Educator Resources

Summer camp CIT programs: Resources, tools, & best practices

Summer camp CIT (counselor in training) programs are a great way to help young people transition into responsible working adults. Many camps offer CIT programs to former campers before they can become full-fledged counselors. It is an important stepping stone and helps differentiate the time spent at camp as campers and the time they will spend in future summers as staff members.

Plus, research published in 2019 actually shows that young people who are “loyal to camp,” meaning that they attended camp for more time or they progressed into leadership positions through CIT programs, saw more positive impact and greater youth development. This is a great selling point for families as you kick off a CIT program at your camp.

At Sawyer, our mission is to help camp owners find success and spend more time doing what they love. In this article, we’ll outline important tips and useful information to help you plan and run a successful CIT program at your summer camp. Looking for more support to jumpstart your camp? Check out our ultimate guide to starting and running a kids camp.

How to start a summer camp CIT program

At its core, a CIT program is a mix of camp programming and camp counselor training. Of course, the goal is to teach your CITs how to become counselors. However, according to Nicki Fleischner, an assistant director at a camp in New York, it is important to remember that while CITs will have responsibilities, they are still teenagers, not adults. Building in time for them to hang out, play, and have fun is an important part of a successful CIT program.

Use these steps to help you start a summer camp CIT program.

Step 1: Determine how CITs fit into your camp structure

Before you can find and recruit young people and former campers to join your CIT program, you need to figure out how CITs will fit with your current staff and camper structure. Because CITs are still teenagers, it is important to establish rules in your summer camp safety procedures. For example, some camps say that CITs are not allowed to be the only one responsible for campers during an activity or in a cabin and that they must have an older counselor present for safety reasons. You might consider giving each CIT an older counselor “buddy” to act as their mentor, help them learn the ropes, and keep the campers safe. These decisions will be the foundation for your CIT program.

Step 2: Write a curriculum

Once you have determined where CITs fit in your camper and staff structure, then you can write a curriculum for the program. When you create a curriculum, the first step you should take is establishing your program goals. What do you want the CITs to accomplish over the summer? Ideally, they should experience life as a counselor, learn the safety procedures, and be ready to return the next year as a full-time staff member. With your goals in mind, you can sketch out the summer and plan how you will accomplish them.

Photo of summer camp CIT programs

Step 3: Plan your lessons

CITs should participate in camp orientation with the rest of your staff, but they should continue learning throughout the summer as well. Beyond learning on the job and teachable moments that older staff can point out as they interact with campers, CITs should be taken aside for learning and development opportunities. Whether these are as tangible as CPR classes or more abstract, like workshops or discussion groups on how to deal with bullying, these lessons are important when bridging the gap between camper and counselor, child and adult. If you are wondering how to write a lesson plan, check out our guide.

Tools and resources for counselors in training

  • Your camp’s safety rules and handbook.
  • Teamwork activities and games like pass the hoop, where the group needs to pass a hula hoop through their chained arms without breaking, and human spelling, where the group works together to spell things with their bodies.
  • Leadership activities and games like scavenger hunts and ropes courses.
  • Roleplaying activities so that CITs are ready to handle anything that comes their way over the summer.

Step 4: Establish your “hiring” practices

In almost all cases, CITs actually pay the camp a reduced fee to participate in the program. However, you should still have an application and interview process to “hire” the CITs. This helps you ensure that your CITs are ready for the responsibilities of working at the camp and it helps with the transition from camper to counselor for the CITs. Use our guide with helpful hiring tips and templates to get started.

Step 5: Prepare to announce

Once you have your program planned, it’s time to announce. Most camps fill their CIT programs with former campers, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you are looking to enroll participants who are outside of your current group of former campers, you should develop digital marketing materials and even old fashioned fliers. You should also write some information about the CIT program to put on your camp’s website for interested participants to review before applying.

How to find participants for CIT programs

  • Email past campers that meet CIT requirements. 
  • Facebook marketing using Facebook groups for families near your camp and even Facebook business ads that target teens aged 14-17 or their parents.
  • Run Google Ads that highlight the importance of CIT programs and how it will help benefit the teens that participate.
  • Make connections with schools nearby to put up fliers, speak with high school students, and network with guidance counselors so they can give students information about your CIT program.
  • Go to local job fairs for high school students and let them know about your CIT program.
Photo of how to start a CIT program

We hope this guide has given you useful tips and inspiration so that you can start a CIT program at your summer camp. If you are looking for guidance on managing and running your camp, the team at Sawyer is here to help. 

With our suite of tools, like custom forms to record allergies and t-shirt sizes, flexible payment options like gift cards and installment plans, and seamless scheduling and registration on any device, Sawyer saves business owners 28 hours per month. If you are ready to spend less time on admin and more time doing what you love, see how Sawyer can help with a free trial or demo

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