Written by Joe Nelson, WyldLife staff in Charlottesville, VA
There are two main types of campers at WyldLife camp. The first group includes the golden retriever (or perhaps rabid wolf) type kids who take every opportunity to run wild and free and are just dying to be let off the leash at camp. We’ll call these independent campers. The second group is made up of the timid duckling campers who have no idea what to do and usually stick very close to their leaders. We’ll call these dependent campers.
Both types of campers present their own unique opportunities and challenges during free time at WyldLife camp. Below are some practical tips for maximizing your free time with kids at camp, acknowledging the differences in both dependent and independent campers.
Know your cabin
This is perhaps the most important part. Your leadership in maximizing free time with campers begins at home. Knowing the needs and interests of your whole group in general and each individual specifically will make a huge difference in your camp trip. If you don’t know some of your campers well before the trip, get to know them on the bus as best you can.
Have a plan
Having a plan is pivotal for maximizing free time. There are two specific situations that you always want to have a plan for.
- Arriving at camp: The is the first moment you get to camp. After the welcome and checking into your cabins, you will likely have some free time. This is where you set the tone. Kids expectations and impressions of camp are being formed, so the moment is crucial. Have a plan to carry the energy from the welcome into this very first cabin-unifying event together. (Check out the examples below). This can be as simple as saying, “Hey, let’s all go throw on our swimsuits and head down to the pool together!”
- After lunch: Free time almost always begins directly following lunch. Come up with something fun to do together with your cabin right at the beginning of free time, and spread the word during lunch (Again, see examples below)!
- Head to the pool
- Specific camp activity (i.e. swing, zipline, sailboats, canoes/kayaks, etc.)
- Set a “camp record” together (most half-court shots made, most milkshakes drank, etc.).
- “Take over” an area of camp (the gaga pit, volleyball courts, craft shack, etc.)
- Participate in a week-long or day long decathlon (sometimes the program team will have one made, but you can always make your own)
- School/Area event (kickball game, mixers in the gym, world cup, etc.)
The program and activities at camp are set up to facilitate a leader-centered cabin unifying experience. Free time can add to that! You will create more memories with kids and set the stage for better cabin times when you are able to lead your cabin to do things as a group during free time.
- Independent camper: This is a bit harder to do with the independent campers. As much as you can, bring them into the fold of cabin unity. However, do not force the issue to the point where you become a pest. If the independent kids want to run off and be first in line at the swing, let them.
- Dependent camper: This is easy for them, they want to be part of it. Just make sure they don’t feel like an insignificant part of the group. Set them up to be the heroes of the group when and where you can!