Whether you have 24 hours or 24 days left at camp this summer, it’s not too late to intentionally collect compelling stories to tell your camp’s story year-round to families, donors, board members, the community, prospective staff members, and more. Having a repository of awesome stories that you can lean on throughout the year is a vital resource that every camp should have–and it is easiest to create in the summer.
As a camp director, you may often find yourself leaning on the same three or four stories over and over again. And while those stories are great, you—and the folks you share them with—are probably ready for some new material. It turns out that the stories I told were the ones that I had personally witnessed.
But the good news is finding new stories is pretty easy! Just think: If you have three or four memorable stories from your time at summer camp, each of your staff members or campers probably do too! The challenge, then, is how to capture these stories from the staff and the kids.
Think about the stories you’d like to tell
Often, we try to find stories by asking questions that are too broad, such as “How has camp impacted you?” That’s not a bad question, but it can be difficult to answer. Where should you even start? To avoid overwhelming your staff member or camper and get better stories, consider asking some of the following questions.
- When was a time that a camper tried something new in your group? What happened?
- Did a camper overcome a fear this session? How did it happen?
- What fellow staff member has impressed you by going above and beyond for their campers this summer? What did you witness?
- Do you have a camper who was homesick but ended up loving camp? What happened?
- Did you form any friendships this summer? What was it like?
These questions help people remember the stories you’re ultimately looking to share.
Create a way for staff AND campers can share their stories
This has to be easy because your staff members have a lot on their plates! You can do this both informally and more formally. The first, informal way is to incorporate some casual storytelling into staff meetings or huddles. For example, if your camp has an exciting experience or an activity that creates an important turning point for group formation within the cabin, solicit questions from the staff during the following morning’s huddle, such as “What funny stuff happened at campout last night?” or “Whose cabin really bonded at campout last night? What happened?” You can then jot down the best of these stories in your notes and follow up later with the counselors to get details.
More formally, you can incorporate reporting mechanisms to capture staff stories. Some camp directors might use a simple QR code that leads to a Google Form where staff members can quickly submit reflections or experiences. Perhaps this Google Form, once completed, gives staff members access to a special incentive or reward like a treat or swag from the camp store. You can also choose from the “best” of these stories to share at a staff meeting to start building a culture of storytelling.
You can do some of the same things! When hanging out with campers, ask them to tell you their camp stories. You can easily sit down with a group of campers when waiting for a meal or hanging out after an activity wraps up to ask them questions about counselors they look up to, activities they enjoy, and ways that camp has made them think differently about the world. More formally, you can also ask campers to provide written reflections (including drawings!) on their camp experiences. Some camps do a mid-session or end-of-session camper survey, and this is a perfect time to ask those specific camp story questions.
Write them down
This may seem obvious, but no matter how good you think your memory is, you’re almost guaranteed to forget some elements of a story or memory. Create a system that works for you, whether it’s a Google Doc where you make simple notes about the best camp stories (that you can later use the “find” commend to search for certain themes!) or a written list of the highlights. Also be sure to note who shared the story so you can follow up if needed and eventually attribute it properly when you get ready to share.
Do your November or February self a favor and collect (and write down!) this summer’s camp stories today.