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Camp chores and camper responsibility


In the world of camp professionals, we talk a lot about how camp fulfills a much needed part of a child’s whole education. If school is critical to success and achievement, we argue, then camp has a very similar role to play, even if the entire structure is vastly different than the school year.

In fact, I think if more people knew about the storied history of summer camps in America, and what a crucial role they have played in the lives of hundreds of millions of kids over the past 139 years, there would be an even stronger resurgence in sleepaway summer camps than there already is.

But that isn’t the story I want to tell today (stay tuned though, and I will soon!)

I want to wheel back to the way camp (and sleepaway camp in particular) helps flesh out a child’s entire education. And I want to focus specifically today on how chores at camp help build personal responsibility, a sense of independence and pride, as well as the facet of accountability to a group.

A helping hand

Because campers live in close quarters, the too-common mess of a typical American kid’s bedroom won’t do. Movement and fire safety prohibit allowing clothing and bedding to litter the common walkways in a tent, as does respect for one’s tent mates.

Of course, we like to keep this process light and fun, all part of the social whole of being Ghany Girls together. We don’t have our own video about the chores process, but this short video about how the Japanese do chores in their classes has the same spirit of “whistle while you work,” that we try to cultivate at camp.

If you click here you can see the inspection sheet that we use to keep our standards fair and accountable.

Each tent gets one inspection sheet every week on Sunday. After breakfast, there is built in time (about 20-30 minutes) for the campers to clean and tidy their tents. They can also do some of it before breakfast if they get right out of bed at Reveille — that’s what I used to like to do and there are always campers that have that organized spirit built right in!

The Inspector inspects the tents every morning during Assembly, which is our morning gathering in the Play Hall for songs and announcements. Who is the Inspector? We’ll leave that a mystery for now…

There isn’t an official prize or anything for getting a certain score on Inspection, it’s mostly just a pride thing, and the younger campers especially like to get high scores.

Often a counselor will offer an incentive to her tent — something like, “If our tent gets above a 12 all week, we’ll go on a river float during rest hour!” Motivations can be helpful depending on the age group or temperaments of the campers.

Sometimes Unit Heads will do a unit competition for Inspection as well. Motivating some of the Senior Campers can be harder— teenagers, you know. Still, all are required to pass Inspection.

Perfectly imperfect

Even though Inspection is in the morning, it’s expected that the tents will stay as tidy as possible throughout the day. Of course things happen — a quick change of clothes for canoeing, lots of mail coming in on any particular day, rain comes suddenly and the girls have to pull everything off the clothesline quickly and drape it on the hanging shelves, etc. But the idea is to keep the tent tidy so that people can walk through it without tripping over things, and so that the next day’s clean-up in the morning isn’t too bad!

All hands on deck

We do emphasize personal responsibility, and this starts with the counselors in Staff Training. The counselor’s area in the tent is also 100% a part of Inspection — counselors don’t get off free in this respect! The counselors need to model tidiness, organization, and keeping track of belongings.

Some of the younger age groups may do a chore chart, where the counselor creates a chart and the campers alternate which tasks they do on a given day. Other tents just all chip in and help out in all areas.

Of course general tidiness and specific chores happen in all kinds of other seamless ways across camp life.

Pitching in

Counselors and campers are taught to understand that the camp grounds are our shared home. How we treat it reflects on individuals, and on our community as a whole. Intentional littering is unheard of.  Campers use the trash cans for any disposables or after buying something at the camp store that has packaging waste.

And if a stray piece of trash were out and about, an earnest minded camper would feel compelled to pick it up and get it thrown away. After Lunch Under the Apple Tree (our Thursday picnic lunch) and other gatherings with any food or paper waste, campers and counselors work together to freshen up the area.

In activities, little things that might not gain notice, like hanging life jackets and hauling up canoes, gathering tennis balls or properly stacking archery bows are part of the equipment care that counselors pass on to campers and which governs the treatment of supplies during the camp season.

While there is some overlap with schools in the equipment regard, the whole environment of camp, from its largest shared space in nature to the personally shared spaces in tents, calls for chores to be an integrated part of camp life each day and over the Term(s) when gear is hauled in and out, and unpacking and repacking are done.

Most of all I’ve heard from so many moms that they saw a change in their daughters’ behavior after a summer at camp. This didn’t necessarily mean a miracle, but if nothing else it resulted in a well-made bed every morning. Sometimes more!

When kids come to camp they’re here to have fun, of course. But chores actually can be fun to kids in the right spirit. And even when the chores don’t feel so fun, kids are smart enough to understand why something needs to happen if it’s explained to them in the right way. This is something summer camp is great at!

 — Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant DirectorCamp Alleghany for Girls