Camp Practices

Tristate Speakers Not To Miss

Next week is Tristate! WHAT!? Tristate is this huge camp conference in Atlantic City, weird I know, but awesome.

For Stomping Ground, the camp I help Laura run, we are bring a few seasonal staff.  They started asking what it would be like. Last night, I quickly looked through the session outline to help them decide what sessions they might want to see. We don't mandate that our staff go to specific sessions, but do try to share our experience so they know what they are opting into. So, I thought I would share my list for my staff with all of you.

Who are these people?

Below is a quick synopsis of 9 speakers and their presentation times that I would love to be able to see. It is mostly designed to send to my staff as they start thinking about the conference, but I thought it might be useful for other folks as well.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are dozens of great speakers at Tristate every year, and I always come away with a new must-see presenter. Last year it was Cole Perry, more on him below. Quick disclosure: I have worked with almost everyone on this list starting Stomping Ground, facilitating Directors' Camp, running Go Camp Pro, or building The Summer Camp Society. I love these people and that makes me biased. 

Some Advice I heard

The best advice I heard about Tristate (and any conference) is find great sessions, talk to as many people as possible, and leave my ego at the door. I think Stomping Ground is a great camp, but the best thing we can do is learn from other camps, spend more time listening than talking, and try to be helpful when we can. 

I don't have much experience in other industries so this might be hyperbole, but...The summer camp industry is unique and camp people are the best. Tristate is an example of that in action and one of the best sharing opportunities of my year. I can't wait to see you there!

With Love!
Jack

 

The List...

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Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon

Kurtz is the single best creator of staff bonding, connecting, and growth activities I have ever seen. Her magic is that her activities and examples work with 5 year olds to 80 year olds because they are never condescending. She brings years of camp directing experience (6 as the exec at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian) and an MBA from the University of Michigan paired with a millennial mindset that connects with staff today. She is forward looking, mindful, and compassionate. 

 What you will see? Current, activities, experience, compassion

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2-3 p.m., Room 304, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Avoiding the Parent Trap: Working with Difficult Parents

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Transitioning from Coworker to Supervisor: Success as a Young Camp Leader

Thurs., March 22nd, 10:15-11:15 a.m. Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Using Microstorytelling to Market Camp

http://www.kurtzmckinnoncreative.com/

 

Steve MAguire

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Steve is the best in the business at simple takeaways, bringing incredible energy, and firing you up. He cares deeply about the success of your program, the power of camp, and the impact individuals can have in a summer at camp. He is a school teacher, a former CIT director, and bad ass song leader. He is especially great at helping new staff really get camp. One of the best parts about seeing Steve speak is he is like a cup of coffee in the middle of the conference. You can’t help be leave fired up afterward.

What you will see? Teacher, energy, passion, specific takeaways.

Tues., March 20th 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 302, Stephen Maguire, Little Things are Big Things: 10 Specific Ways to Improve your Entire Camp

Wed., March 21st 3:15-4:15 p.m, Room 302, Stephen Maguire, 5 Ways to Improve Your Staff's Patience at Camp

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 312, Stephen Maguire, Weathering Camp: 15 Ways for How to Prepare Your Camp for the Best and the Worst Weather

http://www.goturnstone.com/

 
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Sylvia van Meerten

Syl is a straightforward, no BS, let’s make it work kind of person. Her sessions are always full of specific takeaways and a to-the-point candidness that I think is often missing from the camp world. She is licensed therapist, autism expert, and the other half of the Camp Tall Tree founding team with Scott Arizala. She has worked at half a dozen camps and was the Executive Director of Dragonfly Forest for years.

What you will see? Clear takeaways, no BS, mental health, autism expert

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 320, Sylvia van Meerten, Neurodiversity, Inclusion, and the Hidden Curriculum at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

http://vanmeertenconsulting.com/

 
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Dr. Chris Thurber

Chris ties everything back to academia. He is surprisingly hilarious in a professorial kind of way that I can’t pull off. A graduate of Harvard and school psychologist at a prestigious boarding school, he really gets the high-powered families that choose many of our camps. He has spent the last 30- something summers at YMCA Camp Belknap in New Hampshire and is especially great with a staff looking for more research to back up actions. 

What you will see? Expertise, academics, mental health

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, Cross-Cultural Agility in Action

Wed., March 21st 12:30-1:30 p.m. Room 415, Dr. Chris Thurber, Woodworking with Hand Tools

Wed., March 21st, 3:15-4:15 p.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, XXX-Posed: Youth Development in the 21st Century

Thurs., March 22nd 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 312, Dr. Chris Thurber, Shockingly Professional Talk: Smooth Responses to Sensitive Topics

https://drchristhurber.com/

 
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Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton

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Beth and Ruby host the podcast Camp Code with Gab Raill. They are strong advocates for women in camping and typically focus on specific staff training sessions or additions that you can do with your staff. Beth is a long time director of Cairn Camps in Canada and Ruby at Green River Preserve in North Carolina.

What you will see? Takeaways, community building, focus on relationships

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 404, Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Three Innovative Training Modules to Plug into Your Staff Training Right Now

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 417, Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Management 101 for Staff Who Are Supervising Others For the First Time

https://gocamp.pro/

 
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Travis Allison

Travis is a nerd. That’s why we get along. He is constantly searching for new hacks and tricks to make running camp easier and typically pushes folks toward more storytelling in marketing and finding new ways to provide value to families. Travis was the long time camp director at Cairn Camps, a Presbyterian camp in Ontario. He grew up on a farm, is a professional photographer, and probably camp's leading podcaster with is CampHacker podcast.

What you will see? Marketing, technology, experience, Canadian

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 309, Travis Allison, How To Get Dirt-Cheap, High Quality Responses From Email Marketing

https://gocamp.pro/

 
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Cole Perry

Cole dramatically less “camp famous” than the other speakers on this list, and has a very different niche. Cole worked at YMCA Camp Ernst for a long time and has been studying race at camp for the last few years. He is earnest and thoughtful is his presentations and always leaves me thinking differently and questioning our policies. Definitely worth seeing.

What you will see? Typically group discussion, race at camp, no easy answers, academic 

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 401, Cole Perry, Antiracism at Camp: Speaking Up and Acting Out

 
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Dr. Deborah Gilboa

Dr. G is a physician, mom, and is on a mission to help grownups realize how powerful kids are. She, like Dr. Thurber, will connect humor to scientific studies and her experience working with different families. Her three boys go to camp, and she is a camp doc during the summer. She has spoken on all kinds of national and local TV and is certainly the most famous speaker outside of the camp world. 

What you will see? Humor, science, confidence, charm

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 301, Deborah Gilboa, Managing Anxiety at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 312, Deborah Gilboa, Staff Self-Care - How to Teach It AND How to Practice It

https://askdoctorg.com/

 
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Scott Arizala

Scott is a born storyteller. He keeps you hanging on every word and can connect with anyone. He has an incredible knack for relating to the audience. It’s really like your best friend is up there. Scott was the long time director of Dragonfly Forest, a camp for kids with special health needs, the founder of Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism, as well as a lifelong camper, staff, and now camper parent at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian. He brings that connection to different types of people to every training he does. 

What you will see? Relatability, special needs, storytelling.

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 302, Scott Arizala, Silence, Whispering, Writing, and More: Lessons from Our Quieter Staff

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Scott Arizala, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, and Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development, and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 303 ,Scott Arizala, Training for the Middle: What Do We Really Want from Summer Camp Staff?

http://www.thecampcounselor.com/

 

Understanding the Business

Some other people I like to sit in on because they run very successful camps and are often involved in the larger discussion of summer camp at the national level. These guys get business and no matter how we slice it, summer camp is a business. 

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 301, Andy Pritikin, Free Play at Day Camp- Important and Possible!

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 303, Jay Jacobs, Building a Winning Camp Leadership Team

Wed., March 21st, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Room 401, Andy Pritikin,  Day Camp Communication 2018, a Roundtable Discussion → Note: I don’t run a day camp, but am going to try to make this one anyway. I love stealing Andy’s ideas, especially around parent communication. 

Wed., March 21st 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 417, Scott Brody, ACA's Public Policy/Government Affairs Update!

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m. Room 304, Steve Baskin, Using Disruptive Moments to Transform Campers Narratives

 

Seasonal Leadership Seminar

Set your leadership team up for success this summer
4 Weeks $75 until April 1st

JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
Co-Founder THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
STOMPING GROUND ORIGIN STORY

Five Reasons Staff Work at Camp & A Kookie Idea To Recruit Great Staff

Millennials Are The Worst :)

They (we?) are selfish, noncommittal, and disrespectful. This all may be true or it might be totally ludicrous, and the latest in a string of older generations complaining about younger generations. At the end of the day, summer camp is built on millennials, and we have to figure out how to connect with, recruit, and lead this generation as our staff this summer. 

Depending how we define Millennials we might already be onto the next generation of staff. Could they be even worse? I kid of course. I was born in ‘88 and am a proud member of the millennial generation. But here’s the thing. Regardless of what we think, we need 18-25 year olds to make camp work, so instead of ringing our hands, let’s figure out how we can partner with them to make the best camp and help them. 

Now more than ever before, our potential staff have a choice in what they do this summer. They can volunteer in cool places, travel, get internships that might advance their careers, make a lot more money than we pay them, choose a different camp, come and work for us, and more. Unlike generations before, and even older millennials, the staff we are hiring this summer can get on Google and find an almost limitless number of options for how to spend their summer. If we want to recruit the best staff, we need to understand what they are looking for and build our staff recruitment AND the actual staffing experience to match their hopes. 

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Why Work at Camp?

Below are the most common responses I hear from people about why they choose camp, in no particular order. For most of the staff we work with, they connect with each aspect in different ways. 

Different Potential Outcomes Staff Applicants Might Be Looking For

I could imagine building a quick quiz that would rank these for each applicant and spit out a simple diagram. Similar to the True Colors Personality Test. Some diagrams also below.

Legacy - Connected to camp. Former Campers, parents were staff, that kind of thing. 

Impact - Belief in the mission. Want to be positive role models for kids, connect to nature, reimagine a different way of working with kids etc.

Community - Making new friends, connecting to old, being a camp counselor is all about the community.

Career - How can camp help your career? New skills, 21st century skills, a network, a different experience. We are thinking long and hard at Stomping Ground about how we can be truly useful here. I think in the past we have only been mildly useful.

Fun - For a lot of people it is a lot more fun to play by the lake than sit at a desk. But staff are often giving up things like concerts, family vacations, or summer parties.

Money - It is a job. We don’t pay a lot at Stomping Ground ($275 a week for counselors 2018), but money is a part of the equation. Working at camp pays more than volunteering in cool places.

Each potential staff member will be looking for these with different focuses depending on a million individual circumstances. By better understanding what they might be looking for we can individualize our recruiting messaging and their experience at camp. 

This might look like...

Great at some, not great yet, at others.

At Stomping Ground, like most camps, we do a great job with fun, community, and impact. Where we lose people is around career advancement and the ability to make money. We, again like most camps, have a pretty limited budget. This summer we will pay our typical counselors $275 a week, up from $250 last year and $225 the year before. Next summer we will pay $300, not nearly enough to compete with the other jobs our staff could work, but inching up toward minimum wage. 

If we aren’t going to be able to compete based on short term financial returns, I think we need to be disproportionately good at long term career advancement so that we can make a good argument that giving up a couple summers of better pay results in a much higher long term upside. In many ways this argument is so that the staff, that already want to work for us, can convince their professors, parents, and advisors. This won’t be possible for everyone and that’s ok. If we can do this for the right people, we can create an unfair advantage because we actually genuinely care about each of our staff members.

We are in the beginning stages of this, and are taking a two pronged approach. 

One - Helping our staff better understand themselves, what they want, and how to get there.

This is means taking time out of staff orientation to focus on them. To run workshops about professional development, career skills, and resume building. For specific staff we try to help them gain the skills they want if those skills also can help camp. 

Things like paying for a great staff member to become an EMT because they want to be a doctor some day or sending staff to a leadership retreat. Many camps do this and we are just getting started with it at Stomping Ground. Kurtz wants me to let you know that if you have seasonal leadership folks looking for new skills The Summer Camp Society just launched an online interactive course designed just for that...

 

--> TSCS Seasonal Leadership Seminar <--

 

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Two - Leveraging our network -- to connect current and former staff with the right mentors.

This is the Kookie Idea.

At camp we have a huge number of people that care about what we do, camper parents, alumni, donors. They already love camp, most want to help but don’t know how. Many are very successful in their fields. Our newest endeavor at Stomping Ground is what we are calling the Stomping Ground Support Network, you could call it the alumni network, but we don’t have many alumni yet. Basically, we built a quick online form for people to fill out saying the would talk with staff members interested in learning more about their industry. The next step is learning from our staff this summer what they are looking for and connecting the right mentor with the right staff member. We will also probably send an email with all our staffs’, who are looking for jobs, resumes to this group in September. 

Stomping Ground Support Network

I love getting to build a staff community, recruit the best people, and lead a group of passionate summer staff each year. It is one of my favorite parts of running camp. As camp directors we get to choose how we do that, and I hope I can keep choosing to try and find new and different ways to bring value to our community both because it helps in recruiting and because it helps the people we care the most about. I would love to hear in the comments some different ways you are bringing value to your staff. THANK YOU! Have a great summer.

It's Good to Be Together!
Jack

JACK SCHOTT
CO-FOUNDER/DIRECTOR CAMP STOMPING GROUND
FACILITATOR THE SUMMER CAMP SOCIETY
JACK@CAMPSTOMPINGGROUND.ORG
Stomping Ground Origin STory

Try Things Camp: 5 Ideas All About Staff

A Note from Jack

I run a sleepaway camp called Stomping Ground. We try stuff. One time we had no bed times. That didn’t work. (I should write about that later)

My favorite part of The Summer Camp Society is the sharing of ideas. I love getting to hear about the ideas that folks have tried, what has worked, and hasn’t. Every camp is different, but we all have so much in common. Why reinvent the wheel? 

Camping Coast to Coast

Before The Summer Camp Society, Laura, the other director and founder at Stomping Ground, and I traveled the country for two and half years visiting about 200 camps and 47 states looking for and sharing great ideas. That was awesome, but now that we run camp it’s hard to keep up that lifestyle… 

You can see more about that journey at Camping Coast to Coast.

Ideas for 2018 Doc

Each week when we meet for The Summer Camp Society I keep a document open, Ideas for 2018, and I add new ideas from other folks or new ideas that are sparked from conversation. Most participants do something similar. I love it. Not all these ideas are going to work and a some of them I won’t get a chance to implement this year, but if just a couple of them turn into hits than I will feel great about it. 

As we developed the program we started something called “Somebody’s Something”. The idea is similar to a Mastermind Group or Consultative Problem Solving. One person is on the hotseat. They explain a problem, project, or idea they have, and we all try to help. It’s an awesome exercise both for the person getting specific advice and for all the rest of us thinking about similar problems we might have. I can’t wait to get back into Somebody’s Something groups. I have never been on the hotseat and the takeaways have still been out of this world.

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to write up a bunch of the ideas we are hoping to try. This one is all about staff ideas. Next fall I’ll try to give you the feedback on how they went. We are calling it Try Things Camp. As a camp community we have so much to learn from each other. I hope some of these ideas resonate with you and maybe inspire you to find a community to share ideas with. 

LOVE!
Jack

5 STAFF IDEAS 2018

1) Pre-season Zoom Groups

Kurtz inspired this one. We hire a lot of new staff and, like most of you, spend a ton of time during staff orientation on teambuilding and skills development to help our team be as prepared as possible for the summer. We also have extensive interviews and pre summer conversations between Laura and I and all the staff. Last year we had a seasonal leadership team member call each new staff and welcome them to camp, and it was pretty good. This year we are doubling down on welcoming staff early and often. 

We are paying one of our seasonal leadership staff members, Klee, to develop a preseason welcoming plan. Klee is dividing all the staff up into groups of about 8 that will have meetings on Zoom each month starting in April. Your Zoom group, lead by a seasonal leadership staff member, will stay the same throughout the preseason and into staff orientation. We already have groups about that size that meet each night during staff orientation so these Zoom groups will continue through that. Maybe we will do meet ups each week in the summer.

The hope is that, by starting to build small communities before getting to camp, new folks can get more comfortable more quickly with our larger community and have a chance to ask questions, make jokes, and be more of themselves when they arrive. Klee is developing a curriculum for the preseason meetings, but mostly it will be simple conversations and get to know you activities.

2) Internal Grants

Kurtz shared this idea from her time at Ann Arbor YMCA. The idea is super simple. What if we put aside a specific amount of our programming budget for the staff to use? Let’s say we had $1000. Any staff could put together a quick proposal and get access to some of that money to improve camp. It could be starting an outdoor cooking program, putting twinkle lights up in the shower house, or a million other ideas we haven’t thought of yet. 

In the past, we have just encouraged folks to let us know when they need things or have an idea, but what I love about this program is it gives less vocal staff a specific way to make lasting impact at camp. 

3) Counselor Roles Breakdown

I wrote about this in the summer camp pros group on FB. The bones of this idea I dreamed up with Carlie, from the Takodah YMCA. We were talking about training staff to work in adventure playgrounds and other camper driven play spaces, during a one on one. This got me thinking, how we can better support our staff through their different roles as camp counselors? Almost no one task of being a camp counselor is super difficult, but the hard part, the real art, is knowing how to mix between a leader, a follower, and the many other facets of our work at camp. We wrote up this quick synopsis of 7 Roles of a Camp Counselor as an intro. My guess is we will use these terms this summer and simplify this as the summer goes on. 

The hope is that by codifying the different roles we can better support staff if they are struggling to help kids through tough times, lead activities, remember to help kids find their toothbrushes. Instead of looking at each one of those as separate issues thinking “What role of counseling aren’t you quite getting if you can’t remember the toothbrush? And how can we help you in that space?” That would be being a caretaker and it probably means we can get better at a number of other aspects of caretaking as well.

Staff Orientation Session

On top of this, it gives us some simple brainstorming or skits to create during staff orientation. I can imagine breaking our staff up into the 7 groups and asking them to think through scenarios at camp where each role is applicable. Then, what can go wrong if we neglect different roles or use different roles in the wrong situations. Maybe each group dreams up scenarios and writes them on index cards. Then groups pulls a card with the scenario, and they suggest what roles might be the most effective in that scenario. Maybe! Level two is pulling a scenario card and a role card, then acting out what/how that role would look in the scenario. It could be really silly and lead to some great debrief discussions. 

You can see our roles here

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4) You’re Hired!

I thought of this one week as Luke, from Beacon Bible Camp, was explaining his process for bringing volunteers to camp. I know at least YMCA Camp Seymour and Camp Augusta have their own versions of this, but we never did. In a further attempt to help welcome new staff into our community, we built a very simple page on our website to help them see a little more about what they are opting into. It includes a video encouraging them “Don’t take this if…”, a video from staff orientation, and some articles to read about our take on working with kids at camp. Now, we send to it all staff after we offer them a job and before they accept.

Our “You Hired Page”

5) Make My Day Book

This one I learned from Jason Smith at YMCA Camp Kitaki. Often, at camp, people have rough days and other folks want to help or I just want to say thank you in a meaningful way, but we don’t totally know how. At Kitaki, they have their staff all fill out a quick one page questionnaire during staff orientation asking how someone could make their day. Then they put a copy of all those pages in a binder where all the staff can access them. Now, when you want to thank someone or give them a quick pick me up, you can check the book and know exactly what they have asked for. Why guess if they would prefer chocolate or a handwritten note? It is kind of like bringing the Love Languages to life at summer camp.

Thank you!

Thanks for spending a few minutes deep inside my brain with me! I am excited to keep digging into different ideas and sharing. If you have cool staff ideas that you want to share I would love to read them in the comments or if you want to get together and dream up ideas with us, check out The Summer Camp Society program!

Winter Semester 2018 Application Deadline:

Friday, February 9 @ 11:59 p.m. EST

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Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society
Jack@campstompingground.org