Backpack Basics: Packing the Essentials into Summer Staff Training

Many of us look forward to summer, especially in Wisconsin. It means longer days, warmer weather, and for some, summer camp! Whatever summer camp means to you - day or overnight camp, wilderness trips, school-based programs, etc., camp can be a positive and life-changing experience for campers and staff when designed and implemented with intentionality. 

Now you might be thinking, life-changing for staff? Aren’t they the ones in charge of making it life changing for children? While the answer is yes, many of our staff are often new or have limited experience in this space. Staff rarely come to us fully trained and well-versed in their job. To complicate matters even more, recent studies and polling suggest that “soft skills” (interpersonal skills, communication, relationship building, critical thinking, etc.) are more important now than ever in the workforce but employers are seeing large gaps in these skills in employees. Relationship building is just one core element to success when working with children. Knowing how to lead a craft activity is important, but getting your campers to listen, manage their behavior, and understand their needs are all a part of making that activity work. If staff had been coming in with a deficit in that area, imagine how the last few years have exacerbated that issue. The changing landscape of more opportunities for work/school from home, zoom calls, and limited daily interaction with actual humans, it’s no wonder our “soft skills” have taken a step back. Remember the first time you interacted with someone in a social setting after Covid restrictions started loosening? Woof. It was a little awkward and strange at best. So now consider how our campers and staff may have continued to be limited in their in-person interactions because, at times, it is easier, costs less, and is more convenient. In addition, I have been hearing that along with having a hard time interacting with others and building relationships, staff often do not have “basic” skills like how to clean, follow a schedule, or maintain healthy sleeping habits. That is a lot to think about. 

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Getting There is (Half?) the Battle

Out of School time programs provide kids, families, and entire communities with innumerable benefits. However, sometimes the biggest barrier to accessing programs and the benefits we provide is literally getting kids in the door

Transportation access, or lack thereof, has an enormous impact on OST programs and the families we serve. Whether your program exists in a major city or in a rural community, a host of issues can make getting kids in the door challenging. Providers in urban spaces often lament the challenges of young people trying to navigate complicated public transit systems and unsafe walking routes. Rural providers commonly deal with long commutes for kids to and from program hubs - commutes which are often affected by inclement weather. No matter where you are located, schools and programs continue to feel the effects of the ongoing bus driver shortage. When we are lucky enough to have access to dependable bussing, it remains incredibly costly and often options are limited. At the family level, many Wisconsinites do not enjoy the privilege of access to a safe, reliable vehicle that they can use at their disposal. When taking all these factors into consideration, it seems like no small miracle that we manage to have any children arrive at all! 

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Open-ended Questions, a Powerful Tool to Serve the Whole Child

As out of school time professionals, you have opportunities to get to know kids on a level that school day staff and other providers do not. You get to see kids in some of their toughest transitions but also get to see them in their natural states, playing and exploring in ways that offer you deeper insights into their world. You notice when things are off - like when a child is tired or hungrier than usual. And you build relationships with their caregivers, opening up conversations with them as they pick up kids at the end of the day, and welcome them into your space.

All of this puts you in a unique position to serve the whole child and whole family and to tap into the community to provide kids and families much needed supports. Despite this unique opportunity to work with and support families however, it can be overwhelming to think about where to start. It is not always easy to initiate a conversation when you are worried about someone and you do not want to offend or make premature assumptions. In this blog post, we will explore the convenience and power of the open-ended question as a tool to start conversations and to dig deeper. 

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The Privilege of Buying Cheap Toilet Paper

Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s really expensive to be poor?” Think about it for a minute. There are a lot of ways to save money on everyday items and activities, but oftentimes, the ability to take advantage of those savings requires abundance elsewhere in your life.

Take, for example, buying toilet paper. Costco has famously excellent toilet paper that is really inexpensive for such a quality product! If you’re the kind of person who has a Costco membership, you might be shocked at how much a roll costs at the local drug store.

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