Camp Articles


Teaching Teachers

During summer vacation last year, I was walking along the beach and observed some counselors and campers from a nearby day camp.

The younger campers were involved in the traditional "Steal the Bacon", while the older kids were playing volleyball. What was disturbing to me was not what they were playing but how and why.

How many of the campers were really physically active? How many were really having "fun"? What was going through the mind of the little girl who forgot her number during steal the bacon, and the other side got the point?

Why were many of the adolescent campers not playing in the volleyball game? Were any of these campers learning the essential skills needed to keep them safe and confident during physical activity?

How can we, as counselors and camp directors, provide fun, challenging sports and recreational activities for our campers while increasing the amount of physical activity they have?

Remember, kids are kids are kids! Campers need to learn basic movement skills to keep them safe during games and physical activities.

No matter what the setting, you need to follow strategies that good teachers use to inspire students to love learning in today's world.

Listed below are guidelines that are part of any good camp counselor's arsenal of psyching up kids to learn, be safe, and have fun through physical activity…

Development & Instruction

Using developmentally and instructionally appropriate practices are common in the teaching profession, but we sometimes fail to utilize them in a camp setting.

Many camp counselors and camp directors do not have a background in quality physical education and athletic programs and do the best they can from their own experiences at camp, school or home. Let's look at this arsenal of strategies counselors can use to get kids participating in physical activities…

Using instructionally appropriate practices means using those strategies that have proven, over the years, to maximize opportunities for learning and provide success for all our campers.

Using developmentally appropriate practices recognizes the changing movement capabilities of kids and adapts to a variety of individual characteristics, including physical, mental and emotional development, previous movement experience, fitness levels, body size, and age of the campers.

Although there is an endless list of strategies (I recommend the National Association of Sport and Physical Education's list of Developmentally Appropriate Practices for future reference), the following are my top ten:

The first and most important strategy is to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the activity you are teaching. If you are energized, your campers will be too!

Do not waste time reading rules, getting out equipment, picking teams, and so on. Be organized and plan ahead. Know what you are doing and do it enthusiastically… "Failing to plan is planning to fail!"

Do your homework about your campers. Know what to expect from them physically, mentally and emotionally. This will help you plan activities to meet their developmental needs.

It is difficult to find non-touching activities when your campers reach the age where the opposite sex has "cooties".

When giving directions, use the KISS principle –- keep it short & simple. Kids want to be active so don't waste activity time with long explanations and lots of rules.

Provide a safe and positive environment for your campers before, during and after activities. Have an assortment of positive verbal comments to encourage the not-so-talented camper, without getting carried away and being dishonest.

Don't allow put-downs or fighting among campers. Planning ahead and providing a positive environment goes a long way to managing behavior problems before they start. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Allow for maximum participation and success for all campers. For younger age groups, stay away from traditional games that have low participation and only the "good athletes" seem to be have fun. Know what skills are required for what games and how skilled your campers are –- learn to modify for success.

Accommodate individual characteristics. This does not mean having the overweight boy/girl play goalie. It means providing games and activities that everyone can do; cooperative games, outdoor adventure activities, individual sports, lifetime activities, stations or a variety of games.

Call campers by name. Learn the names of all the campers as quickly as you can. There are tricks you can learn to remember names, like name games, physical characteristics, looks like someone else you know by that name, name tags and memorize written lists.

Modify, modify, modify… You need to do whatever works most effectively in your situation. Change equipment to make it larger, smaller, lighter, or heavier.

Increase or decrease the size of the playing area. Provide safe zones or rest areas for campers. Change the rules of the game or have campers make up their own rules.

Set time limits or don't keep score. Reduce the size of teams. Require different things from different players. While playing beach volleyball, those who play on a school team can only hit the ball once during a rally. You need to challenge those who are talented while making the time for others to practice needed skills.

If campers enjoy what they are doing, they will continue to participate. Campers get bored when the activity is too easy, too hard, embarrassing, or not developmentally appropriate for their age or skill level. Do not put boys against girls or play only "traditional" male activities.

Last, but one of the most important strategies, hold campers accountable for learning those essential skills that help make games and physical activities safe and fun.

You don't want someone to fall because they tied the wrong knot while rock climbing or get lost in the woods because they told you they could read a compass.

Check them through demonstration, oral or written evaluation, or some means of confirming that they know and can do the necessary skills that will keep them safe and having fun.

There is an old Chinese Proverb about learning, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." So… Let's get kids doing -– inside, outside, at school, at home, and at camp!

Dr. Ruth Arnold is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education, Springfield College and IISA Level I In-Line Skating Certified Instructor. Dr. Arnold has also been a camp counselor and director.

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