Making the Most of Summer Camp Staff Training
In the hectic months leading up to summer, when marketing your camp, registering campers, communicating with parents and preparing fun activities all compete for your time, it can be easy to overlook staff orientation. However, a helpful and thorough training session reduces stress and saves time and effort in the long run by ensuring that everyone understands his or her responsibilities. Staff orientation should unite the team, outline camp operations and procedures, smooth over any areas of concern and reinforce the camp’s philosophy.
The success of any summer camp rests on its vibrant community. Most kids come to camp in order to form lifelong friendships, and a positive rapport between campers and counselors creates a safe, welcoming environment. In order for these relationships to thrive, staff members must first support each another. A cohesive team provides campers with a role model of group collaboration.
During orientation, encourage staff to introduce themselves through a few simple questions or a getting-to-know-you game. At this early stage, no one will remember every single detail, especially in a large group, but giving all your employees a chance to say their names and share a fun fact about themselves demonstrates that you value each person as an individual.
Personal introductions can also break down the barriers between staff. Even adults have a tendency to form cliques, and staff members will naturally bond best with the people who hold the same job title they do. Team unity, however, requires that everyone from the executive director to the cook knows and respects one another’s contributions. Educate your staff about the various roles at camp, the hierarchy of supervision and the support systems in place.
Once you have guided staff in interacting with each other, teach them the best methods of interacting with kids. Whether your camp includes only one grade level or caters to a large range, a brief lesson in the developmental stages of children and adolescents will help workers know what to expect and address campers appropriately.
Lead staff members through some of the following questions: How independent are kids at this age? What are they learning in school? What do they do for fun? How easily do they make new friends? Are opposite-gender relations an issue yet? What behavioral needs will I need to address? In addition, camps that hire a nurse or professional guidance counselor can recruit these individuals to address the entire staff about children’s physical, mental and emotional development.
Understanding the needs of kids at different stages of life can also help staff develop age-appropriate activities. Games that are too simplistic will bore campers. On the other hand, games with overly complicated rules will confuse and frustrate campers. Younger children have shorter attention spans and require plenty of hands-on assistance and step-by-step instructions, while older children require less supervision and enjoy choosing their own activities. Preschoolers look to adults for guidance and might need an organized playtime. Teenagers can entertain themselves, so a period of afternoon free time might suit them best.
Staff orientation should likewise cover the organization’s official rules and procedures. For example, counselors should know the preferred methods of managing campers’ behavior. Kids will exploit staff who issue different degrees of discipline, so make sure that everyone is on the same page and following the same guidelines.
Train staff how to mediate when conflict arises between campers, how to assist children with special behavioral needs, how to rely on positive reinforcement and how to recognize their boundaries in correcting other people’s children. Consider conducting an awareness seminar for the prevention of child abuse and peer bullying. Incident reports are a great tool to ensure accountability, but only if you teach the staff how to properly fill them out and submit them.
Finally, use staff training to reinforce the camp philosophy. Whether your program exists to help kids in need, support education, minister to faith-minded teenagers or simply provide a week of fun, staff members should know, understand and abide by this underlying philosophy. Discuss how the camp’s mission affects day-to-day activities.
Above all, analyze the needs of your team and stay flexible. Staff training can set a positive tone for the camp, prevent problems and help everyone have a terrific time.