Tree House

How do you as the director know you run a safe, enriching summer camp program? That all of your staff “get it” and that the goals and philosophies set are being achieved? The answer is that to ensure that these objectives are being achieved; you need to start at the top.

Tree House Illustration

During the winter season, as the director you met/recruited, and made promises to parents and campers, purchased the “best” safety equipment, researched the latest of extreme sports, hired talented, experienced staff, and planned for the unknown… Now that the season is in full swing, you turn to your trusted head counselor and hand it all over, so everything is perfect… or is it?

As the camp director, you need to make sure that everything is in order and functioning as planned, each day, every day, from the moment the staff arrives, until the last one leaves.

Directors need to get out there and be visible to the campers, and more importantly the staff. The reason is that it is the staff that needs to see, by example. They need to hear your words and understand your ideas, directly. It is through this that they will understand the impact of the role they play, not only for the children but also for the life of the camp.

Tree Fort

Does camp have a life? I was once asked to view my camp as an object, either animate or inanimate. At the time I didn’t completely understand the reason for the exercise, but have since come to appreciate the idea and continue to utilize the concept as a way to demonstrate member roles at camp. The model I use helps to show how everyone and everything is connected.

The choice I made was Camp as a Tree.

Imagine, if you will, camp as a living, breathing tree. A tree needs good soil, just as camp needs a good location, facility and site layout. It needs sun and rain to grow, as do our summers, sun for outside play and rainy days to rest and connect.

Camp has roots, in its histories, traditions and alumni. It has a trunk, which supports all else that occurs, as the camp director does at camp.

The camp tree has main branches, which represent the main goals and philosophies. These branches lead to secondary branches, representing the staff — those who receive these goals and carry them forward through their counselor roles and activity leadership.

Activities grow from counselors in the form of leaves. Birdhouses, represented as cabins, give us shelter, the apples represent our food source and all combine to create an environment where campers (birds) find safety, security and recreation, life.

Of course, we cannot forget the parents swinging from the bottom branch, some hanging on, hoping that they’ve made the right decision for their child, and others enjoying the moment.

Camp is like a tree, and by imagining it as such, it allows us to see where each of us belong and relate to the other. This message is extremely important as it relates to your staff, for it is the staff that turns your words, efforts and ideas to reality for our children.

The Source

Directors may be able to rely completely on their head counselors, and supervisor staff, some of which have been with them for years. They may be able to recite camp policies, goals and philosophies better than the director. In fact, many may have written them at one point.

Regardless, when it comes to messages the staff must hear it from you, the camp director. Why? It has been my experience that staff members feel more connected to a place, when the original messages are delivered via the camp director.

Direct interaction allows staff the opportunity to discuss issues, ask questions and make suggestions. It conveys a feeling that the director is interested in them not only for the role they play at camp but as people who s/he cares about and values.

These opportunities empower, motivate and excite staff into becoming a part of the tapestry of your camp program. With or without saying it, these actions say thank you, and provide staff members with the confidence to continue throughout the season

So what is your plan?

Plan to keep your staff motivated…

Michael Brandwein at the 2004 ACA conference in San Francisco shared with us the idea to come up with an acronym to help relay goals. He suggests we create a cheer to get the staff up off their feet and keep enthusiasm high throughout the summer. I found this suggestion made planning orientation extremely helpful, and a lot of fun to write this season.

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  2. Post-Camp Check-Up
  3. The Recognition Factor
  4. Teamwork
  5. The Spirit of Camp
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