The Top 3 Reasons Your Camp’s Neighbors Think You Are Weirdos & 5 Things You Can Do About It

1. They happened to be cruising by on their pontoon boat during your very loud and very intense Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker skit

2. They’ve seen you at Walmart with a cart fit for a doomsday prepper (50 lbs. oatmeal, 45 containers hand sanitizer, 10,000 tablets Benadryl and six BB guns, among other necessities).  You were also by yourself but mysteriously wearing a Walkie Talkie...

 Just another typical day at the supermarket...

Just another typical day at the supermarket...

3.  They witnessed the time you sent two counselors in full body paint to the ER with the camper who broke his arm (although they were relived to find out that the painted teens were not the child's parents, they still told all of their friends)

 Moments away from an ER run...

Moments away from an ER run...

Was that you, or was that me?  Nevermind....Whether or not you have sent two fully-painted counselors to the emergency room, now is the PERFECT time of year to hatch your plan to work on building up your relationships with your camp’s neighbors.  Here are some tried and true strategies to not just get to know your neighbors, but to build lasting relationships with them:

1. Invite them to camp: And not just in the open house kind of way. 

 When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

Identify your town’s key players, and invite them for dinner.  I’ve invited out local volunteer fire department for dinner during staff training week.  It’s a blast, and it serves multiple purposes: First, the fire department comes for a walking tour of the site.  They become more familiar with the lay of the land and can point out any fire hazards they might see (this is great to do before your fire inspection).  Then, they can have a delicious dinner with the staff—we show that we appreciate their hard work and what they do for camp.  Finally, they can bring their trucks onto camp for a test run!  This is really helpful and the staff members are as giddy as 8-year-olds when they get to climb on the trucks and pose for selfies. 

After one of these dinners, we learned that our canoe launch is the perfect location for pumping out of the lake in case of a fire at our facility or any of the nearby homes.  We gave the fire department permission to do so in an emergency.  This was a great realization for us and for them!  You could even have the fire department participate in one of your emergency drills and provide you with feedback.

Bonus point: invite your local police department for a similar dinner.  It can serve the same purposes, as well as one more important purpose: Now your officers know your staff, and your staff know the officers…providing an extra incentive for everyone to behave this summer.

2. Go to their events

The local cottagers’ association picnic?  Representatives from your camp should be there, in crisp branded shirts.  The Fourth of July Parade?  What a great time for a selection of campers to march.  Decorate the mini-bus, the camp pony, the tractor—whatever they want to do!  Prepare a banner and pass out stickers or other goodies to the revelers, and have plenty of brochures on hand.  What a great chance to have a presence in the community as well as be visible for prospective camp families!

 3. Read the news

Subscribe to the local paper or get digital news alerts (Google Alert) for your town.  When news happens, see how you can respond.  Get in the routine of always send congratulatory cards to new public figures (especially folks like the chief of police, mayor, school superintendent, etc.) welcoming them to their new role in the community and inviting them to visit your camp.  You never know what good will come of it: you want to be partners with your local law enforcement, of course, but one of my best results was when I connected with the superintendent of our local district: he was not only a “camp person”, but a US Archery instructor!  He volunteered his time during our staff training to work with our archery staff but also helped repair much of our equipment.  What a good friend to have!  On top of these small habits, also think big when (heaven forbid) there are crises in your town.  Your camp may have the resources to provide food, lodging and safety in case of a natural disaster or otherwise.  Always read bad news with the lens of “how can we help?”.

Bonus point: Get in the local news.  Oftentimes when camps try to get PR, they think about getting it in the towns where their campers mostly live.  There are a lot of opportunities to get your stories told in your local media outlets as well.  Make connections with journalists at local publications and send them tips or even great photos.

 4. Hire Local

One of my most colossal disasters was in my first year as the camp director.  We were building five new cabins that year, and I signed off on using the same contractor for the project that had done some major work there just a couple of years before.  The problem was that this contractor was from downstate.  He brought up his own team of not just carpenters but electricians, plumbers, etc., had them stay in a local motel, and then, when the project was done, they all went home (with all of their money).  He may have been a little bit less expensive than some of our local contractors, but the cost savings was not worth it.  It ticked off our loyal contractors in the area, and when we needed help on camp, they were reluctant to do so.  It took a long time to rebuild the relationships we had burned by only using our local contractors at our convenience.  I never again hired an out-of-town contractor for a big job.  If our electrician can be there for me on Memorial Day when I’ve got a group coming and the power mysteriously won’t turn on in the bathhouse, I can return his loyalty by asking him to bid on our larger projects. 

This goes for your local grocer, t-shirt printer, doctor, etc.  Always be looking 1, 5, and 25 years down the road when you’re making these types of decisions.

5. Develop local scholarship opportunities

A few years ago, an elderly camp alumnus passed away.  His widow wanted to make a contribution to the camp.  In his later years, he had retired in the same area as our camp, and had been active volunteering with the local school district.  Rather than a basic memorial plaque, I suggested that the memorial contributions be put toward scholarships for campers who were from the local school district.  This was wonderful.  Even though the campers were from just down the road, they still benefited tremendously from their experiences at camp, and we loved having them.  An article was written in the local newspaper about their scholarship awards, and the program still continues.  It was a tremendous way to honor our alumnus and also show the community that we care about their kids, too.

Conclusion (just in case you didn't want to read the whole thing)

Overall, it’s all about meaningful, honest RELATIONSHIPS that, once developed, become mutually beneficial.  I guess I could have just said that in the beginning!!

What are your tips for developing strong relationships with your camp’s neighbors?  Leave them in the comments!

The Top 12 Signs that being a Camp Director has made you a Safety Freak

1. You know the location of the AEDs in all buildings you frequent.  Whenever you walk by those AEDs, you check to look for the “OK” sign to make sure the battery is fully charged

 You also point out this process to anyone you're with

You also point out this process to anyone you're with

2.   You also check fire extinguishers in public places to make sure they’ve had their annual service

 And you probably check your smoke detectors every couple of weeks, too

And you probably check your smoke detectors every couple of weeks, too

3.   When a flight attendant hands you a pack of peanuts, it seems downright dangerous

 WHY IS SHE SMILING?????

WHY IS SHE SMILING?????

4.   When you put a BandAid on in your own home, you feel naughty for not documenting it somewhere

 Have you also considered purchasing a personal copy of the ACA's Camp Health Record Log??

Have you also considered purchasing a personal copy of the ACA's Camp Health Record Log??

5.   You’re the only adult on the boat wearing a life preserver (You clearly can’t break ACA guideline PA.24, even on time off)

 Nice catch!

Nice catch!

6.   Your personal vehicle always has at least a quarter-tank of gas (enough to get to the hospital, obvi), a first aid kit and road flares

 And you probably made the kit yourself with your favorite first aid supplies.

And you probably made the kit yourself with your favorite first aid supplies.

7.   You debate whether or not to accept a ride on the 15-passenger van airport shuttle

 "No...it's cool...I'll walk...I could use the fresh air..."

"No...it's cool...I'll walk...I could use the fresh air..."

8.   You have a personal theory about the best way to treat beestings, swimmer’s itch, head lice and mosquito bites.  Anyone who tells you you’re wrong will be sorry.

 "Massage mayonnaise into your hair and cover it with a shower cap before you go to sleep. Wash it out in the morning and use a fine comb to comb out any dead eggs. If needed, repeat 7-10 days later."

"Massage mayonnaise into your hair and cover it with a shower cap before you go to sleep. Wash it out in the morning and use a fine comb to comb out any dead eggs. If needed, repeat 7-10 days later."

9.   A trip to the beach is the furthest thing from relaxing, especially when you see this sign:

 And don't even get you started about the dangerous nature of waterparks...

And don't even get you started about the dangerous nature of waterparks...

10. You’re oddly proud of your excellent 9-1-1 skills

 Bonus point: local 9-1-1 dispatcher knows your name

Bonus point: local 9-1-1 dispatcher knows your name

11. You’ve asked a stranger’s child at the pool who their buddy is

 Starting to panic just looking at this picture...

Starting to panic just looking at this picture...

12. You'd NEVER go outside without shoes, and all of your sandals have a backstrap

 Tevas: The original safety sandal

Tevas: The original safety sandal

 

 

 

Dear Kurtz: How do I stop my staff from planning from scratch??

Dear Kurtz, The Real Wizard of Oz,

I give up. This is now my 10th summer watching our seasonal staff reinvent the wheel. Sure, they peppered it up with some streamers, put some new treads on it, and even took a turn with those fancy spinning rims. But it's still round and rolls down hill!!!

Each summer, I tell the program directors to document what they do so that we can do it better the next summer. Each fall, I try to decipher their notes and hold onto them for the next summer. Each winter, we start to get busy and lose track of the details. Each spring, we start planning from scratch.

I know, as the director, I am ultimately the one at fault here. But I've tried! We tried the Dropbox thing for a summer or two. Then it was GoogleDrive. I know there is probably some new technology that will help even more. But technology doesn't seem to be the problem, so what is?

Please help us move past the wheel and onto something new-fangled!

-Spinning Right Round

Dear Spinning,

I respect you and what you’re trying to do here.  I also think you are hilarious, my #1 fan and perhaps also known to this advice column as “The 102nd Dalmation” among other monikers.  But I’m going to say something right now that might surprise and annoy you, but please note that it comes from a good place: I think it’s a positive thing that your seasonal staff reinvent the wheel every summer.  That is part of the fun and the learning process your staff go through, and why working at camp is so educational and transformational for staff.

It does get difficult when we are full-time staff for awhile we have seasonal leadership that rotate through every couple of years.  It seems unproductive and silly to go through the same planning processes over and over again, especially since we know how things should be done.  We also sometimes feel like we are having the same conversations again and again (because we are) and wonder if we are progressing.  We are progressing as individuals—but our audiences are different.  And every few years, they start over again.  Even though we are in the same place, these staff groups are new.  And each staff group deserves to have the chance to create camp for their summer.

I arrived at camp in 2006 as a first-time counselor.  I was given access to a supply of drama clothes, gallons of (somewhat) washable paint, a lot of tinfoil and that’s about it.  I also had access to the amazing, creative minds of my coworkers.  I think if I were given a book of “how to do things”, we would have been stymied.  We wouldn’t have come up with amazing, creative ideas because we would have been proscribed a list of ideas from people we did not even know (I feel the same way about craft kits, but I digress).  My friend Kate and I were able to create an amazing evening activity in my very first year as a counselor with an Ancient Egypt theme—no one had thought of it before—because we were passionate about the topic and we knew we could make it come to life for the campers. 

We struggled, yes.  I’m sure our supervisors cringed at some of our mistakes. But they let us figure things out for ourselves because that’s how we learned.  We problem-solved when the walkie-talkies broke, when our hieroglyph was too easy and when our instructions were a little too confusing.  We overcame these obstacles and loved the challenge.  We felt important and affirmed because the idea was ours, and remained ours through completion. 

But remember, the ownership and leadership these types of experiences provide for counselors are some of the most influential development opportunities we can give them.

I also realize you want to be productive here.

There are some things you can definitely standardize: Think opening and closing procedures of camp.  Proper dishwashing practice.  Check in process.  These are things that you need to record and work on throughout the summer.  There is no chance in H-E-double-hockey-stick that you will be able to pin your program directors down in the fall and have them remember every detail.  My suggestion to you is this: take ownership over these projects.  Make a master list of these systematic camp things and work to gather/upload the information during the summer.

Try to create the documents immediately after the event or process happens.  For instance, at our first evening flag of each session, we have two series of announcements we always go through: one for the campers, and one for the staff at the staff huddle.  The announcements are always the same.  After the first staff flag of the summer, take your notecard that lists the announcements and take a picture of it (or create a typed file), uploading to Google Drive.  If you keep track of these little things as they happen, it is much easier than creating an archive in October when everyone else’s thoughts are on their econ midterm and their fall formal date.  You can even use digital tools to make it even easier—making an announcement in the dining hall?  Record a video and upload it to Google Drive.  It takes very little effort and you have a record of “how things are done.”

If you’re super ambitious, you can also think about creating reference pages for specific categories of camp projects, so more time is spent on the creative side of things.  Take evening activities, for instance.  We had a handful of evening activity styles at our camp: carnival games, station games, quest-style games, running games, etc.  If you have an outline for how each of these types of games and how they work, as well as some suggested themes, that’s enough for the staff to use as a reference.  They can then “invent the wheel” by innovating and adding their own themes.

Your job is to create overarching guidelines, and assist and support the counselors/seasonal staff as they get there on their own.  And remember, sometimes there is a deep and meaningful truth in those quotes that you probably had as your AIM Away Message in the early 00s.  I think this one especially applies:

 Happy camping.

Your friend,

Kurtz

P.S. If you have a question for me, please fill out this anonymous Google form!

Texas Charm(ed)

You may have heard that I went to Texas last month for this amazing conference called the CAMPference.  It's actually C.A.M.P. in the CAMPference--an acronym for "Camping Association for Mutual Progress."  Basically there are a lot of awesome camps in Texas and they all get together to collaborate with each other--there is a very friendly atmosphere of support among camp owners and directors in that state.  I was really impressed.  I was also really impressed by the custom camp jewelry I saw all over the place!!

 Staff at  Camp Mystic  earn a custom right (with their initials engraved inside) after three years as part of staff.  Mary Liz Eastland, the camp's director of health and safety, showed me her ring.  She said counselors oftentimes come back for even one session their third year in order to earn their ring.

Staff at Camp Mystic earn a custom right (with their initials engraved inside) after three years as part of staff.  Mary Liz Eastland, the camp's director of health and safety, showed me her ring.  She said counselors oftentimes come back for even one session their third year in order to earn their ring.

This was really cool stuff.  I even wanted some of it and I had never been to these people's camps.  Katie Kovar, the full-time aquatics director at Camp Honey Creek, had a lot of bling.  So much so that I was still thinking about it when I got home, so I emailed her to ask what it was all about.  Generously, Katie took the time to photograph (some of) her camp jewelry and explained to me how she earned it all:

Loyalty Arrowheads: "The gold arrowheads are loyalty gifts. Every camper gets an envelope on Closing Day full of all the patches, certificates, etc. she's earned during that term. For your first four summers, there's also a silver arrowhead charm in that envelope. Starting your fifth year and continuing every year after that, you get a gold arrowhead instead. Becoming a loyalty camper is special as continuity is a big part of Honey Creek."

Big Chief Bracelet: "There are two tribes at CHC and each has officers that are elected by the rest of the tribe on the first night of Camp. It's an honor to be any office, but Big Chief is the highest office. The BCs from each tribe receive this bracelet during our opening campfire ceremony. To put it simply: as a 17 year old kid about to start her senior year of high school, it just felt good that 100+ girls wanted me to lead their tribe. It was a position that gave me the courage to take on other leadership roles my senior year and into college."

Staff Gift: "This staff gift was particularly special because it's not something that Schmitty, our director, does every year. That year, the staff bonded and worked more cohesively than they had in years. There were so few problems that summer because everybody was 100% on their game all the time - there was no weak link which, as I'm sure you know, is a rare treat. Schmitty surprised us with the bracelets on the last night of Camp and of course there were tears (of both happiness and exhaustion) and hugs."


I think a lot of times at camp we present our staff and campers with gifts that are essentially junk.  Sorry everyone--but I do not need another drawstring backpack.  I love the idea of giving away fewer items but making the items that we do give away things that are keepsakes--things that people will keep (and wear) forever.  I realize that there is an expense involved with this, so it's not entirely realistic for everyone, but I think it is a great example of how we can express our gratification to our dedicated staff and campers.  There was one vendor at the CAMPference who sold this stuff (Jim Morris Designer, Inc.)--I have no personal experience with him but the camps I talked to did--check out his website to learn more: http://www.jmdesigner.com/

Heartbroken about Hiring: The Second Installment of DEAR KURTZ

Attention Readers: This is the second edition of my new advice column, "DEAR KURTZ."  If you have a pressing question on camp leadership or anything else on your campy mind, please feel free to submit it to me through this anonymous online form.

Dear Kurtz, Queen of the Questions, I've got a real humdinger for you this time around. I have just completed interviewing counselors for the upcoming summer. It looks like we aren't going to be able to hire all of the applicants and I know that some of those not offered jobs will be heartbroken. The thing is, I feel like it is kind of our fault. You see, if someone has been coming to camp for five years, been a counselor in training, and wants to be a staff member, how have we not set them up to be a solid applicant? I feel like we must not be doing our job for this to happen. Am I crazy to think this?   -Hiring Headaches

Hello, Hiring Headaches,

I know how you feel.  There is an ice cream shop in my town that I did not go into for years because I was afraid of running into a longtime camper I did not hire as a camp counselor who ended up scooping ice cream instead.  The guilt and the second-guessing can be crushing as a camp leader, especially when we can’t hire young people who we have known for years and feel like we have had a hand in raising.

At camp, our message is that we value every camper.  We tell them that they are wonderful, interesting and talented.  We pump up their confidence and tell them that they are valued in our community.  This is all true.  The tough part is when they come of age: We still believe everything we told them as campers, but that does not mean that they will be great camp counselors. The fact of the matter is that this job is not for everyone, and that’s OK. 

These two things can be really hard to reconcile.  But remember, part of a good CIT program is helping both the CIT and the camp leadership figure out if the next step for the CIT is to be a counselor.  You would not be doing your job if all of your CITs became counselors.  So try not to worry so much.  You’re giving yourself a headache.

To sort through your feelings, however, you need to do a few assessments of your program and your practices to make sure that you are being fair to all of your applicants.  I honestly believe that you can’t place 100% blame on yourself if not all of your “in-house” applicants are perfect hires.  Actually, it would be weird if they were.  But there are a few things you can look at to see if you’re being fair to all of these people.  Once you are able to be confident in your actions under each of these categories, your guilt should be alleviated and you should be able to stand confidently behind your decisions. 

First, look at your leadership development programs.

You’re right, sometimes when teens are hired as CITs, they (and their parents) automatically think that they are hired for the job of camp counselor the next year.  The first thing you’re going to want to do is go through your application materials to make sure that the emphasis on this program is to grow future leaders.  Make sure your tone emphasizes this fact, and that all teens who participate will leave the program with greater self-awareness, stronger work ethic and enhanced leadership skills.  Also have an explicit line that not all CITs will be hired as staff members in the future.  Even make people sign off on it if you’d like.  This way, you are not making false promises.  I believe you are doing your job if all of your CITs graduate from the program feeling like they’ve learned a lot about themselves, their passions and capabilities.  And that should be everyone's expectation from the beginning.

On top of that, make sure you are hiring CIT directors who believe in this objective.  Sometimes CIT directors can get gossipy and only analyze CITs on their ability to fit in with the staff or other superficial criteria.  Hire CIT directors who are interested in youth development, and helping older youth develop in the context of a work program.  You want directors who can coach, mentor and support.  Once the CIT directors are in place, work with these individuals to develop a comprehensive CIT training program before they begin work.  If you really think too many of your past campers/CITs are not matriculating to the staff level, perhaps the root of the issue is your training practices.

Next, determine the specific reasons why each of these individuals was not hired.

Look at the people who are in the category you describe—the “no hires”.  Think about each one and think about why you have them in that category.  I believe many camp professionals fall into the trap of only hiring outgoing-type counselors.  You know, applicants who are loud, funny and extroverted.  Remember, we have all sorts of kids at camp, and they need all sorts of counselors.  So just because a counselor does not fit into the stereotypical “camp counselor” or “camp person” box does not mean that that person would not be a valuable asset to your staff.  Check that first.

Furthermore, it is also easy to give a “free pass” of “of course we will hire them!” to young people that you would describe as “favorite campers” (don’t deny it, this is a thing).  It’s also easy to hold baggage from past years over current applicants—in no other job do we know that Applicant X wet the bed every night in the summer of 2009 or that Applicant Y struggled with an eating disorder in the summer of 2010.  Make sure your final decisions have not been influenced by your past experiences (good or bad) with these applicants when they were program participants.  Be honest with yourself about the “why.”

Finally, be vulnerable and be brave.

Survey all of your CITs after their summer experience (and maybe even their parents) about their experiences—ask them what they learned, how they felt, and their future expectations. Be prepared for the feedback—good and bad.  And then make changes accordingly.

When you do not hire someone who has had longstanding connections with your camp, be brave and call them on the phone.  Explain your decision and give them some concrete things to work on as well as resources for other opportunities working with children.  Express (if this is true) that you would like to see an application from them in a future summer.  This can be difficult for you, but it’s the right thing to do.

Finally, don’t let yourself feel forced into a hiring decision you don’t want to make, just because someone was a longtime camper or “paid their dues” through being a CIT or what have you.  You are the guardian of camp and the kids in the camp—it is your duty to hire only those who will provide the best experiences possible for those kids.  Even though I walked on eggshells around my town during hiring season because I felt so badly for not hiring some kids, that was a much better alternative to the years I promoted people to counselor too early or for the wrong reasons, only to fire them a few weeks into the summer.  Stay strong, my hiring grasshopper.  And take some ibuprofen.  A little pain now in hiring is much better than the kind of pain that comes later on if you don’t do it right in the first place.

  Remember, it's all about the kids, and which applicants are going to make the best camp experience for them!  When in doubt, ask yourself if your hiring decision is the best decision possible for your CURRENT campers.

Remember, it's all about the kids, and which applicants are going to make the best camp experience for them!  When in doubt, ask yourself if your hiring decision is the best decision possible for your CURRENT campers.

The Inaugural Issue of DEAR KURTZ (that's me!)

Dear Kurtz,

Hi Sarah! I’m looking to add items to the camp store.  I’m curious what other camps see as their “best sellers.”

Sincerely,

Merchandising in Michigan

Dear Merchandising,

Wow, I hate to break it to you, but when I started this advice column thing I was looking for some really juicy inquiries.  You know, things like “I have to fire my girlfriend” or “everyone at my camp smokes by the river at night, what do I do?”.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until June until the real camp drama starts to happen.  Sadness.  For now, I’ll respectfully respond to your inquiry, but I do have a question for you: if this is only about the camp store as you suggest, why didn’t you share your real name?

KURTZ’S TOP TIPS FOR THE CAMP STORE

1.     Don’t ask me, ask your college-age staff.  Basically see what the local sororities and student orgs are ordering for their swag.  This tactic for several years led me to the golden decisions of spirit jerseys, custom socks and tank tops (TTs).  Campers want to wear what the counselors are wearing.

2.     Ask for suggestions from your campers on Instagram or Twitter (or whatever it is that they are using in your communities!)—in fact, my old camp, Camp Al-Gon-Quian, did that just this morning and got some great advice.  Looks like sweatpants and crewneck sweatshirts are in-demand!  And perhaps bucket hats...more on 90s trends later.

3.     Always order water bottles, and always order the regular-size Nalgenes (32 ounce wide-mouth).  Don’t get the fancy tops (they break) or the Camel-back style nozzles (they get gross without regular washing).  Just use different printed designs every year.  The “sparkle pink” was always a popular color in our camp store.

nalgene-water-bottle.jpg

4.     Avoid too many smaller items.  Bandannas are great, but you are only going to make about $2-$3 off of them, and some campers will buy just a bandanna and be satisfied with it as their one souvenir instead of a larger-ticket item like a sweatshirt or a t-shirt.

5.     At co-ed camps, make sure all of your items gender-neutral to appeal to a wide variety of campers, expanding the number of potential customers you have to buy said items.

6.     Never put the year on items unless you’re specifically celebrating something like your camp’s 100th anniversary.

7.     Stock your store with items that apply to the forecast for the upcoming summer and your region.  At a recent conference in Texas, everyone commented that all of my photos of camp showed people wearing sweatshirts and jackets.  Yup, I said, it’s because I’m in Northern Michigan!  In cold summers, our store would sell out of sweatshirts and sweatpants almost immediately.  Those would languish on the shelves forever in Texas!

8.     Just go ahead and order a ton of sunglasses. I like the Malibu Sunglasses from Logo Outfitters.

9.     I’m noticing those somewhat oversize t-shirts with front pockets are popular lately, especially when the pocket is a different color or even a different design than the shirt.

10.  Trends go in cycles. Many of the things that were cool when I was in middle school/early high school in the late 90s/early 00s are now coming back into style (Doc Martens, vests, etc.).  So, my last comment will be that I dare you to take a risk on two things that were wildly popular camp store items when I was a camper: Umbro-style shorts and hospital scrub pants!

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 5.50.10 PM.png

Do you have a burning question, one that you’d like to submit anonymously to Dear KurtzFill out this form and I will try to get back to you ASAP!!

The Case for Fidget Toys

As much as we all like to plan interactive staff trainings, all of us have portions of our trainings that are lecture or discussion-based.  And that’s OK, because sometimes we need to relay information in more structured settings.  What’s not OK about these types of sessions is that they can become boring and disengaging for our staff.  Oftentimes, facilitators think that they need to use entertainment to engage their audiences.  But you can’t have a video clip, game or song for every minute of the day.  My friend Karen Christopherson, the associate camp director at the Sherman Lake YMCA taught me about an awesome technique that should combat mental fatigue during these more tedious training sessions: the use of fidget toys!

For the past couple of years, I’ve hosted a regional training for the Michigan YMCA Camp Network with Karen and, most recently, Bill Hinton, of YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin.  We bring together admin staff from all the different YMCA camps in our state and go over all of the basics of camp leadership.  The first time we did the training, Karen showed up prepared with all sorts of stuff.  This woman is a top-notch facilitator: post-its, markers, photocopies—you name it.  But perhaps most interestingly to me, Karen also arrived with several baskets of what she calls “fidget toys”, little gadgets participants can play with to help them focus during training.  She placed a basket on each group’s table and, throughout our sessions, our participants fidgeted with them as they engaged in our lectures and exercises. 

My initial thought was what??  They have to FOCUS!  They have to LISTEN!  How could they possibly do that while PLAYING with toys??  But Karen was right and I was wrong.  As our day-long training progressed, I observed that this option helped our participants quite a bit.  Once I got home and did some research, I learned that science backs up Karen’s technique.

 One of Karen's fidget toy baskets!  Photo compliments Karen Christopherson.

One of Karen's fidget toy baskets!  Photo compliments Karen Christopherson.

In an article in Fast Company, Jessica Hullinger describes fidgeting as a common coping mechanism for folks with ADD, but that it also provides benefits for many learners.  She cites research from Roland Rotz and Sarah D. Wright, who wrote a book called Fidget to Focus, who say, “If something we are engaged in is not interesting enough to sustain our focus, the additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating, interesting, or entertaining allows our brains to become fully engaged and allows us to sustain focus on the primary activity in which we are participating."  Essentially, if the main thing that’s going on (the lecture) doesn’t engage us enough to focus, adding in an extra input (such as fidgeting) will engage our brain enough to focus on the lecture.  Think about this: Ritalin, a common medication prescribed to increase focus of folks with ADD, is a stimulant.  It stimulates the brain...and so do fidget toys!

 Sherman Lake YMCA spring staff enabling focus by fidgeting.  Photo by Karen Christopherson.

Sherman Lake YMCA spring staff enabling focus by fidgeting.  Photo by Karen Christopherson.

Fidget toys are largely touted as great tools for people with autism, ADD, ADHD and for kinesthetic learners.  In fact, this study showed that boys with ADD had better performance on a simple memory game.  In an interview with NPR, the study's lead author, Dustin Sarver from the UMiss Medical Center, said that movement increases alertness: "When I tell a kid, 'Sit down, don't move, stop tapping, stop bouncing,' the kids are spending all their mental energy concentrating on that rule. And that doesn't allow them to concentrate on what we're asking them to do, which is their homework."  Thus, if we enable our staff to use their pent up energy on something like a fidget toy, they will have extra brain power/space to focus on what we’re asking them to do, which is to listen to a long list of emergency procedures. 

 Fidgeting and listening at Sherman Lake YMCA's spring staff training.  Photo by Karen Christopherson.

Fidgeting and listening at Sherman Lake YMCA's spring staff training.  Photo by Karen Christopherson.

The Sherman Lake YMCA has a strong emphasis on inclusivity, and Karen says that using fidget toys during training sets the tone for helping campers who may learn in many different ways—just like the staff.  “Not everyone is great at sitting and listening to a lecture,” she says.  “Think about your staff as you think about your campers, meeting them where they are and making sure they’re as successful as well.”  And, as a special note, these fidget toy collections can also be used for kids—I always like going for walks with kids when we need to have a talk about behavior, etc., or letting them play in the sand or skip stones while we break down a situation.  However, that’s not always possible.  If you and a camper are stuck inside discussing a behavioral issue or another tough topic, letting them work on a fidget toy is a great way to open up the brain and help them relax.

Karen has been building her fidget toy collection for more than 10 years.  She says it’s a trial-and-error process, where she might pick something up at a toy store or gift shop and see if it works.  The best toys are the ones that are quiet (a.k.a. not annoying!) to the facilitator/fellow participants.

To accelerate your collection, here is a list of top fidget toys recommended to me and thus to you by Karen and by Sylvia Van Meerten, an expert on autism and the executive director of Dragonfly Forest and owner of Camp Tall Tree:

1. Tangle Toys - Set of 3 Tangle Juniors - $8.99 on Amazon

2. Bug Out Bob by Toysmith - $9.11 on Amazon 

bug out bob.jpg

3. Wooden Fidget Puzzle by Toysmith - $5.49 on Amazon

4. Tinksky Magnetic Building Blocks - $28.99 for a 30 piece set on Amazon

6. Wacky Tracks by Toysmith Set of 2 - $10.95 on Amazon

**these make a slight clicking sound**

7. Koosh Balls (this 90s favorite is surprisingly expensive, from $6-$14 on Amazon)

What is your favorite fidget toy?  Leave your recommendations in the comments!

The Best Toys...

“The best toys focus on what the child can do, rather than what the toys can do.”

Yes.

Growing up, I desperately wanted a battery-powered kiddie Jeep.  The answer was no.  No freakin’ way!  Besides the obvious reason that they cost upward of $300, my parents likely had a better reason.  There was nothing to learn from a battery-powered Jeep.

Instead, we had a backyard with a makeshift tree fort.  We had a banana-seat bike that we tricked out with spokey-dokeys and playing cards clothes-pinned to the tires.  We had a costume bin and a ton of art supplies, but, looking back, there were very few toys that “did stuff”.  Our favorites and our best memories were from times that we created our own fun.

 Spokey Dokeys

Spokey Dokeys

Anyone who knows me well as a camp professional knows I am adamantly against camp novelties, like blobs and go-karts.  In my opinion, if you want to have a fun ride on something, go to Cedar Point.  If you want to make lifelong friends, stretch your imagination and make memories, go to camp.  We cheapen the depth and meaning of the experiences we give our camp kids when our brochures focus on shiny new water toys instead of the good, important stuff of camp.

These reflections come to mind from an article I stumbled across on social media last night by Jenn Choi, entitled “Parents are Buying their Kids all the Wrong Toys.”  Ms. Choi makes some important points that relate directly to camp:

“For a product to be an effective learning tool, the child has to be able to use it to make inquiries and attempt to answer them.”

Take sticks for example.  Sticks are the ultimate learning tool!  And we have so many of them at camp.  For stick forts.  For drawing.  For fighting off zombies.  For making dreamcatchers and gods-eyes.  For fairy gardens.  The inquiry with a stick is constant, and the answers infinite.  As long as they’re not directed toward another child’s eye, let the kids play with sticks!  I bet my bottom dollar that any kid can make more memories with an unlimited supply of sticks than with a $300 baby Jeep.

 Stickfort styles

Stickfort styles

“Parents’ play, too, must change.  For starters, they need to get on the floor…we need to get involved and stay involved.  We have to play with them.”

We always say the best counselors are the ones that are on the floor (ground) with the kids—they’re not the one giving instructions while lounging on a top bunk or from a lawnchair on the sidelines.  They’re the ones who are physically immersed in the mess and the chaos, who send the message that the kids’ interests and experiences are their top priority.  I believe that this is rarer and rarer as screens distract us from face-to-face communication and play, especially between adults and kids.  They yearn for it.

 2014 Camp AGQ Head Female Counselor Flora Hay is an expert at this.

2014 Camp AGQ Head Female Counselor Flora Hay is an expert at this.

“If children stop playing with an item, parents pay think that the failure lies with the toy.  Really, no one is at fault.  Perhaps the child is just not feeling inspired…When I see that my children are ignoring their open-ended toys, I just start playing with them by myself…The inspiration returns, without any cajoling or direction.”

The best counselors also inspire.  This is not difficult, but it takes some extra confidence and gusto.  If a counselor believes that you can have fun at arts and crafts with no other supplies than brown paint, you better believe that you can.  Admin staff should demonstrate this contagious enthusiasm and show novice counselors how simple it is to inspire kids (and themselves) if you just believe!

What are some times that you have seen camp staff or kids make something out of nothing at camp?  What, in your opinion, are the best camp toys?

PS- Jack and Laura from GoCamp.Pro/Camp Stomping Ground/Camping Coast to Coast have mastered this concept through Makerspace--check out Laura's blog article here.


The Best Questions get the Best Answers

“How has camp changed your life?” 

OK, it’s a powerful question.  I could answer that in many, many ways.  I'm sure you could, too.

If you ask this question to a camper, staff member or alum, you might get a great answer immediately--in journalism school, we had a professor who would call this good fortune a "dial-a-quote" situation.

However, dial-a-quotes are exceedingly rare.  It would be foolish for us to rely on one or two simple questions and and expect to elicit the best answers.  To get the best answers, we must be prepared with the best questions.

So, going into end-of-year appeals and the fast-approaching Annual Campaign season for all of you YMCA kids, here’s a short list of powerful questions you can ask members of your camp family to elicit those deep, expressive, mission-advancing answers (oh, and make sure you are videotaping or taking notes or something so you don't miss the answers!):

What is something you learned about yourself at camp?

Talk about a relationship you built with someone at camp or because of camp.

Who is someone you look up to or looked up to at camp?  Why?

What is a lesson you learned at camp?

Talk about a time you overcame a major challenge or obstacle at camp.

Describe a time you changed your mind about something due to an experience you had at camp.

What is something about camp that your “outside” friends do not understand?

Talk about a time at camp when you felt like you were the best version of yourself.

How has something you learned at camp helped you in your outside life?

What is something about you that you do or believe because of camp?

And, at the end of ANY interview, whether for the NY Times or for your camp newsletter...always ask the following two questions:

1. Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you wanted to talk about?

**This is where I find that I get the best answers.  Make sure the tape is still rolling.  When subjects relax, that's when they truly tell you what they think.

2. Could you please confirm the spelling of your name?

For another day, we can talk about once you do with this great information once you collect it.  Until then, here's a favorite example of a YouTube Channel for McGaw YMCA Camp Echo and their series "Camp Echo Stories".

What are some of your favorite questions?  Add them in the comments.

The Great Facebook "Mom Swap & Chat" Phenomenon

As some of you guys know, one part of Kurtz McKinnon Creative is selling custom hand-lettering projects that I create.  The art side of the business is entirely word-of-mouth, and most of that is driven through social media.

As such, I have joined some various closed Facebook groups that relate to my target customer audience, and have noticed a fabulous phenomenon that ties more closely to camp than it does to art sales: the discussion boards on local, closed “Mom Swap & Chat” groups.

Many of the posts on these boards are for selling and swapping stuff—there are always some great deals on strollers, maternity wear, etc.  However, beyond the pure transactional functionality of the site, moms (and dads, but mostly moms on my pages) will post just about anything on these boards to get parenting or life advice.

Actual quotes from one of my pages:

"My 9 month old is basically exclusively breastfeeding & just within that last couple weeks started eating fruit & veggies. He broke out in hives on his skin when he had avocado (just on contact where the avocado touched his skin-within minutes) & same thing today after a couple tastes of plain hummus. Except a lil worse today b/c it wasn't just where food got on his skin. Cleared up within an hour or so after bath etc but I am baffled by this reaction to fruit & veggies..any insight or experience? There was no nuts, dairy, wheat etc."

"I love to snack. Just mindlessly dump food into my face at the end of a long day. On what types of foods do you snack? I need inspiration, and the peanut butter is almost gone."

So I'm sitting at the dog park and I am appalled at how this football coach is speaking to his junior high school age players. My nephew played all through high school and I'm sure, even at that age, his coaches weren't yelling obscenities at them or belittling them the way this guy is. How embarrassing for him. Glad I'm not a parent of one of those young boys….”

"Concerned parent alert: Parents, if your two blonde daughters drove themselves to school today in a white grand Cherokee, they could use a gentle reminder of the dangers of impatiently pulling around cars turning left.  They nearly got clipped by pulling around a turner at Cross St. (into my lane)!!! I'd want someone to tell me if these were my kids.  Too young to be this impatient!!"!"

10, 15, 20…even 100 comments will be posted in response to these inquiries, whether about something as insignificant as snacks or as significant as teen driver safety .  Sometimes on the medical ones, the responders will say “CALL YOUR DOCTOR!” but others bring up all sorts of remedies, hypotheses and more.  Posters will respond with enthusiastic thanks, report back on any solutions they tried, and genuinely build friendships with the other parents on the chat.  It’s really an interesting phenomenon.

In some respects, the responses on the "Mom Swap" have replaced the advice of formally-trained professionals, because moms trust other moms. 

Then time for camp rolls around.

What do you think this mom did?? (way to go, Black River Farm and Ranch!)

And this mom??

It’s time to become a member of these swap pages in your key camper areas—I would recommend sharing this article with some of your strongest parent advocates, and asking them about their Facebook group involvement, and show them how powerful it can be if they are able to advocate in this space on your camp's behalf.

Although I recommend the proactive approach, you also better believe that if something negative happens at your camp, the moms and dads will blast it all over their Facebook group, too.  Nip any customer service problems in the bud before you have 100 parents complaining about your online registration system all over the inter-webs (I speak from personal experience here).  Consider joining as many groups as you can in your local camper areas so you can be on the lookout for any commentary--positive, negative or neutral--about your camp.

And, as a special bonus, people sell stuff all the time dirt-cheap on these...from sleeping bags and tents to art supplies.  What a great way to get some extra gear for your camp or for your life.  I for one am really sad I missed these:

"Hygge": Creating the Feeling of Home

Many years ago now (nine!), I was studying abroad in Spain.  I had a co-counselor from the previous summer (shout-out to Sarah Mitchiner) who was studying at the same time in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I found some bargain tickets on Ryan Air (if you haven’t flown on Ryan Air, it is basically like flying on a plane made by Little Tikes), and went to Copenhagen for a weekend in early December.  It was a magical, magical destination!  To make it even better, it was right before Christmas, and everything was so warm and inviting—even though it was a completely foreign country to me, it had a feeling of home. 

 A photo I took on my 2006 trip of Nyhavn, a famous 17th century canal and entertainment district in downtown Copenhagen.

A photo I took on my 2006 trip of Nyhavn, a famous 17th century canal and entertainment district in downtown Copenhagen.

I learned quickly from Sarah that there is a concept in Denmark that does not have a direct translation in English.  The word for this concept in Danish is “hygge”, which is pronounced “hooga”.  It kind of means to be cozy, but that does not quite cover it.  It’s almost like a physical and emotional version of cozy.  The Danish tourism website (www.visitdenmark.com) has this definition of the word: “Hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.  The warm glow of candlelight is hygge.  Friends and family—that’s hygge too.  There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing big and small things in life.  Perhaps hygge explains why Danes are the happiest people in the world?”  

Yes!  No wonder I like the feeling of hygge in Denmark.  It is the feeling of camp.

The reason I bring this up is because hygge in Denmark is intentional.  It’s a defined aspect of their culture—heck, it’s featured on the tourism website.  I think camps do hygge really well, but many could do it better.  All of us can think about it more.  Hygge needs to be a part of our camp culture, a part of it that we teach, model and define. 

When kids come to camp, it becomes their home.  To achieve our goals, the camp itself must be physical and emotionally cozy.  It needs to be a safe place where campers (and staff) can set aside their worries and connect with each other face-to-face, enjoying the good things in life with good people.  It is in this type of environment that people young and old can thrive and are able to be the best versions of themselves.

Since I want to make this blog actionable for you, here is a short list of how to pump up the hygge in your camp life:

In the cabin. 

Encourage campers and counselors to decorate the cabin interiors and exteriors together.  Encourage counselors to have welcoming decorations (cabin signs, banners, etc.) before campers arrive, and let the counselors have the freedom to guide the campers to “nest” in the cabin environment.  One of the most hygge cabins I have seen was one for our youngest girls: They had an entire house and fort constructed in one nook for all of their stuffed animals.  For them, creating coziness also meant that their animals were included and had become friends just like they had become friends.  For older campers, could this mean hammocks outside the cabin, novelty lights or peace flags hung in the rafters or art hung on the walls?  Yes.  Give campers the freedom and the time to make their cabins and the space around their cabins their own.

 Brienne and I had fun creating our very hygge cabin (...er, hallway...) in 2007.  

Brienne and I had fun creating our very hygge cabin (...er, hallway...) in 2007.  

In construction:

This is tough.  Oftentimes when building a new project, we want everything to be crisp and new (and also functional).  However, the rustic aspects of camp must be honored.  There are many beautiful camp facilities that are winterized that still maintain the rustic roots of the past, such as the dining hall at Frost Valley

 That balcony! Stone fireplace! Exposed wooden rafters!  High ceilings!  Swoon!

That balcony! Stone fireplace! Exposed wooden rafters!  High ceilings!  Swoon!

Make sure your architect understands the aesthetic of camp in general, and the aesthetic of your particular camp.  I realized that many of us have camps where buildings have been added on throughout the years in a multitude of styles (hello, cinderblock, woodframe construction and something weird the caretaker made from scraps).  However, when we have the opportunity to match the aesthetic of our camp but just make some upgrades, the hygge theme shines through.  My favorite architect to work with is David Bona.  Check out his work for a brand new lodge at YMCA Camp Birkett (http://www.davidbonaarchitect.com/#!birkett/c1ztz).   Please don’t drywall.  Please preserve old stone fireplaces.  Please hang pictures on the walls and old wood plaques and take the time to really make all buildings feel like home. 

 This doesn't just count for new construction.   McGaw YMCA Camp Echo  has retrofitted some cabins to be much more hygge.  Again, fireplace, wooden construction details (including the awesome bunk beds).

This doesn't just count for new construction.  McGaw YMCA Camp Echo has retrofitted some cabins to be much more hygge.  Again, fireplace, wooden construction details (including the awesome bunk beds).

 In construction, part 2.

When the director prior to me at Camp Al-Gon-Quian oversaw the dining hall expansion (hi, Becca Schnetzer!), she realized that she also needed double the tables and benches for our increased capacity.  She took one of our old tables and one of our old benches to a local woodcraftsman.  He was able to duplicate the table and benches almost exactly, and those were the ones that filled our new dining hall.  The old side, down to the furnishings, was almost exactly duplicated on the new side.  That first summer, even though the new side was just built, it still had that feeling of hygge, where campers felt like they were a part of generations of good people that had filled that very space.

In signage

Full disclosure: I love creating custom signs (and have a side hustle doing it).  So maybe I’m a little biased.  But all camp directors have someone on their staff who is a talented or semi-talented signmaker.  Whenever possible, have your signs be handmade!  It adds such a feeling of home to a camp.  I will be honest here and say I hate it when camps have signs that are generically printed (like to label things in the dining hall or to share information with campers about the environment).  It is so institutional.  You'd never have that in your home!  Invest in a little laminator (my favorite type is less than $36 on Amazon!) and just make these in-house.  It adds an extra element of care.  I know I can feel it.

 A favorite camp sign by yours truly.  I can kinda paint in Verdana...

A favorite camp sign by yours truly.  I can kinda paint in Verdana...

In signage, part 2.

With the YMCA rebranding efforts and other practicalities, we do not have the luxury of making all of our signs and documents ourselves.  However, think creatively how you can add some extra coziness to your materials that are printed.  I think YMCA Camp Tecumseh has done a great job with these nametags: 

In training.

I have a lot of camp theories.  But a big theory I like to push at camp during training and for the staff is creating the feeling of home.  This is a powerful, powerful challenge.  Many campers have wonderful home lives.  However, many of our campers do not.  It is an amazing gift to give to all of our campers to create camp as a place where they feel at home.  A place where they are respected, feel safe, can grow and have people who care about them.  And no matter how “annoying” or “difficult” a camper is, he or she deserves that gift, and may not get that gift anywhere else.  During training, have this discussion.  Incorporate difficult topics: race, income, ability.  Ask your staff when and where they have felt at home.  Challenge them to re-create that type of environment for their kids.

 Campers should GLOW when they are at camp or think about camp!

Campers should GLOW when they are at camp or think about camp!

In planning.

For you, as the director, have this on your mind.  Yes, think about the small things that you can do to make your camp feel more like home.  Think about making a little extra space in your budget like Becca did for those tables and benches.  But also think about who you are hiring, because the concept of hygge comes down to the people.  Think to yourself, if I was sick, would I want to be stuck with this person in the infirmary for 24 hours? Can this person hold a conversation with anyone?  Are they here for the right reasons?  Does my greater staff base reflect my camper base?  Do I have a group of “cool counselors” and a group of “outsiders”?  Do I have a group of “cool” campers, “tough” campers, and kids that we don’t pay any attention to?  Are my skits and songs respectful, or does my camp slide into stereotypes?  Do we have staff members of color?  Are there people of color in leadership positions?  Are there women in leadership positions?  If we don’t, are we working hard to change those things? (much more on this later).

At Camp Al-Gon-Quian, we always said that if you strip everything away, and we had to have camp in a parking lot, camp would still be awesome.  Even though the beautiful natural environment, amazing buildings and handmade signs enhanced hygge, the people made it happen.  So remember, hygge comes down to the feeling you have when you’re with people you love and who love you.  Let’s give that to the campers and staff each summer by keeping it our top priority.

 P.S. Have a hygge thanksgiving!

P.S. Have a hygge thanksgiving!

Staff Snax

Last year at camp, I felt like we were having a great summer!  I still think we were, but there was one thing that I missed.  I always try to survey my staff at certain points during the summer (usually anonymously) to see what is on their minds and give us feedback as the administrative team.  So, when I distributed a staff survey about halfway through the season, I realized the error of my ways: Our staff overwhelmingly said that they needed more snacks!!

Hence, the blog post.  Sometimes, the way to your staff members' hearts is through their stomachs.  Here are some marvelous ideas for economical and delicious snacks you can prepare or have prepared for your staff to boost morale and keep things going for the rest of the summer!

Category 1: Things you can do with a commercial kitchen!

I had a revelation last summer shortly after the survey results returned: We have a commercial kitchen at our disposal!  Just before the YMCA got serious about getting healthy, our previous director had ordered up not one but two Frymaster deep fryers!  Now, we don't use them too much anymore.  But lo and behold, what an amazing opportunity to fry up some restaurant-style snacks!

This time around, we created a gourmet tater tot bar.  We fried up a couple of boxes of tots, and then set out a buffet of various toppings (ketchup, bacon crumbles, hot sauce, cheddar cheese, sour cream, ranch dressing and even Vegemite from our Australian sailing instructor).  This definitely wasn't the healthiest of all staff snacks (I can still feel the grease swishing around in my mouth), but it was scrumptious and a great bonding activity to see what creations the staff could make.  Better yet, more than 90% of the supplies we needed for this staff snack were already on hand in the kitchen.

Counselors begin to make their tater tot creations!

Other ideas for commercial kitchen use for staff snacks:

  • Deep fry-day (obviously on a Friday) -- make a custom batter and fry up some yummy vegetables, pickles and maybe even an Oreo or two.  Shout-out to the one and only Flora Hay for this idea.
  • Remember everything is more fun when it's jumbo-sized and shared!  How about the world's largest pancake using your iron griddle or a giant Rice Krispie Treat using one of those hotel pans made for lasagne?

NOTE: Keeping your kitchen staff happy and healthy is your #1 job.  

I always find it sad when I go to camps and even the director is scared to go into the kitchen so as not to upset the head cook. If you are going to use the camp kitchen for a staff snack, remember these friendly tips: 

  • Give the chef PLENTY of warning (I'm talking at least a week to start) and ask before taking anything that you did not purchase yourself.
  • Leave the kitchen cleaner than how you found it and make sure everything is put back in the exact same place.
  • Invite the kitchen staff to participate in the fun part (eating) your staff snack, but if it's too late and they have to go to bed, leave a special treat for them in the morning (high quality coffee is a great choice)

Category 2: Homemade Munchies

The rotation of camp foods can start to wear on staff about 4 to 5 weeks into the summer when meals start to be repeated.  This is normal and not a bad thing--just a fact of camp life.  Thus, a taste of something uniquely homemade can be a wonderful treat for our camp staff.  Ideas:

  • You are bound to have a staff member on your team who loves to cook or bake.  Can you free up some time for that person to sneak into the kitchen and make a homemade treat for the rest of the staff?  Usually the ingredients needed are on hand and a small budgetary allowance will make up for the rest.  Last year, I had a talented pastry chef on staff, Sarah Zimmerman, who made us all homemade key lime pie one night.  Yum.  Kate Tucker Fahlsing (what's up Kate, I know you read these!), another clever staff member, also had a great idea.  She took campers on a day trip to a local cherry farm and picked loads of cherries.  After everyone had their fill, Kate made the staff homemade cherry pie, following her mom's secret recipe.  We added in some vanilla ice cream and whew!  What a night.
  • There are also some really easy things that you can cook on your own.  A favorite of mine is "Puppy Chow".  Careful!  It is chock-full of peanut butter.  But it's delicious and easy to make.
  • Chocolate Chip cookies are always a crowd-pleaser.  Make it even more delicious by serving with vanilla ice cream in a "make-your-own-ice-cream-sandwich bar".

Category 3: Regular-Meal Upgrades

Now, if your steps keeping your kitchen staff happy and healthy are working like a charm, they can also really help with the homemade munchies endeavor.  If they are motivated to do so (and usually are if they feel supported by the non-kitchen staff and get plenty of "thanks!" on a daily basis from campers and counselors alike), provide them with the resources (budgetary, staffing-wise or otherwise) to amp up some of the classics on a periodic basis.  Here are some simple things that they can do to add an extra-special touch to regular meals:

  • Grilled cheese day?  Make some extra staff ones with tomatoes, non-American cheeses or on wheat bread.  Figure out a subtle way that the staff can pick up a special grilled cheese.
  • Same with eggs--make a few omelettes with special ingredients such as veggies, ham, etc.  The special touch of a custom omelette can really boost a counselor's energy that day!
  • On the grill...having another cookout?  If the kitchen staff can throw on some marinated chicken or brats or what have you, what would have been another boring burger can become extraordinary!
  • Pizza night!  Again, the campers are largely going to go for cheese and pepperoni.  Have some pizzas at the main buffet line of a different variety: mixed veggies, BBQ chicken, pesto (except careful, that can have nuts, too!), and make sure the counselors know where to find them.  This can be a delicious treat!
  • The salad bar can be an oasis for counselors.  Add in extra-special hearty salad items on a rotating basis, such as hummus, feta cheese, black beans, quinoa, hard boiled eggs, etc.  Or, even better, have an awesome salad bar all of the time like the one I got to experience during my trip earlier this summer to YMCA Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha in Traverse City (see photo below).

Category 4: Healthy Choices

At a certain point in the summer, I would notice that many of the camp staff were craving something new...not greasy snacks, but healthy ones!  The campers were still going for the camp classics, but the staff were rushing for the salad bar and the non-sugary cereals.  Beyond amping up the salad bar, here are a few ideas for healthy choices you can incorporate into regular meals for the staff:

  • Purchase a few health-food cereals such as low-fat granola, Kashi cereals, etc., and put them in the normal rotation.  The staff will notice and will appreciate it!
  • Figure out what fruits and vegetables are in season around your camp and order from a local market.  When I was a counselor, our head cook would always order a bunch of Michigan peaches in early August.  They were to die for!
  • Steel cut oats in the morning served with yogurt is always a nice touch--even better yet, add in some homemade granola (Check out Molly Belhaj's special recipe here)
  • Bring a blender to a staff meeting and let your counselors create their own fruit and yogurt smoothies.
  • Make sure you have a selection of whole-wheat bread and other whole grain products available for all.

Category 5: The Easy Stuff

This is just going to be a list of things that I have done in the past for staff snacks/treats that have been successful.  No comment on whether or not they are healthy or not (most are not).

  • Buy a ton of Totino's pizza rolls and heat them up in the oven (same concept with Bagel Bites)
  • Spread tortilla chips and cheddar cheese out on a tray, heat in the oven to make a jumbo-sized nachos (additional toppings optional)
  • In a pinch?  Try rootbeer floats.  In a pinch in Michigan?  Try Boston coolers!
  • Yes, they will ruin your food budget if you order them for the entire camp.  But, my friend Stuart says they are the only reason he liked his first year as a camper and came back the following summer.  What are they?  CHOCO TACOS.  Do it.  Not just for the staff, but for everyone
  • Do you have an alum who calls up and wants to do something nice for camp?  Wants to make a donation but is not so sure what to do?  Talk them into funding an order of pizza for your camp staff.  
  • Back to hot sauce here.  Have a sampling of hot sauces that the counselors can access for their meals (try Tabasco, Frank's, Cholula, Sriracha, any local varieties-we like Clancy's Fancy)
  • Provide high-quality coffee and tea one day instead of the generic food service stuff.  Your staff will thank you.  Or, on a hot day, brew some coffee and then chill it so the staff can have iced coffee drinks.
  • Check with your local party rental store.  Last year we were able to rent a sno-cone machine for the 4th of July and it was fun and inexpensive.  
  • Sun Chips.  Need I say more, Hannah Deschaine?

Concluding Words

Plan ahead.  Be friends with the kitchen staff.  Always serve snacks.  Use your imagination.  A well-fed and well-nourished staff is a happy staff, and happy staff make for happy campers!

PS--I'd love to hear some of your favorite ideas for staff snax!  Please add them into the comments!

 

5 Steps You Can Take to Get Out of the Office This Summer

I was honored this week to be featured on the Go Camp Pro blog.  I included many gratuitous references to Boomer and also some tangible tips for leaving the office life behind and being as present on camp as possible.  Check out my article here: 

https://www.gocamp.pro/5-steps-you-can-take-to-get-out-of-the-office-this-summer/

 Boomer and I enjoying our time at opening campfire waiting for the kids to arrive (either that or they all refused to sit next to us, I do not remember).

Boomer and I enjoying our time at opening campfire waiting for the kids to arrive (either that or they all refused to sit next to us, I do not remember).

Let the Counselors Make Parent Phone Calls: A Plea by Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

Oftentimes, I hear directors say that they are stretched too thin.  I felt that way a lot, too, when I was a camp director.  There always seemed to be someone or something (no, about 45 someones and somethings!) needing my attention.

As I got older and a little better at being a camp director, I learned more about the art of delegation.  It truly is an art.  We are all protective of our programs, sometimes treating them like they themselves are our children.  At the same time, the best camps and the best camp directors have depth in their staff—other people the camp director can trust beyond himself or herself.

So, today I am going to talk a little bit about a topic that can take significant pressure off of the camp director: In my opinion, staff members should be making most parent phone calls.  These phone calls include basic homesickness, bullying issues, friendship drama, to grant permission for trips, to add money to store accounts, and the good phone calls as well

In doing trainings this spring, I have been rather surprised to see how many directors do not allow counselors (and even in some cases, unit leaders or village directors) to make parent phone calls.  My experience was the opposite, and I found that it worked very, very well for us, and here’s why:

For the director, having a staff that can make even the most basic of phone calls home saves you some major time, as parent phone calls are time-consuming and often require a message or a call back.  If the director is doing every one of those calls, he or she will be stuck in the office and not out and about really participating in and supervising the realities of camp.  The in-the-office mentality creates a reactive camp director, and not a proactive one.

This also creates a true partnership between parents and staff.  The counselors are the folks working directly with campers: after all, the counselors are in loco parentis after the parents leave.  Rather than the director hearing the information from the counselor, talking with the parent, talking with the counselor (it’s like a game of telephone!) the counselor can hear advice and reactions straight from the parent, and ask the right questions.  A parent might give some information that the person who is most directly working with the camper knows exactly how to process or how to follow-up on it.

We also oftentimes talk about how our staff members want “more” in order to return to camp for another summer.  With the temptations of internships and travel, millennial staff members largely want to feel challenged and that there is room for progression.  Allowing counselors to interact with parents in this way gives them not just the satisfaction of higher-level problem solving: it gives them critical professional skills that they can put to use in any future workplace.  And, with the proliferation of technologies (even basic ones like texting), many of our counselors could use the training and practice in these direct forms of communication.

This practice also sends the message that you as the director are proud of and trust your staff members!  When trained and supported correctly, a counselor should be more than capable of calling a parent to ask for advice about mild homesickness or describe a bullying situation in the cabin (on either side of things).  I always loved it when I witnessed my staff members kill it on the phone: they are informed, professional, compassionate and smart.  By and large, parents were impressed with their interactions. 

Finally, this practice will increase the amount of parent communication that you have, which is always a good thing.  If you are even a mid-size camp, there is no way just a couple of staff members can keep up with all of the phone calls that should be happening on any given day.  Sharing this responsibility will ensure top-notch customer service and care of your kids.

So, if you are a camp that has not yet tried, this model, i am sure you have a big and obvious question, which is HOW DO YOU DO THIS?  My answer?  Now is the time!  Save a little bit of your staff training to work on parent interactions, and include phone techniques.  Then, provide the proper support and care throughout the summer to empower your staff to have positive parent communications:

 Charles Fahlsing, the new AGQ director (my successor!), got his start making parent phone calls as a 16-year-old junior counselor at camp.  Now those skills are second-nature!

Charles Fahlsing, the new AGQ director (my successor!), got his start making parent phone calls as a 16-year-old junior counselor at camp.  Now those skills are second-nature!

TRAIN

The key to positive parent communications by staff is confidence.  Run through your camp’s policies and practices with your staff, and model how these parent communications should go.  Explain to the staff how these conversations can seem high-stakes but are completely manageable. 

Give some examples of phone calls you expect each level of staff to be able to make (the list might be different for a cabin counselor vs. a village leader, for example).  Emphasize honestly and planning.  Many staff members will want to write out a few notes or even a practice script before making a call.

Discuss the importance of patience, as it can be scary for parents to have their kids be so far away from home.  Emphasize the flip side of the coin, which is the apathetic or disinterested parent.  Remind staff members that raising a child is difficult and personal.  And complicated!  Take time to listen and beware of jargon and assumptions about families.

NOTE:

Some camps advise the caller to say “Hi, this is Sarah from Camp Al-Gon-Quian, this is NOT an emergency, BUT….” and that just drives me crazy!  Cut to the chase.  Most times this is easy.  Do NOT spend time with the “how are yous”.  That is nice, but the parent is on the other side of the phone and imagining a disaster that has taken place.  Just say right away, quickly and concisely, who you are and WHY you are calling.  Here are some examples of how to do it:

    “I am the camp store manager at Camp Campbell; my name is Claire!”

    “I am calling to ask permission for your camper to go on a day trip!  My name is Kyle, and I am the trip director here at Camp Fitch.  We are headed to the State Park for a day of hiking on Tuesday.”

    Rip off the band-aid: “My name is Jessa, and I’m the health officer.  I’m calling because Noah slipped on the dock and injured his wrist.  We are calling to let you know we are headed to the doctor to have it checked out.”

PRACTICE

After you discuss your expectations about parent phone calls, it’s great to do some practice sessions.  I’m a big fan of role-play, and I think the parent phone call practice can be done with partners first (private practice) and then a few examples in front of the group.  Critique the whole-group examples afterward.

The best examples I have ever done are when we call an actual parent on speaker phone with a made up problem.  It’s great to have a parent give feedback and advice after the scenario plays out, and always is hilarious to watch for the other staff members.

During the summer, remind counselors that if they are nervous to make a parent phone call, they can write out some notes of what they are going to say.  They also can practice the call with you or another camp leader first.

Role-Play Scenarios:

  1. You would like to take the camper on a cabin overnight hiking trip and their off-camp permission was not signed.  You need verbal permission.
  2. You are the cabin counselor, and you had a rough night with homesickness on the first night.  You are seeking some tips.
  3. You are the cabin counselor, and friendship troubles are happening in the cabin and the child is being excluded.  You thought the parent should know.
  4. Parent calls to inform you that she got a text last night that the child is being bullied in the cabin (this one is a higher-level, because it’s more reactionary!).  
  5. Child is headed to the hospital with a broken leg.  She fell off of a picnic table.

TAG-TEAM

Last year at camp, we had a wonderful counselor who built a relationship with a camper.  The camper felt close enough to this counselor to disclose a struggle she had with disordered eating.  The counselor came to me (the director) to share this information so we could determine how to handle it.  We decided the best course of action was to inform the parents of what we knew so they could properly support their daughter.

Since this was a more intense situation, I offered to make the phone call.  The counselor said she wanted to make the phone call herself because she had heard the information first-hand from the camper and thought it was the right thing to do. I agreed that was OK, but we decided to plan the phone call together and then sit together to make the call.  “Hi, this is Natalie from Camp AGQ, I’m calling to share some information with you that Melissa shared with me.  I am here with the camp director, Sarah.”

We put this call on speakerphone so I could also hear what was going on and could jump in if necessary (it wasn’t, in this case), and so I could make sure that all of the important points were covered and not sugar-coated.  Was this easy for the parents to hear?  No.  We did not lie nor did we make it more of a scary situation for them then it already was.  We were honest and clear.  Was this easy for the counselor?  No.  It was emotionally taxing and sad to have to tell parents something upsetting about their child.  However, it was rewarding for the counselor.  She grew a lot professionally thorough the entire process and also knew that her breakthrough with this camper was for a reason.  The conversation with the parents assured us that the camper was going to get the help that she needed.

SUPPORT

Remind counselors that you and your administrative team are going to handle the big phone calls.  Establish a phone log system so you know which calls are going out and coming in to the office.  Make sure you remain available for questions and support when the counselors are just getting started making calls.  Finally, encourage them and thank them for making these calls.  

In my first summer as a camp counselor, and my second session as a camp counselor ever, I had a very difficult camper.  She was the youngest camper at camp (barely eight years old), there for a full two weeks and horribly homesick.  Her homesickness manifested itself in an interesting way: She would constantly try to run away from camp.  And she was FAST…much faster than me!

Our director at the time asked my co-counselor and I to call home to talk with the camper’s mother to get advice.  This to me was terrifying.  There is no way I could talk to a parent, especially when I felt like I was failing miserably with her kid.  My co-counselor Kate, who was only 18 years old at the time, handled the call like a pro.  And the next call.  And the next call. It helped the situation and the camper made it through the session.  She came back for eight subsequent summers and even became a CIT during high school.  Witnessing this taught me two things as a young counselor: One, we don’t have all the answers.  Parents know their kids WAY better than we do, so sometimes we need to ask them for advice and support.  Second, we are awesome youth development professionals, and we don’t have anything to be afraid of!  We could have very easily shipped this difficult camper home on the next bus out of Indian River.  However, we were willing to take some mature and sometimes intimidating steps to make it camp happen for her.  And I’m so glad that we did.

 Kate, aka "KTF" and me during Harry Potter Day when we were counselors at AGQ.  And yes, we were also capable of making phone calls home!!

Kate, aka "KTF" and me during Harry Potter Day when we were counselors at AGQ.  And yes, we were also capable of making phone calls home!!

Camp and the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

My husband continually teases me because I keep on saying I need to “get organized”.  What this really means is moving my junk…er, belongings…to different piles around the house.  So, as per the recommendation of my friend Becky, a fellow member of The Half-A** Book Club (sorry, kind of NCA), I picked up a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I obviously needed more than help…I needed a life change.  Kondo provided just that.  Here are her conclusions that I have internalized:

  1. YOU ARE MESSY BECAUSE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF

  2. ONLY KEEP BELONGINGS THAT SPARK JOY IN YOUR LIFE

  3. CLEAN BY CATEGORY, NOT BY ROOM

 I’ve probably taken five car-loads of miscellaneous items to be donated, assessed the need for stuff in my life, and my house looks great.  But of course, my mind instantly started thinking about CAMP.  Why oh why is there so much MESS at camp all of the time?  Do you ever feel yourself constantly cleaning up, or chasing around others to do so?  There were many times in my camp directing career when I felt just that way.  I would even do the same thing to our staff/campers that my mother frequently did to me as a child: “ANYTHING NOT CLEANED UP IN 5 MINUTES IS GOING DIRECTLY TO THE TRASH”!

So, Kondo got me thinking about successful ways that I got our camp to be tidier, and other ideas of how to reduce clutter at camp.

1. YOU ARE MESSY BECAUSE YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF

Exhibit A: Boat Donations

Ah, the call that every camp director who works on a lake gets a few times a summer: “Hi, I have a boat I would like to donate to your camp!”.  This can be a great call.  We have gotten some amazing boats at Camp AGQ due the generosity of neighbors on the lake and other friends (including a Lightning that has a Spinnaker and this beautiful Hobie 16!!).  At the same time, we have a “boat graveyard” up the hill at camp of old hulls and boat parts that are no longer seaworthy.  To be frank, some boat donors are simply looking to dump their boats (whether knowingly or not) and get a tax write-off.  Don’t fall for it!

Whenever someone would call me me with a boat donation, I would have our waterfront director, caretaker and sailing or waterskiing instructor go have a look right away (a.k.a. the people who know way more about boats than I do).  If they wanted it, I would trust their judgment.  If they did not, we would simply say “no, thanks!”.  Just because something is free does not mean you need it!  Over the years, I have said “yes” to various donations that have been more of a pain than they were worth: the bathtub-like sailboat we named “Frankenstein” that capsized on the far side of the lake, stranding campers and staff; the extra-large old style TV that we could never get hooked up to a DVD player; a collection of a hundred romance novels (no idea why I said yes to these), etc.  So, truly asses what your camp needs, be honest with kind donors, and move forward!

Awesome Hobie catamaran that was donated to us this summer!  Unscientifically, however, I estimate that there are 2 boats in the boat graveyard for every seaworthy boat.

Exhibit B: Litter

For years, we had Starburst candies in the camp store.  Every time I would walk around camp I would end up with a pocketful of Starburst wrappers that I had picked up off of the ground.  This was driving me crazy!  Why can’t the darn kids pick up their darn Starburst wrappers??  Oh wait, that is an unreasonable expectation.  Most kids probably were picking up their Starburst trash.  However, each Starburst bar has about 25 pieces of trash.  Even a slight gust of wind could create a litter disaster.  Likewise with the cookout silverware.  Each time the campers had BBQ dinner, they would receive a silverware packet in a wrapper with fork, knife, spoon, napkin and, if we were feeling especially fancy, salt and pepper packets that I would later find scattered about camp. What 8-year-old or 16-year-old for that matter requires utensils to eat a hamburger and some sliced watermelon??  The realization: We had too much stuff.  Eliminating Starburst from the store for less-wrapped candy (M&Ms, anyone?) and only offering and optional fork at the salad bar on cookout night immediately got to the root of the problem.  If you have a lot of litter at your camp, go straight to the source!

Exhibit C: The Lost and Found

Lo and behold, the lost and found.  Mushy, mildewed and crusty if it’s anything like how the lost and found was at Camp AGQ a few years ago.  It would pile up and pile up and no one wanted to touch it (let alone see any of it) to check for their own lost belongings.  This was becoming a major problem and probably even a biohazard.

At another camp, I saw this nifty idea of lost and found hooks where items were displayed (not shoved into a bin), allowed to dry, and in a place that campers frequented.  The campers would walk by the lost and found all the time, would see stuff that was theirs, and would take it back!  Thus, the problem of overflowing lost and found was quickly solved.  Oh, and it cost me all of $10 to make.

New and improved lost and found area!

2. ONLY KEEP BELONGINGS THAT SPARK JOY IN YOUR LIFE

One of the hardest bits of camp clutter is a more personal type of camp clutter: the drawers and closets you have that are bursting at the seams with camp gear.  I would guess that during an average summer as a counselor, I would acquire 10 new bits of camp apparel each summer (a couple of staff shirts/sweatshirts, female side shirt, lifeguard shirt and pretty much everything at the store).  As time went on, I showed more self-restraint, but also seemed to acquire about 10 new articles of clothing annually with YMCA events added into the mix.  The issue here is that so many of these items have sentimental meaning!

So, the first task it to see which items “Spark Joy”.  This was fairly easy to whittle down, but still was not as easy as my regular clothes.  There were definitely things that still spark joy that were the wrong size or just something that I would never wear again.  This is where a great idea comes in: Project Repat. Project Repat is a really cool company based in North Carolina.  They make high-quality t-shirt blankets and other products in all sizes.  It’s good for the environment and the economy, and I love the one that I had made.  All you do is pick your size blanket, and they will tell you how many shirts you need.  You take the shirts/sweatshirts and cut them into 12"x12" squares.  You lay out the squares in the design that you would like, take a picture, then send everything to the company.  They sew everything together, add a recycled fleece backing, and send it back to you.  My blanket sparks a lot of joy in my heart and I have alleviated my drawers of all of my decade-old shirts.  I emailed the company and they sent a code for any of my readers to receive 20% off a purchase: McKinnoncamp.

 Infographic courtesy of Project Repat.

Infographic courtesy of Project Repat.

 Sweet Shyloh helped me assemble my Project Repat quilt last year

Sweet Shyloh helped me assemble my Project Repat quilt last year

3. CLEAN BY CATEGORY, NOT BY ROOM

Marie Kondo’s advice about this topic is a little different than mine.  She says to get rid of your belongings by category: clothes first, then books, then papers, miscellaneous items then sentimental items.  This concept is a little more difficult when applied to camp, since sometimes it takes an expert in a particular area (i.e. archery instructor) to properly clean and not throw out anything important when it comes to camp supplies.  However, I think this method of FOCUSING on one category could pay off in a huge way when doing the big cleaning days:

At camps, we frequently assign people to a given area (i.e. Eliza and Ceci are going to clean Cabin 12 and Rheilly and Jean are going to clean Cabin 11, etc.).  Wouldn’t it be much easier to have tasks for some individuals and have them tackle all of camp or a village, etc., as an expert in that area?  For example, when we would open cabins at camp, we would assign the two co-counselors in each cabin to do all of the tasks for that cabin.  Some were easy (sweeping, etc.) but most required supplies (fixing screens, bleaching mattresses, adjusting shutters, etc.).  Most of our time was lost as people ran around looking for our few working staple guns or extra pulleys.  It would have been much more effective to assign teams of two or three to different tasks where they could focus and just move from cabin to cabin (mattress crew, pulley crew, etc.).

CONCLUSION

Marie Kondo's advice made a huge difference in the way I thought about our home.  Most importantly, it reframed my mindset: Rather than thinking about WHERE to put STUFF, it got me thinking about what stuff I actually need!  Overall, for camp and for life, her message is one of lifestyle change.  Clean smart, not hard, and good luck opening your camps for the summer!

 

Top 10 Things NOT to Buy through S&S

This is the much-anticipated sequel to my “Top 10 Items For Your S&S Order This Year” entry. Or at least, I’ve been anticipating it.  Truth be told, I decided to write this entry mostly because I had a rant in my head about how much I dislike craft kits!  I’ve tucked those items away at #2 on the list in a practice of self-restraint and courtesy, because, overall, I really do like S&S!  Just not craft kits.

Anyway, as I have mentioned in the past, there are some critical items to order before the start of your summer from your favorite vendor.  My rule is to order quality items that support creativity and not direct it.  In my opinion, the best supplies for your camp purposes are plentiful rolls of tinfoil, unlimited duct and masking tape, hand-me-down drama clothes and loads of facepaint.  Back to the basics, people!

So, here we go: The top ten things to avoid when placing your supplies order for this summer.

1. Tie Dye Kits: Buy Rit Dye Instead!

Tie Dye kits are not good.  Well, maybe there are some that are.  But what is really good, and really, really cheap, is Rit Dye.  It comes in tons of colors and can usually be found in the laundry aisle at your local superstore.

rit dye

2. Craft Kits...help!

I have several problems with craft kits.  They are expensive but, beyond that fact, they are wholly uncreative and boring.  There are exponential things that kids can create at Arts & Crafts or Woodshop, so please focus on not premade kits but a wide variety of supplies that can be turned into anything.  Your recycling bin at camp is a great place to start.  Once we got a lady who donated more than one hundred various baskets to camp and we got so many miles out of those.  Scrap wood…a collection of old National Geographic Magazines…collected leaves from camp…I could go on and on!  The world is so big beyond craft kits.

Jack and Laura from Camping Coast to Coast and Go Camp Pro (among other endeavors) did a presentation at Mid-States about the Makerspace concept.  It made my heart sing!  I will step off my soap box to implore you to PLEASE read Laura’s blog article about this concept.

Here are three of the most hilarious and non-recommended craft kits from a craft kit despiser like me: 

 "Bobblehead Terrier Dog"

"Bobblehead Terrier Dog"

 "Shoe Key Ring Craft Kit"

"Shoe Key Ring Craft Kit"

 "Craft Stick Barrel Bank"

"Craft Stick Barrel Bank"

3. Blindfold set

What?  Make your own blindfolds.  Even a backwards hoodie or the ol' honor system will do!

blindfolds

4. Dress Up Clothes...support your local thrift store instead

After being at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian for nine years, the dress-up clothes on camp started to invoke amazing memories.  The dress that both Peter and Elissa have worn (on separate occasions) for Wild Wild West Night…the shirt that Jordan Lacy liked to wear as pants…the gorilla suits that have served so many purposes beyond being a gorilla.  Durable and fun, the dress up clothes that camps have collected throughout the years tell the unique stories of your camps.  Enjoy creating and maintaining these collections, and your local Gold Mine will also benefit from any purchase made!

5. Inflatable mouse and cheese toss game

Please only purchase this if you are going to use it on the waterfront…really, in all my experiences, this would pop immediately even if it is of durable construction, or turn into a raft.  That being said, a toss game with a regular raft (the ones with the holes built in already that cost about $2.99 at your local box store) would be a great DIY inflatable mouse and cheese toss game!

6. Knock down cans...you already own a lot of these

Another solid example of the treasures that you can find in your own recycling center.  Beware of sharp edges when reusing cans and other bits of recycling, but there is absolutely no need to buy replicas of items you are already discarding!

7. Blaster balloon launcher...ouch

My parents had certain rules for my sister and I growing up.  Rollerblading?  Wear a helmet.  Biking?  Wear a helmet.  Trampoline time at the neighbor's house?  Only one bouncer at a time.  (This was especially difficult because we were the ONLY ones with this rule but yes, I understand now, this is an important rule!).  For the 1990s version of me, these rules could be at best tedious and at worst very embarrassing.  Nowadays, I credit my risk-conscious parents for creating me as a risk-management expert.  My eye for potential disasters was conditioned as soon as I left the womb.  That being said, enter the blaster balloon launcher.  This was one of those big Kurtz family no-nos.  When the lifeguards at our local park went to launch water balloons and other various ammo out of one of these, we had to stay clear.  Sure, with proper operation and conscientiousness, these things can be fun.  However, they’re not really worth it.  All it takes is one slightly reckless counselor or one split-second decision to put a potato in that baby instead of a soft, pleasant water balloon to have a disaster on your hands.  There are plenty of additional ways to have fun, so I’d just skip this guy.  Maybe your woodshop class could create a catapult instead.

balloon launcher.jpg

8. Mini donut maker????

Really confused about this one…looks like a wedding registry gone bad.  Go play outside.

9. Gaga balls...go to the store instead

The best gaga balls are the ones that are between $1-$4 at Walmart or your other box store of choice.  They tend to run out toward the end of the season, so I stock up in June and July.  Please pull the balls out through the side instead of what this girl did:

10. “Nature Crafts” & Exhibit A: Seashell Sand Art

I think one of the reasons I really don’t like craft kits is because they are impersonal and just generate more trash down the road.  (Yes, I am reading a book with the subtitle "The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing", so these strike an extra-special chord.  There will be a blog article about that book in the future.)  What I'm trying to say is...please teach campers about being good stewards of the environment..about reuse, using materials wisely, and enjoying ACTUAL nature!

Stay strong, stay focused, and happy purchasing!!