A 'HINT' for Summer Camp Staff Orientation - Joanna Warren Smith


You'll beHere next year, Right-.jpg

Reflect back to those wonderful times at camp when you see a counsellor and a young camper walking down the path.  They are laughing as they go, just enjoying the magic of being at camp and being together.

Now imagine what happens next.  The camper stops, looks fondly up at the counsellor and asks 'You'll be here next year, right?'  Without hesitation, the counsellor retorts, 'Nope, going to grad school!'.

With that response, you have likely lost that camper.

Now I am not advocating that you encourage staff to lie, but if you helpcounsellors understand the enormous impact they have on campers, they usually take their jobs more seriously and definitely deal more diplomatically with 'the moment of truth'.


  • Reserve 15 minutes during orientation.  Re-enact the scenario just described and allow staff to see the impact of the response.  Even theyoungest staff members know immediately that the camper is unlikely to return the next year.
  • Brainstorm 'honest' alternative responses.  A simple statement usually suffices.  The counsellor smiles and says 'I love camp so much, I wish I could come back every year.'  The camper is satisfied and still wants to return.
  • Practice in groups of 4.  Have two watch while each pair performs giving all counsellors a chance to see what works for them and hear suggestions on how to improve.

15 minutes is a small investment for BIG rewards.  Please give it a try.


Need an objective perspective on any aspect of camp?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/) 

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.

What that parent is thinking could change your summer camp [HINT: finding out is easy]

5 Ways Mid-Week Survey's Can Help Your Day Camp

Marketing Camp Makes Veekay Happy

Do you look to your camp families for feedback through surveys? As consumers, we receive survey requests all the time - on our receipts, in email, on a postcard etc. As a day-camp, we've used customer feedback surveys in the past to insure that our camp families were completely satisfied with a their child's experience after a week at camp. Sending surveys at the end of the week offered us some very valuable feedback on staff, location, and other suggestions on how we could improve the program. This year at The Handwork Studio, we implemented a mid-week survey and we saw instantaneous, real-time feedback on our camp programs. Below I've listed 5 ways the mid-week parent feedback survey to parents can help improve your day camp program.

1. Create better experiences

While we work hard to make sure that every single child and their parents had the most amazing week at camp, sometimes this is isn't the case. Sending a survey late on Tuesday helped us identify areas where a camper might not have been having the best possible experience and we could come in and make their time with us better. Sometimes it could be as simple as identifying a certain skill that the child was excited about learning. Whatever the circumstance may be, sending the survey before the camper leaves camp for the week is a sure fire way to turn around a situation and create better experiences for your campers and their parents. Even in the event that the parent and camper are happy, by taking any input they have and letting them know they've been heard, we are creating a memorable customer service experience for the the parents.

2. Understand how your parents perceive your camp

With multiple locations, our Camp Director can't be everywhere at the same time. The surveys we sent out helped us gather important feedback on how our parents were interacting with the staff. We were able to identify what the parent's expectations of staff were, where we needed to make adjustment, and generally overall how well of a job our counselors were doing to deliver amazing experiences to our parents and campers. In addition to this, the surveys also helps us collect some amazing testimonials about our camp programs that we can use in for the next summer.

3. Develop deeper relationships with your camp families

As we get responses back from each of our surveys, we are reaching out to each family that submitted feedback to thank them for their input and acknowledge that we've heard them. With the responses where parents are not completely happy our team collaborates to resolve the issue at hand as quickly and effectively as possible. Surveys have helped us take a more personal approach with our families. We are reaching out to them more and developing long lasting relationships. Parents are grateful for the responses we give them and we've heard from them that they are more likely to recommend us to a colleague or friend based on our quick and timely responses. Camp is a very personal business, and mid-week surveys provide our team another touch point with parents. As we gather the responses and respond to the families we are also able to identify the sites that are doing amazing work and acknowledge those teams during the week. Our site directors and counselors love hearing the feedback as much as we do! Giving all types of feedback to counsellors  in real time can be invigorating after many weeks of camp and can give the Camp Director insight into problem counsellors.

4. Gather valuable suggestions on how to be better

At The Handwork Studio, we are always striving to be better, do better and create amazing experiences in camp. Our surveys have helped us better understand what is important to parents and their children. It also awards us the opportunity to respond to ideas that parents have suggested. Parents want to be heard. Their investment in our program is an investment in their child, and we want to provide them a place to share their thoughts. Our mid-week surveys are the most ideal avenue for this feedback. At the end of the camp season, we'll take all of the feedback and put it into one document to see where we can continue to improve our program.

5. Identify areas to adapt your staff training for the next year.

Staff training is at the core of how we launch our camp programs each year. While we might think we've covered everything, there might be a few areas where we can spend more time. The feedback from parents helps us better understand how we can tweak our staff training for next year or continue to supply training resources throughout the the summer. The surveys also give us real-life documented examples of parent feedback that we can incorporate into future camp training.

Sending customer feedback surveys early in the week has been a game-changer for our camp. We are much more connected to our parents and are able to resolve any issues in an effective and timely manner. We are collecting real-time feedback while simultaneously ensuring that both the camper and their parents are completely satisfied with their time at our camp!

Do you use summer camp surveys for your day camp? Share your experience with sending camp surveys in the comments below!


[from Travis:   This article comes to us from Megan DiFeo, curriculum & marketing director at The Handwork Studio.  Thanks, Megan!

About The Handwork Studio

The Handwork Studio LLC is a kids' needle arts and fashion studio. Our purpose is to pass down the tradition of teaching practical arts such as knitting, crocheting, hand and machine sewing, embroidery, quilting, fashion and crafts in a fun and relaxed environment. Our staff is comprised of professional artists, instructors and skilled teachers, dedicated to making each student feel special. Headquartered just outside of Philadelphia in Narberth, PA, we operate summer camps in 30 locations in seven states, bringing our brand of needle arts fun to over 3,000 campers every year. Learn more at thehandworkstudio.com.]

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]

Your Summer Camp's Opening Day is Critical

First impressions at your camp

Your staff are The Guardians of the Mission

Your staff are The Guardians of the Mission

Both sets of your clients will start making decisions about summer 2015 within minutes of arrival. Campers will feel more connected when the rigors of registration, swim tests, lice checks, nurse visits, orientation and tours are balanced with fun, engaging activities.  Parents will be impressed when your systems work smoothly, there are no lines and staff are welcoming, personable, knowledgeable and efficient.

That being said, I get the most push-back on suggestions to improve Opening Day.  For some reason, that day is so steeped in tradition, that the routines cannot be touched. 

Minor modifications can make a huge difference. 


  • Scrutinize Your Opening Day Script.  Separate the events into three tracks that run from entry to departure for the adults and arrival to bed time for kids.  One track should be for campers arriving with parents, a second for campers arriving by bus and the third for parents after their camper is absorbed into the group.
  • Ask the Tough Questions and Consider Better Options. Is each track element intentional and efficient?  Which elements can parents do on their own and which require camper involvement? Are staff members sufficiently trained to make the welcome process sincere, engaging and personalized?  If you have stations, can you avoid lines by having a Coordinator directing folks to the most open stations?  Can you stagger arrivals?  How much time do you allow parents to 'unpack' and watch their kids before they are expected to depart?  How do you say 'goodbye' to parents and what do you give them to explain your communication process during the session?
  • Focus on Three Items.   Can there be an express line for parents who submitted all their forms on time?  Camps that have done this have had more compliance about forms in subsequent years. How do you merge bus campers with campers who arrived with parents? How soon are campers really engaged in an exciting, fun activity for which swim tests and lice checks do not qualify?

There are at least two or three items from above that you can EASILY implement to make Opening Day a more positive experience for Parents and Campers.  Please don't put them off for next year, do it now, monitor the difference and then you can fine tune for 2015.


Need an objective perspective on any aspect of camp?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)