Camp is supposed to be a place where everyone can feel valued, safe, and empowered to be themselves. That’s hard to do when you’re feeling left out. Let’s make sure that no camper (or staff!) feels left out or ostracized this (or any) summer by following these 5 quick tips for avoiding cliques at camp.
1. Facilitate friendships and group cohesiveness
Of course the first tip is to do games and activities that ‘break the ice’ and help campers get to know each other. This is the first step in creating relationships and will help campers (and staff!) step outside their comfort zone a little bit. Next up, do some games and activities that focus on group dynamics, ya know, team builders.
Ice breakers & team builders – summer camps are known for these… it’s kind of our thing.
Use em’, they work.
It’s great to use them at the beginning of the week when campers arrive but realistically any of these games or activities can be done at any time and they’ll be fun, but they’ll be most effective if they’re done as a way to ‘set the scene’ for the week.
Team builders are also really effective if you find that your group is not working well together.
These are great to use with staff as well, especially during orientation or if you’re finding that the team dynamic is suffering a little bit during the summer.
2. Set expectations
Talk to your campers (and staff!) right away about what kind of behaviour is expected from them. It’s not enough to say “no cliques”, because, what does that actually mean?
Try this, “At Camp ______ we are kind to each other. What does that look like?” Write down examples campers give you. (You may need to prompt them a little bit – “what about in the dining hall? In the cabin? At the pool?”)
“At Camp _______ we are inclusive. What does that look like?”
“At Camp _______ we are respectful of differences. What does that look like?”
Ask campers to come up with some of their own too.
Then explain that while we value and promote friendships at camp, close friendships that exclude others or go against any of the things we just talked about are called cliques. And then have campers come up with some ways they can avoid becoming part of a clique. Add that to your list and hang it somewhere visible.
This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out conversation, most campers will have had some experience with cliques at school so they’ll have answers ready. The important part is that they’re coming up with the answers, and they’re placed somewhere visible so you can refer back to them later if you have to.
You can have the same type of conversation with staff during orientation. In fact, it’s a great idea to say “you’ll be doing this activity with campers later this summer, so let’s run through it now because it’s important for us to model the behaviour we’ll be looking for“.
3. Call them on it.
If you see a clique forming, nip it in the bud. Usually a clique has a ‘leader’, so bring them aside and have a chat with them about the friendships they’re forming. This shouldn’t be an accusatory conversation, ask them how they’re liking camp, tell them that you noticed that they’ve made some great friends, congratulate them on that. Then tell them that you’ve also noticed that some of the other campers haven’t made such close friendships, and you wondered if they could help out.
Appeal to the ‘leader’ in them, be honest, tell them what you’re seeing – that they’re someone who makes friends easily/ has leadership potential etc. and ask for their advice on how to make sure all of the campers feel included. Hopefully they’ll come up with some great suggestions that involve them and their friends actually including the others.
Conclude the conversation by saying things like “This is so awesome, I think we have some great plans, I knew I could count on you, I’m so proud of you for stepping up”, etc. and make sure to tell them that you’ll check back with them soon to see how things are going.
Keep a close eye on the situation, and 9 times out of 10 the clique leader turns into an inclusion crusader – sometimes all it takes is a little direction and a lot of trust.
This step is a little more tricky with staff.
On the one hand, it’s easy to deal with cliques on staff because you call them out on it, and remind them that they need to focus more on the job they were hired to do and less on their social relationships.
The tricky part comes in during down time or on breaks. You can’t very well tell someone who they have to spend time with while they’re on break, but if one or a few staff members are feeling left out, it can be really detrimental to the team dynamic.
The best I’ve come up with is to talk to the staff about what I’m seeing, what it’s doing to team dynamics, try to present the other person’s perspective and ask them not to flaunt their break plans with those who aren’t invited.
4. Join em’.
It’s summer camp, you’re the (insert staff position here) – you should feel free to just mosey your way up to any ol’ group and interject yourself into their party. Personally, I like to do it in the dorkiest, most awkward way ever…
Say you have a group of campers who are sitting at the picnic table, no one else can sit with them because there’s only so much room. I would say with a great big smile and very expressively “OH Hey Guys!!!! Fancy meeting you here!!! Whatcha’ doin? How’s it goin? How’s life? What’s new?” all the while either:
A. Wiggling myself in-between the two people sitting in the middle of one of the sides. (at this point, once I’m settled I would most likely rest my chin on both my fists, elbows on the table and smile the goofiest smile I can manage and say “Hiiiiii”)
B. Dragging a lawn chair/ stool/ bean bag chair/ milk crate from where ever it is (when I do this one, I like to make sure I make big arm gestures and speak nice and loudly so I get their attention on my way over)
C. Stepping in between/ over/ around people to sit smack dab in the middle of their circle, if that means I’m on top of a picnic table, so be it.
Once I’m there, I’ll chat with them, check in, see what’s up, then suggest we all check out what other people/ groups are up to. Usually they’re pretty happy to have a visit and open to the suggestion of dispersing, often they catch on to the dramatic entrance and disperse themselves, and sometimes they’re kind of annoyed by my interruption, but that’s ok – it still does the trick.
5. Model the behaviour you want to see.
Oh man, I remember being a counsellor in my first few years. Every season, three or four residential camp teams and five-day camp teams would come together for a week of training. The leadership team always seemed so busy, and important, and everybody kind of watched their every move. And even though they did a great job of integrating themselves into the group for workshops and activities, between sessions they were preparing, and problem solving, and that involved some hushed conversations and small group huddles, and even though we knew they were working – I still felt a little left out. Especially as I worked my way up the ranks and was at a point where some of my friends were on the leadership team and I was a senior counsellor, it was harder to be left out of conversations at that point.
So I tried to be aware of that type of dynamic as I moved into leadership roles.
I’m a million miles from perfect and didn’t always succeed, but I’ve always kept that feeling of being left out at the back of my mind and tried to be aware of how others were perceiving my interactions.
So there ya have it, five simple ways of preventing or managing cliques at camp.
How do you deal with cliques in campers or staff? Tell me all about it in the comment section below!