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How I Plan for Summer Camps

Color-coded calendars, Pinterest boards, and stocking up on Go-Go Squeezes?! It must be CAMP PLANNING TIME!!

I love teaching our summer camps. Are they exhausting? Absolutely. Are there a LOT? Yes. Can teaching 9 of them in one summer feel a little overwhelming by August? Without a doubt. But, I love them. I love seeing the same camper come back week after week, no matter the theme. I love seeing new campers who are shy on Monday bounce into camp without a glance back by Wednesday. I love the new energy that comes with each new group of campers, each new day, and each new story that we create.

I am fortunate that I teach many of our ETC Beginnings Camps for ages 3-5 (PreK) and our Creative Drama Camps for rising K-2nd. ETC has a ton of fun camp subjects and more focused camps that go for weeks at a time. My camps all last a week. I meet a new group of campers each Monday and by Friday we have written, rehearsed, and (again in person this year - yay!) are ready to perform in front of families. That’s awesome! The stories these students create, the ideas that they bring each day, and the enthusiasm that they find in even the most mundane parts of the day are inspiring as a teacher and remind me why I love my job so much.

But first - planning. Once I have my camp assignments from Ashley (see previous blog post about how figuring out staffing falls primarily on her shoulders), I print out blank color-coded schedules for each week. My original color-coded schedule was for ETCB and was completely stolen from one of our previous ETCB camp directors, Miss Kathleen. I then modified it for a full-day Creative Drama schedule, and I now use both versions to plan each week.

Starting with the weekly schedules, I go through and put in each week, each theme (they change weekly, but I sometimes have overlap by teaching the same theme for both ETCB and CD in one summer), and, if we possible that year, each chosen t-shirt color so I don’t overlap (or at least not too much). From there, there are some basics - on Wednesdays for my CD camps, we write our story in the morning (some teachers do it earlier), rehearsal blocks for each age are pretty much set, getting into t-shirts and costume bits and packing up art projects has a set time on Fridays (this was different last year with only one in-person, outdoor sharing in my camps). Those “known” things go in first.

From there, I brainstorm how we can build each week to get to where we need to be. We need a day identifying our theme for ETCB. We need a day focused on character creation and one for setting for CD and plenty of “parts of a story” games before we all collaborate to write our story. AND we all need to remember how to collaborate - because if we’re writing a story together, we need to have those skills. I put in games and activities that fulfill those goals to build the week, and then identify any holes for “brain break” games, our daily “Open Mic” times in Creative Drama, etc.

Next, to the Pinterest Boards! I sillily created two different Pinterest boards years ago - one for Camps and one for Drama Days, despite having overlap in theme and art project ideas. Eventually, I’ll figure out how to combine them. It does not matter how much time I spend on Pinterest during the school year, I still find new projects, pin new ideas (rather for this year’s themes or not) and return to old standbys that I can modify into new projects with similar processes. I try to plan at least four weeks of art projects at a time (if not more) so that I can identify supplies that I can buy in bulk, more expensive supplies that I can justify over more than one camp to stay on budget, etc. For instance, I love doing “calming bottles” in ETCB, but it’s best if I can buy at least two camps’ worth of items at once. We have supplies from previous art projects that I try to reuse and use up when possible so we aren’t wasteful AND to save money. And, whenever I can, I try to ice dye at least one a summer (which I could not do last year, but I have ideas for this year). Each art project gets assigned a day on the color-coded schedules, and I make a list of needed supplies at the bottom of each day so I can have a list of what I need when I go to storage.

That means a trip to storage is next! I will, say, first, I do try to type the schedules into a virtual version so that I have a list I can print and schedules to share with camp staff. With those trusty schedules/lists in hand, I head to ETC’s storage unit. I pull what I can and anything I can’t find gets circled on the list to order.

Once we’re off and running, there are weekly emails to the families of the upcoming camp and Wednesday midweek camp emails to current camp families. There are emails and planning information sent to camp staff (assistant directors, counselors, and interns). There are multiple “hold” lists put into various libraries throughout Arlington, Montgomery County, AND PG County depending on the week and the theme and my needs. There are trips to and from said libraries to pick-up held books and return others.

And each Sunday, there’s the packing up. I often need to make sure that my grocery trip includes multiple nut-free options for my own lunch and snack each week (just in case). The Sunday before the first day of camp, I pack up my own “camp director bag” (in addition to one provided by ETC) that has extra band-aids, sunscreen for myself and other adults, bug spray, bubbles (always handy to have on-hand), back-up games for indoor recess, extra pens and Sharpies, schedules for multiple camps, books from my own personal library that are on-theme, and spare plastic cutlery for campers who either don’t have it or can’t find it (typically the latter).

Each Monday, I try to arrive by 8:15 to set-up the rooms and unload my car. If it’s a site we haven’t been to yet that year, setting up takes more time. If I’m lucky enough to be at the same site for a few weeks in a row, I have less to unload and can set-up faster. The thing with ETC making sure that we have camps near everyone in our community is that we have lots of different sites. This can be awesome, as it means I get to know more schools and community centers AND because if you aren’t at a site you love one week, you’re often at a new site the next week. But, it can also be daunting. Just like with any after school or in-school class, when I walk into a new site, I have to assess safety. I have to consider, like all teachers, how I can keep my students (your campers) safe in the event of an emergency. I do it automatically, like every teacher I know, but it doesn’t make it fun. And this year, like last year, I also spend time setting up the room to keep everyone as healthy as possible. I measure out spots for campers to use that give them space. I set out hand sanitizer and make sure that restrooms have soap. I consider the risk of exposure for myself in terms of the pandemic and what that means for my family. This week, I am teaching ETCB with most campers too young to be vaccinated. And each evening, I pick-up my too-young-to-be-vaccinated toddler from daycare and hope that everyone’s mask did its job and everyone’s distance worked and that avoiding too many hugs is worth it (even if it’s no fun).

I love camp. I get pretty into camp planning. I don’t love the risks, but I do love the people I am taking the risks for.

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