We're coming at you with a quick blog post today amid the chaos of THE FIRST DAY OF CAMP! This is game day. This is the big one. This is our Super Bowl. Camp people wait all year for that official summer kickoff and we LOVE it.
But registration (aka camp check-in) is rarely our favorite part. No matter how much excitement you've got flowing, people tend to turn into zombie lunch ladies as soon as registration begins. People have to wait in line, they're grumpy, the kids are bored, and Dad can't remember the last time Sally had a tetanus shot. It's just not fun. So here's the good news and the bad news:
Registration is really important to the camp experience.
This is your first impression – for Johnny and his mom and dad. From that first moment when their mini van rolls up and they start trying to figure out what this place is all about, it's on. They need to know where to go and what to do, but they also need to know that this week is going to be awesome, inspiring, safe, and beyond their expectations. It's a tall order, but we have a few pro-tips for camp registration day to help you get through to the fun part.
1. Do It Online and Do It Before
When it comes to paperwork and camper registration, we have it so much better than the camp staff who have gone before. Technology makes it possible for us to take the pressure off of parents on Sunday afternoon. They don't have to take the time to fill out paperwork in front of you when they arrive, and if it's all turned in online, they don't to worry about forgetting it (and neither do you.)
As much as you can, integrate online forms that are sent to parents as soon as they sign their child up for camp. Depending on the registration system you use, this may be an easily integrated option. Make sure to assign a staff member to check up paperwork status prior to camper arrival; they can contact parents and ensure that everyone has their “stuff” in when they arrive to camp. For those inevitable few who still forget, have a station with a laptop or iPad set up out of the flow of traffic. There is certainly a cultural shift involved, but making it clear that information must be turned in online and prior to registration will revolutionize that first day flow.
2. Stadium Level Energy
This isn't the DMV, people – it's SUMMER CAMP. We are about to put on the most insane week of the summer; you don't want the first moments of it to feel like everyone's slowly dying. Get your summer staff GOING. Get a staff RedBull fridge, offer incentives to the most enthusiastic staff member of the day, do whatever it takes. This should be a party. Get some music bumping, offer refreshments, let cheering and dancing abound – the more awkward, the better!
Camper arrival sets the tone for the week. By ramping up the energy in those first moments, you're not only showing them that camp is going to be super fun, you're showing them that YOU are excited about this week too. Kids are like tiny human lie-detectors. They will know in an instant if your summer staff are not “feeling it” this week. Right away that sets the tone that the staff don't want to be here and if they don't want to be here, they definitely don't care that I am here or about what I need. This is bigger than excitement. This is about showing our campers that they matter to us and that we are genuinely psyched about them being here.
3. Campers Here, Parents Here
Something we've seen recently that we really like is separating campers and parents (temporarily) early on in the process. There will be time for visiting the camp store and checking to make sure Timmy didn't forget his socks, but you can cultivate some independence right away too.
Once you've made sure you have the completed liability forms, see step 1, have staff round up campers and their luggage in groups and head off to meet their counselors in the cabin. Parents get to go through the rest of the registration line without entertaining their 10 year-old, they can ask questions, and you can even offer a “parent orientation” for newbies. Meanwhile in the cabin, campers are feeling out the situation without mom or dad's hovering to add stress to the situation. Counselors get a chance to hype kids up and help them feel integrated so when parents come around for their tour, they see their child excited, adjusted, and part of a group.
This is a totally new concept to us that we wish we would have thought of first. What better time is there to get kids signed up for camp than right after an amazing week at camp?! At registration, let parents know that they can lock in their camper's spot for next year when they pick them up. Send them home with the form or at least a flyer with the camp schedule so that when they are back at the end of the week, they are quickly and simply ready to go for next year. The camps we have seen do this require a short form and a deposit, but offer a free tshirt and a locked in price in return. Who doesn't love free swag?
5. Every Time is Someone's First Time
This step has a prerequisite that you know how to genuinely encourage and train staff. When campers and parents start arriving, everyone on your team should be committed to the mission and prepared to greet people with that mission in mind. There will be parents who barely even say goodbye to their camper, but there will also be moms and dads that don't trust these “kids” with their baby and still aren't convinced they are leaving without that baby in the car. Teach your staff to treat every encounter with a parent or camper as though that person is a first-timer. Even if they have done this for 15 years, they deserve to be paid attention to, have their questions answered, and to be confident about what's next.
Stress the importance of interactions and relationships on this day. Every encounter is significant. Prepare your staff to make eye contact and be reassuring even when they are full of butterflies themselves. Teach them to get down on their camper's level and to speak professionally with parents. The more your team can prove they care in those first few moments of camp, the better everyone will feel about the week ahead.
We hope you can incorporate some of these tips at your camp registration! If you haven't already started welcoming campers this summer, get excited! The campers are coming and the hard work is all going to pay off. It's like camp Christmas! And even if camp is well underway where you are, remember – every time is someone's first time. We are pumped for you! May your summer be full of joy and your registration be a party.