Have you ever allowed your kids to have a big sleepover at your house? 10+ kids eating junk food, staying up way too late, and staggering back out to mom’s minivan at 9 a.m. with pillow and sleeping bag in tow. Do you remember what your house looked like after the dust finally settled? Half-empty soda cans covering every flat surface, bags of chips crinkling under foot, melted ice cream cartons spilling over the top of the trashcan. Now consider those same 10+ kids having a sleepover for 4 consecutive nights without parental supervision. This is what we in the industry call “Summer Camp”.
There is one person that stands in the way of that 4-night sleepover from turning into a modern day Lord of the Flies; the Camp Counselor. These summer camp heroes are on the front lines making sure the students (and the property) survive the week. And while finding great counselors is a challenge by itself, event planners also must consider how many counselors will be required. Or more specifically, what is the desired ratio of adult staff to students? Now, each camper doesn’t need an adult breathing down their neck the entire week, making sure they are behaving properly. However, for the safety, organization and stress level (specifically of the event planner), it is important to have enough staff on hand.
The good news is that there is a simple formula to calculate how many counselors you need:
campers ÷ average age + nights = counselors
Just kidding. Not every group or camp is the same, and therefore they can’t all go by the same rules. Here are some things to consider as you decide how many counselors you’ll need:
How do the rooms look?
Are the campers going to be in large, open rooms with 10 or more beds? Or will everyone be staying in motel-style rooms that sleep no more than 5 or 6? The simplest way to determine the number of counselors needed is to plan 1 for each room. However, if you’re going to be using very large or very small rooms, then you may need to reconsider. If the rooms only sleep 3 or 4 people, then you may need to have each counselor in charge of multiple rooms. The best way to map this out is by literally mapping it out, using a rooming layout of the lodging building. If the rooms are small and one counselor will be watching over a few rooms, make sure all of those rooms are in one chunk and that the counselor’s room is right in the middle of it. Even if they can’t monitor the students in the actual room, staying close by will help them hear any potential problems. On the flip side, it is important that the kids know where the counselor is staying, so that they know where to go in the case of an emergency.
How does the schedule look?
Do you have lots of free time set aside for your event? Or do you plan to have structured activities from the beginning of the day until the end? The way you structure your schedule can influence how many students one counselor can effectively manage. Supervising children during free time with lots of recreational options can be a real challenge; especially if the facility is spread out. In these scenarios, just keeping kids in the same general area can be difficult. And so if this is how your event is structured, you may want to keep the camper-to-counselor ratio small. However, if you have most of the day planned out hour by hour with structured activities, then each counselor can likely manage more campers. If students are bouncing around from activity to activity, it can be easiest to have a counselor per activity (depending on the number of players, one counselor may be able to manage a few). This keeps all the kids supervised, without having each counselor chase a certain group.
How old are the campers?
Younger campers generally require more supervision than older kids and teens. So if your attendees are in elementary school, you may need to consider having more counselors. As we all know, the simplest tasks can become difficult for a young child who’s away from home for the first time. Your counselors will not appreciate being in charge of 12 2nd graders who all can’t find their shoes.
If you’re being charged a full price for each counselor that attends, then you may need to be judicious with how many counselors you plan for. But if each counselor is paying their own way to attend, then you can likely afford to recruit more. Knowing how each counselor affects your bottom line is key to finding that threshold. Negotiating the price before sign-up can also help you determine if you will have to put a capacity on the number of attendees. It is unfortunate, but budgeting and staff numbers are a crucial part of the planning process.
At the end of the day, there is no exact formula for finding the right camper to counselor ratio. However, if you keep the previous questions in mind, it can help to make the decision easier. Counselors are the ones that keep balance between camp and chaos. Make sure you have enough this summer.