herding cats - summer camp edition!
January 1, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I have three hours to move groups of campers (group size will vary, approx 100 kids total, many with assistive needs) and adult counselors around a sizable camp property to two morning free choice activities. Campers get to choose each activity they'd like to attend and adults might lead an early activity, but not the latter, so there are lots of moving parts. Can you help me make coverage and transpo not a disaster or time drain?

Last year I had the great joy of running programs for a weeklong camp in Michigan. We had about 100 campers and 40 full-time staff and a lead team of 6. I loved it - until I found out I needed to run two mornings of free choice activities. I was not prepared and DID IT EVER SHOW.

The schedule looks like this:
8:45 - travel to first activity
9:00 - activity one
10:00 - travel to second activity
10:15 - activity two
11:15 - travel to lunch

on paper it seems pretty straightforward, but everything fell apart onsite. We used our first travel slot separating kids from their cabins into their activity groups. Because we didn't have enough coverage (this is a camp for kids with medical needs, so the camper to counselor ratio is 1:3, much smaller than regular ACA camps) to move kids straight from one activity to another, we used the travel time and first portion of the second activity slot to bring kids back to the main area and separate them again for their next activity group.

not all of our counselors ran an activity, but we didn't have enough extra coverage to allow an activity leader to stay in her/his location to clean up or set up and let other counselors escort kids to their new activity area. we had some counselors who had to leave the first activity to setup the activity they were leading in the second slot.

It seems like there's definitely an existing solution out there that I'm not seeing. Are you a camp counselor or programs director with experience you could share? This is my biggest source of anxiety for this summer (with rainouts right behind it) and I'd love to have a plan going in.

Mefites, you always come through, so thank you.
posted by ovenmitt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total)
Response by poster: edit: camper to counselor ratio is 3:1, not 1:3.
posted by ovenmitt at 5:32 PM on January 1, 2014

Instead of giving the campers full choice of what to do, can you 'round-robin' it: All the campers at fingerpainting now go to making masks; all the campers now making masks go to basket-weaving; all the campers at basket-weaving now go to fingerpainting.

If you have 4 activities, and 2 per day, can you do this for two days, so everyone gets to do each activity once?

The round-robin method also helps avoid 'fingerpainting is the most popular' and no one is going to basket-weaving. I would also definitely assign some people to stay at the stations, and some people to assist with camper-herding duties.
posted by hydra77 at 5:40 PM on January 1, 2014

I've worked at a few camps. I've been a counselor at a camp for people with special needs and a program director at a typical camp.
I don't know how your camp is physically set up so it's hard to say, but you have to schedule more transition time than you'd ever think you need. Which sucks because everyone wants more time for fun! But no one can have fun when they're being rushed.
Also, can you rearrange schedules so the same adults are leading both the first and second activity slots? Then the same person can stay and clean up and set up for the next set of kiddos. Maybe different adults can lead things on different days? It's always trial and error...
posted by missriss89 at 5:41 PM on January 1, 2014

Adding on to what missriss89 said, with a longer transition time, build in something to do at that point as well, as "while we go" activity. Maybe decorating leather tokens with markers for memory badges (we made these as counselors so the kids would know our names, wore them as name tags), decorating masks (again with coloring or stickers)?
posted by tilde at 6:00 PM on January 1, 2014

I haven't run a camp, but I have coordinated sorority recruitment for 350 potential members (and about 400 sorority members) so..yeah. Mass chaos.

I think the rotation thing is a great idea. We had specific rotations for our groups, and I planned it as best as I could so that the groups didn't have to travel very far. How far apart are these activities located? Is 15 min travel time realistic? If not, the farthest activity away may simply have a shorter time (45 min instead of a full hour).

I would also have the campers choose their activity (if you can't rotate) the night before so you and the adults can spend a few minutes making sure you know who is going where. I also think color coding the activities might help...everyone going to basket weaving lines up under the blue sign, fingerpainting lines up under the green sign, etc. That might help campers know where to go.

Enlist the more able campers to help get those who struggle lined up in the right place. Identify those leaders in the group and get them to help out.

Also, make sure the activities are ending at least 10 min before it's time to travel. Some of the kids can help clean up and reset as part of the "activity" (and teaching them to leave things better than they found it, contribute to another camper's experience, etc.), which will give the adult leading the activity some time to help get everyone lined up to travel.

I think if we had more info about how far away each activity is (in the same building? miles away?) and maybe some of the biggest travel challenges (everyone in wheelchairs on rocky ground?) we could help troubleshoot more.
posted by MultiFaceted at 6:51 PM on January 1, 2014

I've worked at a lot of camps and youth programs. What we had in all those places was some sort of a central assembly area. I'm not clear on whether that's impossible for you. But here are two ways it can look:

At Program A, when the bell rang (say, at 8:45), we all convened in Assembly Area: campers, and all counselors. In that situation, kids chose their activity on the spot. The counselors leading activity A stood up in front, read out the names of their activities, and then named a station they would be waiting at -- a tree or other landmark within visual range. At a signal (shout, whistle, bell) all the kids met their counselor at that station, and went off to their activities.

At Program B, the activities were pre-chosen. The day before, campers signed up for activities in cabins or table groups. The nurse or another nonbusy person then collated the signups, and transferred the names of the kids from their cabin/table list to the relevant activity roster. IN the morning, campers went to activity A right after breakfast. Counselors left the building first and stood right outside the dining hall, which became the assembly area. Each counselor had a designated tree, with a plaque with their name on it. When campers were released, they went right to the tree where their counselor was, and off they went on the activity. If a camper had forgotten what activity they were doing, there were two ways to solve it: check the counselor roster for that activity, or check the kid's cabin/table roster where they originally signed up. Once everyone had found their activity, off they all went. When there was a back-to-back activity, they went back to the tree area and did this process a second time.

Note: transition time and activity sorting are two different things. Transition time is to allow things like going to the bathroom, getting the craft project you forgot and are supposed to bring to your activity, getting a sweatshirt because you're cold, mailing your letter, etc. Sorting is just sorting. If you're trying to include bathroom and retrieving stuff in your sorting time, your sorting time will definitely fall apart. That stuff should happen in a transition time during which the supervisory situation is pretty clear. at both of the places I mention above, we had a 15-minute transition time built in between A and B, and then we did the sorting for B as described above once everyone was back in the assembly area.
posted by Miko at 7:08 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, it's OK to require your counselors to be present at transition time and during assembly even if they're not leading an activity that period, just to lend an extra hand in sorting.
posted by Miko at 7:13 PM on January 1, 2014

Could you group the activities into sets of two, so the campers could choose either A+B, C+D or E+F, and then set up one site per group, rather than per activity? That would seriously cut down on transition time. If that way the groups would become too large, also add B+A, D+C etc to the mix. Either way it would be helpful if campers chose ahead of time.

It might make setting up the second activities a bit more challenging (with the kids around) but more people would be free to do so (keep some adults available for entertaining and assisting the kids though during the break).
posted by Ms. Next at 7:52 AM on January 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

What if they stayed in one place and the activity came to them?
posted by haplesschild at 10:32 AM on January 2, 2014

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