Keeping Kids at Summer Camp Safe

Child Protection & Safety Training at Summer Camp

The summer camp season is quickly approaching. As you work hard to finalize preparations for a busy and fun summer, it is also important to spend time focused on child protection safety training.

Training and educating camp staff, volunteers, and anyone else who comes in contact with child campers about how to best safeguard these children is a key component to preparing for a safe and fun summer season. Child safeguarding includes a range of health and safety issues, from protecting children against overheating and dehydration to preventing abuse or physical harm of children while in your care. 

Here are four useful tips to share with your staff to help ensure your child campers remain safe. 

Employ a Structured Safety and Risk Management Program

The most effective safety training is accomplished through a series of orientations, training sessions and skills assessments for all staff and volunteers. If you don’t already have one, consider developing a written Safety and Risk Management Handbook, which includes procedures to follow during a critical situation or emergency as well as safety regulations, standards, and inspection information.

Ensure Medical Care Policies are Written and Shared Among All Staff

Your camp should have written health policies and protocols that have been reviewed and approved by a physician with specialized training in children's health, preferably a paediatrician or family physician. Be sure to inquire about the previous training and camp experience of the camp health care provider and all staff, so you can identify any knowledge gaps and plan for additional training before the busy season kicks off.

Also consider establishing relationships with local dentists, orthodontists and mental health professionals who are willing to treat emergencies if the need arises.

Communicate Zero Tolerance Policies Regarding Abuse

Clearly worded, written and published rules of conduct consistent with law and camping industry standards must be established. Campers and staff must be trained, supervised and evaluated on their performance and appropriately disciplined should a breach occur, including expulsion from camp or termination from employment. It’s wise to always employ “two deep counsellor supervision,” which means that no adult will be allowed to be alone with a camper in an isolated place.

Staff should be trained to recognize signs of abuse as well as misconduct and report these to their supervisor or manager.

Train Staff to be “Upstanders” to Prevent Bullying at Camp

Bullying is prevalent and has a high impact on emotional functioning, so it is vital that summer camps take steps to tackle the problem head on. An “upstander” is someone who recognizes, responds to, and reports bullying behaviour. Dedicated anti-bullying training for staff, and campers, will stop cycles of abuse before they even begin and ensure a positive camp experience for every camper.

About the Author

Keir McDonald MBE is founder and Director of EduCare, an online training solutions company that specializes in child protection, exploitation and online safety, and bullying and child neglect. EduCare is associated with both Kidscape and Family Lives and customers include over 4,000 schools and colleges and 12,000 pre-schools as well as councils, the NHS, charities and more.

Thriving as a Camp Professional in the Fall - Getting Things Done Right

The Off-Season isn’t getting any longer...

Summer Camp Pro from Cairn Family of Camps

Summer Camp Pro from Cairn Family of Camps

Camp people handle the end of the summer in lots of ways. Some leave town for vacation the day after camp ends. Others cozy up in their homes and turn on Netflix and catch up on sleep for days on end. Some camps turn around and start with rental groups or schools right away. Still other camp pros manage to plug away for a luxurious nine to five schedule while their peers have disappeared for the week.

I tend to fall into the category of needing a week to clean, reorganize, and shut the door on the summer. Camp is like school in that it is cyclical in its work flow. There is a definitive beginning and end to a summer. As soon as the last staff member departs the parking lot on closing day, I often feel exhausted at the fact that it is now time to start assembling my team for the next year.

I tell my staff that marketing for next summer begins the day campers arrive this summer. Though I have been looking towards next summer a whole bunch before the current one comes to a close, there are some absolute musts that all camp professionals should do prior to charging forward with the next year.

Absolute Musts Before Starting to Think About Next Season

1. Stop working. Seriously. Stop. A few days away from work, away from the facility, and away from your email are critical to processing. A director’s job is to be able to take a step back and it is hard to do that when you are still in the throes. I find that I need a few days before all the lost and found emails and requests for recommendations quit streaming in. About a week after camp ends is when I take my time to have a camp-free weekend. I try to connect with one of my many friends working other cool jobs--whitewater rafting? A zipline tour? A massage? Reward yourself for a job well done and do something that will truly take your mind off camp.

2. Rest. Though we have trained ourselves to function on very little sleep, camp directors are far more pleasant and happy when we have had a full night’s rest. Every year, I get caught off-guard by how exhausted I am during the month of August. The sleep deficit will catch up with you--so expect it. If you insist on working, bust out the hammock and allow yourself to take a rest hour every day for at least a week.

3. Get your work space off-season ready. I am a nester. That means that by the end of the summer, my office tends to resemble that of a horrifying episode of Hoarders. File all that paperwork. Throw away materials you don’t need. And if you are feeling it, have a cathartic bonfire with all those staff manuals and training schedules that were left behind.

4. Tidy up loose ends. Call the parent that gave you a negative evaluation. Answer the emails that are still in your “Starred” folder. It’s hard to have closure when there are little nagging things bringing you down. Often these will be the points that need to be improved upon going forward.

5. Write down your thoughts on rehiring staff. Your feelings tend to be much stronger at the end of the summer than they will be when they finally submit their applications in March. You don’t have to necessarily make hiring decisions, but write down what it is that staff need to work on before they would be considered for a position. Then you can discuss these in interviews or have them available when turning somebody down.

6. Visit another camp. It doesn’t have to be a formal visit. Whatever the occasion, take the time to visit another facility, whether they are running program or not, because there is much to be learned by simply seeing what others do and how their facility is set up. Have coffee with the director or bring them some fresh produce (because after a summer of camp food, I want nothing more than delicious fresh fruits and veggies) and talk about one another’s areas of excellence and areas for improvement.

7. Debrief. Get your entire year-round team together and talk about how the summer went. So many programs skip this step and jump in to doing things the way they have always done them. The ability to gain perspectives across the levels of administration and across your programs will lead to insights that will be valuable to making camp great. Many accreditation programs require some sort of annual review of incident reports or policies so this is an easy way to ensure that occurs.

Ruby Compton, CampHacker & Camp Code podcaster

Ruby Compton, CampHacker & Camp Code podcaster

Onward with next summer and happy off-season to you all.

~ Ruby

[note from Travis: Thanks to CampHacker Ruby Compton, program director at Green River Preserve in North Carolina, and all-star co-host of the Camp Code podcast, for writing this article.  We look forward to many more wise thoughts from Ruby!

You can subscribe to Camp Code, our podcast full of amazing ideas for summer camp staff training for free.  Click to Subscribe in iTunes.]

Bringing Camp into the Kitchen: Making the Kitchen a Programming Area

Cooking at Summer Camp Can Be Fun!

Food brings people together - we celebrate birthdays with cake, we reconnect with old friends over coffee, we teach children precision and patience while baking cookies. None of this is new, we’ve been breaking bread together since, well, since before sliced bread!

I have always loved cooking and baking. I love making a perfect meal or treat, visually appealing, delicious and creative. But let’s face it - when you are making meals for a hundred or so folks in a sweltering, bustling kitchen, 3 times a day, every day, some of the joy ebbs. On some days, there is no joy at all. There are aprons that used to have clever puns on them before they became battered and buttered, there is a pressing sense of urgency, and sweat. Unimaginable, I-didn’t-know-I-could-sweat-that-much amounts of sweat. Hot yoga amounts of sweat.

I think it can be hard for non-kitchen staff to understand how separate the kitchen can sometimes feel from the rest of camp. We get all the exhaustion without the rewards of seeing campers grow and giggle. On those days, we have to remember that we are a part of camp - we are a part of life-changing and magic-making. One way to remind ourselves of this is to bring programming to the kitchen.

The camp kitchen presents an untapped oasis of all the good things camp stands for - connection, learning, whole-person nourishment, wonder, and joy. Not only do camp kitchens offer a programming area that already exists, but bringing camp into the kitchen has all kinds of benefits for kitchen staff, too.

Programming in the kitchen takes a little planning and maybe even menu-tweaking, but if done well, it can help camp staff connect with campers, and can even reduce the workload. Not only does kitchen programming benefit staff, but all of camp. Campers gain a sense of pride and responsibility as they help feed camp, get to interact with the mysterious kitchen staff, and foster life-skills that will benefit them into adulthood. Below is a guide to developing the kitchen as a programming area, adaptable to any kitchen.

Time, Space, and Staff
Before developing your program, you’ll have to seriously consider these three things: time, space, and staff involvement. How much time can you dedicate, what kind of space is there to accommodate campers, and who will be running the programming?

First, you’ll need to consider how much time you can dedicate to kitchen programming. Maybe you’ll decide to open up to programming as a rainy-day backup plan, or maybe you’ll strive to get campers in the kitchen every day! Be realistic with your time - ease into programming with a few trial runs to get a grasp of time commitment.

Next, you’ll need to think about space. Is there enough space in your kitchen to accommodate a group of campers? Is there space for campers to work without interrupting other meal preparation? If your kitchen is too small, is there a clean space close-by to work in, such as a dining hall? Mixing bowls and ingredients can always be portable, even if the oven isn’t.

Finally, think about staff involvement. You may want low-involvement programming, like providing a recipe and instructions to a counselor and making yourself available for questions. Or, you may want higher involvement, working side-by-side with campers and counsellors.

Considering these factors will help you get a firm idea of how much you are able and willing to dedicate to programming - your schedule may seem full, but with planning, programming is possible in most kitchens.

Another factor to consider is coordinating with the rest of camp. How can the kitchen fit into the existing camp schedule? This is a great time to get creative, as camp doesn’t often run on the same schedule as the kitchen. Many camps have schedules that they strongly adhere to and have done so for ages. A new program area may challenge this schedule, but be sure to vocalize the benefits to campers and staff when pitching the idea.

The kitchen may be the only place at your camp that could truly pass as ‘clean’. Its important to plan to keep the kitchen clean for food safety, but there are other risks in the kitchen to consider, as well. Knives, meat slicers, and even an industrial mixer can be a real risk to camper safety.

Think about how you can protect campers from safety risks. Perhaps consider a staff-only zone where dangerous equipment is kept, and tailor your activities to the ages of campers. A teen camper can probably handle a knife with supervision, but a pre-schooler is probably better suited to a wooden spoon. Diligent supervision and encouraging risk awareness are two great ways to ensure kitchen safety.

The programming activities in the kitchen can encompass any part of your job you wish to share with campers. Keep in mind that what may seem mundane to you can be exciting for campers - even an industrial dishwasher can be fun with a great playlist and timed challenges. How many plates can you effectively fit on a rack? How fast can you conquer this dish mountain?

Below are a few ways you can involve campers in the kitchen - but don’t let it limit you. Get creative!

  • Setting Tables
  • Preparing/Cooking a Meal- instructions, recipes, and guidance provided
  • Baking/Preparing a part of a meal - i.e. baking cornbread to go with chili
  • Baking/Preparing Snack for all of camp
  • Baking/Preparing Dessert for all of camp
  • Baking/Preparing a treat for their own cabin - think cookies and story-time
  • Birthday Baking - preparing a treat for someone with a birthday
  • Surprise baked goods for other cabins - have campers prepare a batch of cookies for another cabin and make a secret mission out of anonymously delivering them
  • Preparing the Salad Bar
  • Costumed Menu Announcements - picture campers dressed as chickens and corn on the cob
  • Illustrated Menus (Reusable Whiteboard)
  • Dish Duties
  • Garbage and Recycling Duties
  • Serving - either delivering food to tables or dishing out refills if appropriate
  • Meal cleanup

Like any new program area, its important to set up avenues for feedback and be prepared to use it. Find ways of communicating with campers and staff about their kitchen experiences or open yourself to suggestions for new activities.

[Note from Travis: If you like Meghan's summer camp recipes you'll LOVE her 3 Week Summer Camp Menu! Purchase it right now]

17 Quick Tips to Improve Your Staff Training

The best ideas we have for Leadership Training Week

Thanks to Dan and Gab for a great exchange of ideas for Staff Training!  A couple of my favourites:

  • Put on your Leadership Glasses
  • Develop (and teach) a Clientelle Mindset
  • Create a Manual People Will Look At

Check out the original post with the audio to see the rest of the list.

Podcast: Listen for free (and ON THE GO) in iTunes or the Stitcher App

Listen to the audio, find our Tools of the Week and links to our co-hosts info here: 17 New Tips for Your Staff Training - CampHacker #70

Other Camp Counselling Skills (p.1) - The Scott Arizala Show

Get right down to your campers' level... and many more!

The kids' perspective is essential to help your camp counsellors gain awareness.   Scott also talks today about clear communication with campers.

If you can't see the video in your email go to

About Scott Arizala

Scott is one of the leading experts and premier trainers on kids, staff and the experience of summer camp. He earned his B.A. from Ithaca College, with a double major in Psychology and Sociology with a concentration in Gender Studies. He has been involved with camps and youth development for over twenty years as a camper, counselor, administrator, teacher and consultant.

About Travis Allison

Travis is a former Executive Director of the 5 summer camps of Cairn who now works as an online marketing strategy advisor who specializes in the private school and summer camp industries.  

Travis produces the CampHacker podcasts and blog, the Scott Arizala show, and manages the Summer Camp Professionals group on Facebook.