My Three Favorite Things to Do with a 3×5 Index Card

The ever-versatile Index Card. Used wisely, it can build a sense of belonging, cure homesickness, and keep you grounded. Who knew? canstockphoto13448538

This time of year, I use a lot of 3×5 index cards to prop up the legs on LCD projectors. In the past, I’ve used them to shim stair treads, prop doors open, jot to-do lists and outline articles. The humble cardstock rectangle can also serve some powerful educational functions, three of which I’d like to share with you in today’s Week-Ender.

#1 The Bunk Nametag

The infamous Name Game has many variations, all designed to increase familiarity among campers and staff. Most staff work hard to memorize their campers’ names, hometown and personal detail. These get-to-know-you practices are a great way to help kids feel comfortable and at home.

However, the children themselves are less motivated to learn names. Most of them want to, but their mnemonic strategies are typically unsophisticated and they become embarrassed asking one other, “Tell me your name again.” For staff, it’s our job. But for campers, they simply revert to “Hey, kid!” to get one another’s attention.

Having grown weary of the impersonal “Hey, kid!” imperative and wanting groups to feel more like families, I initiated the camp-wide practice of having campers block print their first name, home town, year at camp and favorite movie on a 3×5 index card. Each cabin has a stack of cards, a box of washable markers and little bag of push pins. Campers complete their cards as soon as they move in to the cabin and quickly learn each other’s names.

A customized, hand-made name tag also serves to personalize one’s space and cabin leaders set a good example by posting one as well. It’s a great way to increase feelings of belonging and familiarity. Day camps can mimic the practice, except the 3×5 cards get attached with tape or poster tack to children’s lockers or cubbies. Say goodbye to the days of sheepishly asking—or simply not asking—people to repeat their name.

#2 The Adjustment Calendar

All people miss something about home when they are away. The added challenge for young people include: little previous experience away from home, underdeveloped coping strategies and an inability to make an abstract concept, such as time, concrete.

To diminish the potency of these risk factors—and therefore the intensity of homesickness—I am always reminding parents to arrange practice time away from home before opening day. I also spend a good amount of time teaching staff how to coach campers on the most effective coping strategies. However, it’s the staff themselves who must help youngsters keep time in perspective.

To help a young homesick camper keep time in perspective, I’m fond of pulling out a 3×5 index card and making a grid that represents the days of their stay at camp. Each row of seven boxes represents a week; each column a different day.

I anchor this homemade calendar with opening day and closing day and then landmark it with upcoming special events, opportunities to do their favorite activities and other experiences to look forward to. I then reiterate how lucky they are to have the opportunity to attend camp and give them the card to begin crossing off days. The homesickness-reducing effect of concretizing time is almost magical.

#3 The Humility Reminder

Someone once asked Mary Pipher, the author of Reviving Ophelia, the secret to a long, happy marriage. She replied that she’d learned nuptial longevity from her mother, who had been married to her father for more than 50 years.

“I was having coffee with my mom one morning,” Pipher recounted when I met her. “After a soothing silence, I remembered that the following week was my parents’ 50th anniversary. ‘Mom,’ I asked, ‘how have you and dad stayed married for so long?’” As Pipher tells the story, her mother didn’t hesitate before replying. “Easy,” her mother replied. “You need humility. As soon as you think you’re better than your spouse, the marriage is doomed.”

Pipher’s mother continued. “And so, when I get up in the morning, I go into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and read the 3×5 index card that I have tucked in the corner of the frame. It says, ‘You’re no prize either.’”

Pipher’s mother’s observation is brilliant because it reconnected her to her humanity, including her flaws. Wise readers might consider following her lead or writing something else on a 3×5 card that keeps goals in focus and arrogance in check.

Your thoughts?

Please post your own favorite uses for a 3×5 index card by replying to this post. Check back in a few days to see what others have written as well.

Dr. Christopher Thurber serves on the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy, a coeducational boarding high school. He is the father of two boys and author of the best-selling Summer Camp Handbook. In 2007, Chris co-founded Expert Online Training .