By Christie Enders

Programming is the essential ingredient for every camp, and counselors should play an important role. It is imperative to have a formulated plan that will be followed closely.


Of course, adjustments and adaptations will need to be made because things do not always go as planned; it's part of life.

But the plans and programs are important ways to achieve the goals and objectives. During my summer camp experience, teaching the campers new life skills and allowing them to be creative and have a good time was a huge part of the program.

The games we played, the activity areas we taught and the bonding we experienced as a cabin all fit into an important and efficient program.

Counselor Connection
The counselors should have some say in the programming process for several reasons… Because the counselors are in direct contact with the campers, they can be more in-tune to what the campers enjoy and find rewarding.

Often times, the counselors are also seen as friends and may not seem as intimidating as a camp director. In programming, it is important to take advantage of this counselor-camper bond. Plus, counselors can formulate creative ideas or use suggestions from their campers.

Not only does counselor participation in programming benefit the children, but it also rewards the counselor. If a counselor has formulated an idea for a game, he or she is going to put all their effort into making that game successful.

In turn, this benefits the campers by having enthusiastic staff leading their activities. Also, the relationship between director and counselors will be strengthened from mutual interest, understanding and listening to each other.

Trust and respect will develop in the relationship as the counselors feel that their ideas are expressed in a comfortable environment. Counselors can be great assets to programs!

This summer, our camp had Harry Potter days during each of the sessions. After the first trial run of the day, our staff met and informally discussed with the director what went well and what could be improved.

Together, we proposed solutions and made a few changes to the program. After these changes, the day was extremely successful. The kids and the staff both loved it. The campers, both young and old, were enthused throughout the day's activities and each counselor really got into his or her character role.

With collaboration between the director and the counselors, our Harry Potter days were some of the biggest successes of the summer!

Let it Rain
A good way for a director to seek a counselor's input into a program would be a staff meeting to think of as many ideas as possible -- a session geared toward brainstorming. Sometimes this method can get complicated.

To eliminate potential problems, a program development meeting could be done with a smaller number of counselors and the director.

It is also important for a camp director to listen to every idea, whether it seems practical or not. It builds trust and respect, which are fundamental when working on a program together (or in any human interaction for that matter!).

Informal meetings and discussions are also good places to develop possible ideas. Some great ideas come from random suggestions or thoughts.

Groups of counselors are also beneficial when developing a program as they can feed off each other's ideas. If one person suggests a game but cannot quite figure out the logistics, another person might be able to solve the problems. This would never happen without an allowed open dialogue.

Well, how much direction should the counselors be given? To answer this, one must realize that direction seems necessary in nearly every situation. The amount of direction is what varies.

It would be important for directors, when asking for help from counselors, to give a bit of direction. Possibly suggest what kind of program is desired, or the objectives and goals of the program. What lesson should the campers be learning?

For example, a director could tell his or her team of counselors, "I want to formulate a game that helps the campers learn more about surviving in the wilderness while also building cabin unity."

By expressing what the end goal is, counselors can take the reins and develop an activity that surpasses all the expectations. This balance in direction will help smooth the programming process.

On a side note, it is important to remember that a counselor may suggest a program idea without a director asking for one. Keep these ideas in mind!

Even if the program suggestion is not feasible at the current time, write it down for later use. The counselor will feel valued because his or her idea was heard. Also, it could be useful down the road when the camp director is looking for some new programming ideas.

Without offending any camp directors out there, counselors do provide "fresh" knowledge in the programming field. A counselor may have done a game at a church youth group that would be great to run at a camp.

Or, a counselor could have learned an activity in a teacher's education class that would be useful to implement. Fresh ideas, with the direction of a camp administrator, are extremely successful and valuable.

One other piece of advice: possibly ask counselors about their experience as campers. What did they like about camp? What could have used some improvement?

Even though it may have been 10 years since that counselor filled the shoes of a camper, he or she can still provide a different perspective. Plus, the joys of being a kid seem pretty solid and concrete even as years pass.

Remember what it was like to be a child. Think in that mind set. In the end, that is what variety and creativity in programming comes down to… taking a different perspective. It is imperative for the success of the camp. Listen, learn and (most important to me) laugh and the success will follow.

Christie Enders worked at Camp Al-Gon-Quian in Indian River, Mich., this past summer and at Camp Pendalouan in the summer of 2000. She is a junior at Michigan State University and studies community relations.