In a typical summer camp program, the top priorities are always the fun and safety of the campers. However, there is a variable that is often overlooked when running a summer camp, and that is the counselors themselves. They are the ones dealing with campers the most, so their happiness and motivation will have a direct impact on the enjoyment, and even safety of the kids.
Like any profession, unhappy and uninspired counselors will tend to show poor effort and work habits. That’s why it’s crucial to keep your counselors engaged and full of vigor throughout the summer. This will lead to a better overall experience for campers, parents, and everyone else involved.
Here are some ideas for keeping counselors involved and active throughout the program.
- Have an End of the Year “Counselor Award Banquet”
Banquet in this scenario, can just mean a pizza party. Recognition of employee time and effort is a vital part of any healthy organization, and this will make sure your counselors know their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
Categories don’t have to be too elaborate and can be program specific, but below are some general ideas for awards:
- Best Original Craft Idea
- Best Original Physical Game/Activity
- Participation Award (counselor involved in activities, crafts, dressing up for silly holidays, etc.)
- Counselor Issue Award. (sick camper, behavior issue, any general inconvenience.)
- Counselor/Parent Communication Award.
Obviously, you can tailor categories so everyone gets an award of some sort, or you can pick multiple winners for each award. You can just hand out certificates, but feel free to include gift cards to give winners. Having something like this at the end of the program will hopefully keep counselors focused and attentive on campers.
- Have A Counselor Suggestion Box
Employees, no matter the industry, want to be heard. A suggestion box gives counselors an opportunity to submit something that can let them put their personal stamp on the program. Not only that, but their ideas for improvements or alterations are invaluable, because they are the ones right in the middle of everything. Their perspective could offer a fresh take on some aspects of the camp that could be improved. If counselors feel like their opinion matters and carries weight, then in turn, they will feel a natural sense of responsibility and ownership of the overall outcome of the camp program.
As an alternative DIY option if you are on a budget and want to add some creativity, you can use a shoe box to create your own suggestion box. Personalize it with decorative paper, markers, foam shapes/letters, gems, or stickers. This will allow the counselors to take ownership of the whole suggestion process.
- Before the Camp Session, Have a Counselor Day Retreat
It may be hard to find a day that works due to busy schedules before the summer, but this can be combined with a counselor training day if necessary. The goal of this “retreat” to have counselors’ bond and create a team atmosphere before the campers arrive. This would usually happen over the span of the camp naturally, giving it a head start will make sure the program starts off smoothly.
Other than the traditional icebreaker and team building activities, you have the benefit of having camp equipment to use. This will break up the monotony of classic name and info sharing games. Also, this gives counselors an opportunity to familiarize themselves with camp equipment and games, that way they feel even more comfortable when they are running the activities themselves. Check out this blog for some awesome active team building activities you can use to get the counselors working together and building a rapport.
When a counselor has a connection to their coworkers it will lead to a couple of crucial things. One is that when you feel connected to someone you work with; your quality of work will stay high due to not wanting to let that person down. Also, if you are comfortable and familiar with a coworker you will begin to build a natural work flow keeping you focused on the fun and important parts of camp, instead of figuring out task delegation, etc.
- Have A Counselor Picture Board
This may seem like it has nothing to do with the happiness and performance level of your counselors, but constant reminders of fun or successful moments from past camp activities can help connect the counselors. Nostalgia and reminiscence are some powerful tools for building strong bonds between a group of people.
Have the board displayed somewhere counselors often go, like around a water fountain, outside a bathroom or near where they eat meals. If a counselor is having a rough day or just feels a bit worn out, reminders of a favorite moment from camp can brighten their spirit and refocus them on why they wanted to be a camp counselor in the first place. You can even let counselors create and decorate the board themselves using poster board, multi-surface markers and some glitter glue pens.
Have counselors email/text photos in or create an online folder for them to upload pictures to make sure it truly feels personal to their experience. You will have to spend some time/money on this to print photos for the board, but the return on investment will be more then worth it. At the end of the program distribute the photos or create a scrapbook so all the counselors can take home their favorites.
For more versatile placement, use this cork roll to make your own cork board anywhere.
- Camper/Parent Praise System
No matter who you are, it’s nice to know when someone appreciates you. Having a system set up to get some praise back to your counselors will allow them to know that the hard work they put in, truly means something.
Email or contact parents and ask them for any personal words of praise for counselors. Most will want to do this anyway, but maybe don’t know the best way to do it. By calling them, talking to them or sending them a formal email, they will now know the best way to do this.
You can funnel the praise to counselors as it comes, but it’s also nice to have campers make their own personal thank you cards, including a printed copy of the parent’s kind words along with it.
From my experience, it may a good idea to have tissues handy for when counselors read these!