KOOL Staff Orientation

Think about following that component with a session related to the heart of your program. For instance, if your day camp’s mission involves social development of campers, plan to discuss the social components of your program (like citizenship).

Other skills that counselors must know and be able to perform under a variety of conditions include communicating with campers, parents and other staff members.

Beyond communicating, knowing how to manage behavior of campers and appropriate contact with campers are essential topics. Reviewing your campers’ behavior modification plan/guideline ensures consistency among staff members. If the “time-out method” is your camp’s preference, then group counselors, specialists and support staff should be trained to handle a “time-out” incident following the same standards.

Several topics must be covered for local department of health guidelines and American Camping Association Accreditation (which requires 24 hours of pre-camp orientation for day-camp counselors).

For example, review the plans for a lost camper or swimmer, a disaster, a fire, or any other contingency. Equally important is reviewing your facility’s emergency action and communication plans with special attention to the high-risk areas (pool, waterfront, ropes course).

Emergency skills that everyone on your staff should know and be able to perform include CPR, basic First Aid, and non-swimming rescue attempts.

Some day camp programs require staff to obtain CPR and First Aid before arriving at camp. To ensure, however, that every staff member receives the same standard of care, we have always offered CPR training as part of our orientation program.


When planning your orientation this year, attempt to focus on asking what you want your staff to know and be able to do by the end of your orientation program.

If your camp has a large percentage of returning staff, be certain to change the format and activities to alleviate boredom. Also, invite returning staff and support staff to present information and lead activities.

Consider separating your new staff and returning staff for one or two sessions early in your orientation program so that you can introduce basic content to the new staff and discuss last year’s challenges with the returning staff.

Offer Camp Counseling 101 for new staff and Camp Counseling 202 for returning staff. It is very advantageous. Sessions can have a list of topics to cover and be led by a director and a senior staff member. New counselors are comfortable asking basic questions, while the returning staff has the opportunity to discuss practical challenges and brainstorm new solutions/ideas.

Scheduling everything that you want your staff to know and be able to do is impossible. As those of us who have directed camps understand, there are certain skills your staff will learn on the job. Therefore, be selective and creative with your scheduling. Include other directors or senior staff members in the planning and presentation of your orientation schedule.

In addition, staff for overnight camps must deal with campers and each other 24-7. Depending on the age of the campers, staff members need to address issues like bed wetting, home sickness, illness, insomnia and raging hormones, just to mention a few.

A good way to teach staff about dealing with these issues is a What If? session. Using your own experience and ideas from returning staff members, create scenarios about what could happen and ask new staff tell what they would do. This can be an eye opener for new staff but can also give them confidence for dealing with sensitive issues. Role playing can also be a good way to address sensitive issues if you have the time and expertise.

Similar to day camps, but perhaps even more critical, becoming a well-oiled synergistic staff should be a major emphasis for overnight camp staff orientation.

One idea that works is to have staff do things together outside the camp setting. Go out to dinner one night or go to camp field trip sights. It is amazing what you learn about each other while learning about the camp.

Returning staff can again be a big asset in helping all staff learn to work and play together. Another idea is to have the staff live the day of a camper. They will do the cleaning, daily activities, meal schedules and regulations that campers follow.

It’s great for old and new staff to get back into the routine again. Planning an effective, meaningful and fun orientation is challenging. As you know, however, it is only the beginning of your summer challenges and it sets the stage for a safe and memorable camp season.

Dr. Ruth A. Arnold is assistant professor of physical education at Springfield College and an IISA Level I Certified Inline Skating Instructor.

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