While the first day campers only just arrived today at Farm & Wilderness (overnight campers arrive on Wednesday), most staff have been here since the beginning of June (some even since the end of May) learning the many skills that it takes to be an effective camp staff person. I have been fortunate to get to visit and take part in many of the diverse array of trainings that contribute to our wonderful camp programs.
Our initial efforts focus on helping staff attain the hard skills they need to do their jobs. Many get certified to be lifeguards. A few staff received Water Safety Instruction training (an instructional swimming certification) that required them to spend most of the day in the water, as well as to complete hours of reading at night. Farm & Wilderness provides hands-on training for activity areas including Work Projects tool and construction training; Barns and Gardens animal and plant care and farm activity training; Trips training where counselors learn the skills to lead overnight backpacking trips; as well as Outdoor Living Skills that lead to more awareness of the woods around us and activities to help campers feel more comfortable and successful living in it. A special offering for Flying Cloud and Red Spruce Grove counselors this summer was a 2-day workshop on nature craft. (Parents sending their children to either camp/program should look for beautiful hand-made fir baskets upon their return. You might also ask them to explain to you the particularities of Bark Moon!)
While caring for participants is an aspect of every training, many workshops cover topics specifically related to health and safety. Staff that are over 21 review driving practices and care of our vehicle fleet. Cooks learn about safe food handling, and nurses review the protocol for our health centers. Almost all staff earn Wilderness First Aid and CPR certification (some gaining the more comprehensive Wilderness First Responder). At their individual camps, staff review the Emergency Action Plans that reside at each location and counselors carry with them while out on trips, specifying the response needed for all types of situations that might occur or they might encounter during a summer.
Much of our pre-camp work with staff is focused on ensuring they have strategies for their roles of guiding young people. We cover some child development, so that staff know what to expect of the thinking and behavior of youth of different ages. Counselors are taught how to set up norms for their cabins as well as how to establish safe boundaries. Strategies for working with campers who are having difficulty adapting to those norms are also discussed.
Additionally, and perhaps unique to Farm & Wilderness are the workshops that focus on how to use our experiential program features to teach social justice concepts related to Inclusion and Equity. Staff participates in workshops that discuss various aspects of identity, and how to help campers come to an understanding of their own identity as well as how to have empathy for others. We also specifically focus on issues of race and racial justice, as well as gender identity and sexual orientation, so that all Farm & Wilderness participants learn to value people for what they bring and who they are. And, staff learn to facilitate discussions so they can debrief activities and hold difficult conversations.
“I feel so grateful to Farm & Wilderness for investing so much in our training. I am not just learning skills that I will use here at camp, but also learning how to learn, how to teach and how to hold conversations with young people that will be helpful to me throughout my life.”
-Flying Cloud Counselor
Our intent is that this type of education will translate into a better experience for campers and that they too will learn skills and ways of being that they can take with them always.