Ways to Make Camp Memorable

by Jeanne Muellerleile, C.C.D., M.S.

Building a warm rapport with the campers in your group as well as the coworkers you live and work with day to day is the single most important way to positively impact the camp experience for everyone. Counselors who really get to know their campers will find it easier to motivate them. Campers who trust their counselors tend to follow the rules and guidelines more easily. We all need to be heard and appreciate those who listen. As you discover your counseling style and learn to mesh it with other staff, remember to listen to one another and remain open to ideas. This mutual respect will make for a much smoother season.

Remember to celebrate each other's talents. Campers with a knack for crafts should be able to explore their creativity. Campers who love to catch bugs need time to do just that. This also applies to your team members. Learn who's great at leading large group activities or dreaming up a new skit. Know who has the special touch with that camper who needs a bit of one-on-one attention. Coworkers who are musical, know how to sew, or are great with knots can all shine at camp. It is easy to celebrate campers and staff interests as well as individual talents at camp. With flexible scheduling and an informal atmosphere, there is often room for spontaneity.

Keep in mind the value in challenging your campers appropriately. We all know how good it feels to accomplish something that was initially feared. Campers and staff alike will grow in confidence as they tackle challenging yet attainable tasks and succeed. Isn't that what camp is all about — expanding our view of ourselves and others in a supportive environment?

Be sure to encourage readily. We all need to be noticed and assured that others care about us. Camp is the ideal place to send those positive comments flying — "Great job climbing that tree, Steve!" or "Sarah, you are really connecting with your campers this week!"

Don't forget to withhold judgment. If we can take a breath and listen to all the details before we make a decision it will be in the best interest of campers and coworkers. Don't jump to conclusions. Take time to ferret out all the information before assuming the worst case scenario.

Keep expectations high and be predictable. If we make it clear with our own words and actions that our standards are high, others will follow. Campers and co-counselors need to know and see that we all follow the rules and treat each other with respect. If we are consistent in our interactions with others, campers and staff learn quickly about the culture of camp. Being predictable makes it easier for others to know how to act in a particular situation. Put campers' and staff members' physical and emotional safety at the top of the list and ensure that everyone understands what is expected.

Be ready to embrace new ideas. Every new idea need not be implemented, but when it can, jump at the chance to show you are open to other people's contributions. All campers and coworkers will take pride in the positive contributions that help make the camp run more efficiently.

It has been said before, but is worth stating again: communicate, communicate, communicate. Know when to keep quiet. As professionals it is imperative to keep confidential information about campers or staff confidential. When there is an issue with a fellow staff member, talk directly with the person and refrain from telling everyone else in camp about your concern. Try to rise to a higher standard when it comes to negativity and gossip, which can really tear down a team. Yet be relentless in sharing information that will help fellow staffers do their jobs. Changes and adjustments that happen regularly need to be communicated as soon as possible to keep everyone in the loop. Information is power, and you want your coworkers and campers to know they are an integral part of the team.

Show your gratitude. Don't hold back when you see something good happening. Share it with the individual as well as the entire community when possible. Say: "Thank you," "Good job," "I'm amazed you were able to do that," or whatever is appropriate for the situation. A few wellplaced words can make someone's week!

Contributed by Jeanne Muellerleile, C.C.D., M.S., camp director — Camp Courageous of Iowa. Contact the author at jeanne@ campcourageous.org.

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