How often do you think about “thinking”? I know, it’s a weird question, but I implore you take a few seconds and really give it some thought.

Honestly, if you’re reading this, then your initial answer may be “very little” in comparison to all the things that may take up your intellectual real estate in order to make camp great. However, if your answer resembles anything along the lines of “quite often,” let’s talk. Seriously! Nelson and I love to reflect on all the various ways people choose to . . . well . . . reflect. And if your camp has anything that resembles cabin chat, embers, vespers, or any type of end-of-the-day reflection period, then we would bet that you are interested in ways to make it more engaging for more folks.

Camp is this incredible space for young people to discover who they are, explore what they’re into, and feel that they belong. We think reflection can strengthen our spaces to allow for vulnerability and connection in community.

Many reasons exist to utilize reflection at camp. Here are a few:

  • To develop confidence and self-efficacy: We reflect to strengthen our ability to express our feelings and opinions, to explore our identities, and to be equipped to respond and interact within our community.
  • To participate in creating a camp culture that revolves around ensuring that all its members feel valued and safe: We reflect in a safe space with people who are accepting of and responsive to our perspectives.
  • To willingly explore and critically reflect on cultures and perspectives that differ from our own: We reflect so that we can understand and better analyze our role as local and global citizens.
  • To inspire us to be lifelong learners: We reflect to strengthen our passion for knowledge and for seeking out new learning opportunities.

Here’s the thing: we love the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exercise as much as the next person. It’s an easy, repeatable way to prompt campers to share about the good (rose) and bad (thorn) things that happen throughout the day, and to look forward (bud) as they prepare for tomorrow.

We also believe that, as an industry, sometimes we get stuck in the “this already works” mentality and continue to do things that are easy, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But what happens when the thing that ain’t broke was built for some people but may not be effective for all of us? Creativity can sometimes get halted by habit — to the detriment of some learners.

“Rose, Bud, Thorn” is likely great for kids who are auditory processors and who already feel comfortable with the others in their group. It might not be as great for the kid who processes better by writing or drawing — or who isn’t fitting into the group as quickly. When we do reflection the same way every night, we are likely offering value to some campers. But are there ways we can make sure all campers get something out of reflection?

Four Camp Reflection Strategies

In the name of creativity over habit, we have come up with four strategies to level up the way we use reflection at camp. Doing so can reach more campers and ensure that reflection can actually achieve its intended purpose: to help us all process camp, this incredible thing we all love.


I was the camper who loved “Rose, Bud, Thorn.” I did not mind being vulnerable, generally got along with most people in my cabins, loved to talk about the day, and was pretty extroverted. My brother, on the other hand, hated evening reflection. He was more interested in playing video games than attending camp most summers, definitely was not excited to process his day with a bunch of other kids, and generally was not that interested in sitting still for that long to hear people talk. My brother, along with many other campers, needed different options. One way to offer more options is to consider the reflection’s format — and vary it from the typical format of verbally asking and answering questions.

Look at your current reflection strategies and think through the various types of learners you might be supporting at camp, including their processing styles. Consider questions such as:

  • How do we support kids who need more processing time after being asked a question?
  • How do we support kids whose native language isn’t English (if that’s the prominently used language at your camp)?
  • How do we support kids who are hyperactive and like to move around?
  • How do we support introverted kids who hate talking in front of a group?

Start by incorporating some formats that don’t involve only talking. Consider the following:

  • Drawing
  • Active listening (Ask campers to doodle important findings while listening to a partner, for example.)
  • Acting it out
  • Building, painting, or molding


We love the idea of incorporating more reflection into the day so we can embed reflection into the camp culture. To do this, we have to switch up the timing of our reflection and not only utilize the end of the day to reflect. We can audit our daily schedules to find moments for informal reflection. Some times that come to mind are:

  • In the morning on our way to breakfast
  • During meal times
  • In transition moments
  • When conflict is taking place


A camp I worked at told counselors to do their evening reflections in their cabins. I was walking around camp one night and found one of our younger groups hanging out in the hammocks. I wandered over and quickly realized they were doing their evening reflection (not in the cabin). Everyone was engaged and seemed to be enjoying the time together. I later asked Guillermo, their counselor, how they ended up in the hammocks. He explained that he was having a hard time getting them to engage with the reflection activities in the cabin and thought it might go better if he brought them to the hammocks, which his group particularly loved. It worked!

Switching up the physical space where we facilitate the reflection can get young people more excited and engaged, because they get to be in an area of camp they love and maybe don’t get to hang out in too often.

Changing up the space can also help campers who don’t want to just sit in a circle and who process better when they can move around.

Here are some ways to switch up the space:

  • Get outside (take a walk, hang out at the pavilion).
  • Go somewhere the campers love (like the hammock area).
  • Check in/reflect in the dining hall during meals.
  • Chat while campers are playing a game or doing an activity they really enjoy.


When we change the reflection format or the location in which we actually reflect, we offer options to more types of learners and processors. So, in order to tailor reflection to each individual camper to ultimately ensure everyone has space to process their experiences at camp, our final strategy for leveling up reflection is to offer more choice. Partner with campers so that they have more agency in how they process what happens at camp. For example:

  • Partner with campers to plan the reflection.
    • What should we talk about?
    • Where do we want to go?
    • How do we want to reflect?      
  • Offer multiple ways to engage.
    • Give them agency in how they move throughout the reflection (pace around, sit, lie down, stand, fidget with something, etc.).
    • Offer multiple ways to process (“Here’s some paper if you prefer to doodle or draw or write.” “Here’s some playdough; you actually don’t have to write this down unless you want to.”).
  • Give space for campers to pass (allow them to opt out of things if they aren’t comfortable or don’t feel like it).

There is no one right way to utilize reflection at camp. But there is probably a better way (or many ways) to reflect at camp than the way some of us have been doing it for a very long time. And even though I said this was a breakup letter to “Rose, Bud, Thorn,” it’s more of a suggestion to switch it up sometimes and vary your strategies, rather than to stay married to just one. We hope these four strategies help as you continue to work to make camp better and more inclusive for all campers — so that we all feel like we belong.

Paige Moffett (Change Summer; The Summer Camp Society) and Nelson Strickland (TIC Camps; The Summer Camp Society) have a collective 20+ years of camp experience and have spent considerable time at many different types of camps — day camp, tech camp, overnight camp, language immersion camp, and more. They love talking about camp and care about partnering with kids and innovating in the camp industry.