Making connections with campers is easy for some and not so much for others. There are certainly a variety of ways camp staff can make those connections. Here are 10 that I really like.
1. Have a Conversation
Campers want to like the camp staff, especially their own counselor. It’s important that we keep campers safe, get them to their activities in time and show no favorites, but in my opinion it’s just as important to sit down and have conversations with them. This is where you have a real chance to make an impression on the campers that will last for years. Talk to them about their likes, dislikes, family, dreams and goals, fears, skills and/or whatever else may come up. They want to share their stories and thoughts with you. They want you to listen and to give your advice and thoughts about what they tell you. Are you just going through the motions of being a camp counselor, or are you really conversing with your campers?
2. Find Something in Common
Be it movies, music, pets, computers, art or sports, finding similarities between yourself and a camper can create a strong connection. Ask your campers what they are into, what their interests are. It could take a little probing through a variety of questions, but eventually you’ll find out what they like to do.
3. Play the Guitar
Campers, well, most of us, likes a person who can play the guitar. Whether it’s around a campfire, in a cabin, on a trail, at the waterfront or in a dining hall, someone who can play the guitar well is someone who will always be welcomed at camp.
4. Be an Impressive Dancer
It may be difficult to show off your hip hop, contemporary or tap dance skills around camp, but given the proper forum (say, a talent show) a camp counselor could win over a lot of campers with some quality dance skills. Kids look up to adults who are really good at performance art, and dance is something that most people wish they can do well but are not willing to dedicate the time it takes to be great at one of those dance style I mentioned previously.
However, hip hop, whether it be lyrical, robotic, animated, breaking or popping and locking, is something that can be learned relatively quickly and done just about anywhere. By next summer you can be showing off your hip-hop moves at camp, and the kids will love it. They may even join in with you and want to put an act together for the talent show or next theme day. Campers like performers. They want to connect with them, because most of us want to be performers, want the applause and approval of others, and if we can’t have it we at least want to be around those that are getting it. Ever see the frenzy a celebrity walking down the street causes?
5. Be Wild and Crazy
Campers love staff that get up and put there all in a camp skit, sing camp songs with enthusiasm, dress up for theme days, and participate in all camp activities with crazy energy. Dye your hair 3 different colors, wear bright neon friendship bracelets, and don’t worry about what other staff may say. Camp spirit is infectious and welcomed by campers and directors alike. Just don’t go too overboard (and no, dyed hair and neon bracelets is not going overboard). Campers, even the shy ones, want to connect to the person who is the center of positive attention.
The strong, stoic, silent type may work in certain places, but it doesn’t hold a candle to a smile when you’re at camp. Smiles convey that you are happy, that you like your campers, that you like your job, that you want to be there, that you approve (at whatever, or whomever, you’re smiling at). Campers want to see their counselor smile. It makes them feel you’re approachable. Connections at camp usually start with a smile.
7. Make them Laugh
We love to laugh, so it’s only natural that we would want to be around people who can make us laugh.
8. Perform Magic
While performing magic is seen as foolish or nerdish by some, it is almost always fascinating to kids. Magic is another performance art, and it needs to be practiced. Kids know the easy tricks already. They do them at school, and they are unimpressed by them. Learn a few card tricks that take some practice, pick up and learn a few good prop tricks that can be easily carried around, and learn some mentalism. If you combine these three styles of magic and have 10-12 really good illusions ready at any time, campers will want to be around you. Also have a few easy card tricks you can teach your campers.
9. Be Imaginative
A lot of camp counselors are too cool to take their kids on a secret agent hike, or to hunt for dinosaurs. A lot of camp counselors won’t create a story with their campers that take their minds and imaginations to far off places. When I worked at a resident camp, I created a couple of bed time stories that were all fantasy. During lights out I would tell them a short story as they went to sleep. Many times I would have a camper so tired from the day’s activities they would fall asleep during my story. The next morning at breakfast they would ask me to finish it.
Create a world for them to explore in their mind’s eye. Tell them about camp fairies as you build a fairy house. Avoid traps and enemies as you quietly look for a treasure. Have the campers give you 5 scenarios or objects that you can weave into a story that you tell them during rest hour.
10. Be Supportive
Being supportive is probably the easiest, yet most effective, way to connect with the campers. Whether they are on the ropes course, doing archery, telling you about a problem they are having, learning to tie their shoes, practicing their skit, etc. it is not only easy but so important that we be supportive of them. We all want camp to be a safe place, both physically and emotionally. Supporting the campers, not just in your group, but all the campers, helps make camp a safe and happy place.