Building Bunk Group Buddies: Creating a Team in the Cabin

by Denise Cabrero Nelson

Children can learn to work together from an early age, and the bunk group at camp is ideal for discovering how to work as a team. Campers are eager to learn, be challenged, and have lots of fun! The camp environment should always be changing, challenging, and stimulating for the camper. Campers with different personalities need to be motivated to work together in all camp activities. Unity can also be accomplished through educational activities, group dynamics, and even simple chats.

Time with campers is limited. Counselors should take advantage of every moment in the cabin to encourage leadership and camaraderie, which are necessary for any successful team. Any activity done with campers, from quiet talks at night to teaching survival skills in the wilderness, can cause a positive impact in a camper's life.

Building Respect

From day one, start team building with campers in your bunk group. If you intend for campers to learn from you, they must respect you as a leader. Establishing rules early is extremely important for the bunk to survive and for maintaining your role as a leader. Campers should help create bunk rules to enhance their self-esteem and to show them from the beginning how they, too, can have a part in the decision-making process of the team.

Sample Cabin Rules

  • Always ask before borrowing someone's things
  • Talk nicely to one another
  • Include everyone in activities

Campers look up to counselors and expect them to be fair. Being honest and extending discipline when needed is welcomed and respected by campers. Being tough yet loving toward the whole group also builds respect for you and helps campers be more trusting especially in times of trouble. Initiating conversations with campers and avoiding favoritism, which can hurt the team, can also improve their trust in you.

Not only should campers respect you, they need to respect themselves. Building self-respect and self-esteem in campers can commence with good icebreakers such as introductory name games.

Name Games*

  • Ask each camper to share of a positive adjective that describes themselves and starts with the same letter as their name, such as Positive Paul.
  • Have campers come up with a gesture to go with their name and share it with group members, who then repeat the gesture. Gestures should be in good taste.
  • Create a musical jingle using each camper's name.

Setting short-term goals is also a good way to let campers get to know one another and promote self-esteem as well. Personal goals such as wanting to ride a horse with no assistance or group goals such as completing a difficult hike together are great ways to forge a team.

Promote Cabin Unity

Cabins can be colorfully decorated to motivate team spirit. Campers can personalize their name tags, help others decorate, and work together to create a cabin banner. Many cabins already have names, but fellow bunkers can brainstorm an upbeat cabin theme or song.

Create a Time to Listen

A fantastic way to wind down from a hectic day is to take time before lights out to encourage campers to express insecurities and concerns. Listen to their stories and read them an inspiring story. Certain topics can be chosen for discussion each night such as a friendship or goal setting to help them open up and communicate better. Giving them the opportunity to express their likes and dislikes will help them feel important and motivated to keep sharing their feelings. They can learn that good communication skills and being good listeners are key elements in forming a strong team.

Teach Teamwork Through Activities

Taking advantage of games to teach campers teamwork is an excellent way to facilitate group thinking. Adventure course and low ropes activities promote team effort and survival skills. For example, the spider web ropes course activity requires all campers to go through the ropes to the other side without touching the "web." All campers, regardless of size, play important roles in this game. Campers need to think together to develop the best strategy for success. During activities, individual skills such as physical strength, leadership, and the gift to encourage others will surface.

Team Building in Nature's Midst

Another great way to bring the bunk group together is through nature. Many times campers come from cities where contact with nature is limited. Having overnights in the woods can be a new and thrilling experience, giving the campers an opportunity to lean how to survive together. Counselors should be experts at putting up tents and building fires, but it is important to accept suggestions (as long as they are safe) from campers and encourage them to help initiate activities. Accepting their ideas and guiding them with your wisdom will help them gain self-confidence, respect, and knowledge.

Campers are more likely to share their feelings and listen better while huddling over a warm fire. A campfire is perfect for story telling. Stories of brave Native American tribes working together or of early settlers striving to survive are sure ways to teach campers the importance of teamwork and teach an insightful lesson.

Admit What's Wrong but Praise What's Right

Teams come together through hard work and trial and error. Campers come from different backgrounds and bring with them distinct personalities that can be valuable in creating strong teams. As campers try new skills, they also learn that it is okay to make mistakes. When a counselor makes a mistake and admits fault, he sets a good example. Counselors should praise the camper who learns a new skill or is trying his best. Campers will respond positively to praise and will enjoy working with the other team members.

Campers will not remember long speeches about how to form a good team, but they will be less likely to forget the cabin song or theme, the games played together, caring counselors, and the special friends that they made. Without realizing it, campers will carry with them the skills and values they learn at camp and apply them in their own lives. A counselor with a strong and disciplined character will be a role model campers will never forget.

Denise Cabrero Nelson is a physical education and health teacher and has worked as a camp waterfront director.

Originally published in the 2000 May/June of Camping Magazine.

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