Learning the Hard Way – How to Welcome Kids to Camp!

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“HELLO! Welcome to Summer Camp, friends!! So glad you could join us this week!  We’re going to officially get started shortly… in the meantime we are going to head on into the gym while we wait for the rest of the kids to arrive. I’ll take your name if I haven’t already, and then please follow Coach Sally & Coach Jimmy, they’ll take you to some small equipment like balloons, jump ropes and hula hoops. You are welcome to play with these on the Big Blue Floor – please stay off the other equipment for now. Any questions? Ready? Great! Please follow the coaches into the gym!”

This is my morning spiel & routine on the first day of camp.  Short & sweet. Enthusiastic. Check off their names. Get the kids in the gym. Make sure my staff are welcoming, supervising and interacting with everyone who arrives.

But we didn’t always do it this way.

yckKKrKdiIn fact, first day welcoming routines weren’t even a blip on my radar until I got a letter of complaint in my early days of directing camps.  The letter was harsh, but the Mom who wrote it was absolutely right in her disappointment with us. We’d let her 5-year old son wander alone into the gym on the first day. In the AM shuffle, no one said hello, asked his name, showed him where to get a balloon, or connected him with another child to play with. Nothing. Can you imagine?!

She was (understandably) uncomfortable leaving her son at our camp as a result. Her letter also informed me that her son was just recently adopted from Russia, learning English and would require a little extra patience. She would have preferred to tell me about it the first morning, but I was no where to be found.

I cringe when I think about it. I’m so embarrassed to admit this even happened, but WOW! It was a HUGE learning experience that has stuck with me since.

As a result, I made some changes…

  1.  I vowed to personally welcome every child when they arrive.
  2. Kids were sent into the gym 5-10 minutes before the official start time to allow me to focus on the kids who were arriving.  Bonus side effect: parents were impressed to see that we were on-the-ball and they could get their kids into camp quicker, AND it stopped the constant question of “can we go in the gym yet?!” that nearly cost me my sanity!).
  3. My friendliest staff hovered nearby the door with me to welcome kids again and walk them into the gym to find a balloon or other small equipment to use (and to let them know the boundaries too!)
  4. Staff were trained to keep an eye out for kids just arriving, kids not playing, or kids playing alone. Some kids need help making friends, so coaches were to play with them or connect them with similarly aged new friends.

We’re not always perfect with these things, but we try our best and it makes a big difference in creating a positive environment from the get-go,  setting up campers & staff for a successful week.

What strategies do you use to welcome campers to a new day/week of camp?  
Share your thoughts over on our facebook group!

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