The Beauties Of Camp Duties

3. Eliminate competition. Avoid scheduling any other activities during camp-duty time. The last thing the campers completing a chore need to see is another group of campers playing on the other side of the field or relaxing in the shade. When everyone is working together, at the same time, a motivating spirit of camaraderie quickly blossoms.

4. Make the work age-appropriate. The maintenance crew will handle the power tools and tasks that require special skills. Your campers can handle just about everything else, but be sure the duties are matched for their physical strength and developmental level.

5. Ensure full camper participation. Schedule all other camper business–such as routine visits to the health center–at times other than camp-duty time. That way, no campers become jealous that a few peers have an easy out.

6. Ensure full staff participation. A common camp-duty pitfall is for counselors or cabin leaders to stand on the sidelines barking orders or leading from afar. To encourage full camper participation, staff members should set a good example by scrubbing, sweeping, and doing everything they’ve asked the campers to do. The most skilled staff members turn their duty into a game by adding songs, jokes and contests. In creative hands, the most mundane (or even semi-disgusting) tasks become intriguing, silly challenges that campers are eager to tackle alongside their hardworking leaders.

7. Provide variety. Rotating tasks every two days helps campers stay interested, but they still learn how each job is done well, whether it’s sawing limbs for kindling, cleaning sinks, or returning lost-and-found. When different staff members stay with the same camp duty all summer, the group rotation also ensures that each staff member can interact with different children over the course of a single session.

Reap The Benefits

It takes a two-person maintenance crew nearly eight days working full-time to accomplish what 225 campers and 25 employees can do in a single 30-minute camp-duty session. And, if the duties are a daily part of a camp’s eight-week summer, 7,000 person-hours are accumulated, the equivalent of three-and-a-half people working full-time for a year. Wow! Bottom line–daily camp duties can help a camp sparkle, and free the maintenance staff to tend to more difficult, dangerous or complex tasks.

But wait! There’s more! When campers participate in daily camp duties, they acquire a sense of pride in the physical plant. That translates to fewer instances of annoying vandalism or troublesome neglect, such as graffiti, clogged toilets and empty soap containers. When young people are involved in the routine upkeep of the facilities they use, they have a vested interest in keeping the places in tip-top shape. More than once I’ve heard campers say to each other, “Hey, don’t mess that up. It’s my camp duty”” or “When you’re done with that gear, please put it back so we have less work for camp duties tomorrow.” Slowly, but in tangible ways, campers feel ownership of camp, and begin to care for equipment and facilities as if they themselves had paid for them.

My mother loved to tell the story of how, for a decade, she had tried unsuccessfully to get me to make my bed each morning. But then, after two weeks at camp, I was not only making my bed, but also setting the table and taking out the garbage once in a while. Somehow, despite my parents’ valiant home-based efforts, it took camp to convince me to take initiative and contribute to the group. Ultimately, this type of self-reliance and community allegiance are why camp duties are so important. Perhaps somewhere in your promotional materials there’s room to share why you’ve included camp duties in the daily schedule. Even more important, there’s room in your campers’ development for added maturity and responsibility.

Dr. Christopher Thurber is a board-certified clinical psychologist, father and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, now available online for free at He is the co-creator of, a set of Internet-based-video training modules for camp counselors, nurses and doctors. He can be reached via e-mail at

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One comment on “The Beauties Of Camp Duties

  1. Anne Conolly on said:

    You have described our nearly 100 year old camp duties program perfectly. We have teams (The Sweeping Beauties, The Mess Masters, Casamoppa) and team cheers and recognition at the end of the week and summer for the strongest teams. Can’t imagine camp without it.

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