Special Guests! How To Make Camp Memorable During COVID-19!

Programming during COVID-19 can be challenging, and this Summer heat can wear you down. I love special guests, and there is nothing better than having your local fire department come out to your camp and spray the campers and staff. Let me take you back to when you were in school as a student, and you had a substitute teacher. Most people would get excited because you knew that this would be a different day, and possibly a movie would be put in. This is how I think campers think when they see a special guest arrive at camp! They get a new voice/person, and their day is different. Your staff are entertained, and the programming is off their shoulders for at least that activity period. They can sit back and relax, and like this event, they can get in on the fun with the kids as a participant. It is important to not forget about your staff. They are in this summer heat, and they are going through a lot mentally and socially as well. Let them be a kid again, and run through the water, and forget about the crazy world for a few minutes.

There are several ways to coordinate special guests during COVID-19. Talk with your board members and members of your YMCA or community. You may hear some great ideas. Budgets are tight, and there are many free things you can have inside your camp. Police department, Fire department, EMS, High School and College Career Advisors, and local business leaders. If you have them inside your camp, make sure they are screened, and their temperature is taken. Then have them speak to your groups, have them rotate between the individual groups you have. It is important for them to see these leaders in person, ask questions, and inspire them for the future. I also love having old staff coming back to speak to the campers. Many of my staff are now in professional careers, and want to help inspire the future youth. When we focus on youth development, it is important for you to teach these campers that they must work hard, and set goals. When they see and hear actual stories, it helps push them to succeed.

I heard this quote the other day, “Be teachable. You’re not always right.” Devotion time with your campers is also important. Share quotes with them, you are also like a special guest. You have the amazing opportunity to inspire them as well. It is important to not take that for granted. With all the craziness around them, please take the time to pause. Speak, listen, and reflect. Make devotion time fun as well. Use pictures, real life stories from your childhood, and make sure there are appropriate for your age group too. Special guests and your staff make camp memorable. I have included this in the Resource Zone and featured under Youth Programming.

Kites and Cloud Watching!

We all need to slow down sometimes. If you are looking for some more activities to do during this strange time, I suggest Kites and Clouds. My CEO stopped by to visit one of our programs, and gave me two good suggestions that can be relatable for anyone right now. If you are wanting to get your kids or child outside, these two suggestions are classics that may have been forgotten or possibly never tried before. In a world where we are addicted to our phones and screens, these ideas give you a break from that world. Working with children, we need to set that example and give them outlets to break away.

Kite Flying

You can make your own kite or buy them online from anywhere really from $9.99 and up. We do many things with groups of 10, so if you have 10 kites you can rotate them, keep them sanitized, and make them last for a large group. If you are creative, and want to make your own, you can do that too! I have seen cool kites made out of garbage bags and other things that you may have around camp or your home. Don’t stop there! Have the kids compete to see who can keep their kite in the air the longest, relays with the kids running with them, and who can make their kite do the coolest trick. If you want to keep it low key, you can also just have the kid fly their kite. This will take their mind off things, and is a great way for them to develop confidence.

Cloud Watching

Have your group of kids go outside and lay down on the grass. Tell them to pause for 10 minutes, and look up, and describe what they are seeing in the sky. What shapes, colors, creatures, or other things they spy in the sky. The fun activity is all about the kids using their imagination and having a chance to practice mindfulness! Wrap up the activity by telling the kids to stop looking down and learn to look up more. When you learn to look around, you may see or think of something that you have never found before.

These two ideas are nothing new, kites and cloud watching have been around forever. The difference is that your kids may not have had a chance to do this. I haven’t laid down on the grass in a long time to look at the clouds, and neither have your kids probably. In this crazy time, stress and nervousness is a very real thing for many of our kids and staff. Create an environment at your camp or program that welcomes calm and peacefulness. Love on your staff and help them too! I will add this to the Resource Zone on my website. Check this out for more fun ideas to help make your program 1 percent better!

Dots! App Store To Camp During COVID-19!

I recently came across this game from Chuck Steinfurth a new friend/colleague at the YMCA. Dots hit the App Store in 2013 and now it has hit camps during COVID. if you don’t remember this game, it is an easy and fun way to maintain social distance while having fun. Dots has a simple goal, connect same colored dots vertically or horizontally to win points. Make a square to win even more! As you can see from the picture, you can make this game with any kind of rules you want, and set any kind of timer. I wanted to highlight this game because it uses pool noodles which are easy to disinfect, you can space kids apart, and it takes very little equipment. You can also play this game inside or outside, don’t let limited space stop you! I know this has been a challenge this Summer, so if you see something that is played in a large gym/room, move it outside if you have the field space.

Games from our childhood and old school things are a big hit right now. Old School Wii Games, simple tag games with pool noodles, nature walks, bird feeders, archery, and we just recently did an Easter egg hunt. Kids need social interaction and to be outside. They are just wanting to have simple fun. That is why I mentioned nature walk. Yeah its hot, but kids need to move, and just get off the screen of their phone, tablet, or TV. You have the power and platform to help their social and emotional well being. Continue to try things, even when the kids complain when you start the activity. Kids just want to do the same thing over and over, this was the same mindset before the pandemic. If you continue to do the same things, you will lose staff, enrollment, and your passion for why you are working with kids.

Thank you to all the leaders out there working through COVID and providing summer camp opportunities for your communities. I have put this activity in the Resource Zone. Check this out for more fun ideas and ways to make your program 1 percent better!

5 STEM Space Ideas from UCF Engineering Department!

Child cuts out colored planets.

Austin came across my website recently and wanted to share a cool article to add to the Resource Zone from the University of Central Florida Engineering department. I will summarize the article and list the 5 Space STEM ideas for you to use at Summer Camp. If you are not using themes, I highly encourage you to do this. Staff can dress up, and you can have a focus for your week. It will make it fun and encourage skill development too. STEM isn’t just a buzz word or gimmick. STEM Jobs are growing at a fast rate, and exposing your campers to this kind of programming will be very beneficial to them. The full article is found here https://www.ucf.edu/online/engineering/news/five-stem-space-activities/

  1. Straw Rocket Competition – https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/pdfs/sodastrawrocket.pdf
  2. How To Build A Telescope – https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/nature/make-a-telescope/
  3. Walk Like An Astronaut – https://www.teachengineering.org/lessons/view/cub_solar_lesson05
  4. Host A Space Lander Competition – https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/418011main_OTM_Touchdown.pdf
  5. Chart A New Galaxy – https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/starfinder2/en/

I will include the detailed activities UCF listed in the Resource Zone under Youth Programming.

Air Hockey! COVID Game Ideas

If you are looking for a cool social distancing game to do at your Summer Camp, check out Air Hockey! I also have a few others I have seen from colleagues listed in the Resource Zone on the website. Air Hockey is a simple game that doesn’t require a ton of a equipment and is affordable to do! It is also safe and fun! That’s usually my checklist right now. Safe, Fun, Not Much Equipment, and Affordable. If it meets these 4 requirements, you should do it! So what is Air Hockey?

Air Hockey develops coordination and blocking. All you need are pool noodles, tape, bean bags, and cones. This picture was taken pre COVID-19 so just a few modifications needed. Add an extra noodle to make the distance a little more and add space in between the kids sitting. If you don’t have extra bean bags to sanitize then have the kids wear latex free gloves. You can also use gator balls, small balls, anything that slides or moves that can teach coordination and blocking. I saw this game on thepeshed.com a great resource to find ideas. This picture is from Middlebranch-Avondale PE.

It’s always great to make modifications and have a plan while this virus is around! Check out my website for more fun ideas!

Save The Summer. You Are A Superhero!

Summer Camp is almost here, and I wanted to share an idea I had with you. I usually share other ideas that I find, but this one is super important to me, and I think you could find useful as you lead staff or campers. All I hear is “2020 is the worst”, “Can I hit reset”, “new normal”, “this Summer will not be the same”, and so on. These kids need camp more than ever. They need social and emotional stability. They need to laugh, smile, and just be a kid again. Yes this year has been awful, but you have a choice as a camp director or counselor. We didn’t choose the pandemic, but we do have a choice on how we can respond! Be A Superhero! It’s camp, yes we will be doing tons of cleaning and following safety protocols this Summer, but be a Superhero to these kids. Save the Summer and bring back fun and excitement to these kids. The Flash said “Life doesn’t give us purpose. We give Life purpose.”

2020 Camp Training/Summer Idea: I spoke to one of my Summer Camp Staff teams and told them that there is power when you have this cape on. There is power everyday you work with kids, don’t take that for granted. You have no idea the impact that you will make, especially given the current circumstances. Now this was a group of veteran counselors, so they know this power somewhat. I reminded them that this Summer is unique. Kids have been home for a long time and may be living in tough and potentially hostile family environments. Some campers haven’t even done online learning or participated in any group chats. They have been isolated from many things. Your energy, positive attitude, and smile will change their Summer and even the rest of their year as they move into a new school year.

*Counselor Of The Week: Each week a counselor will be awarded a cape for their strong efforts.

*In the picture I cut a piece of the cape to put on their bead necklace. Every time they look at this, let it be a reminder that they are a Superhero and the kids need you. If you don’t use bead necklaces please do. Simple way to reward good character and add unique beads besides just color beads.

*Watch the “Be A Mr. Jensen” video on YouTube.

*Use a Superhero quote each week. Post in staff email, staff office, somewhere to have a visual reminder of how awesome they are.

I will add this to the Resource Zone. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to steal, share, and make your own. Ideas are meant to be shared, not kept locked up! Have A Great and Safe Summer.

The Valley Will Speak, If You Listen!

Amazon.com: Michael Scott (Quotes) Get Motivated's Poster 12 x 18 ...

Devotions are great to use with your staff and participants so they have a chance to slow down and reflect. They are good for you too! Especially if you are leading people, you need to be fed too. One of my old staff happened to call me out of the blue. I have loved catching up with people during this time and always enjoy talking. Sorry, not sorry! They are trying to figure out some things and needed some advice. Many of us during this crazy time have hit every emotion possible. I have good days and I have bad days too. It’s ok to have an off day or days. I have said this many times to myself, because I know personally I try to think I can solve or figure out a solution instead of just trusting myself. No one has all the answers or makes the perfect decision every time.

Ironically I recently came across this devotion right before talking to my friend and helped guide our conversation. This message is for all my job seekers or anyone feeling like they could be stuck or not sure what they want to do next. This is not my devotion, and apologies as I can’t remember where this is from, and may not do it full justice. I just wrote it down in my folder and incorporated some of my thoughts too…

I was rejected for an internal position I applied for even though I was the top candidate. I later learned the person hired was a friend of my boss. I got tired of the office politics and started applying to other companies, and within 3 moths I got a much better job. My old boss asked me to come back for the same promotion. I told him “thanks but no thanks.”

Lessons learned:

  1. You can be the best candidate and still not get selected.
  2. If you didn’t get the job, it was never meant for you.
  3. You weren’t rejected, you were redirected.
  4. .Your value does not decrease based upon someone’s inability to see your worth.
  5. Believe in yourself and keep trying, the right door will open for you.

The key to this devotion for me is that you need to believe in yourself. That is easier said than done, and skeptics may see I have been looking for years, not three months. That’s the problem, you are not living into your story and have lost focus. Everyone is different, and the more you compare the more lost you will be. I have been in situations where I was devastated that I didn’t get a position or job that I have wanted. I have also been in situations that I thought this was the PERFECT place for me, but it didn’t work out. The key to my failures and future failures are that I have pushed myself to listen when I am in the valley. That’s the spot where adversity is, and nothing seems to go right. I used to dismiss the valley, blamed others, and closed myself off. That’s easy to do. It is also easy to stay comfortable and do what is easy instead of focusing on what you may need to improve. F.A.I.L. (First Attempt In Learning), love this acronym. It’s ok to try new things or push yourself! If you don’ t try, then you will never know what could have happened. The peak of the mountain is fun. You are on top of the world, but success is never permanent. What you learn when things don’t go your way will be vital to your trip back to the mountain top. Good luck to all the 2020 graduates and job seekers!

I will post this devotion in the Resource Zone, feel free to steal, add, share. That’s why my website is here!

Dear Summer Camp Leaders, I Am Proud Of You…

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling

I write this post with a heavy heart. To our Summer Camp leaders, I am proud of you. This is an extremely tough time personally and professionally for all of us. We have our own families, friends, and loved ones we are taking care of. Many of you may have already been serving essential workers and their families and have experience serving kids during COVID-19. Yet, you are still moving forward each day looking for ways to inspire and lead your team. You are planning new virtual staff trainings and thinking of ways to modify your programming so you can safely connect with your staff and kids to serve your community. Camp staff are creatures of habit, and it is hard to think or be wired differently when you have done this Summer after Summer. As Camp Leaders, we have our systems, and we run with it. This isn’t the case this Summer. We have guidelines and protocols to follow, but honestly we are all entering uncharted territory. So are the kids you are serving. They don’t know how to social distance and you will be role modeling this each and everyday. Don’t underestimate the power of that. These kids will be getting ready to go back to school, and you have the unique opportunity to get them ready for school and public places. I never even said social distancing until 2 months ago, so we as adults are also learning and teaching each week as you receive new campers or staff. You will be cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. This will show your participants and community that you are keeping your programs as safe as possible. Thank you for being a servant leader. At camp, we get close to each other, that’s what we have always done. We pack in for fun assemblies to see that counselor get pied in the face, we dance and scream to Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, and we high five each other and side hug. You will create these moments in smaller spaces, but you still create the moments. That is critical! You will come up with ideas this Summer, that will be better than Summer 2019 or any Summer you have worked. Innovation and creativity is always happening. The world has changed, but you know that these kids need you now more than ever, and Summer Camp will always be important to the social and emotional well being of the participants you serve.

This will be my first time in my career part time and full time (1999) that I will miss either leading camp training or being a participant. THAT SUCKS. This Summer, you will miss seeing that staff member learn that new song or game, or when that staff member’s face lights up because they tried something new like public speaking in front of a large group. THAT SUCKS. You will miss gathering your leadership staff and doing team building and having that important time to connect face to face. THAT SUCKS. It is OK to feel angry or frustrated with what is happening or that Summer 2020 staff training isn’t the same. Share that with your staff, let them know you are human and build that trust with one another. Let them know that you also can’t live in that emotion either. This Summer is different but you are still going to have fun! You will persevere and move forward. These staff and kids you serve are looking to you for guidance. This new adversity will develop you into an even stronger leader and teammate to your staff. You can bring the positive change. We always tell our staff that we don’t do this for the paycheck, and this is even more true today. You are here to build relationships and make camp a safe and welcoming place for all. What a mission and task! You are truly making this world a better place. There are not many jobs that give you this genuine opportunity or develop real job and life skills like this one. Go make this the best Summer ever! Thank you for your service to these staff and kids and your community thanks you too! Job well done,

Penalty Box – Great Exercise For Youth Programs!

Penalty Box with Chris Hill Professional Soccer Player - YouTube

Penalty Box is a great exercise product that can get your kids and staff active inside your program. It’s versatile and easy to move and store. This is perfect to keep kids and staff at appropriate distance from each other. I also love that you can do various exercises and will help keep your participants/campers motivated. Penalty Box Training would be utilized for clinics or an activity that participants/campers can choose on their own. I utilize clinics or choices programming for kids that are looking for something specific to do during camp or after school program time. Kids need some variety and a chance to make decisions during their day. We have done Fitness clinics before, and this would be an ideal exercise program to add to create a new buzz. I utilize clinics at camp or after school 2-3 times a week for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. We change these up every 3-4 weeks to give a variety of programming. So what is Penalty Box exactly?

Penalty Box® is a complete body workout program with over 119 Exercises based around a patented fitness product that is an agility grid and hurdle all in one. The Penalty Box® uses four squares to take the place of an agility ladder and easily folds into a hurdle and stores away in the shape of an L. Every person gets their own Penalty Box® and goes at their own pace instead of a regular agility ladder where you would stand in a line and each person would go one at a time. With Penalty Box® everyone is working at their own skill level. It can be the hardest or easiest workout in the world, depending on YOU.

You can order this product on their website currently for $27.95 and it is available on Amazon and other retailers. You can order a set of 12 for $169.00 and they have sets of 24 and 50 as well. If you are on a tight budget like most of us are, start small, and do a set. Keep adding on as you need. These are easy to sanitize and clean once the camper/participant is done too.

Check out my website and see other awesome ideas in the Resource Zone to make your program 1 percent better!

Hoo-rags And A Neil Pasricha Devotion!

Shark Face Mask | Sun Protection by Hoo-rag

Hoo-rags? What is a Hoo-rag? Even before COVID-19 started, Hoo-rag was founded in 2012 by outdoor enthusiasts. Hoo-rag has become a leader in revolutionary headwear. Their products are tested by them. Whether you are on the water, in the field or on the trail, you can rock the Hoo-rag over 10 ways. From a facemask to a headband, the Hoo-rag will have you headed for adventure! Join our team of Hooligans and rock the rag today! Check them out at hoorag.com to learn more. A great product you can order in bulk for your staff team, campers, or personal use.

I have mentioned Neil Pasricha on my website a few times, I love his books. I wanted to share with you a cool devotion you can share with your staff, campers, colleagues, or a friend. If you haven’t had a chance to read “You Are Awesome”, check it out on Amazon. for $11.20. If you have this book, go to page 142 in Secret #5, The name of this devotion is Moving Through Failures Is The Real Success”. Read this section at the bottom of page 142 with your team and some parts of this chapter. One of my favorite quotes “One thing I know is we need to stop looking at successful people as if we’re looking at products of success. At success after success. Because you know what we’re really looking at? People who are just really good at moving through failures.” We are going through a time right now where this is so much unknown, that you can expect for many failures to come. It is how you navigate through this, and adapt to the changes. I have included this devotion in the Resource Zone with some questions to ask your team, campers, etc. I have included tons of contests, songs, devotions, programming on my website to make your program 1 percent better.

Take it day by day. This has been my motto. Nothing fancy, and I even have a hard time following my own advice as I want to have a plan in front of me for the next few months. Stay safe and thanks for following my website. Share with colleagues, friends, and others. Always here to help be a resource!