kosher camp. Remember, some kids might have allergies so don’t smear peanut butter all over a kids face unless you are totally sure they aren’t allergic. There is also the social issue of wasting food involved when you include food. If you are eating that is ok, but think about if you have a moral problem with wasting that food. If you don’t, someone else might.
  • You don’t have to plan this alone. A good sign of a leader is the ability to use appropriate delegation.
  • Don’t forget: This is not school! The kids are there to have fun. Sure, activities can be educational. But if the kids are sitting and listening while a guest speaking talks about different kinds of rocks, they are probably not going to be so happy when it’s over.
  • If a child is having a behavior problem during the activity and acting out — every camp has their own procedures for this — don’t let those children ruin the activity for you or the campers. If they are truly a distraction, don’t be afraid to take action.
  • Keep calm and don’t forget to breathe!
  • It’s a good idea to plan your events 1 to 2 weeks ahead of time to allow for problems to pop up.
  • If this program is not rainy day appropriate, make sure to have a back up plan. You don’t want your children sitting in the cabins listening to their iPods the period after rest hour because it’s raining and the pool party got rained out.
  • Decide ahead of time if you want to do an ice breaker or not. If you do, make sure you plan for it as needed.
  • When breaking campers up into groups, think ahead. Do you want them by cabin? Can they choose their own groups? Who does and does not get along? Are you trying to get your campers to meet new people?
  • Plan for the worst: expect problems. If you run a completely flawless program once or twice in a session you are above average! Just remember anything can happen and sometimes what your people will take from your program won’t even cross their mind. Don’t be disappointed, just learn from it.
  • Remember that if you’re not planning/facilitating the program to be respectful of the person that is — they might be nervous.

Activities Ideas

  • Campfires with song sessions and banana boats
  • Bahama Mama
  • Sumo Wrestling
  • Messy Scavenger Hunt
  • Luau/Pool Party
  • Pictionary
  • Improv Games
  • Sardines (group hide and seek)
  • Movie Night
  • Jeopardy
  • Songfest
  • Gold Rush
  • Paint Tag
  • Slip N Slide
  • Clue
  • Tie Dying
  • Themed Socials
  • How well do you know your counselor?
  • Camp trivia games
  • 80s Airband
  • Double Dare
  • Capture the Flag
  • Carnival
  • Apache Relay
  • Messy Twister
  • Obstacle Course
  • Kangaroo Court
  • Dutch Auction
  • Casino Night
  • Messy Counselor
  • Counselor Hunt
  • Coffee House/Talent Show
  • Haunted House
  • Special out of camp trips (depends on your camp’s location)

Assertive Relationships with Campers

**Borrowed from BSC Staff handbook**

Counselors must learn to present themselves to campers in a strong and confident manner. It is the right and responsibility of counselors to be “in charge” of “your campers.” In order to be in charge you must have the respect of the campers. You will not earn this respect by screaming, yelling insults, etc. Nor do you earn their respect by letting them do everything they want.

Describe behavior

Avoid making judgments, assumptions, or unclear messages. Don’t tell campers s/he is bad, but let them know when his behavior is inappropriate. Focusing on feelings may be helpful. Usually, it suffices to say, “I know that you wanted the ball, but was there another way to get it without hitting Johnny?” The overall goal is to help the camper learn from the experience, not to belittle, punish, or “pick on.” If a camper is upset, reflect what he is feeling. This shows that you do care about the camper. You could say something like this, “I know that you were really angry at me because you had to sit out of the evening program and you thought that was unfair.”

Let campers know what is expected of them

This should be done from the minute they arrive. Be straightforward in your dealings with campers. Use closed ended choices. Use phases like:

  • I want…
  • Your job is…
  • The rule is…
  • You have a choice, you may… or you can… (consequences)…

Avoid asking questions, such as:

  • How about…
  • Don’t you think…

Do not cut down campers:

  • “Slobs”… (instead use, “girls and boys”)

Watch your body language

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. 93% of how people respond is accounted for by nonverbal behaviors of the sender. Watch your:

  • Hand gestures
  • Shaking head
  • Eye contact
  • Body contact

Cabin rules

The way you establish rules and consequences in your cabin will determine the kind of summer you and your campers will have. Let the campers know what they can expect. Make your rules and consequences clear and concise. In order to get their campers to follow rules and consequences in the cabin, the counselors must be willing to adhere to the rules and consequences as well. Use advised cabin rules as a guide to establishing rules in the cabin.

Let the campers, during the first night chat, give rules they feel are important. Discuss the rules and why they are important the first night of camp before the campers go to bed.

Create and discuss consequences in the cabin. Follow through on consequences. The minute after you set a rule, the camper will feel obligated to test the limits to see if you will follow through. You must follow through or the rules are useless and your summer will be unpleasant!

Give reasons, not defensively

When campers protest, they should be given a respectful explanation of why the request is being made. “Because I am the counselor” or “Because I said so” is not enough and is usually not acceptable to the camper. Be clear and concise with the camper. Explain your reasoning behind your decision. Camp age children have an over sense of justice and fairness.

Avoid verbal power struggles

Keep repeating what is expected like a “broken record.” Refuse to get into an argument with a camper.

Get camper input

Ask how they feel about cabin rules. Discuss them and change them if warranted. After a rule is broken, ask the camper what you should do about it.

Assertive penalizing – enforcing penalties for misbehavior

Actions do speak louder than words. Do not get upset yourself. We tend to not think clearly when we are upset. You might have to ask the camper to go sit on his bunk or you may have to get away from the camper until you calm down. Think of yourself as a referee in a sports event. Assess predetermined consequences quickly and calmly. You should not:

  • Take away food
  • Take away mail
  • Take away canteen
  • Inflict physical punishment
  • Take away evening programs

You should:

  • Use “time out” technique and take campers our of activity. Time out maximum rule: one minute for every year of the camper or until the camper has calmed down and is under control.
  • Talk out the problem with the camper, “Tell me about what happened.” Remember you want the camper to learn a better way to solve a problem.
  • Take the camper to the Unit Leader
  • Take away cabin privileges (ie flashlight time, talk time during rest period, etc)

Penalties are far more effective and have more impact in an atmosphere of encouragement. Provide daily rewards and incentives for campers (ex: camper of the day, bed making contests, etc).

Don’t be afraid to ask for help! You must have staff collaboration in the cabin. Support your co-counselors. The campers will know if you and your co-counselor get along and communicate. If they see that you do not communicate with each other, they will “play off” each of you.

A Good Way to Keep Your Campers in Line

If your campers are constantly misbehaving, here’s a good way to get them to behave better. On the first day of camp, have the kids make the rules! Have each of them make up one rule. (Be sure to tell them they have to be rules that a counselor would make up, not a stupid rule.) Then tell them that they have to make sure no one breaks their rule. And if someone does break their rule, to tell a counselor. The kids love to make sure everyone’s following their rule, so odds are pretty good they’ll tell you if someone’s breaking their rule.

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.

Dave