Fitting In

When campers start thinking about going to camp, there are probably several thoughts that go through their heads. They could be thinking about the new friends they will make, or the old friendships that they will strengthen.

They might think about cool counselors, having campfires, sleeping under the stars and playing fun evening activities. Either way, chances are that campers probably think about what they will do at camp throughout day, especially as they get closer to actually leaving for camp.

At most camps, activity areas can make up the majority of any given day. It helps the campers gain skills and knowledge in new areas, but also helps them to get to know other counselors and campers.

Since activity areas comprise a large portion of the camper's daily activity, they should be informational, encouraging and fun. After all, you don't want to disappoint each camper's anticipation of what camp could and should be.

And, for the activity areas to fit these criteria, you need the counselors' help! So here are some suggestions on helping improve activity areas through counselors…

Matching Skills

First, it's important to keep in mind, when recruiting or hiring new staff, to gauge what activity areas that a counselor would like to work in or has experience working in.

On the application for a camp counselor position, you should probably include questions about what specific areas they have experience in, what areas they are interested in, or what areas they are willing to train in. This could be done either during the recruiting process or after the application process on hiring forms or staff contracts.

The best time to do this is after hiring, or during mid-hiring. The reason for this is because it may be hard to find counselors who have 10 years of trained experience in a certain area.

Some counselors may be a valuable asset to a camp but do not have perfected skills in an activity area, but should not be overlooked in the hiring process.

It is fairly easy to train counselors (as most are willing and excited about learning) after they have been hired. Also, take a look at the counselor's resume or previous work experience to try and identify what areas they have skills and knowledge.

Look for a counselor's hidden talents or interests. Look into their extra-curricular activities, but don't let that make your final decision and possibly pigeonhole the counselor into something they may not be enthusiastic about at camp.

What if someone played and excelled at volleyball from elementary school through college? The knee-jerk reaction is to plug that person right into a volleyball activity area.

Obviously, they have the skills and the passion.

However, some people who have practiced and played a particular sport their whole life, might like a break. You might find that the lifetime volleyball player would be more passionate, and more effective, on the waterfront.

Also, you could put questions on the application or hiring contract that ask: "What job would you do if money wasn't an issue?" or "What areas are you interested in working in, but might not have the experience?"

This helps you to get to know your counselors and you might also discover some hidden characteristics/abilities.

Idea Factory

Next, it is also essential to make benefits for counselors to gain skills and knowledge in specific areas. Directors could offer incentives for counselors who are lifeguards, or for counselors who take sailing instructor classes, or for a counselor who is a member of an archery club. These little rewards, like a bonus, increased pay, or an activity leadership position could inspire counselors to gain more experience in an area they are interested in.

Before the summer, try and locate training manuals for the specific areas. Some camps have written training manuals for each area. Pull those out, take a look at them, and update any outdated information.

If an area is lacking a manual, try and locate any manuals or small books that give some suggestions for running arts and crafts or canoeing.

When the summer begins, staff training is an essential pre-camp week where a lot of activity area training can be done. Plan time in the schedule for each activity area to be briefly described to all counselors.

Other times should be set aside for activity leaders and other counselors working that area to be trained by a skilled director or other trainer.

One summer, we had local police (who were also hunters) stop by for an afternoon and instruct the counselors on archery and riflery. This helped them gain some experience from someone experienced in the area. It also took the emphasis of training being passed down from one counselor to another (which is not always negative).

Give the counselors time to clean up their activity area to allow them to figure out what equipment or materials they have. Also, time for updating those activity manuals or to read various related books is also a good thing to plan for.

It may also be beneficial to instruct counselors to plan for rainy-day activities. This helps so that not every activity is playing "spoons" when it rains.

One last suggestion for placing counselors in activity areas… Stress creativity throughout staff training and the entire summer.

One counselor at my camp started an activity area that the campers loved called FUNK, which was an abbreviation for a nature class.

Also, another counselor wanted to add a twist to the canoeing area and created a class called Gladiator Canoeing, which was for experienced canoers/campers. This gives the counselors freedom to mold the activity areas around their interests, which will only increase their interest and performance in that area.

Activity areas are an essential part of a camper's day but are often overlooked. It is important to have a staff trained in these areas.

It is also necessary to identify a counselor's talents and skills so that the campers (and the counselors) are having a good time! Activity areas are a fun way to spend the day. That's why they occupy so much time!


Christie Enders just spent her second summer at Camp Al-Gon-Quian on Burt Lake, Mich. In the summer of 2000, she worked at Camp Pendalouan. Currently, she is a senior at Michigan State studying community relations and will be graduating in May.

Bryan BuchkoComment