The FIVE YEAR System

"Dig" commented about the (dreaded) five-year system that many camps have been using to keep their content "fresh" while not having to rewrite the program every year. Basically, a camp will pick five themes, topics or events to base a summer on, compile an entire schedule and programming around this idea and then cycle without varying the fifth year...

IOW: Every 5 years, the same exact regiment of stuff is repeated.

Here's why this is a broken system: As pointed out by Dig, first and foremost, the campers may not realize the repetition, but the staff absolutely does. If the staff is bored with a concept, that will be reflected in their actions; essentially trickling down and making for a mediocre camp experience... It's like that popular one-hit wonder band that has to play the same song for 30 years... most of the time, the performance gets stale... UNLESS...

Ah, the trademark UNLESS! Here's a real-world example. Broadway shows go on for hundreds, if not thousands of performances. "The Phantom of the Opera" happens to be the longest running show currently and I had the fortune of seeing it several times over the last *20* years (gasp). Each performance was strikingly different - not just because the actors had changed, but because the producers evolve the show over time. Little changes occur in various places and after a year or so, the show is (kind of) *new*.

So, there is hope for repetition... but I have other reasons for not using a *system*. You, the camp director (or whomever), hires a staff because they are outstanding. None of us are just trying to fill slots - we're trying to get the best group available... like creating a baseball team. You don't just hire a pitcher - you want a pitcher who knows six different pitches and can hit over 90 with his fast ball (I'm just sayin'...).

Anyway, in creating your perfect ensemble, you are picking people of various outstanding talents. These skills should be utilized to the fullest each year. Just because it's not "Circus Summer" (because you had that 2 years ago) doesn't mean that you cannot use a variation of that theme due to hiring three or four jugglers! LET YOUR JUGGLERS JUGGLE! LET YOUR DANCERS DANCE!

I hired a really great Nature guy, but he was incredibly smart and felt he could do more than "just nature." That's how we started "Science," an activity area where he made rockets and all sorts of fun stuff... AND HE WAS SO HAPPY. We had a fitness guy who wasn't that great at the "Athletics" area, but rocked at teaching "Wellness," a new area created around his talents.

Our special events went the same way, starting a "Music Festival," when many of our staffers were in bands.

It's really that simple. Having a *system* is OK as a backup plan, but it should not be the only plan. Camps that truly rock have to be nimble and evolve; have to take advantage of their strengths. Forcing a theme can be demoralizing and detrimental to the entire experience.


Creating Memories.

Do not stray from the path, my friends!
(another rant)

My first big paying gig at a camp (HA!) was a wonderful little YMCA Day Camp in the middle of the woods. This spot had *traditional* written all over it, and yet... well, it was about as bland as can be. The camp director at the time was clearly burned out. He was incredible with the parents, but seldom entered the woods or participated in the camp day.

THIS IS FINE... I suppose... as long as he's taking care of the pain that is administrative duties, that means there is a greater opportunity for the next level (which we called "Unit Directors") to really manage and bring out the best in camp. That did not happen.

IN FACT, the lackadaisical attitude of our fine director was infectious. The Unit Directors spent their days at the pool... meaning no one was supervising in the woods...

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED...? Guess! Lots of the staff members took advantage of this sparse supervision. Chaos ensued... Camp was crummy.

There were a small number of us who actually went above and beyond - and we were the few who kept the camp afloat...

This camp hit an incredibly common speed bump in the history of camps: namely burn-out.

BURN-OUT happens. There is no avoiding it... but there is preparing for it. You see, this director really lost focus about what his goals were - what the mission of the camp was. I'm under the impression that mission statements should be rewritten every year. I know that's somewhat drastic, but in the camp world, senior staff has a fairly high turnover rate. Seeing as the senior staff really sets the bar for the rest of camp, they need to own that statement.

Once I became director, my first goal was rewriting the mission statement by committee. Essentially we made seven points that were direct goals for each child that entered camp. The main one of these goals was "Create positive memories."

Rewriting the mission statement allows for clarity and a refresh of what's important. My burnt out director was suffering from "the motions," where each year was so similar to the last that the excitement was gone. That is the key in coping with burn-out - CHANGE.

"Create positive memories" is such a strong idea because it can really alter the entire philosophy of the camp. Kids who have been at camp may have years of the same old activities - meaning that those "positive memories" are being overwritten and skewed with uninteresting repetition. Has a four-year veteran of your camp seen and done everything that can be done... several times?

Memories are strange things. I have a couple strange experiences with kids telling me about how great a one-summer-only specialty area was, even though we regarded it as a failure. Why do they remember it that way? Perhaps because it was unique, different and changed their camp experience that summer from the *norm*.

That director lost focus about what was important. Had he thought about creating positive memories, he may have figured out the rut he was in and how it affected the entire camp. A simple solution of change could have made the mediocre / bad years at that YMCA into some of the best years yet... though, we cannot rewrite history, only learn from it.

Rewrite your mission statement and get focused. If you're set on creating lasting memories, be sure to accommodate everyone - even those lifelong campers who have been around forever. This summer is the best summer that your camp has ever seen... until next summer ;-)


An idea.

The holidays are upon us and all anyone can think about is... SUMMER CAMP!


Well, that's all I can think of... and basically that means that I need to start working with kids again. Besides dreaming about an East Coast tour of schools, my extremely practical side had an idea: What about New York City?

I am a New Yorker, living in the fair borough of Queens, and I'm willing to bet that there are many teens living in my area that could use a little brush up on their camp employment skills. Since I've conducted training for several camps and have a great deal of experience working with children, I wish to impart my wisdom on as many future potential camp employees as possible...

(this is Pete thinking aloud)

I could do one or two sessions a week - from 7 - 8:30 PM seems like a perfect time. Eight weeks of classes... in other words 16 major topics covering everything from the fun side (camp magic, songs, crafts, rainy days) to the not-so-fun side (professionalism, emergencies, discipline) and everything in between.

I really think this could work, as I'm prepared with the content and expertise - I would really just need a location and some form of organization sponsoring me (such as a YMCA or Boys and Girls Club). I don't want this to be exclusive to a single camp; instead a meeting of minds (so to say) of teens from various camps doing various jobs.

There would be some sort of reasonable fee per class (depending on the space, $20 to $25) and one could attend a single session or all of them and benefit...

What do you think? Any advice?

Another FORBIDDEN Song!

Yeah, yeah... I've been busy - but so have you! :-)

This was sent to me by
Lisa (who also referred this excellent blog).

"Waded in the Water"

She waded in the water and she got her feet wet,

she waded in the water and she got her feet wet,
she waded in the water and she got her feet wet,
but she didn't get her *clap, clap* wet.

<continue up the body>

[Last verse]

She waded in the water and she got finally got it wet,
She waded in the water and she got finally got it wet,
She waded in the water and she got finally got it wet,
She finally got her *bathing suit* wet!