Jenn Haines: How To Run A Summer Camp
By Jenn Haines, owner of The Dragon
Three years ago, we took the plunge and started running camps. Parents crave structured activities for their kids, and if those kids aren’t the outdoor day-camp types, the options can be limited. Which means gaming camps, like camps based on Magic or D&D, can work great.
Summer camps can be a great way to reach a younger audience, but the prospect of running one can be daunting. Where do you start? How do you do it?
Here’s a primer, based on what we’ve picked up over the last three years.
To be successful, your camp has to be well-structured.
Collect parent/guardian contact info, pick up and drop off information, medical conditions or allergies of the campers. Communicate any food allergies with all participants to avoid those items arriving as snacks. Make sure parents/guardians sign their kids in and out of camp each day.
Then it’s time to establish your curriculum. This can be tricky, given that you’ll have participants with very little understanding of the game, and others who are practically experts. The key is to be as flexible as possible, and to build in a variety of activities.
At a Magic camp, you could have debates on which card is better and why, or campers can design their own cards. What about a competition to speed-sort Magic cards? At D&D camp, campers can design monsters or NPC characters, or they can work together to create backstory for their party.
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Back-up activities are extremely helpful in situations where things go awry—like board games, or chatting about what superpower you wish you had and why. And you’ll want a few activities ready to go for kids who need a break on their own. Design projects or solo board games are great solutions here.
To help keep behavior agreeable, establish expectations early.
At The Dragon, the expectation is that everyone treats each other, the staff, and the space with respect. We have campers sign a document agreeing to these expectations when they sign up for the camp, and we reiterate those expectations on the first day.
Also on the day one agenda is going over the layout of the space, including designated snack areas, and the basic schedule of each day. We establish a signal we’ll use to get everyone’s attention (a clap and response pattern, for example).
We go over the schedule at the beginning of each day, including what we’ve already learned, what the activities for that day will be, and when snack break will occur. We also build in a little trading time for Magic camp, toward the end of each day. This will deter them from trying to do it throughout the day.
Before snack, after snack, and at the end of the day, we have a little meeting to reiterate what we’ve already done and what’s coming next. Kids thrive on knowing what’s coming, and there will be less conflict if they can prepare themselves for it.
One key to success that we’ve discovered is starting strong. Get those kids into the game right away!
Kids don’t care about the details of every character class, or how the stack works. While adults like to get more details up front, kids are much more comfortable jumping in and just figuring it out along the way. So, get them into the action as soon as possible by having pre-made characters and decks.
Lastly, kids love getting something for free! When costing out your camp, figure out what you can include for them. Our Magic players get six free boosters over the course of the camp, as well as old promos. D&D players will dice, a mini, and some store credit. They also all get a camp t-shirt.
Our summer camps have been really rewarding for building community, creating repeat customers, and spreading the word about your business. If you’ve got the time and the resources, and you want to reach a younger audience, give it a try!