To Conquer Staff-Training Boredom

By Megan Ball

In the summer of 2016, the Day Camp Superhero Training Academy faced its biggest nemesis—Summer Boredom. As the recruits arrived for training, surveillance footage revealed the supervillain’s plans to ensure that the local children would have an unsafe, uneventful, and generally boring summer. It was up to the day camp heroes-in-training to thwart these evil plans and defeat Summer Boredom!

When I sit down to plan staff training each year, one of the first things I ask myself is, “How can I make this interesting?” As a former camp counselor, I spent six summers sitting though what felt like the exact same, tedious training. When I took over as staff-training coordinator, I knew I wanted to create a positive learning environment where counselors were encouraged to develop fresh, innovative ideas, and where they were excited to participate. I decided that if I want counselors to put effort, creativity, and resourcefulness into their camp planning, then I would have to do the same when preparing for training. I’ve found that implementing a theme during training week is an excellent way to share fun ideas, to lead by example, and to get staff excited for camp.

Benefits Of A Theme

  • Engagement: Using a theme that is relevant and fun will help capture the attention and imagination of the counselors and, in turn, will help them learn and retain more information. Some themes I’ve used include Amazing Race, Harry Potter, and The Lorax.
  • Consistency: A theme helps tie all the sessions together and makes everything feel more organized.
  • Setting an example: If staff members see that I put a lot of time, thought, and creativity into training, they will have a better understanding of what I expect from them as they plan their own camp activities.
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Choosing A Theme
Here are some questions to consider during the planning process:

  • Is this appropriate for camp? A theme will be most successful if counselors can take what they’ve learned in training and apply it directly to their plans for camp.
  • Will this interest staff members? If the counselors aren’t interested in the chosen topic, they will be less engaged in training and aren’t likely to use what they’ve learned with the campers.
  • Does the theme interest me? If I am passionate and excited about training, I can provide a better experience for staff members. I know I am going to spend a lot of time working with the theme, and I want to make sure I remain enthusiastic throughout the planning process.

Incorporating The Theme
Each time I integrate a theme into a training session, it provides another opportunity to show staff members that a little imagination can make an activity fun, engaging, and exciting. It allows me to challenge them to be as creative as possible when developing their own themes. Using the 2016 Superhero Training Academy as an example, here are some ways I incorporate a theme into staff training:

  • Employment letters: We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into the Day Camp Superhero Training Academy. Each counselor receives a letter in an employment packet welcoming them to the Training Academy. This is a great way to get the creative juices flowing before counselors arrive at training.
  • Creating a fun environment: It only took a few small touches to turn the town’s courtroom into the Training Academy. Hanging superhero banners, having each site supervisor wear a cape, and using the built-in TVs to play “surveillance footage” were some of the ways we let counselors know theywere in for a week of fun and excitement.
  • Staff introductions: With superhero theme songs playing in the background, the site supervisors were introduced along with a list of their powers. Trina has the power of super patience! Tyler has the ability to understand the complicated language of the campers! Megan can quiet a cafeteria full of kids with a single, "Clap once if you can hear me!” This turns what can be a very mundane part of training into something memorable and engaging.
  • Setting the mood: After introductions, we kicked things off by watching “surveillance footage” of our arch nemesis Summer Boredom. “I am Summer Boredom. I have contacted you because I am a supervillain, and like any good supervillain, I have a foolproof plan … to make sure the unsuspecting campers remain bored, purposeless, and completely dissatisfied with their summer vacations!” He went on to demand that our counselors provide an unsafe and boring summer for campers … or else! Getting staff excited to jump into training can be a challenge, so I always try to do something new and unexpected to capture their attention and create a dynamic energy level within the group. 
  • Friendly competition: After hearing about their mission to defeat Summer Boredom, the counselors were divided into two teams based on their camp site—team Batman vs. team Superman. By participating throughout training, staff members could score points for their team, with the winning camp taking home the coveted Camp Cup. By incorporating a little competition, counselors are more likely to answer questions, join in discussions, and actively participate in training sessions.
  • Training activities: During the hands-on portion of training, counselors partook in activities that fit both the superhero theme and covered the different areas of interest offered at camp. Arts-and-crafts leaders made hero fuse beads and toilet paper-roll arm cuffs; sports and games counselors played villain bowling, batarang toss, wall smash, and shield toss; and the musical arts and drama group acted out heroic situations and played a superhero theme song. Each activity could easily be done with campers of all ages with the proper modifications.

Training tip: Be sure to take pictures during staff training to share on social media or in the camp newsletter!

Grand finale:  Ending the week with a special session provides an opportunity to sum up all of the important points touched on during training, and to drive home the message that, with the right amount of work and creativity, we can ensure a safe, fun, and memorable summer. On the last day at Superhero Training Academy, we were suddenly “attacked” by Summer Boredom! First, he dropped balloon grenades we had to pop, and then we had to clean up the “toxic” waste he dumped as he ran out the front doors. After a brief chase, we captured Summer Boredom using “anti-boredom” spray to trap him. After some questioning, it turned out that he became a villain because he had never been allowed to attend summer day camp. We invited him to join us at camp, he agreed to give up his evil ways, and we celebrated a triumphant end to staff training!

Getting Feedback
Having counselors complete staff-training evaluations can assist in gauging the success of the theme and help make improvements for the following year. Sometimes the staff take-away is even more meaningful than expected, much like this hero-in-training’s interpretation of the Superhero Training Academy theme:

“The superhero theme was awesome because we are superheroes to the kids we meet. It shows how important this camp is for kids because they come here to feel protected and know they have a friend in us. It taught us how to make a difference in the community by starting with the future.”

Megan Ball is the Recreation Supervisor for the town of DeWitt Recreation Department in New York. Reach her at mball@townofdewitt.com.