Month: June 2011

Going Gaga for Ga-Ga

Something you might not know about summer camp:  It breeds passionate athletes in many different sports, even ones that are little known outside of summer camp, such as ga-ga.  Although it’s not well known in America (but becoming more so everyday!), hoards of campers dream all winter about getting back into the ga-ga pit.  Many camps even have ga-ga tournaments!  Camp challenge weeks even have ga-ga challenges.  There is no doubt that campers are going gaga for ga-ga!

So what is this ga-ga?  It’s a little like dodgeball in a circular enclosed space.  Many camps feature ga-ga pits , but the game can be played virtually anywhere there are four walls or barriers.  As in dodgeball, when players are hit with the ball, they are out.  They may, however, use the walls of the ga-ga court to clear the ball.  As players are struck by the ball, they are eliminated, and leave the pit.  The last boy (or girl) standing wins.  Two primary ways that ga-ga differs from dodgeball is that ga-ga strikes must be at or below the knees and players bounce rather than throw the ball.   Also unlike dodgeball, players may either bounce the ball at other players or against the walls of the pit.  Some camps have adopted rules of play unique to their campers’ style of ga-ga play, while others prefer to stick to the official rules…What?  There are official rules?  Yep.  In fact, there is even an International Championship Tournament held annually in Europe.  More than 30 countries , including the U.S., winner of multiple championship titles, participate.

No one quite knows how ga-ga originated or where it comes from, but rumor has it that the game gets its name from the sound the ball makes during the opening play.  It’s bounced twice in the air and  the players say “ga” on each bounce.  On the third bounce, the ball is in play (some rules call for three bounces with the ball officially in play on the fourth bounce).  So warm up your ga-ga hands and start stretching.  We’ll see you in the pit!

A Glimpse at Orientation…The Training of Camp Staff

Every summer you pack your children up and entrust them to the care of others for the summer.  Have you ever wondered what sort of training is provided for your child’s summer camp staff?   For summer camp staff members, the season begins at least one week before the campers arrive with Orientation.

What is Camp Counselor Orientation?  Orientation is a week for camp counselors and other staff members to…

Become familiar with the camp’s expectations.  Summer camp staff members participate in workshops relating to teamwork, camp policies, and child development. During this time, counselors are also familiarized with ACA standards and the importance of maintaining and exceeding these standards.  It’s during this training that counselors are able to grasp that their new summer job, though fun, carries a lot of responsibility and 24/7 focus.

Familiarize themselves with their surroundings.  Your camp wants counselors to understand the campus prior to your camper arriving.  During Orientation, staff members are given every opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, as well as which areas require special supervision.

Make new friends.  Why is this important to you?  Happy counselors make better counselors.  As you well know as parents, having a proper support system in place is essential to the success of any parent.  Those looking after your children this summer are no exception.  Orientation is a time for summer camp staff members to become comfortable with their new co-workers and begin to get to know each other.

Attain necessary certification.  Those staff members working in areas such as waterfront and outdoor adventure must have training and certification prior to supervising your children.  For some staff members, this entails arriving at camp well before the camper arrival date in order to be fully prepared from the day the first camper sets foot on campus.  Outside experts such as the Red Cross are often brought in to conduct lifeguard training.  Outdoor Adventure and Waterfront  areas also frequently utilize external professionals to train their staff.

Understand what it’s like to be a camper.  Many camp orientation programs follow mock daily camp schedules and encourage staff members to participate in many of the same activities that their campers will throughout the summer.  Most staff members live and function as members of groups during this period.  The role play isn’t merely designed to give staff members an idea of what’s in store. It gives them the opportunity to embrace the camp’s traditions so that they can share in the enthusiasm with campers.

Receive very valuable and essential education to understanding and working with children.  Summer camps take the well being of their campers very seriously and spare no expense in this area of Orientation.  Big name speakers are brought in for lectures and workshops that educate staff members with the latest, most up-to-date childcare information and relevant laws.  Counselors and other camp staff are left with no doubt or misunderstanding that the campers and their safety are the reason that they are there and, as such, come first.

Mentally prepare themselves for the arrival of campers.  Even the most seasoned childcare professionals and educators can feel a bit overwhelmed when suddenly surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic children who’ve waited ten months to see their camp friends again.  By taking place on campus before the campers arrive, Orientation serves as a sort of segue from the camp counselors’ lives back home into their new summer lives by giving them some time to adjust to their new home and surroundings before the chaos that is summer camp ensues.

Finally, Orientation is an opportunity for Camp Directors and Senior Staff to assess how their staff interacts and identify individual strengths and weaknesses.  This helps them assign camp counselors to cabins and bunks and age groups in which they’re likely to provide the best leadership.

So when you put your campers on the bus in June, you can bet that a very excited and well trained camp staff is waiting on the other end to meet your children and give them the best summer ever.

The First Day of Camp

Believe it or not, we are already planning our first day of camp this summer. Yes, even in the midst of a rainy and cool spring, we are thinking about every aspect of our campers’ first few hours at Weequahic.

Think about your own experiences with first impressions. They are important, right? Malcolm Gladwell, in his wonderfully thoughtful Blink, demonstrates the awesome power of first experiences with art, music, friends, and more. We want to do everything we can to make that first impression a fantastic one!

Before Campers Get on the Bus

Isn’t it nice to walk into your room, find your bed made, clothes neatly put away, and huge signs saying “Welcome!” We think it is and know, from experience, our campers like it, too!

Parents help us start camp by sending their child’s clothing and bedding to Weequahic 10 days before camp starts. Camp Trucking makes this very easy for our families. Some families in the local area will even drive the bags up to camp.

Our counselors unpack every kid in our Junior and Inter (rising 2nd through 8th graders) divisions before they arrive, tucking things neatly away into each child’s cubbies. We make their beds, which we’ve arranged specifically. Then, we make the cabin look fun and inviting for each camper.

By the time our counselors have finished these tasks, they cannot wait to see the kids!

Getting to Camp – By Land or Air

The vast majority of our campers arrive to Weequahic by bus. It’s a great way to start the experience. In fact, we always say camp starts as soon as you get on the bus!

Several of our counselors travel to our pick up areas to meet our campers and their families. They’ll be wearing our Weequahic staff shirts and will be greeting you with enormous smiles. Our counselors will be there to help campers find their pre-assigned seats on the bus.

Yes, that’s right – I assign our campers’ seats on the bus or plane. I’m not a big fan of the ‘where am I supposed to go’ feeling, especially when setting up a great experience for children. I simply find this kind of direction makes for a more comfortable start to camp.

Campers sit by age group so that new campers will have a chance to meet other campers of the same age immediately. We also place our counselors throughout the bus in order to make sure everyone is doing well. The bus will be full of songs, laughter, and even a few minutes of the camp video just before the kids arrive at Weequahic.

Arriving at Camp

Once the doors open, our counselors, having just finished a nine day orientation, are excitedly waiting to greet the kids. Campers are directed to their bunk counselors who are holding big signs with their names and bunk numbers. I’ll be at the door of each bus as it arrives as well, happily greeting each one of our campers to Weequahic.

We’ll get the kids organized by bunk in our picnic area, check them into camp, and whisk them to their bunks. Once they’ve had a chance to put their bus bags down, we head right back out for lunch or snack, depending on when they arrive, and for some fun activities that afternoon.

Our office team will be calling home to let our parents know about the bus arrivals and we’ll begin posting pictures immediately. (Hey, we know it’s stressful on the parents as well!)

We’ll enjoy some tours of camp, special activities, and a good bit of bunk bonding time. The evening is set up as a huge welcome to everyone at camp as a whole. We introduce all of the top program and bunk staff and have a great evening together. Then, we are back to our bunks for our first night at camp.

I’ll visit each bunk of boys that night to spend some time and start our tradition of ‘Two Happies.’ Kate and our female leadership will do the same on girl’s side.

Then, it’s lights out (though a light stays on in the bathroom….) The excitement around camp is palpable. The kids are excited about what their first full day of activities will hold. The staff members are thrilled to meet their new charges and start building an incredible bunk community. The directors are happy to finally be done with all the planning and ready to start camp.

The first day at camp is an important one and we do our best to make it exciting, warm, and inviting. We hope you and your camper enjoys it!

Can’t wait for camp,