For many young people, 4-H camp is the highlight of their year. Filled with games, workshops, singing, and fun activities, what child wouldn’t love it? As a 4-H camp director preparing for my 21st camping season here in Warren County, I have witnessed countless smiles and laughter of hundreds of young campers. For many, there’s just something special about the camp experience that keep kids coming back year after year. A question I repeatedly ask at the beginning of the camp planning season is “What training do my camp staff need in order to make this year’s camp successful and have kids want to keep coming back?” This question is especially important when planning activities for Cloverbud campers. Many 5-8 year old campers are experiencing camp for the first time and just beginning to spend time away from their parents and caregivers. They are willing to exploring different social groups and learning how to master their physical skills while being open to trying new things.
The biggest contributor to camp success depends on how welcome and included campers feel, especially at the start of the experience. Creating the camp environment needs to be intentional and well thought through with attention to the details. Below are a few tips to include in the pre camp training of counselors and staff that will help create and sustain a welcoming environment.
Addressing Campers by Their Correct Name: Addressing and correctly pronouncing the name of each camper is very important, especially at the beginning of camp. When campers hear their name, especially by a camp leader, it reinforces their individual value and helps them feel important to the group. This recognition contributes to the creation of a welcoming environment where everyone feels included. Play lots of name games on day one.
Nonverbals Are Important: Research shows that your body language and your tone of voice account for over 90% of what you communicate to others. This is especially true for the young children who may be new at camp. Pay particular attention to your body posture and eye contact when communicating with campers. It often helps to bend down to their level and lean into the encounter. This type of posture demonstrates that your attention is focused on them and communicates they are important and worth your time and focus. Smiles and fist bumps are great too!
“Hands-on” Engagement: Kids love toys and games. Much of camp is about play and fun, but not all kids experience it in the same way. Having a “Discovery Table” where kids can select and pick up items of interest is a great way to stimulate learning and interaction. It is also a great distraction from unwanted feelings like homesickness and fear of not fitting in. You can also apply this concept at the table where campers sit by covering it with craft paper and allowing them to use crayons to draw or doodle. When you add the engagement with a table counselor, it can significantly add to creating a positive welcoming environment.
Here are some of my favorite Games to make campers feel welcome and included.
The group stands in an inward facing circle and are asked to throw juggling balls amongst the group in a specific order. As the activity develops more juggling balls are introduced and the pressure to work well as a group increases.
Designate 4 corners around the room with 4 choices. After you pick 4 choices around a topic or theme, ask campers to go to the designated corner that best matches their preference. Make the topics fun. (Example: Favorite Food — 1. Mac and Cheese 2. Pizza 3. Mashed Potatoes 4. Chicken Tenders; Favorite Vacation spot 1. Mountains 2. Beach 3. City 4. Cruise)
Have everyone stand up. Tell them they need to select heads or tails. (Illustrate by touching both hands on their head or their “tail”.) Then flip the coin and call it to the group. If they chose incorrect, instruct them to sit. Game continues until one winner. The winner gets to be the new caller. Continue as time permits.
Creating a safe and inclusive environment for campers and staff is the strong foundation for a successful Cloverbud camp. Camp is a great activity to help children transition away from depending on their parents and transfer that dependence to other caring adults. These camp fundamentals of creating a welcoming and inclusive camp should accompany all aspects of pre-camp planning as well as all activities during the camp.
Condensed Ages & Stages – Fact Sheet – 5-8years. Retrieved from https://extension.purdue.edu/4h/Documents/1_5-8_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Games Resource: “Find Something To Do” (Jim Cain, 2012) Great Fun and No Prop Games for all ages