Pre-Camp With A Punch!

Pre-Camp With A Punch

The development of this session lead me to a variety of thoughts and ideas. First off – I do not use all of these ideas at my own camp, but in developing a session of this nature it allows one to wonder what would work.

The questions that I started to ask myself as I planned this session revolved around what is wrong with pre-camp? The anwser that I get to the question of what is wrong is that it is: boring, tired, same old, same old. Staff have seen pre-camp for years and there is nothing new for them.

The next question that came up is: How do you want your staff to feel at the end of pre-camp? Well, if you are an average camp director, you want your staff to feel excited, prepared and ready for the summer. You want your staff to be enthusiastic and full of life and ready to show your campers the best stay of their summer camp lives. You should want your staff to feel the same way that you want your campers to feel at the end of their camp stay – excited, enthused, like they had the time of their lives.
Why do our staff not feel this way at the end of pre-camp? Potentially because of the way that we plan pre-camp…meaning that we spend endless hours on policy and procedures and the “stuff we need to cover”. If you were to take that out of the planning time, what would you fill your pre-camp with? How do you take it out of pre-camp?

I would guess that the average camp spends 25% to 50% of their pre-camp on policies and procedures – things that you cover in your policy manual (if you don’t have a policy manual, you need to start somewhere that is not here…). We like to go over the policy manual again and again to make sure that our staff know. What a waste of time! Imagine if you mailed out your policy manual to all of your staff at the beginning of May and let them know that it is up to them to have read and understood it before pre-camp. When they arrive at pre-camp they then sign off on a sheet that says that they have read and understood the policy manual. You can spend an hour or two going over questions, but do not waste away the pre-camp time going over and over things that the staff should already have known. On another note – you could test them when they arrive and only let the staff who score over 80% stay…(kidding).

Other ways to make pre-camp more meaningful:

  • Staff Mentor program: if you have new staff then choose old staff to help mentor them, before they even arrive at pre-camp. Get the new staff and your hand picked returning staff in touch with each other over email, Facebook or what ever method you work with. Give your returning staff member an actual time table for contacting the new staff, going over camp things and getting them ready for camp. The mentor is assigned to that staff member for the entire summer, it is their job to make sure that the new staff adjusts to camp and helps them succeed.
  • Individually programmed pre-camp: this is an idea that I first heard about at Think Camp. The presenter at Think Camp had heard the idea at the Tri-State Camping Conference. The base of the idea is that you take a look at each staff member and program their pre-camp with the sessions that they need, and/or get them to lead some of the sessions that the new staff need. Bill Stevens from Camp Big Canoe is the one who shared it with me – I still need to work on it to see how it would work with my staff.
  • Use the Think Camp Model of learning: this model is detailed here. Get your returning staff members to prepared short presentations on a list of topics that you provide them, using the Think Camp Model.
  • Staff Construction (Teambuilding): This is by far the most important part of any pre-camp that I plan. Think back to your best summer ever. Think about the major successes of that summer and what made the summer the best ever…the majority of people will talk about the team that they had put together. Imagine if you could make that kind of a team each summer. Teambuilding, or staff construction as we call it at Pearce Williams, can make or break your summer. If by the end of pre-camp your team is not well developed, what chance to they have? Once you bring the campers the staff does not have the same time or opportunity to grow together – their focus is then on the campers – as it should be. Teambuilding is the most important key, here are some of activities that can help get our staff together (these are explained in the session):

Note that I have learned a tremendous amount from Jim Cain at Teamwork & Teamplay. I cannot recommend his books enough and if you get the opportunity to see him speak, take it.

As you read through these ideas, you may think to yourself – that will not work at my camp or I can’t see how that would be implemented. Remember that things take time to get right, if we had to have it work perfectly every time then we would be in another business – new ideas are what keep our camps moving forward – try something new.

I think I have covered off on most things that I have wanted to. Please get in touch with me if you have any questions about this information, or leave a comment so that the world can see your question.

Presented at OCA Annual Conference 2008, BCCA Annual Conference 2008 

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