Let's Talk Camp Blog | Camp Management Tips & Trends
Let’s Talk Camp is a community connecting those who work with camps or kids' programs with resources and trends in these industries. ACTIVE Network, Camps (formerly CampRegister) provides industry-leading camp management software and online camp registration software to thousands of camps across the US and Canada.
You may remember your favorite childhood celebrities getting “slimed” on the popular variety show “You Can’t Do That on Television.” And like many things totally ’80s, slime is rad again — in a big way — with easy and creative do-it-yourself slime recipes and videos taking over the internet and craft world.
In fact, the gooey craze even caused an Elmer’s Glue shortage in stores around the country (glue being the key ingredient in slime). But the most surprising fact that sticks out about slime? Its newly discovered calming properties.
The popping and squishing sounds associated with slime videos actually triggers an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a combination of positive feelings, relaxation and a distinct, static-like tingling sensation on the skin. Read: Ambient, repetitive noise gives us all the tingles and may reduce anxiety.
Although ASMR triggers vary per person, the millions of ASMR videos on YouTube are part of an emerging group of alternative calming activities for kids.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
Anxiety in children can manifest in many ways, but some of the more recognizable signs include:
Restless, hyperactive, or distracted behavior.
Phobias and exaggerated fears.
Withdrawing or becoming preoccupied when expected to work with others.
Staying inside, alone, at lunch or recess.
Becoming emotional or angry when separating from parents or loved ones.
Consider implementing the following calming activities for kids into your program to help kids’ mental health:
SENSORY CRAFTS TO SOOTHE ANXIOUS KIDS
These calming clips on the internet feature natural and methodical noises like whispering, tapping fingernails, and stirring a bowl of soup. And while household chores may cause stress for some of us, ASMR videos featuring activities like fluffing pillows and making beds are popular.
Mirror, mirror: Choose a leader for your group. That child will choose a pose and show it to the other kids. The other children will copy the leader’s pose (hence the name). Change the leader with each round of poses in order to include all participants.
Yogi says: One child is selected as the Yogi. The other kids must do the yoga poses that the Yogi tells them to do whenever the instruction starts with “Yogi says.” If the Yogi doesn’t use “Yogi says,” then players do not do the pose. Alternate the Yogi so that everyone gets a turn.
Kinetic sand, or sand covered in silicone oil, is stretchy and doughy — and thus, a sensory experience that has garnered thousands of videos and followers online.
While the process of using objects to reduce anxiety in children isn’t new, kinetic sand is an intriguing option for kids because the soft and malleable combination can be manipulated and separated, then easily re-forms. Use it to:
Make figures and faces
Shape cookie-cutter forms
Create a beach theme with sea glass
Write messages in the sand
Children today face an unprecedented amount of stressors, but by developing calming activities for kids that provide comfort and cater to kids’ mental health, your program can leave a positive impression on both children and their guardians.
Camp is a state of mind — one that requires a constant commitment to both innovation and excellence. And that commitment doesn’t simply conclude at the evening’s end during the school year or when the last of the summer campers pack up and are picked up by their parents.
Months of careful planning contribute to the success of each camp cycle. Like a successful theater production, a winning camp requires a complete cast onstage plus many hands working behind the scenes.
Staff training is a critical component of planning. A 2005 study found that highly effective after-school programs were characterized by:
A strong, experienced leader.
Trained and supervised staff.
The administrative, fiscal, and professional development support of the sponsoring organization.
With the busy summer camp season behind you, use this time to think about how to best help your staff recuperate and focus on their own skills and development to better serve the kids in your programs.
THE BENEFITS OF A WELL-TRAINED CAMP STAFF
Working with kids and young adults takes a special kind of person who possesses significant reserves of energy — but those reserves can feel depleted after weeks or months of intense interactions, and must be carefully replenished with foresight.
It’s crucial to invest in people who will make your camp successful — and to show your staff that you value their skills and expertise. The better trained the staff, the better the overall camp experience will be. A strong, engaged camp staff can:
External resources are valuable qualifiers for staff development, validating experience and expertise while providing important benchmarks for staff excellence.
Whether it’s online or within your organization, there’s plenty of literature and resources available for staff development in your camp or after-school program. Make a mental catalog of the staff development resources available to you, both external and internal, and consider enlisting the assistance of your staff to source and document external training resources.
New and trending development and team-building exercises are also readily available:
Check out the American Camp Association (ACA) — it regularly presents easily manageable staff development opportunities and continuing education credits outside of its regular conference schedule.
Consider offering professional certifications in child development.
Verify that all camp staffers are current on time-sensitive certifications such as CPR.
External development resources like these are easy to find, often free or low-cost, and objective. They help ensure that your staffers are up to the highest standards in the field, with certifications that are quickly recognized by participants and parents — as well as your professional peers.
KEYS TO CULTIVATING INTERNAL DEVELOPMENT RESOURCES
Internal development provides important opportunities for your camp staff to lead, manage, and teach, all in an atmosphere of professional teamwork — a win-win-win situation. It promotes team-building and can easily be planned for shorter schedules such as meetings or half-days.
Some ways to develop your team internally:
Leverage the expertise of your staff by planning accessible internal staff trainings. These seed ideas from the ACA can help initiate team-building exercises that showcase your staff members’ individual strengths.
Learn online, where opportunities abound, to encourage your staff to stay abreast of current news in the field and professional resources through the ACA website.
Take time to inventory areas of expertise internally among your staff — you might be surprised at what you learn about the very people with whom you have shared those intense and busy in-season days. It’s likely that they will be open to learning from one another after building a rapport during the busy time.
And when you cultivate your internal development resources, you show your staff that you value their expertise.
THE SECRET TO STANDING OUT: STELLAR CAMP STAFF
Solid staff qualifications set your camp apart from the competition. A commitment to excellence through staff development will build momentum to carry you through the year and push your camp to the top of the list.
Remember that all camps and after-school programs offer their own unique advantages. Build a plan and be prepared to communicate your camp’s advantages to parents, campers, staff, and peers in the field.
Be sure to plan ahead for staff development after the busy summer season concludes or during slower months during the school year. All hands were on deck and people were running in a hundred directions while camp was in session, when you focused on your campers. But take the downtime when you can to focus on your camp staff — and try to do so as soon as you can — while you have momentum and fresh evaluations.
When you help your staff develop the tools they need to grow as professionals, you’re setting up your entire team to stand out among the competition when the next camp season rolls around.
Part of the beauty of camps and after-school classes is the freedom they provide — a chance for kids to learn and cultivate activities in their own space (and maybe the same goes for parents).
Still, it’s important for parents to stay engaged in the programs their kiddos are involved in, and Facebook groups are a trending way to do just that. By joining a Facebook group, you’re joining an active community of program coordinators and other parents who are facilitating a conversation about news, updates, and ongoings in the organization that matters to you.
Engaging parents on Facebook by buying promoted posts and targeted ads is still a great tactic for reaching new customers — but Facebook groups are an underused, powerful, and free way to bolster active parental involvement.
Here’s how to use Facebook groups to promote your programs.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A FACEBOOK GROUP?
Parents want to be involved, and that’s what Facebook groups are all about. Today, more and more busy parents are seeking online involvement with youth programs in lieu of (or in addition to) physically participating.
Facebook groups offer a safe space for parents to engage with your brand and other parents. They’re a gathering place for sharing stories, asking questions, and chaperoning discussion surrounding your brand. And for brands, they’re a great place to both speak and listen so that you and your audience can get to know each other.
WHAT MAKES FACEBOOK GROUPS EFFECTIVE?
Facebook groups are a digital watering hole for parents to engage, share, and discuss with your brand and other community members. In terms of engagement, Facebook groups are ideal, because your demographic comes to you.
A Dedicated Community
Facebook groups are opt-in communities, so they operate as a tribe. Members of the group feel kinship and responsibility toward your brand and each other. They view the group as both yours and theirs.
Even if your brand already has 100,000 likes on your Facebook page, a group is still valuable because Facebook groups and pages are good for different things.
Facebook pages are for the public (think potential customers).
Fill your Facebook page with you. This includes:
Deals and promotions.
New visitors should get a clear portrait of your organization. Your page should be in your voice.
Facebook groups are for your tribe (think existing customers).
Make your Facebook group about your tribe — and give your members a place to speak. This means posting:
Pictures from the fun run last week.
Need-to-know information for parents.
Questions and polls.
Be sure to regularly welcome new members by name.
4 HELPFUL TIPS FOR FACEBOOK GROUPS
Make sure your group is closed. This way, members must opt-in.
This cuts down on scammers and bots looking for online spaces to hijack with their own agenda, such as posting malicious links or promoting their own content or brand.
Closed groups promote the feeling of exclusivity between members, creating a sense of specialness and responsibility within the group.
Post a welcome video. Start engaging parents the same warm welcome as you would in person. No need to go overboard; a 30-second hello from the group organizer will do.
Set rules and stand by them. You don’t want your group to fall victim to infiltrators shamelessly plugging their own products in your space, nor do you want harassment and other questionable content from the corners of the internet to tarnish your name.
“Pin” the rules to the front of your comments section. That way, they are clearly visible to every visitor as they post.
Remind people of the rules every couple of months with a quick message or post to your group.
Don’t be afraid to ban offenders. They threaten the safety of your group and the name of your business.
Encourage social influencers to give your program a boost. Know a camp counselor who doubles as a talented photographer? Ask him or her to take photos at an upcoming canoeing class and then post to the group.
A Facebook group can provide a more balanced and comprehensive social media experience that engages parent volunteers. It gives your audience a platform on which to speak to your brand and one another, and it gives you a defined digital turf on which to engage with your audience.
Parents will appreciate the opportunity to communicate with and contribute to your youth program. Plus, they’re likely to sing your praises online long after.
With summertime programs wrapping up, it’s time to comb through the data to determine what worked and what didn’t. Analyzing how your programs performed will help you plan for next year and give you a leg up on your competition. Try these tips for conducting a thorough summer camp review to help put yourself in the best position for next summer.
Start Summer Camp Reviews With Marketing
Regardless of the size of your summer camp program, marketing plays an important role in your budget1, ranking just after daily operational expenses2 like maintenance and employee salaries. Spending that budgeted money well is a priority for operating a successful camp, but you can’t spend it well if you don’t know what marketing tactics bring in registrations.
Thanks to the digital nature of today’s marketing, you should be able to collect and analyze data on email open rates, which blogs get the most clicks and which social media posts earned the highest engagement rates. While there may be an overwhelming amount of data available, it’s worthwhile to sort through it and determine where you’re getting the best return on investment (ROI) from your marketing efforts. Use the data to set benchmarks that you can aim to exceed next summer.
While you’re conducting your summer camp review, we also highly recommend taking stock of your word-of-mouth marketing, especially solicited feedback from parents. Parents report7 that they expect immediate post-camp communication from their camp director regarding their child’s experience. It’s a great idea to use this communication opportunity to leverage feedback from parents.
Learn more about the best ways to get feedback in our five-part guide on making the most of your customer feedback efforts.
Demographics as Part of Summer Camp Review
Your best target for next year’s marketing efforts are people similar to those who attended your summer camp this year. During your summer camp review, take a look at your participant demographics, paying special attention to:
Location: Where are participants coming from in terms of distance from your camp?
Age: What age groups stand out in terms of volume?
Economic factors: Do you have a particular group of participants benefiting from scholarship programs where you may want to increase funding?
Looking at this data, you can determine if there are any surprises in terms of attendees. You may see patterns you weren’t aware of and be able to tweak program offerings to include a broader set of attendees, such as addressing transportation or affordability issues. However, your best bet is to look at which groups are already participating and maximize your efforts aimed in their direction.
Include Financial ROI in Summer Camp Review
Your summer camp’s return on investment (ROI)9 is one of the strongest indicators of what is working—and what isn’t. Calculating ROI throughout the year should be a top priority of your financial department, and you will need to take it into account in your summer camp review.
The simplest way to determine ROI is to subtract your expenses from your income. There are other, more complicated calculations10, but this will give you a general idea of how profitable or successful your summer camp is. You will need to get a handle on all spending from the summer, including salaries, marketing, maintenance, supplies and anything else that cost your camp money. Make sure you track revenue from all sources, including fees, donations and merchandise sales.
Using insights from your ROI calculation and your summer camp review, you’ll be able to set a reasonable budget for next year. You can also determine where to cut spending, based on which efforts are bringing in registrations and which aren’t.
Use Summer Camp Review to Gain an Advantage
To set your summer camp apart from other similar programs in the area, you need to have complete visibility of your programs and the ability to gather and review hard data easily and quickly. Having a complete summer camp review can give you an advantage over other camps by allowing you to adapt for next summer. But gathering the information and analyzing the data for a summer camp review can be tedious, especially if you don’t have the right tools.
ACTIVE Camps11 can help you differentiate your program over the competition by providing the data from your registration, marketing and other programs, all in an easy-to-access digital method.
Summer learning is invaluable1 to children, and it can be difficult to put a hard number on what a camp is worth to participants. However, calculating your camp’s value based on its income and costs is an important part of keeping a summer camp running. As a camp professional you know that calculating your return on investment (ROI) provides valuable insight into what’s working and what’s not.
Calculating your camp ROI can give you:
Insight into which marketing efforts result in the most growth
The ability to perform a cost/benefit analysis
The ability to better forecast spending for next year
It’s best to calculate your camp ROI at the end of each season for planning purposes. As summer draws to a close, we have a few tips to help you calculate your summer camp ROI like a pro.
Step One: Determine Your Costs
To determine your summer camp ROI, you first need to examine your costs. The amount of money you spend to acquire a new camper or maintain a current camper is important. The more it costs you to fill your programs, the less money you have on hand for other areas in the budget.
The American Camp Association reported2 in 2012 that most day camps averaged $675,000 in total expenses while resident camps averaged $1.14 million—although these varied depending on region and for-profit vs. non-profit status.
Marketing and advertising spend by channel is a good place to start when accounting for expenditures. If you don’t already have a spreadsheet or a CRM tracking this information, we suggest speaking to a software specialist to learn how you can more easily track this spending.
Make sure to account for:
Paid social outreach
TV and radio spend
Software and technology is another area where you’ll want to track spending. This includes costs for ACTIVE Network Camp & Class manager and any other business technology platforms you utilize. You should also include the cost of any digital properties, such as website hosting fees. According to our research3, managing technology, credit card payment processing, and server maintenance are main concerns for camps short on resources.
Staff salaries, rent and utilities are all straightforward numbers to calculate. Interestingly, the ACA reports that year-round employee salaries were a greater percentage of total expenses for day camps as opposed to resident camps while seasonal employee salaries accounted for an identical cost in either type of camp.
The costs of materials and supplies are important to include in your calculation as well. This includes merchandise that you give or sell to campers, including T-shirts or other giveaways. Other supply costs include food, craft supplies and materials your staff use throughout the season.
Step Two: Analyzing Income for Your Summer Camp ROI
Your camp has a few obvious income streams, the first of which is registrations. Other areas of revenue you may have are branded merchandise sales, registration add-ons or fees or even on-site retail if you have a camp store. According to the ACA report, camp registrations are the No. 1 source of revenue while day camps especially relied on fees for an extra revenue stream. The average revenue for camper per day for day camps was $81.90 while the resident camp average was $103.50.
While they’re not necessarily straightforward in terms of a monetary value, calculating your earned and owned media4 can also be helpful in determining the return on your digital marketing efforts.
Earned Media as Part of Marketing ROI
Earned media includes news stories in newspapers or on TV that feature your camp. It also includes word-of-mouth and reviews, as well as mentions, shares and reposts on social media. Social media and reviews are an important part of current marketing efforts for camps5, and it’s worth keeping track of them as part of your marketing program, as they can drive registrations without costing you a penny.
Owned Media as Part of Marketing ROI
Owned media includes your website, blog and social media channels and can be calculated using Google Analytics or other data collection services. Today’s social media platforms include analytics to help you determine where you’re seeing the most engagement and where to focus your time and efforts. Of course, calculating the total value of earned and owned media can be somewhat complicated, but including it in your income calculation can give you a more comprehensive view of your camp ROI.
Calculating Your Camp ROI
Once you have your totals for costs and income, calculating your summer camp ROI becomes very straightforward:
Income – Costs = ROI
Of course there are other ways to calculate your summer camp ROI, such as bringing time costs into the equation6;as the old saying goes, time equals money. But the above calculation requires less research and can show you the current value of your camp at any time. The ACA has a helpful worksheet7 that can also aid you in calculating your summer camp ROI.
Once you calculate your camp ROI, you can start to analyze and predict trends, especially if you calculate the ROI year-over-year or even season-over-season. It’s important to note where you are losing the most money, as well as where you can see room for improvement. Cutting spending and waste, as well as increasing revenue through unexpected streams, are all easier to do once you have a thorough understanding of the numbers.
Public funding for afterschool programs is at historic lows 1,with just 47% of K-12 spending nationally comes from state funding. While Congress recently approved $1.2B in funding for this fiscal year— an increase that will help schools provide homework assistance, meals and enrichment activities across the country – afterschool programs continue to be wary about their funding in the future.
Because of this uncertainty, fundraising for afterschool activities will remain a necessity, with 2% of program fundraising2 for afterschool programs coming from individual donors. Program directors will need to keep fundraising fresh with creative ideas that engage a new generation of parents beyond the traditional car washes and bake sales. Below, we’ll give you some tips for fundraising and merchandising to keep your program funded throughout the school year.
Get Social When Fundraising for Afterschool Programs
According to a report by the website Nonprofit Tech For Good3, 21% of peer-to-peer fundraising dollars come in via a direct click-through on social media. We’re willing to bet you have seen a GoFundMe campaign come across your social media feeds in the last week. It’s easier than ever to leverage social media relationships between your program’s parents to fundraise for your afterschool program.
With social media, you can fundraise for afterschool programs without cutting into your bottom line. For instance, you can hold virtual events such as silent auctions without having to spend any money on event space or food. Facebook Live is another way to include parents and kids in an event without them having to leave the house.
Another advantage to encouraging your parents to fundraise via social media is that they can reach out to donors who may not be familiar with the program and may also be more willing to donate. It also spreads your geographical reach around the world, rather than keeping it strictly to your community as a physical event or in-person fundraising would do.
You can maximize your return on using social media for fundraising for afterschool programs by keeping these principles in mind:
Make it personal
Share your vision
Use your interpersonal skills
Find experts who understand peer-to-peer fundraising as well as social media experts
For more tips on using social media for fundraising for afterschool programs, take a look at our blog4.
Give Parents a Date Night as Fundraising for Afterschool Programs
Not all fundraising activities have to have children in attendance. You can refresh your fundraising efforts by giving parents a much-needed night of adult activities away from their kids. Try ideas like:
Wine and paint nights – These are extremely popular and give parents a chance to bond, while drinking wine and receiving instruction to paint a canvas.
Adult night at the museum – Many museums host adults-only evenings and may be willing to partner with you to fundraise for your afterschool program.
Classic video game tournament – Host a fun night in using systems that parents played when they were kids, like the original Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega Genesis.
Selling tickets to events like these and offering prizes are excellent ways to get your parents involved in fundraising for afterschool programs. You can also offer child care for the evening so that parents don’t have to worry about finding a sitter.
Another way to include date night as part of your fundraising for afterschool programs is to get sponsor restaurants to donate a gift certificate or specific “night out for two” that you can auction. This allows parents to choose what night they go out, and you can generate buzz by including several popular restaurants in the area. Create a full package to make it truly appealing to parents.
Mix and match the following elements to put a package together:
Dinner for two
A driving service or cab fare
Giving parents an excuse to go out while raising funds for your afterschool program is an excellent way to get them involved.
Sell Branded Items to Help Fundraise for Afterschool Programs
Merchandising is another great way to fundraise for afterschool programs, but you need to come up with fresh ideas or your merchandise won’t sell. Tee shirts have long been a mainstay of events and community groups. They give participants a feeling of solidarity and provide extra marketing for your program. However, parents need a reason to buy their kids or themselves another tee shirt for a community program. You can spruce up plain tee shirts in the following ways to appeal to parents and kids alike:
Opt for soft or luxe materials such as a 50/50 blend, or ring spun cotton
Create an interesting design or have a contest for a child or parent to design the shirt
Include printing on unexpected places, like on sleeves, seams, or the back
Use dye sublimation or textile foil to make the design pop
To move your merchandising beyond tee shirts, consider other branded items you could sell, such as mugs, hats, jackets, sports equipment (golf balls), or sunglasses. Many screen printing providers are now shifting to a live-print model, where they print on-site to avoid inventory or pre-order debacles.
Remember: Your Program is Worth Fundraising For
No matter what you do to fundraise for afterschool programs, it’s important to keep in mind that your afterschool program is absolutely worth it. Research5 shows that Community Learning Centers have several benefits for kids, including:
Improving academic performance
Keeping kids engaged in learning
Improving kids’ foundational skills
Keep these facts in mind anytime you start to fundraise for afterschool programs. Communicating the program’s value will help give parents a reason to donate, and help remind you why you’re conducting fundraising in the first place.
Let’s be honest – filling every minute of your programs for a whole season can be a daunting task. It’s especially challenging when you’re trying to coordinate multiple schedules at once, or if you have varying durations of time you need to be filled. Nobody wants a room full of bored, restless kids so we asked our experts over at ACTIVEKids what you can do to fill up the free time in your camp or class. Here are their top kids’ activities for 2018:
Invented by a physical education instructor in Springfield, Massachusetts, basketball has been engaging our youth since 1891 and is now a multibillion-dollar industry and an American pastime. Even though originally developed to promote physical activity during the winter month, basketball can be used as a year-round tool for promoting competitiveness, participation and physical activity. We love the idea of developing these skills in our youth, however, not everyone can have a heated game of dunks during their camp program.
This is where the classic game of H-O-R-S-E comes in, we all know it and love it, and there is nothing wrong with a classic, but kids can only play H-O-R-S-E so many times before it loses its appeal. If you’re running a sports camp or just looking for ways to further enhance your educational programs, these games could be a great way to work on the fundamentals. For programs like day camps or afterschool, these games can provide the more than 30 minutes of physical activity a day to help keep campers healthy and happy.
Fun Facts about Basketball:
The first basketball hoops were peach baskets
Early basketball games used regulation soccer balls
You don’t have to be tall to play, Muggsy Bogues was 5’3”
Team building should be a large part of any camp or class program, regardless of the focus. Whether you are running a sports camp, STEM/STEAM program, or focus on the performing arts, there is an endless need to develop our youth. There is a continued need to innovate programs with lasting team building activities. Our crew at ACTIVEkids.com have some great ideas to do just that. These activities are great for when you’ve had it up-to-here with the play yard squabbles. Conflict resolution and collaboration skills are going to be valuable their entire lives, so get kids engaged with their peers with these age-appropriate team-building activities. Plus, your staff and volunteers could even learn a thing or two from these!
Tips for Camp and Class Program Team Building:
Work in small groups, try a maximum of five kiddos per team
Working in non-competitive elements into team building activites
Warning these aren’t just for sports camps! It is well known that physical activity promotes learning and as little as 20-minutes of physical activity can boost attention-based tasks as well as knowledge-based tasks such as reading, spelling and arithmetic. So why not incorporate a short exercise regimen into your program design, our team at ACTIVEkids.com recommend including time for stretches and light cardio, which could be beneficial for kids in any program. These routines are great for increasing blood flow to both muscles and the brain, use these warm-ups to get kids ready to take on any challenge or even as a cool-down to help campers recover from high-energy (physical or mental) activities.
Tips for adding exercise to your program:
Keep it short: as little as 20-minutes before a task-oriented program can be beneficial
Keep it consistent: make this part of your daily routine, your kiddos will appreciate it more
Keep it fun: let you campers enjoy themselves, this will keep both your experiences memorable
We hate to think of mother nature getting in the way of our program plans, but if there is one thing camp directors know it is that the weather cannot be controlled. In fact, we did a little research and found a Minitab analysis of the accuracy of weather forecasts. The analysis showed a 6.2-degree standard deviation in the 10-day forecast. What does that mean for our program directors and operations staff? The 10-day forecasted temperature can experience a 17°F variation!
So now that we are coming out of the dog days of summer, it is not too early to start thinking about adding new indoor activities to your year-round program, but let’s face it, it’s not just the wintertime that you have to worry about being stuck indoors. Here at ACTIVE’s offices in Dallas, Texas, the temperature is approaching 100°F. If your planned activity for the day gets rained out or the heat drives your program indoors and you only four walls to work with, try any of these activities to prevent cabin fever from setting in. Kids will forget about what’s keeping them inside in no time!
By the time camp is in full-swing, it’s easy to let things slide, especially if your programs are running well. But it’s important not to get complacent or too busy to take care of what matters most—yourself. It’s the perfect time to do a mental, emotional and social health (MESH) assessment for your camp counselors and leadership team. Checking in with your staff are in these aspects of their lives can help prevent unforeseen issues and can help your team sail through to the end of the season.
An Ounce of Prevention
Camp can be a stressful time for camp staff and campers alike. Everyone arrives with their own MESH stressors, which can be exacerbated by being away from home. Overexertion can be as bad for MESH as it can be for physical health, and the excitement of camp can make it easy to go overboard in social or physical situations. By asking your counselors to do a self-assessment at multiple times throughout the summer, you can ensure they’re taking care of themselves. The beginning assessment can serve as a baseline that the counselors can compare their subsequent assessments to, giving them insight into whether their methods are working or not. In addition, it helps your staff be aware of warning signs in their colleagues and camp participants and can prepare them to head off MESH incidents before they get out of hand.
While it’s a good idea to start the summer season off by giving your counselors the tools they need to take care of themselves and be aware of where they stand in terms of their MESH needs, there’s a good chance they’ll forget to self-assess. Scheduling check-ins reinforces the need for self-assessments, especially if it reveals that they’re faltering. It also gives them an opportunity to change direction on any negative patterns that may be forming.
The ongoing mantra should be: “I take care of myself so that I can care for others.” Make sure they know you expect them to take a step back when they need to, especially in the middle of the summer when they may be busiest. Provide opportunities to recharge, such as having private rooms that can be reserved when needed or weekly yoga sessions. If any counselors report not having had enough time or space to take care of themselves, make adjustments immediately to help them. This will show that you take your MESH commitments seriously and are ensuring the rest of the summer goes well for everyone.
Conducting MESH Check-Ins
Make sure your staff and volunteers recognize the importance of check-ins by making it a mandatory, camp-wide initiative and not just something that can be overlooked or skipped. Schedule it at the beginning of the summer with an agenda in place, so they know it’s coming and what’s expected of them. Communicate why mental and emotional wellbeing is important, and demonstrate specific ways to handle a MESH event should one occur. Give your counselors time to share issues that have arisen along with techniques and tips on handling them. Reiterate the MESH self-care methods you taught them at the beginning of the summer season and answer any questions that may have come up.
Using MESH to Set Your Program Apart
Believe it or not, conducting MESH check-ins can help set your program apart from other camps. If counselors are comfortable and capable of taking care of their own mental, emotional and social health, they’ll be able to focus on the needs of camp participants. This will increase the chances that everyone at your camp has a safe, enjoyable time and give your participants a reason to tell their friends about what a great time they had. Millennial parents and their Generation Z children will come to expect mental, emotional and social health to be addressed in their summer camp programs for themselves, and the fact that you include a MESH assessment for all camp counselors can provide another selling point for parents.
At ACTIVE Network, our mission is to make the world a more active place, and one of the many ways we do that is by encouraging our own employees to get active. Be it through endurance races, continuing education or even recreational sports leagues, we are proud to support employees in any endeavor that gets them participating and involved with their local communities. Sara Rathbun, a digital marketing specialist at ACTIVE Network, has not only been developing a new skill by attending an art class but has also participated in a local art show in Dallas. We sat down with Rathbun to hear first-hand about her experience.
Tell us more about your active. How long have you been drawing?
Only since the beginning of last year! I’ve always loved art—ever since my dad took me to our small town’s sole art museum when I was little. One of my closest friends is an extremely talented tattoo artist, and around the start of 2017 I said something along the lines of “I wish I had your talent, but I can’t draw.” She told me that I could draw, I simply needed to learn and practice. “No kid starts out as an amazing artist,” she said. “It’s just that some stick with it and others don’t.” I realized she was right—that I could draw if I simply dedicated my time and energy to it. So, I signed up for an intro to drawing class at the Creative Arts Center of Dallas, and here we are.
In a word: Nerve-wracking. I hadn’t been in a classroom setting for at least 7 years, and I knew absolutely no one there. I found the class and registered online, so I was going in completely fresh. But it turned out to be a lot of fun! It was a 2-hour class that met once a week for 6 weeks, and we covered all the fundamentals of figure drawing. There was a pretty good mix of people of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds, but it was nice to know we were all beginners. We were all putting ourselves out there to learn a new skill, which made it much easier to critique, give honest feedback and help each other out.
How did the opportunity to participate in an art show come up?
Oddly enough, from Instagram. My art class ended in March of 2017, and while it gave me the fundamentals I needed to create a legible piece of art, I left wanting to know more and to keep growing as an artist. I remembered what my friend said about making time for practice, so I set a goal to draw one original piece a day and post it on my Instagram account to hold myself accountable. Someone from the organization that put on the show, RAW Artists, messaged me to ask if I would apply for their Dallas show because they felt I would be a great addition. I, of course, jumped at the chance, submitted my application that day and got accepted that night by the show’s director.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to learn a new skill?
Be brave and go for it. Forget about looking stupid. Forget about not being good at it. Just try it out and see how you feel. It could lead to opportunities you never thought were possible. When have you ever heard someone say, “I regret learning that?” If you have no idea where to start—Google it! There is bound to be a class for it near you.
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