Mindfulness at Summer Camp
Picture it: It’s day three of camp. The initial excitement has worn off, different personalities are rubbing the wrong way, it’s hot outside, homesickness is in full force, and a camper has a melt down.
Okay, you probably don’t have to picture it, this is probably a memory you can pull from.
Camp is a place of fun, excitement, friends, and new experiences, but most campers come to camp after a long school year of expectations and schedules. Although camp is meant to be a place where campers (and staff) can be their true selves, often the change of routine and new experiences can cause dysregulation (for even the highest of functioning people). Interactions with new types of personalities, long days, and hot nights can create the need for quick, in the moment, solutions.
Mindfulness is a counseling technique that has recently become very popular with therapists, social workers, and school counselors. Mindfulness practices are proven to be effective to a large variety of people and have shown to work great with school aged children. The goal of mindfulness is to be present and experience your emotions, while not letting them take control over you.
So what could this look like in the camp setting? Thankfully, mindfulness has several techniques that can be quickly learned and practiced with small groups of people (like a cabin or staff!). Here are a few ideas on how mindfulness can be used throughout the camp day.
- Add mindfulness as an activity: Have optionals or activities that the campers choose? Find a staff member who is comfortable and make mindfulness an option! There are many activities that can be completed in a 50 minute session such as meditation, yoga, mindful walking, and body scans. Giving campers the tools ahead of time can help prevent issues before they happen.
- Create a calm down area in cabin: Being around 10-16 people all day can be exhausting. Having an area in the cabin campers know is available for when they get overwhelmed allows them the chance to understand their feelings are valid and gives them a way to quickly regulate. Calm down corners can be as small as a rug and a chair and can have mindfulness activities like coloring, fidget toys, or calm down jars.
- You can also add calm down spaces in staff lounges, the office, the Dining Hall, etc.
- Start meetings with brief guided meditation: It’s no surprise to hear that kids feed off the energy around them. Summer camp staff have some of the most mentally strenuous jobs of anyone. Start your staff meetings with a five minute guided meditation (if you aren't comfortable leading one, there are plenty on youtube or even the Calm app). If staff members are used to practicing mindfulness, they will be more likely to use it in their daily lives at camp, causing them to be more present and less burnt out for the kids.
- You can also ask staff to have "cabin meetings" that begin with guided meditation, you can begin circles with meditation, or you can begin staff meetings with meditations.
- Make a chill room: I was lucky enough to get to spend some time with the Community Care Team (CCT) at URJ Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS this summer. One of the coolest things I got to see was the use of their “Chill Room." There are often times at camp when a meltdown is past the point of a quick mindfulness skill. A chill room is a place where campers can go when they need a real break. Jacobs Camp’s was in a central location that was only accessible with a password by the CCT. Campers were able to get some (supervised) space while calming down in a safe environment for whatever amount of time they needed. The Chill Room had comfortable seating, fidget
toys, earplugs, and privacy.
Brief Mindfulness History
The history of mindfulness has Hinduism and Buddhist origins. As the counseling profession has become more prevalent over the last several years, mindfulness practices and techniques have been adapted to use for mental health purposes for all! Here’s a link about the connection.