Camp Articles


A Basket Full of Ideas

Every month, I compile an e-newsletter and invite camp directors to submit information to be included in the publication. It’s seen as an honor for their ideas to be used, so I thought I would share some programming tips with the readers of Camp Business. Hope it helps add creativity and fresh ideas to every camp lineup!

T-Shirt Mining

“Several years ago I was cleaning out my closet and pulled out a couple dozen old campT-shirts, most dating back from the 1980s. I sent them to Phantom Lake Camp, and they held a T-shirt auction during camp staff training, with the funds going towards the camp's Strong Kids fund. I believe over $3,000 was raised that first year! A call was made to alumni to donate ’vintage’ T-shirts and other clothing items, and the event consistently raises a couple of thousand dollars every year since.”

--Mike and Jenny Rule

Hot Week At Camp

“I challenged our day camps to turn hot weather into an opportunity for fun--for both campers and staff. Various day camps created water games that distracted the kids from the heat, and at the same time created an environment of fun that they'll remember all summer long. They dreamed up games like water balloon or Super Soaker capture the flag, water balloon archery, water balloon dodgeball, and a campers/staff contest on who could make the best water park with hoses and sprinklers. The winning branches were presented with a free Popsicle party. The executives of the branches were given huge Super Soakers as their ’turned a hot day into fun’ award. We were featured in the newspaper!”

--Len Romano, VP/COO YMCA of Great Boston

Let’s Plant Some Trees!

Greg Friese, professional safety consultant and alumnus of CampManito-wish, reminds us that a good way to give kids a positive outlet for their concern about global warming is to help plant trees at camp. Too often our overuse of camp areas has led to large, isolated trees, with no young trees ready to take their place when they age and come down. It’s a fun lesson that they can reproduce at home.

All I Want At Camp Is A GPS

“After the conference at CampWhittle last year, I borrowed an idea that’s been easy to set up. Geocaching involves treasure hunting using a set of coordinates and a GPS (global positioning system) unit to find your way to a ‘cache’ (Tupperware box) with a journal, pencils (pens will freeze), some little prizes and a note letting people know what it is if they discover it by mistake! We check GPS units out at the office (each costs about $150); guests leave a picture ID until they return it. We teach the parents and kids a quick lesson on how to use it. Laminated cards attached to the unit detail the location of our four geocaches. Often guests have their own units and just use the cards. It’s a hit most weekends, with all five of our units in use most of the time. We’re looking at adding more caches and purchasing more units this spring. It has been an activity that our groups, Y-Guides, Girl Scouts and families, all love. We use this activity with our teen campers in the summer, too. I found lots of help at www.geocaching.com.” Claire Hiller of Camp Marston, Calif., wrote before moving to Nicaragua.

Getting Back To Camping Roots

Ernest Thompson Seton’s legendary book The Birch-Bark Roll was first published in 1902 as the handbook of the Woodcraft League of America. Seton says of its creation, "It would help bring together young people from various so-called stations, break down the barriers that society has foolishly placed upon them, and establish in their minds when they are young a finer kind of humanity, a real understanding that the important thing is the association of a human spirit … To exemplify my outdoor movement, I must have a man who was of this country and climate; who was physically beautiful, clean, unsordid, high-minded, heroic, picturesque, and a master of Woodcraft, besides which, he must be already well-known ... For this reason, I took the Native American, and called my organization ‘Woodcraft Indians.’”

You can see every chapter of the book, including dozens of wonderful activities and ceremonies, on-line at http://www.inquiry.net/. Today Woodcraft Ways is still a cornerstone of camps in countries as far-flung as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Chile.

As an aside, Seton was close friends with Dr. Luther Gulick (the creator of the YMCA’s “Spirit-Mind-Body” triangle of developmental balance, co-founder of the Boy Scouts in America and, with his wife, Charlotte Gulick, founder of the Campfire Girls.)

Giving Checkers Its Due

“I heeded your advice and immediately ordered several sets of the giant checkers (from Cracker Barrel Country Store; $12 a set) after your last camping update. I then created ’Café De Mystic’ right outside my office door. I have been absolutely amazed at the traffic. Parents sit at the café and play checkers and tic-tac-toe during check-in. Counselors and their kids play in between activities, and kids play kids at all times. The greatest part is that my office window is right beside the table, so I meet everyone that sits there! The round table at the café has really lent to helping kids and staff build friendships while having fun. We’ve added another table for Uno. I even received an e-mail from a mother today wondering where we purchased the checkers because her son wrote about it in a letter.”

--Ricky Wright, Mystic Lake Camp (Mich.)

Flash! Is This A Good Idea Or What?!

When visiting CampMiller (Duluth YMCA), I asked the staff how to ensure campers’ parents know about the great activities at camp. One counselor said, “Whenever our cabin goes to a cool activity, like the climbing tower or the horses, I ask every kid to bring a camera. They all come with disposable cameras, but usually waste the pictures goofing around in the cabin. So I use their cameras to take fun pictures of them climbing and riding, knowing it’s the best view of camp their mother will get when it comes back from one-hour photo!” Wish I’d thought of that!

Fish Tales

Patrick Edmunds, the director of RichmondVirginia's CampThunderbird day camp, wants to make sure that every camper who catches a fish gets a picture with it to take home. So right at the fishing dock, the camp has a Polaroid camera and film in Tupperware containers. The counselors take the photos, mark the campers’ names on them, and post the photos on the bulletin board. On family night, the campers take their parents to see the "Fish Tales" and pick up their photos. Great stories, relived again and again!

Paper Hat Fun

It’s amazing how many kids today have never learned to fold a paper hat out of newspaper. Here’s an extra cool one--The Samurai (or could just as easily be called The Transformer). Find the instructions at www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/origami/Samuraihat/.

Staff Training Fashion Show

The Harris Branch of the Charlotte, N.C. YMCA uses a “What’s wrong with this picture?” fashion show as a fun way to review policies and procedures during staff orientation. Everyone gets to guess. For example:

· One counselor without a watch

· One counselor without a hat

· A lifeguard without sunglasses

· One counselor without a staff shirt and name tag

· One with cotton in his ears

And the list goes on and on!

Do You Koob?

“A couple of years ago, you mentioned Koob, a traditional Viking game, in one of your newsletters. I just wanted to say thanks, as Koob is now a staple at CampTalcott and CampMcAlister. Kids love it!”

--Mike Peters. See the game at www.getkoob.com/index.htm

An Easy Friend-Maker

“We stole this idea from YMCA Camp Sloper, and wanted to share how helpful it was for us. Our camp does not have a lake (we have a pool), so we never had playing in the sand as an activity. So we built a “sandcastle station” out of landscape timbers (and sand, of course). The place is always crowded with kids during free play periods. It’s a great activity--terrific place for kids to make friends. When we brought a hose over and let them build lakes and rivers and dams, it supercharged it. They all had to work together to keep floods from inundating their sandcastles (or to cause the greatest devastation as they saw fit). Just like with ‘carpet ball,’ we now have to build two more stations! There are three important design considerations: first, use masonry sand. It sticks together far better than play sand. Second, have a water source (a dripping faucet is perfect.) Third, resist the temptation to make each sandbox too large. Kids don’t have to cooperate if they have enough space to work on opposite ends.”

--Thad Gifford-Smith, branch director of Camp Combe YMCA, a regional day camp.

More Than Primary Colors

“After a successful summer at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow, we had a meeting about ‘What makes us different from all the other camps in our area? What sets us apart?’ Everyone has canoes, a river or lake, BB, archery, waterslides, nice cabins, rope swings, horses. Some camps are all-boys, all-girls or co-ed like us. So what would make a parent pick us over all the others? Who would have thought that highlighting our focus on character--and specifically our five core values--would help attendance increase over 100 campers from one season to the next? We still ran great activities, but we focused not just on how to shoot an arrow or how to do the J-stroke, but also how Caring, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility and Faith can be truly integrated into everything we do, from cabin cleanup to high ropes, waiting in line for snacks, to buddy checks at free swim.

For example--after we go through the mandatory rules and instruction at canoeing and everyone is in the canoes, the counselors start a discussion about how using a boat without a motor is environmentally responsible; or as they’re putting the boat back on the rack, talking about how important it is to care for equipment that everyone uses. These discussions happen all over camp in every aspect, from walking to activities to cabin cleanup. We are trained, and train our staff, to use our core values as teachable moments, which are just as valuable a tool in marketing as they are in the program. Our goal--to provide campers a summer camp experience rich in tradition and centered on our five core values … allows our campers to gain independence, a higher self-worth and lifelong memories.

It’s been hard to reach, but the journey has been great. It’s been a combination of a core group of year-round, seasonal and summer staff bringing together all the things we learned at camp conferences, from trial and error, books like The Purple Cow, The Raving Fan, and Michael Brandwein's Level Two Learning in Training Terrific Staff and coming up with that giant light bulb, putting it into practice and watching it take on a life of its own.”

--Bill Hinton, camp executive. Visit www.ymcacampflamingarrow.org.

Gary Forster is the camping specialist for the YMCA of the USA.

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