Get with the Program
How many times have you heard, "But this is not how we did it last year!" There are ways to honor the past and still move forward with the future in camping. One such idea is the creation of program guidebooks.
In education, a teacher's entire day is based on lesson plans. The lesson plans are created based on the guidelines set forth in the curriculum guide.
Here in Ann Arbor we decided to institute the same idea in our camp programs and created the Camp Program Guidebooks. Each and every activity at Camp Al-Gon-Quian has a program guidebook, from archery to sailing and wall climbing.
Each year the staff members assigned to teach the area must read the book to see what was done in the past, review the past five- and ten-day lesson plans and then add their ideas.
Included with their ideas are notes that list approaches that worked and did not work, including the reasons why. This process serves us in many ways. First, it maintains tradition and consistency. Second, it allows for growth of creativity without re-inventing the wheel. And, it gives new staff and first-time counselors support and confidence.
How Do I Make My Own?
Creating working program guidebooks is a long-term commitment. This will be our forth summer using the system.
The first year you implement this type of guide, you'll want to get organized and create a book for each program activity you have.
Take canoeing, for example… Get a three-ring binder and insert diagrams with names of the parts to a canoe. Add some diagrams on steering a canoe and capsizing. Then type up a curriculum guideline.
A curriculum guide, simply stated, says, "What do I want the children to know at the end of five days of canoeing?" List these goals: To steer a canoe, name the parts of a canoe, shallow and deep capsizing techniques, etc.
Once you have the guide you can create daily lessons plans that will achieve the goals listed in the guide.
Now for the fun part! In the first year your staff will see the dry, straightforward lesson plans. Give them permission to create new lesson plans and fun ways to achieve the same goals. Then sit back and watch the creative juices flow.
We have had such creations as Gladiator Canoeing, a special hour where water abilities are held and capsizing techniques are put to the test. Inform the staff to write down their plans and notes on what they liked and didn't like.
Store everything in the three-ring binder. After multiple seasons you will see the book grow larger. The books will have the ability to re-create great lessons and great programs. You will save time training staff.
How Do I Update?
During the summer you constantly remind your staff to keep notes and record their lesson plans in the book. At the end of the summer the camp director or program director collects all of the books.
The task is to read the staff notes and type up the important information and lesson plans. Then neatly and orderly place the presentable notes and plans back into the book. This process takes time, but you will learn more about what is happening in all of your programs.
Make sure to remind your staff at the end of the summer to put closing notes and comments and to add a wish list for the program. These wish lists serve as a guide to you in the following season's equipment purchases.
Camp tradition is a huge part of the camp experience! How things were done in your memory as a camper is most likely very different then how things are done now.
The guidebooks allow you to store your history and build on it. You will find that camper's will recognize the similarities and appreciate protecting their traditions.
How Do I I Find Time?
At the beginning of each summer during staff training include time to look at the program guides. At some point during training staff will be assigned to their first assigned areas, and given time to get acquainted with their new area and to set it up. During this time they should be able to review their area's book.
Staff should then be told that for the first week of camp they should write out their lesson plans in the book, even if they are going to use the plans already there as a start.
The program director needs to keep the pulse of the staff to see that everyone has an idea of what to do in their area. A camp might hire for each area specifically, and if it does, the staff members could be given the books on the first day to review.
Anyway you decide to do it, make sure the books stay at the camp and sign them out. These books become your tradition and guides. You don't want to lose them.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Here at YMCA camp Al-Gon-Quian we've found that after three seasons we're better preparing the new staff and first-year counselors how to teach their area.
It was difficult at first to institute the books because of the staff buy-in factor. Most of your staff will initially see it as busy work, very similar to school.
The first summer the books are introduced will require selling the project to the staff as creating the future of camp and being the first to record their legacy. The second summer your staff will truly appreciate the help the books give them.
Each year it gets harder and harder to require the first-week lesson plans. There is so much data in the books that staff now usually use those lesson plans until they feel comfortable to add their own.
Try to get them to write their lesson plans each year to speed the process of data collection for future staff to use, but realize with time that they will use those plans first.
However you choose to record and update your camp and its traditions, it is great and necessary to do so. The program guidebooks will help you keep those traditions through each and every program that you offer. Remember to have fun with the books!
Jeff Merhige is the Director of Camping Services for the Ann Arbor YMCA -- Camp Al-Gon-Quian.