Light My Fire

By Martine Brouillet

At Camp Tournesol in Canada, both day camps and overnight camps have the same mission—to develop campers’ abilities to express themselves and socialize in French. For obvious reasons, how that mission is achieved differs with each camp format.

One of the most popular and effective activities among campers during overnight camps is the much-loved campfire. While kids gather around and roast marshmallows, counselors share Quebec folklorique legends, and engage the campers in sing-alongs (“les chansons à répondre”) and children’s rhymes. By repeating the verses of a song, campers learn new vocabulary as their bodies keep the rhythm with hands clapping and feet stomping. Many of the French Canadian stories and songs describe legends and cultures that also are passed along to campers.

Counselors are engaged in the same activity during the staff retreat, where they are invited to present a song themselves. The entire staff then participates in songs and be-bops from different cultures, and the energy is contagious. Following the retreat two years ago, I pondered how to bring this type of enthusiasm and bonding atmosphere into the day-camp format.

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An Epiphany
Last fall, we worked on this important module and developed a booklet of sing-alongs, rhymes, and legends that was to be used for the overnight camps as a resource for counselors. During that process, I realized we could simply create an “imaginary” campfire at day camp. In fact, I recalled that one of the campuses had created its own campfire during a rainy day the previous summer, using pool noodles and other on-site materials. It was decided this would become an official module within the weekly rotation at the day camps.

Counselors and campus coordinators were instructed to develop a “campfire” with material they had on-site, or that they could purchase at a dollar store. Every Wednesday, during the last hour of the day, the Campfire at Camp came to life. The gymnasium lights were turned off, and glow sticks were used to create the atmosphere. Each of the nine campuses developed incredibly creative versions of a campfire that were amazingly different from one another, reflecting the true uniqueness of each group of staff members and each site.

There were obvious benefits to the French language-learning mission. The campfire became a language-rich hour when interaction in French was necessary as the campers sought to join the sing-along or to understand the story of the legend.

Amazing Engagement
What was even more extraordinary was seeing the children come alive while sitting around the campfire, singing along, and pretending to look at the stars. The engagement and enthusiasm from the children and staff were well above what was anticipated. The scary (age-appropriate) legends ignited the children’s imaginations, and some of the older campers who returned for multiple weeks began asking to lead songs themselves! Very quickly, the campfire afternoon became the highlight of the week, and often campers paraded out at the end of the day, still singing along to one of the final songs. A sense of belonging developed within each campus that is only seen on overnight trips, when campers spend 24 hours a day together.

Of course, this module demands the engagement and commitment of the counselors, and requires more preparation than other activities. However, hosting a day-camp “imaginary” campfire undoubtedly sets the camp apart and creates ongoing, extraordinary memories for all involved!

Martine Brouillet is the Owner/Managing Director of Camp Tournesol in Canada. For more information, visit www.campt.ca.