Working with Parents: A Demonstration for Camp Staff Training

By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

in loco parentis

ˌin ˌlōkō pəˈrentəs/

adverb & adjective

  1. (of a teacher or other adult responsible for children) in the place of a parent.

    "he was used to acting in loco parentis"

This is something we ask of our staff at camp every minute that they are on duty, and it's a big deal! For some of our staff, this is a responsibility that comes naturally. For others, it is difficult to imagine how it feels to be a parent leaving their child in someone else's care. Either way, most staff at typical summer camps are not yet parents themselves. Before I lead staff workshops about positive parent interactions, I like to do this demonstration to help all of our staff imagine just a small taste of the stress that parents can experience when sending their child to camp.

Demonstration Steps:

  1. Announce that everyone will need to get their cell phones out.

  2. Walk around the room and confiscate all cell phones. If there are more than about 6, put them in some sort of bag (so you don't drop them!).

  3. Do not give much explanation. Give a cheerful “goodbye!!!” and skip out of the room.

  4. Leave for longer than you think—enough to make them nervous. If possible, skip around the outside of the area, past windows so they get a slight glimpse of you.

  5. Take some selfies on phones or mess with them in some temporary/harmless way.

  6. Make some weird and loud noises, especially ones that sound a little destructive.

  7. Enter back into the room and announce it’s time for pickup from Cell Phone Camp! Allow cell phone “parents” to come and get their phone (a.k.a. their cell phone kid).

  8. You can even somehow restrict the pickup process so the "parents" have to wait to get their cell phone kids even though they can see them from a distance.

  9. Conceal one phone to make one person wait longer for pickup.

Debrief Questions:

Phase 1: Questions about their Experience

  • How did you feel when your cell phone "kid" went to "camp"?
  • Did anyone feel nervous? Why? You can also note that some people definitely picked up their phone and examined it upon return, so they were for sure nervous even if they didn’t realize it.
  • Did anyone feel apathetic? Why?
  • Was anyone super-happy that they would be without their phone?
  • Was this the first time for anyone that a stranger had their phone?
  • Was anyone afraid I was going to find out something about you that you didn’t want me to find out?
  • Did you trust me? Why or why not?
  • Was anyone not so sure what I was going to do with their cell phone?
  • Was it different when it got home? Better or worse??

Phase 2: The Application of the Exercise

  • Why did I do this?? How does this relate to camp?
  • How do we even start to understand how parents feel when they leave their kids with us? (Note: It is somewhat like this, but about a million times more intense! Parents have a range of emotions and relationships with their kids and with the responsibility of parenting.)
  • How do we serve all of our parents well?
  • What is our role as caretakers – in loco parentis?

Phase 3: Conduct Small Group Discussions Around the Following Topics

  • What are parents most worried about when their kids go to camp?
  • What do you think are the things that bother parents the most?
  • What makes parents love camp?
  • What can we do to make sure that our campers’ parents trust and believe in us?

 Sarah Kurtz McKinnon is a camp director, trainer and consultant, and a co-founder of The Summer Camp Society! Contact her at sarah@kurtzmckinnoncreative.com

Sarah Kurtz McKinnon is a camp director, trainer and consultant, and a co-founder of The Summer Camp Society! Contact her at sarah@kurtzmckinnoncreative.com


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