Great cabins place kids together from diverse backgrounds and life experiences

Every Sunday during the summer, campers line up inside the Creative Arts Center waiting patiently for the most anticipated part of check-in, their cabin placement. The air is punctuated by frequent shouts of glee, hugs, and high fives when campers learn they’ll be in the same cabin as their best friend, or reunited with one of their favorite counselors. For all of our campers, a cabin isn’t just where our campers sleep. It provides the foundation for their camp experience, and like everything we do at Tecumseh, the process of cabin placement abounds with intentionality.

Great cabin groups are the secret to great Tecumseh experiences. The cabin group eats together, adventures together, goes to chapel together, and does devotions together. It’s within these cabin groups that lifelong friendships most often form. It’s where kids develop trust and empathy. It’s where they can be open and vulnerable as they develop their faith, learn about themselves, and grow in character.

The Tecumseh staff strives to set campers and counselors up for success by thoughtfully placing every individual camper. A camper’s assignment isn’t the result of a computer algorithm or a random drawing, but of a meticulous, hours long process that takes into account a number of different variables.

One of the most important considerations in creating a positive cabin culture is striking a balance between campers who already know each other, and kids who don’t. Having a friendly face in the cabin can help alleviate anxiety about coming to camp. That’s why every camper is allowed one mutual cabin mate request. However, groups of campers larger than 3 can dominate the cabin with their own culture, instead of creating a new cabin culture with the rest of the group. Nothing is more discouraging for many campers than walking into a cabin where everybody already knows each other and feeling left out. For our staff, much of their time is spent working with parents to come up with solutions to round-robin cabin mate requests (Sally requests Jill who requests Meg who requests Brittany who requests Sally). 3 weeks before campers arrive for the week, we send out emails to these groups and start the process of breaking them into smaller groups we can spread out over a number of different cabins. We rely on our collaborations with parents to make these decisions. This ensures there are no surprises at check-in and everyone is comfortable with the final decision.

After the cabin mate requests have been sorted, and parents are notified, campers are placed in a process that takes about eight hours for our staff to complete. They’re sorted by age, location, and cabin mate request. Like any great incoming college class, sports team, or organization, great cabins pair kids together from diverse backgrounds and diverse life experiences. This usually means placing kids in cabins based on their hometown and camp experience. First year campers without a cabin mate request won’t often be placed with a cabin full of camp veterans. Likewise, campers without a cabin mate request won’t be placed in a cabin with all campers who are paired up. It’s either everybody is paired up, or it’s a good mix of requests and no requests. The final element is having representatives from all over the country and world. It’s fun for our staff to imagine campers from Chicago, Indianapolis, New York City, and Madrid all becoming friends.

Because the cabin experience is a foundational aspect of the Tecumseh program, it’s easy to think that campers who aren’t placed in the same cabin won’t have opportunities to see each other. The truth is every day is full of possibilities to interact with campers other campers in different cabins. Every morning, campers go their separate ways to participate in clinics with people from all over the village. In the afternoons cabins compete in activities like Ultimate Frisbee and Dodgeball, get to know each other while making friendship bracelets, and experience the outdoors during cookouts and sleep outs. In addition, all village and all camp activities like swim time, campfires, chapels, meals, and village games provide opportunities to meet new friends, and reunite with old friends. Because cabins that have the same aged kids are so close together (often sharing the same porch), it’s hard not to see campers from other cabins.

Whenever you arrive with your camper and receive your cabin assignment, you can trust that Camp’s process has been thorough. After 92 years observing cabin dynamics and working with kids, we do everything we can to set up every cabin for life-changing experiences.