Last updated: November 3, 2022, at 10:58 a.m. PT
Originally published: November 1, 2022, at 7:12 a.m. PT
One of our top priorities at camp is building a community where our campers and staff feel they belong. There are many ways in which we build community, and we like to start by prioritizing time at the beginning of each session to build a solid foundation for the week. One of the tools we use is creating camp constitutions – a collaborative list of community guidelines that each cabin creates together in their first few hours at camp.
The conversation starts with introductions of everyone, often by asking each person to share their name and to tell a silly or fun fact about themselves – like what flavor of sour patch kid they like best, or what superhero sidekick would they be, etc. Then the counselor pulls out a large poster paper and markers for everyone. The counselor explains that they will be writing their cabin constitution and that the goal is to brainstorm ways for the cabin to have a successful week. At the end of the conversation, each person signs their name on the paper. Later in the week, both campers and counselors can refer back to their constitution when conflict arises.
Initially, some campers come to the conversation with the expectation that their camp constitution is just a list of rules for the week. While their counselors do include information on our supervision and bullying policies, they guide campers to think critically about what their goals for the week are, both as an individual and as a cabin. They do not frame camp constitutions as a set of rules, but as an opportunity to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met. Rules can quickly become punitive if the people making and enforcing them are not aware of the diverse set of needs or values each person has. By looking at camp constitutions to build our community through shared goals and guidelines, we remove the punitive nature of goals, and better set up participants for success.
Each camp constitution will look different because there is no cabin that has the exact same needs or values as each other. They’ll have similar themes because our counselors value safety and supervision, but some groups will have different concepts that they feel are important enough to be included on their constitution. Some cabins might decide that they all value learning new games and that they want to spend free time or cabin rec learning and teaching each other games rather than doing activities independently. Other cabins might decide that they need time to do something quiet in their bunks after Embers to help transition to bedtime and that they don’t mind if people use flashlights in their bunks to read or draw or journal.
The camp constitution is just one of many tools we use to set our community up for success. It allows for our participants to have a say in their experience, to get the most out of their time at camp, and helps our community at camp can be more collaborative, safe, and inclusive for everyone.