Fasten Your Seatbelts

By David Bragg
Photos: Kinasao Lutheran Bible Camp

When an airplane takes off, many people think their flight has just begun. Those who toil behind the scenes in aviation know differently, thanks to the endless hours of aircraft maintenance, cleaning, ordering supplies, and flight-staff training. A camp’s summer program is very similar. An effective staff-training event should provide the summer team with a sense of community, confidence through skill development, chances to practice these skills, and a baseline to allow for a continuous focus on improvement.


Community Building
The more training that a camp can provide, the stronger the program will be to start the summer. If a camp has a sister or neighboring camp or camps, consider a joint training event. Five or six days of a 10-day training period can be an effective length; the participating camps can take turns hosting. Staff training provides a chance for the team to become more aware of the mission, vision, values, and history the camp, and to make a covenant to guide the group’s efforts during the summer. If a camp has a development staff, it can present a wider view of the camp’s activities to the summer team.

Confidence Through Skill Development
Team members can’t possibly be prepared for every situation; however, there are many tools that a well-planned staff-training event can provide. It is crucial for members to learn camp policies (using a variety of engaging methods, instead of the deadly “reading out loud” approach) and to physically practice emergency procedures to determine everyone’s responsibility.

During training, a staff can exercise its work ethic, become more familiar with the site, and become allies with the buildings and grounds team by being available for part of a day to help with less-skill-based projects. For religious-programming facilities, time spent developing a faith-based curriculum is a must.


Outdoor activities should be practiced by the staff, led by certified specialists such as archers or lifeguards. The program staff can also pool its creativity to create engaging videos to demonstrate the rules for wide games and other whole-camp space activities.

Providing top-notch customer service is a must for camp staff members. It is crucial for everyone in the family to feel welcome and excited about being at camp.

For those camps with large staffs, or those that train together with other camps, holding a “Tricks of the Trade” session is very valuable. During this session, the program director (or another permanent staff member) moderates an open discussion in which new staff members are encouraged to ask questions and hear from returning and veteran team members. Consider inviting a community expert to speak on relevant topics, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, or autism-spectrum disorders. There may be a camper or staff family willing to share a story about a condition that affects their daily life.

Practice Skills Prior To Summer
It is extremely helpful if a camp can hold a weekend retreat or provide extra days for its specialist staff. Site coordinators, program coordinators, or others with increased responsibility can get together even from Friday evening to late Saturday afternoon and develop routines, go over expectations, and begin making plans for the hectic summer program. Kitchen staff can practice as a group and cook for smaller groups. Lifeguards can come in a couple of days early to work with buildings and grounds staff to become familiar with pool-maintenance routines. Camps with high-ropes courses can have the summer instructors meet on a Saturday to take a small group of people (adventurous year-round staff members) through the course. Spring Outdoor Education groups and weekend retreats can be held after summer staff hiring occurs.

Focus On Improvement
Staff training is a time when team members are consciously focused on learning more each day and growing into their roles. This mindset should not stop once the summer program begins. If the program schedule allows, holding an overnight, mid-summer training event is a helpful exercise. The summer team can regroup, tackle a fun activity, such as making a video explaining why they love camp, or examine how the program can be improved during the vital final weeks where staff energy and enthusiasm levels are often lower. Every camper needs to have his or her best week of the summer, and it is up to the team members to make this happen through their attitude and actions.

As with every successful plane flight, endless hours of preparation are necessary to prepare a camp and train its summer staff before the program takes place. Having a staff training that is effective, efficient, and well-led will be the engine that gets the plane down the runway.

David Bragg is the Development Director for Kinasao Lutheran Bible Camp in Christopher Lake, SK, Canada. Reach him at