Put Your Campers in Charge

After doing some reading and thinking, I want to change the way we do our activities at camp. We work hard and spend a great amount of time getting every piece of camp ready before campers arrive. But is that really that right approach?

I’ve set up a Google Classroom for my staff (look for a blog on that later!), and I wrote a document explaining this new philosophy for our activity specialists. Read it and find out more about what I’m talking about below!

At Camp Weed and camps all over the country, staff members plan and lead the activities, while campers listen, participate, and enjoy. Campers have fun with these activities, and the activities provide campers an opportunity to learn new skills or to try something they’ve never tried before. But what if our activities did more than that?

Even our youngest campers have their own interests, preferences, and imaginations. Instead of planning out how your activity will run for the week (think: Monday, we’ll go over the parts and rules; Tuesday, we’ll up the ante by adding in apples to shoot; etc.), I encourage you to get the campers involved. We can do more than create a great program – we can let the campers create a great program.

Why does it matter?

I’m sure you’ve heard the old phrase, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” The same principle applies to camp and our campers.

If we give campers fun, they have a great time at camp. If we go further, get them involved in the planning, and teach them how to create their own fun, they have the tools to have a great time even after camp is over. Not only will they have a great time at camp, but they’ll also leave camp with their lives changed. Incredible!

How does it work?

Like most things at camp, there’s not really a black and white formula for this. There are some guidelines and tips, and you can take those, give them your own style, and move forward changing lives!

Here are some of those guidelines and tips:

  • Make the most of our Sunday meetings. This year, our activities will have short 15 minute meetings on Sunday to get things kicked off. Take advantage of this time and have your campers introduce themselves, then get their feedback about what they’re interested in.
    • Want to take it one step further? Have campers set (or start setting) group and/or individual goals during this time.
  • Decide whether you’ll plan for the week or plan for the day. Different activities and different people need different things, so it’s up to you to decide whether you want to have your campers plan the whole week at once or have them plan it day by day. Because of supplies, arts and crafts may be something you want to plan in advance, but because we have a variety of sports equipment and feelings change day to day, it may be better to take sports a day at a time.
  • Be adaptable. You’ve planned for the whole week, but by the time Wednesday rolls around, the campers would rather try their hands at building a fort than practicing bird calls. Or maybe you’ve planned for the day, and right in the middle of a game of indoor hockey, the campers decide to change the rules. If these things happen, try your best to roll with them!
  • Encourage creativity.  If the campers in aquatics have wanted to play Sharks and Minnows every day this week, encourage them to switch it up! Pull the group together and have them brainstorm new rules or even a new game. Push your campers to think outside the box.
  • Step back. Maybe the campers at canoeing just want to canoe and not play a formal game. If so, that’s ok! Free play (where there aren’t any rules or requirements) is great for kids in a variety of ways. Sit back and watch, and you’ll be amazed what “just canoeing” can turn into.
  • Be realistic. This approach to activities centers on the campers making decisions, but there are times when you’ll have to step in and be realistic. If something is unsafe or out of the question budget-wise, step in, explain why it won’t work, and help campers brainstorm a close alternative.
  • Remember it’s not about you. It’s easy to get carried away with encouraging the campers to do what you want to do, and it’s also easy to take it personally when campers don’t like your ideas. Try to take yourself out of the equation, focus on the camper, and remember that just because they don’t your idea doesn’t mean they don’t like you.

Am I still in charge?

You are a central part of this approach’s success. Having confidence, being able to take a step back, and understanding that allowing campers to have power doesn’t diminish your own are all crucial parts of this working. Once you’ve got that out of the way, it’s smooth sailing.

As staff members, we expect to be in charge. And we are. Whether you pick the day’s activity or you allow a camper to choose, you’re still responsible for the safety and success of the program. You’re in charge! As they discuss in this article, “…enduring power is found in giving it away. Your power expands as you empower others.”

Have more questions?

Reach out and let me know! I’d love to work through them with you. (Same for you, blog readers! Comment below or email summercampmagic@gmail.com).


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