Camp Directors

Staff Training


The Value of Storytelling & Summer Camp

By Joe Richards, Executive Director, Pearce Williams Christian Centre
Originally posted on: March 12, 2013,

It all starts with a story – “Let me tell you about the time…”

For me, it started when I was a camper. I loved campfires most of all – our camp had a campfire program each night. We only went to camp for one week and five times over that week we would all sit around the campfire circle and sing the songs, watch the skits and listen to the stories.

The stories caught my imagination and took me away to another place. By the flickering light of the campfire, I listened to the camp staff share their stories. I was in the mountains and the mining town when I first heard the story of The Shooting of Dan McGrew; I was on the island as they told about a shipwreck; I was caught by surprise when the twist came. Storytelling is magical and should be an important part of the camp experience.

When we want to pass on some of the histories of our camps, do we write it down and then pass the sheets around to all the campers so they can read about ‘Chief’ or ‘the one that got away’? No. We share these experiences in the form of stories. We use oral tradition to pass on the feeling, the emotion and the gravitas of the experience. Stories that we hear last long after other camp memories have faded. Our time at camp is remembered and shared through stories. Your campers go home each summer and tell thousands of stories about camp.

Storytelling was once an integral part of many camp programs and somewhere along the line, it has faded. Building a tradition of storytelling within your camp culture can add a wealth of benefits. Stories help to teach lessons and morals that simple instruction cannot. Stories are one of the best ways to help a message stay with campers and often times campers will continue to think about that story long after a simple message would have faded.

How do we create a tradition of storytelling in our camp settings? A few simple suggestions:

  1. Start telling stories – this sounds almost too simple, but if we don’t tell them we will not build that tradition
  2. Tell, do not read – very few stories have to be read word for word. Help your camp staff make a story their own, change it, adapt it and make it something that they will be remembered for. Reading is story-time, not storytelling. Canadian Camping Association
  3. Interact with the Audience – choose stories that can include the campers with sounds and actions. Repetition in stories helps with this. The best part about the counsellor who told, by memory, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, is that he had sounds and actions associated with each character which made the campers hang on each word with anticipation to be ready to do their job.
  4. Make the resources available – books with short stories should be available (Stories for the Campfire – Hanson, Roemmich). Have your staff come to camp ready with a story and get them to tell them during training – this helps them with public speaking and helps you to find the amazing storytellers that you might not have known existed.

Storytelling is an art that can be learned. Storytelling needs to be encouraged at camp.

Storytelling is what we do each day when we try to explain why a child should go to camp. How good are you at storytelling?

Play It, Measure It – A unique and useful tool for Camp Leaders

Camp leaders believe that the camp experience teaches children how to make new friends, to work cooperatively as a team member and approach new people, places and activities positively. We have anecdotal proof that these things do happen at camp, but currently, we lack the research to prove it. A new book with an accompanying CD, Play It, Measure It, available through the American Camp Association (ACA), change this. (Soon we will have the results of the Waterloo Summer Camp Research Project, which also measures the outcomes of the camp experience.)

Play It, Measure It, written by Mark Roark of Utah State University and Faith Evans (M.Ed), combines intentionally designed sequences of themed activities with questionnaires to measure outcomes. The programs are suitable for youth ages nine to seventeen. Two sets of sequenced activities focus on friendship skills, one on teamwork and another on the affinity for exploration. The last activity in each program is an invitation to participants to complete a brief questionnaire developed by the ACA to measure outcomes. The accompanying CD provides leader resource materials and an Excel template for data entry and analysis.

The book’s prime purpose is fun. The added benefit is the ability to measure the outcomes of camp programs. Consider the benefits of actually measuring results and sharing how well your camp is achieving program goals with staff, parents, Boards of Directors or funders. Available at the online ACA bookstore on the ACA website.

For Camp Directors

Hoping For The Best and Planning For The Worst

By Joanne Kates (Director of Camp Arowhon, Algonquin Park, Ontario)
Posted on: November 15, 2011,

No camp director wants to believe that a tragedy will befall our camp. A crisis serious enough to draw media attention is probably going to come under the category of “worst things that can happen at camp.” When the worst does happen, we inevitably are faced with a juggling act – Most important, we have our own stakeholders to protect and serve. That obviously means that first and foremost we take care of our campers. Second (and it better be fast!) we communicate with their parents to let them know that their children are safe. But third cometh the media, and if we’re in crisis, come they will.

At that moment we will be unprepared and distracted. We will want them to go away. They will phone, they will email, and if the crisis is exciting enough, they will show up at camp – unannounced.

Our first temptation is to say “No comment.” Resist that. It will make you look really bad. Instead, craft three key messages that you want to communicate. Why only three? Because when talking to reporters you will be so stressed that you’ll lose track of more messages. Also because they like it simple. Give them more info and it will be they who choose which of your points to include. You don’t want that. You want to control the message. Give them five messages and they’ll pick the two you least like.

The only way to control the message is to give them precisely the info you want to get out and no more. So in advance of any media encounter, you must write your three key messages. You’ll need to be ready when the media arrive, so write the three messages as soon as your campers’ safety is secured, and while you’re contacting parents. That’s how fast the media will get to you.

How to craft the three key messages? One, write them, so you’ll have something to jog your memory while you’re speaking to media. Winging it will cause errors. Two, write the three points in descending order or priority. I would always make point one some form of reassurance about the present safety of all our campers. Point two might be about the future safety of all our campers. And point three should be about what we are proactively doing to fix the problem we were having.

No matter what questions the reporters ask you, answer with one of those three points. Say nothing else. Repeat them if necessary. Don’t say anything else. Don’t say anything you didn’t plan to say. They will try to trick you into doing that, but don’t let them. Your job is to stay in control of the interview so that your camp comes out smelling like roses on the national news.