Ann Gillard and Robert P. Warner’s Evidence-Informed Guidance for Summer Camp Staff Training is a new resource that provides camp professionals with promising practices for summer camp training, and can help camp administrators make decisions about training their staff.  This three-part series outlines that resource, highlighting (1) what we know about summer camp staff training , (2) recommended competencies and how training effectiveness is influenced by characteristics of camp staff , and finally (3) how to structure staff training and how training can transfer to camp work. 

How should staff training be structured?

Consider your goals for training. Do you use training to build community or teach skills, or both? Most camp administrators will say both, so use a hybrid approach for training that balances in-person community building with remote or online training for skill building. Differentiate your training methods for new staff and experienced staff.

Think about pre-training, during-training, and post-training.  In a research synthesis of training studies , Salas and colleagues shared that properly designed training works, and the ways training is designed, delivered, and implemented can greatly influence its effectiveness. The authors further include a checklist of steps to take during each time period (that is, before, during, and after training), so be sure to check out the full article (linked above)!

Other things to consider include:

  • Think about the content you want to teach staff. Does some content lend itself to being taught online, such as the history of your camp, or some policies or procedures? Is there sufficient structure and guidance as to what and how trainees should learn online?
  • If you use online training, choose the right media and incorporate effective instructional design principles.
  • If you use online methods, use well-designed simulation to enhance learning, improve performance, and help minimize errors; it is also particularly valuable when training dangerous tasks.

How can training transfer to camp work?

Well-designed training leads to transfer. Training transfer is applying what is learned during a training to one’s work. The first step to creating transfer is identifying the learning outcomes and creating actionable steps that will lead staff through the training and toward the outcomes. Secondly, give staff opportunities to practice skills during training for better retention and implementation of the skills. This can lead to less need to retrain later. Opportunities for practice, role modeling, and positive feedback can help staff become more confident in their abilities. Third, creating transferable training requires maintenance. This means that the beginning of the summer training needs to be revisited throughout the summer. Creating resources that can be referenced outside of training can help meet this need. Frequent check-ins or mini skills sessions can also help with skills maintenance, as they can be great opportunities for staff to talk about what went well and what could be improved for the future. Check-ins should ideally strike a balance between reinforcing positive behaviors and providing suggestions for improvement. Mini skills sessions can take many forms. However, they should be more than an abbreviated version of the initial training.

While training is often deemed successful if it leads to enhanced performance by staff (with post-training evaluation being an easy way to know if staff are retaining what is learned during training), it can be difficult to know how to design training that changes staff’s behaviors and leads to actually using what they’ve learned in their work . This final section of Gillard and Warner’s training guide describes strategies for designing training that transfers to staff’s work.  More specifically, they point to the following key factors in fostering transference:

  1. Identify what the process looks like.
  2. Make the learning stick.
  3. Belief in one’s ability to perform the behavior (via successful modeling by others, constructive feedback, and opportunities for practice and confidence building).
  4. Maintenance.

The bottom line?  Be creative in teaching and assessing skills during the season! On-the-job experience can meet training objectives when structured accordingly!

Want to learn more about camp staff training?  Read the full training guide for a deeper dive into research-informed evidence pertaining to practices in staff training approaches.  And as always, thanks for reading!

Photo courtesy of Rancho del Chaparral & Camp Elliott Barker / Girl Scouts of NM Trails

Thanks to our research partner,  Redwoods .


Additional thanks goes to our research supporter,  Chaco .