I can remember that day when I got up early, packed my car with clothes, sandals, books, a few pictures, and said my good-byes for the summer.
As I drove into the camp drive, my stomach had that simultaneously scared and excited feeling. It's hard to go away to camp for the summer. It's even harder when you don't know anyone at a camp you're about to devote your summer to.
It's not just campers who get butterflies before camp. This is why it is so important to help ease the staff into the summer.
It is much easier to work your way into camp mode during that first week of the summer with no campers. This is a perfect time for new counselors, especially, to get accustomed to camp time and camp traditions. So, here are a few tips of what to include to help the staff get accustomed to the camp and to each other…
From the Beginning
First, as a group, or even in smaller groups, take a tour of camp. This gives old counselors a chance to reminisce while giving the new counselors some background information on the camp.
Also, this is a good opportunity for the veteran counselors to give some advice to the rookie counselors. The rookie counselors might be filled with questions about traditions, schedules and games. The tour gives counselors a great time to learn about camp.
Second, play some icebreakers. This part is extremely important. Just like the campers need to get to know the other people in their cabin, the staff has the same need.
Since they will be spending the whole summer together, there is no better time to get to know each other. During staff training week, this is an opportune time to play some icebreakers that the counselors could also play with their campers.
I would suggest playing a silly get-to-know you game like, "I have mail for…" or, "Switch with me if…" These are personal favorites (see Camp Business , March/April 2002, page 44, Counselor's Corner ).
Third, allow for free time for the staff to hang out without other responsibilities and jobs. This way the staff can get to know each other on an informal basis.
A staff director could even plan a night or afternoon out for the counselors to enjoy each other's company. I would suggest doing this near the end of the week to give counselors a break before the start of the summer and the staff has had a chance to get to know each other.
Another important way for the staff to gel together is to sit down and talk about their goals for the summer. This does not sound too exciting but will help to bring the staff together to share a common goal. Also, the staff learns something about each other when they hear what each person's goals for the summer are.
Fifth, complete a task together. This could be doing a team building exercise, possibly on a low-ropes course, where the team has to work together to accomplish a common goal.
Or, work on maintenance project for camp as a team, like putting in the dock as a team. This allows the director to observe the group dynamics and allows the team to bond as they have completed something as a group. To me, this is one of the most important ways to get the staff to bond together.
Cross-training is another good idea. Even if you have a lot of specialists that summer -- those who may concentrate on something like the waterfront or at the stables, for example -- it's a good idea to take them out of their comfort zone, so to speak, for a day or two.
This means getting even the specialists acquainted with each aspect of the camp. If they see everything the camp does and generally how each activity works it gives them a greater appreciation for the camp as a whole.
Cross-training also allows counselors to fill in anywhere there might be a need, with less training needed to acclimate them to that particular activity.
Thanks for the Memories
All of these activities allow the staff to bond together, and as an added bonus it creates memories. There are several memories from the first few days that some of my camp friends and I reminisce about even now.
It's also cool to look back at the staff training days and realize how far the staff has come as a team. Staff training days are great to reflect on during the staff banquet or during the end of the summer wrap-up.
Getting the staff to bond sometimes happens when you plan it out, and other times a staff bonds when you would least expect it. If I can offer one more piece of advice, it would be to let the staff work together on projects but also have time to get to know each other on a less-formal basis. Less force often allows for better bonding with each member of the team.
After working together each day though, a definite team unity will form between the members -- it often just takes time. But the bond will last forever.
Christie Enders worked at Camp Al-Gon-Quian this past summer in Burt Lake, Mich., and at Camp Pendalouan in the summer of 2000. She studies community relations at Michigan State University.