This a guest post by Matthew Malecha.
I was fortunate enough to be a summer camp kid, and a broad reaching one. I grew up going to boy scout camps and science camps, sports camps and day camps. I experienced the whole gambit of experiences, and went with many of my best friends. When I became an eagle scout and chose to study biology and education, it pretty much solidified the idea that working at outdoor-focused summer camps was inevitable.
From 2006 to 2010 I worked at 4 camps for 4 summers. I loved all of them. I love the memories and the travel and the experience. And, when it came around to the following summer, I chose not to go back to them all for one main reason; it was going to be largely the same. The same programs, same schedule, same events. For many, there is a safe sense of familiar in a return to a place where you know the ropes and can confidently go through the motions. For me, it lacked something.
I didn’t really know what that something was until I found Camp Augusta in 2012. From the staff onboarding process, I was immediately wrapped into a culture of creativity and newness – a culture where I felt like I was part of creating something special and personal. There are many factors that went into that camp culture, but the underlying one – the heart of it – is the “7 year rule”.
What is the 7 year rule?
The 7 year rule is a programmatic commitment to have certain parts of a camper’s experience that are new every year for 7 years. For Augusta, this means that skits and evening programs used one summer can’t be used again for another 7 summers. That way, each summer will be unique and fresh, and they’ll remember 2018 as the year they played Robot Apocalypse, and 2019 as the year with the Horse Snorkels skit.
Though core programming still exists – like storytelling, campfires, and capture the flag – the 7 year rule ensures a variation of skits, stories, themes, and performances in each of those programs that hasn’t been done for 7 years. A unique variation of the norm. For the rest of the medium-large group programs – 13 of them – they’re completely unique each year. These are not small changes like going from 2-team to 4-team Capture The Flag, but changes like Elemental Destiny (a medieval themed station game with an auction attached) ? Robot Apocalypse Y3K (a hybrid 3 team game where teams are competing to build the best staff robot) ? The Incredible Adventures of Flute McGinley (an individual station game that is 100% cooperative) ? Beastmasters (a hybrid competitive dice rolling capture and conquer game) – that kind of unique.
Why employ the 7 year rule?
So why go through the trouble? Why replace one of the highest rated evening programs of all time with an unknown program newly created by an interested staff? Why replace dependable consistency with the hope of remarkable creativity? The spirit of the 7 year rule comes from thinking about the camp experience (camper or staff) from first arrival to final goodbye, rather than thinking of one summer as its own entity. It’s a ’30,000’ ft view of the journey: the forest instead of the trees. The intention is for each year to be a unique year of remarkable creativity and novelty for that Augustan. And the effects of this are noticeable.
Benefits of the 7 year rule
I have been associated with Camp Augusta for 6 years now, in roles ranging from Counselor to Village Leader to Master of Fun & Games to Programmatic Guru. I have written and developed over 16 all-camp games, and have lived to create them, run them, and live them along with other staff and campers who are there. Among other things, I believe this 7 year rule has helped to create the culture I experience there today.
In the campers, I have seen…
- Consistently high engagement and participation
- The feedback and ideas of the campers actively shaping their camp experience
- An eagerness to return to a camp that feels new and novel (a very high return rate!)
In the staff, I have seen…
- An ownership over the creation and development of new programmatics
- Increased passion and wonder in the new programmatics
- A wide variety of characters and creativity come to life
- A consistently healthy and energetic engagement in programmatics
- Individuals able to apply their own ideas and excitements to programs in a meaningful way
In the camp culture, I have seen…
- A culture of creativity and novelty, where trying new things is embraced and supported
- A value on community ownership of the programs
- An evolution of processes and camp structure, including:
- A staff role dedicated specifically to the running of camp programmatics
- Accruing more space and materials for increased possibility
- Creating processes for efficient and effective communication
And in the programmatics, I have seen…
- An expanding variety of types of programs
- Growing and evolving mechanics for program improvement
- An improving, expanding structure on program creation and preparedness
- A building of hundreds (if not thousands) of ideas, which have been used as bases of ideas for staff to further build off of.
Now, coming up on my 7th year, and working closely on programmatics with others who were at camp before, it’s amazing to review the programs from 7 years ago and compare them with those that we ran last year. The dynamic nature and depth of programming this last year was amazing. So much so that only 2 of the 10 all-camp programs were repeated, and even those were heavily revamped. New skits, stories, and songs are being created and brought to camp that it never knew before. And most of these ideas are done by passionate staff excited to contribute to camp in the off-season – all set by staff training.
How the 7 year rule might look at your camp
At its core, the 7 year rule is a commitment to creativity and novelty for those who experience camp. It is a wide-lens, broad picture of development for camp. And it is your own. Maybe for you it’s committing to 1 completely new program, or 3. Maybe it’s finding new songs, skits, or games from the internet or other camping sites like like SummerCampPro or Patchwork Marketplace. Start with a commitment you feel comfortable starting with, and let it blossom, develop, and create a robust program that breathes new life into your camp.
Matthew is a summer camp and game lover, who followed his love of mentorship to teaching abroad, wilderness therapy, experiential education, and 8 summers at 4 camps. From board games and life experience he has written 17 unique large group evening programs, and crafted over 100 other documented experiences at camps.