I also recall some of the not-so-fun realities inherent in summer: brutal heat, long days and—sometimes—overwhelmed staff.
I'd like to share with you one of my favorite supports, which can help with all those challenges not just during the summer, but all year. It's called a "bag of tricks." If every staff person has a bag of tricks and uses it consistently, it can be a game changer.
You don't need anything fancy or expensive—just a drawstring bag or backpack for each staff member. Fill it with alternate activities, sensory items and other accommodations. The point is for everyone to have a portable set of items to support youth wherever your program goes. Whether at the pool, on a field trip, in the woods or on a playground, staff can access a support at time of need. The items in each bag of tricks will work best if based on the age, interests and needs of the youth in the group.
Most of these items can be found in dollar stores, dollar bins at Target or Walmart, garage sales, and thrift stores. Here are a few of my "Hall of Fame" items: fidgets, timer, sidewalk chalk, blank notepad, colored pencils, large squares of thin fabric, deck of cards, small traffic cones, trivia and joke books, inflatable beach ball, small dry erase board/marker, premade hangman game sheets, and earplugs.
Let's say a youth doesn't want to play soccer with the rest of the group. If they sit on the sidelines for more than a few minutes, I know they will probably find an unsafe or disruptive way of entertaining themselves. So, I reach into my bag of tricks and offer a few safe alternate activity choices. For example, they may choose to sit on a large square of fabric and read a trivia book or play with a bag of Legos—or perhaps they would like a small whiteboard to play tic-tac-toe with a friend.
Here's another example: If I have a youth who is on the autism spectrum and has difficulty with loud and crowded areas, I could offer them earplugs to dampen the noise and a squishy rubber caterpillar I know they like (a fidget) to provide positive sensory input, which would also be calming.
If you would like to learn more about creating and utilizing a bag of tricks, KIT will share a Turnkey PD on this topic in the near future. For other practical ideas specifically for your summer programs, check out the Ready, Set, Summer webinar series for camp staff orientation or contact Kathryn@kit.org.
Kathryn King is Partnerships Director, Inclusive Communities at Kids Included Together (KIT). She has more than 25 years of experience in inclusive afterschool programs and has been a workshop presenter the past three years at NAA Convention. KIT is proud to be NAA's partner to build inclusive practices in afterschool programs.
Photo courtesy of KIT.