Time to go to bed
After an exciting evening program at camp the last thing campers want to do is go to bed. For new camp counselors, it can be a challenge to bring the energy levels down and may decide to just send the campers off to bed. This is not a shortcut worth taking, as later that night you could be spending your time monitoring rooms that are still up, awake and talking through the night. Calming the campers down gradually and sending them to bed at the right moment and in the right way will make for a much quieter night at camp.
Like everything at camp, considering the ages of your campers will ensure that you have choosen suitbale ways to get them off to bed quietly and calmly. A fireside fairytale story may have a group of 7 & 8 year olds following your every word, but would simply be a waste of time with a group of 16 & 17 year olds.
When dismissing campers it is best to do so one at a time (more about this later in the blog). With young campers (7 – 11 years old) you can touch them lightly on the head as a signal it is time for them to stand up and quietly walk to their bedroom. For slightly older campers (11 – 14 years old) it is best to lightly tap them on the shoulder to let them know it’s time to get up and go. For older teens (15 – 17 years old) you may decide to use eye contact as a way to signal it’s their turn to go. Each action is reflective of their age and touching a sixteen year old on the head, may make them think you are treating them as a child and they probably won't take that well. Choose an action that is appropriate to the campers age and use it each night to keep things consistent when sending the campers to bed.
For most calm downs, it is best to have the campers spread out and sit down on the ground, all aimed at one focus point (camp fire, a prop for the calm down etc). Next spread all available counselors out amongst the campers. This helps with monitoring campers during the calm down. Depending how far away from the bedrooms you are, have two to three counselors standing along the way to camper bedrooms with torches. This helps campers find their way to their room in the dark and keeps the quiet and calm atmosphere created, that would be otherwise broken by campers running and shouting on the way to their bedrooms.
Before you start the calm down, have one or two pre choosen counselors who act as ‘dismissers’ as well as which action they will use to dismiss the campers. Their job will be to walk among the campers and pick which campers are dismissed and in what order. Don’t use too many counselors as you want this process to be gradual and calm, and with too many counselors dismissing it can get a little chaotic. When the campers are quiet and you have their attention, point out the designated ‘dismissers’ and explain that when they use the designated action (e.g. touch you on the head), the camper stands up quietly and walks to their bedroom.
Start your calm down and take your time. You can wait a minute or two before dismissing campers. The aim is to bring the energy down and to have the campers engaged. Dismiss one camper at a time and allow enough time in between each camper to not break the calm and quiet atmosphere. If you find some campers are a little chatty, you can have them seperate and move to another part of the calm down. I usually send the quietest campers to bed first and if there are any noisy campers, you can give them a little signal to quieten down, but don’t send them to their bedroom until they do. Remember, it is important to take your time and you’ll find you have much more success with your calm downs.
One thing that will make a huge difference is the music you use. Classical works for most things, but I have my own favorites so here a few that should work a treat!
Now that you have your music, next you need to decide on how you are going to keep the campers attention while slowly bringing down the energy. Throughout the seasons I have seen some really effective ways, so here is a short list of some of the best.
Keeping it simple
Have the campers lie down on the ground and spread out. Then tell them to close their eyes and listen to the music playing. Nothing too complicated and with the right monitoring and playlist, a group of gaggling and giggling campers can become calm, quiet and ready to sleep after a few songs.
With an easel, paint and brushes set up, explain to the campers that a famous artist is here to paint for all of them, but, he needs to work in silence. Then introduce a counselor who emerges in costume (usually wearing a beret and a drawn on moustache), who then proceeds to paint . . . well anything ! The important thing is that the counselor paints slowly and when possible doesn’t reveal too early what it is they are painting. This keeps the campers guessing and engaged and is genuinely one of the most successful calm downs I have seen at camp.
Four counselors stand in front of the campers in a line. When the music begins to play one counselor starts to dance slowly around the other three. When the dancing counselor touches one of the other counselors, they freeze like a statue and the other counselor starts to dance. Each counselor takes it in turns to choose another counselor to unfreeze and at the same time, they themselves become a statue. On more than one occasion I have had a camper watching this ask if they could stay and keep watching instead of going to bed. This is a classic and works well on high energy nights.
The calm down at the end of the camp day is often a neglected but an incredibly important part of the day. If you follow my advice then you will find that both the campers and counselors will benefit from a quiet and peaceful end to the day. Start simple, take your time and play the right music ! Good night and good luck.