Utilizing Returning Staff During Precamp: Ideas for Team Building

by Chris Rollins

Returning staff add value to your camp program. Not only do they know certain life and death concepts, like where the mailbox is and what time breakfast starts, they know the program, the personality of the camp, and some of the campers that will soon be coming through the camp gates.

You probably allow returning staff's participation in precamp training to some extent, maybe leading songs or games. However, this is just a small step toward building the team environment that will help your staff succeed.

Developing a Core Group Invested in Your Training

The best way to a have a successful staff week is to gather a core group of returning staff to help develop training. By phone or e-mail, survey your staff to see what they are comfortable helping with during staff week. All staff will have something to contribute. Some will be able to offer extended time and resource commitment. Others may agree that they can help teach a song or game during the week. The contributions, however small or elaborate, will contribute to the staff growing as a team.

Once you find staff members who want to work on a specific topic - like songs, scheduling, or crafts - bring them together by whatever medium works - mail, e-mail, telephone conferences, or group meetings prior to precamp. Work with the group so they can develop an outline and plan objectives for the topics they will cover.

Ideas for Staff Team Building

Staff panel
New staff members' burning questions are often perfect opportunities to allow returning staff to dole out sage advice or let their positive camping experiences shine. Assemble a core group of returning staff that will serve on the panel. Then ask new staff to write topics or questions on a piece of paper and drop them in a hat. Depending on the size of your staff, several options are available. Set up discussion groups in the evening that will allow new staff to choose which discussion topics they want to participate in. Another way is to pull discussion topics from the hat and have several staff members give their responses to the entire staff.

Risk management
Review the emergencies from last season, ones that were full blown and one that were averted. Have one or several of the returning staff who were involved in the situation set the scene for the group. Break the rest of the staff into groups and ask them to examine the situation from several different angles. The staff members should talk through the situation, what happened and what emergency action principles where put into place. The groups will examine each aspect of the situation: staff reactions, camper reactions, parent reactions, the paperwork, media response, and most importantly, the prevention of the situation in the future. The most challenging aspect of this exercise is to move the group from training for the specific situation toward training for the category of risk involved.

Games Only Returning Staff Can Play

Much of what you want from returning staff are words of wisdom, expressions of experience, or a show of skill. The following four games take almost no prep time and can be played throughout staff week. Each of these games requires all returning staff's names be put into a separate hat or jar with the name of the game on the jar. At different points in the day, throughout all of staff week, a name is drawn from the hat and that staff member is responsible for responding to the specific requirements of the game.

A good thing to do with 32
Most living units have a basic number of campers associated with it, often thirty-two. When the staff member's name is drawn, the individual must come up with an activity that is good to do with a group of thirty-two campers. The staff member should explain the game and the rest of the staff should do the activity. Play the game in different settings during the week.

A good day at camp is when . . .
For many new staff members, adapting to camp is one of the hardest tasks. Their ability to keep things in perspective and value the time at hand may be skewed later in the season when the daily pressures of camp get to them. Returning staff can help everyone remember the reasons that they all keep coming back to camp.

Pull a name from the hat. The staff member must complete the following sentence: "A good day at camp is when. . . ." During the first few days of staff week, staff may want to describe the day during the camp season or year when they decided to return to camp. Later in the summer, you may want to write the sentence on a poster in the staff lounge and encourage staff to add to it. This makes a wonderful piece for the camp yearbook. Here are several examples that make people laugh.

It's a good day at camp when . . .

  • you find a clean pair of socks.
  • your campers cheer the loudest at the campfire when your name is announced.
  • you find a shirt a moth has not eaten a hole in

I wish I had known then what I know now
Again staff members' names are pulled to share short bits of wisdom about things that only time and experience at camp can teach.

These games can be adapted for almost any topic during staff week. Returning staff have endless songs, games, cures for homesickness, and remedies for the mid-summer blues that they are ready and willing to share. They will share their wisdom and experiences in their tents at night. Why not recognized them in a public forum? Let them know that you need and value their knowledge and skill. After all, you must have brought them back for a reason!

Chris Rollins is a health and safety trainer for the American Red Cross and is currently serving as treasurer of the ACA St. Louis Section.

Originally published in the 2001 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.