Make the Most Out of Your Time With Youth This Summer!

By Kent Hunt, CPRP | Posted on April 25, 2023

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Who is ready for summer camps? Park and recreation professionals have a lot on their plates in the lead-up to summer, from recruitment, hiring and onboarding staff, to the planning of the day-to-day schedules and logistics of camp. It is indeed a busy time!

As one of the largest providers of youth development services nationwide, the impacts of camp programming in terms of social skill development, access to safe and supporting environments, physical activity and all-around fun can be profound.

As we move closer to the camp season, instead of adding things to that plate, here are some simple ideas or concepts that can be easily integrated into the trainings, programs and activities that you are already doing to enhance youth development within your programs.

Utilize the NRPA Youth Mentoring Framework to integrate mentoring into camp programming.

  • Train staff on the eight evidence and research-based themes for youth development. Teach staff how they can apply these to their work in camps this summer and challenge them to be a caring adult for each of the campers they encounter.
  • Use the weekly mentoring lesson plans to incorporate group mentoring into each week of camp.  If the themes, goals or objectives are not right for your campers, modify them to include character traits and build upon those.
  • Provide opportunities for family/caregiver involvement. You could work with your campers to create an art or talent show and invite families/caregivers to witness the talents of their campers.

Make small tweaks to activities you are already doing!

  • Incorporate icebreaker and teambuilding activities into your camp days to foster connection and instill a sense of belonging for your campers.

    • A camp favorite is a game called Move (you may know it by something else). For this game, everyone gathers in a circle, standing on spot markers. One player starts in the middle and will state their name and a fact about themselves (favorite ice cream, favorite superhero, what they did for vacation, etc.). If this statement is true for players around the circle, they must move to another spot around the circle. The odd person out will stand in the center and state their name and a new fact. This is a great game for campers to get to know each other and discover commonalities among their peers.

  • Food projects are always a hit with campers. Take it further by having them read a recipe, measure out ingredients and learn about nutrition. For more ideas on food projects check out the Foods of the Month curriculum.

  • Process or debrief activities to get an extra level of development for your campers. Even a classic dodgeball game is full of life lessons, such as teamwork, integrity, risk-taking, etc. Take the time after activities to facilitate a conversation on these topics. If you don’t know where to start, check out this resource or simply ask these three questions: What? So what? Now what?
    • Facilitator: What happened during the activity? Campers: We didn’t work well as a team.
    • Facilitator: So, what? Why was that important? Campers: We were every person for ourselves and were not successful.
    • Facilitator: Now what?  What will you do next time? Campers: Talk to each other and develop a plan to work together in hopes of a better outcome.

These are just a few examples of how to add youth development practices into your programs. Post in the comments other ways you are building up youth through camp programming this summer.

Kent Hunt, CPRP (he/him), is an NRPA Program Manager.