May brings the start of camp season. The team of staff have all finished their year at university, or are finishing up at their other jobs, and are just starting to trickle in for spring staff training and to help run activities for school and rental groups until summer camp starts in July. There is an excitement in the air as staff dorms begin to fill and extra chairs are pulled around the staff table in the dining hall at lunch time.
In a couple of months, and after few staff training weekends, the rest of the summer staff and volunteers will join in. You are looking at your team. They are enthusiastic teens and young adults keen to take on another adventurous summer as your staff at camp. Their attitudes are positively beaming! Now how can we keep them that way all summer long?
It's easy and fun to work with your friends! Encourage your staff to really get to know each other. One of my favourite things about being on a team of summer camp staff was that the normal social rules teenagers are enslaved by don’t apply at camp. When given the right environment, and maybe some guided activities and planned outings, your staff will become friends and will enjoy the time spent with each other. Things run smoother when you staff gets along with each other.
Remember that knowledge is power. It is a no-brainer that you will train your staff to be certified/qualified for whatever position they will be responsible for this summer. You can take their knowledge to the next level. Teach them everything you know from personal experience. Put them in touch with other experts in the field so they get a few tricks of the trade. If you can afford the time and money, give them extra training and certification courses and some time outside of regular camp schedules to practice what they’ve learned.
When people feel confident in their ability it develops a real pride in their job. Not only will the extra knowledge make your activities and operations run more safely and smoothly, the campers will benefit from the positive ‘sureness’ your staff will project. Your older staff will start to mentor to the younger ones and the younger ones to the campers; creating an environment of learning and boosted self confidence.
Receiving frequent words of affirmation will play a role in the overall attitude of your staff. Everyone loves to hear that they are doing a good job. These teenagers and young adults look up to you. When you tell them that they are doing a good job it means even more. Be specific in your praise. Tell your ropes course instructor that you were impressed with their attention to safety and proper instruction. Thank your assistant cook for making the best vanilla pudding you’ve ever tasted. They will love the praise and they will continue to try to impress their leadership.
Ask your staff what kinds of jobs they love doing. While everyone understands they can’t just do the ‘fun jobs’ all the time, and that everyone has to take a turn in the dish pit, do what you can to place your staff in positions they enjoy doing. If they haven’t expressed what they enjoy doing, ask them in staff training. Sometimes they might be eager to please and too shy to tell you right off the bat. You don’t want to have someone who doesn’t like horses working at the barn when they love art and would be a fantastic arts and crafts leader. Find out what they like!
As we prepare for the weeks of summer camp ahead it’s important that we all know why we are even working at camp in the first place. To enrich the lives of children in our communities by helping them connect with nature, build relationships, a love for physical activity and build confidence through new challenges. If all of our staff are on the same page – it’s going to be a phenomenal season!