Camp Articles

Conceptual Steps

Often, new camp leaders, either counselors or unit leaders, are discouraged when the go to their supervisor for approval of an activity, and they feel "unsupported" when the supervisor has a slew of questions: "How much will it cost? (And where do you think we'll get that kind of money?) Do you really think this is going to work? Have you got the details worked out? Hmm… I don't think we're going to do this; you don't seem prepared."

That can be pretty discouraging for enthusiastic staff, but they don't realize their supervisor is just protecting the organization from the failures they've seen so many times before.

How do you get the new ideas, plus the experience, without throwing a wet blanket on their enthusiasm?

My technique has been to teach the sequence of the creative process up front, so the person with the ideas feels (and accepts) more ownership.

These are the steps I expect directors to have gone through in order to plan a cabin, village, or all-camp activity. If I ask questions about your plans for an activity, know that I'm trying to see what criteria you used for making your decisions. I think you'll find that I'll be very supportive of your plans, even if I don't necessarily agree with them, if you've gone through these steps and thoughtfully made your decisions...

1. Set your Goal

• What do we want to happen as a result of this activity?

• What do we want the kids to learn? (Be aware that "fun" should be a component of almost all activities, an is not a goal in itself.) Knowing what you want to accomplish sets your criteria for success.

2. Brainstorm alternatives.

• Collect ideas from the best sources. Use people who have been here a long time. Use people that have worked at other camps. Encourage crazy ideas. Even if they're too wild to use, they may contain elements that can be used.

• Do a quick Web search (but don't spend too much time.) The leadership development value of any process of camp is measured by who is involved and how much they learn

3. Evaluate the possible solutions.

• Project the possible outcomes. Take into account timing, time of day, age of campers, weather, etc. Remember the goals you set.

• You get extra points for activities that include campers and counselors in the preparation, instead of all done "behind the scenes" by high-paid staff.

4. Pick a solution.

• Make detailed plans. Create checklists so you don't overload your memory.

• Have a rain plan.

5. Prepare in advance.

• If 40 people have to wait five minutes for you, that's 200 minutes of wasted time!

• The farther in advance you prepare, the less likely you are to be disappointed by missing equipment or a shortage of helpers.

6. Follow through with:

• Clean-up immediately afterwards (so the site and equipment are ready for others.)

• Store the equipment for next time, in a logical place, accurately labeled.

• Save your notes and plans for others to use!

7. Celebrate your results!

• Invite others to see what you've done. Don't hesitate to invite the camp director or executive to watch, or even take part.

• Let others know what you've done! Have the photos posted to the camp Web site, send prints to the CEO to show off at the next board meeting.

Gary Forster is Camping Specialist for YMCA of the USA, and can be reached for questions at Gary will be offering a session on site evaluation at Camp Business LIVE!, Sept. 13-14 at Salt Fork Resort & Conference Center in Ohio. Go to for more information.

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