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Keeping a creative trip journal.

Many tripping programs include some kind of journal-keeping activity. Some counselors use journals to keep campers focused on the pros and cons of the day's events, while others use it to gauge the camper's growth both individually and as part of a team. Most trip leaders send copies of the journal home as a memento of the experience. Journals of the "It's-Friday-and-this-is-what-happened" variety are the easiest to keep; they are also the easiest to become a chore for campers and a headache for counselors.

The worst journal experience I had was on my first trip. I told the group on the first day that every camper would be assigned one day to write one full page (both sides!) in the journal after dinner. Combining the word "assignment" with a page limit killed any enthusiasm the group might have mustered; setting a "homework" time buried the enthusiasm; and excluding counselors from the assignment ensured there was no way to resurrect the enthusiasm.

However, there are ways to keep campers excited, make journal-writing time fun and team-centered, and end the trip with a book of memories everyone will enjoy looking back on later.

Keep It Simple

You don't need a special, decorated writer's journal. These tend to be more expensive than regular notebooks, and that's an added expense your program can probably do without (especially if the journal gets damaged or lost during the trip). The hard-bound, higher-quality feel of the journal may also turn off the enthusiasm of any camper who doesn't think it's cool to keep a diary. While "journal" has an almost reportorial connotation to many people, the term "diary" holds implications of soul-baring personal revelations. Campers may surprise themselves by what they write in the journal, but they won't write a thing if they feel it's expected.

A plain, spiral-bound 5 1/4-by-4-inch notebook is inexpensive, durable, and for those image-conscious campers, ordinary. Throughout the trip, allow campers to decorate the covers. This helps give them a sense of ownership of the journal and gives the campers who are more artistically inclined an equal contribution to those who are more comfortable writing. If your tripping program creates a commemorative plaque at the end of the trip, drawing on the journal covers often helps campers work out a plaque design.

Counselors Write, Too

Take time, even if it's at the last minute, to make an entry before the campers arrive. Write about yourself or your expectations for the trip, contribute a poem or riddle, or add a drawing or two. Each counselor should contribute something.

By presenting campers with a notebook that is not completely blank, you take some of the pressure off of them to go first. Campers see that the counselors are equal partners in the journal keeping, which shows that the journal is not an assignment. Finally, it models the variety of options the campers have when contributing to the journal.

Variety Adds Creativity

A creative journal is so much more than a chronological listing of the trip's events. If the format is kept open, the journal becomes a guide to the fluctuating emotional states of campers. They will repeatedly write about what they enjoyed in glowing terms; they will repeatedly mention what they had a hard time dealing with in somewhat less than glowing terms; and they will barely mention what was merely mediocre or commonplace. Allow riddles, puzzles, top-ten lists, "remember whens" or personals, crosswords, sketches - anything, as long as it's in good taste. If campers are writing or drawing what they want, instead of what they're told to, the journal will not become a chore.

Vary the writing time as well. If campers want to write at lunch, let them. Keep the journal near the top of the backpack or drybag, dig it out, and let them get to work. If they write or draw when they are most excited or interested, the journal will reflect it through vibrant word choices and detailed drawings, and it will be much more fun to look at later.

Make It a Group Effort

When you do sit down around the campfire to write out the day's events, gather the whole group, ask for a volunteer to act as a scribe (try to make sure every camper gets a turn, even if they're reticent at first), and have everyone contribute. Don't choose one camper to do it while the rest play or collect firewood. Singling out one camper sends the impression that this is an assignment or a punishment. Instead of looming over one camper, the counselor coordinates all campers' input. This method also helps get the smaller moments of the day on paper. What one camper might forget, another will remember.

Send It Home

If you promise campers that they will receive a copy of the journal after the trip is over, be sure to follow through. Before the campers leave, have each one write his address and a short good-bye message. After they've departed, ask counselors to add a note wishing them a safe and happy year. Then photocopy the journal and mail it to each camper. Receiving the journal when they've begun to settle in at home will jog campers' memories of the trip and give them something to show their friends and relatives.

On a purely business level, the journal also helps with camper retention. Camp may fade from campers' day-to-day memories during the school year, but seeing the journal on their bookshelf or in a desk drawer will remind them of the fun they had and hopefully make them want to come back for another trip.

In the end, camp is about creating friendships, experiences, and memories that will last a lifetime. A creative journal is an excellent tool for recording how it all happened.

Anthony R. Cardno is an environmental education program specialist for Fairview Lake YMCA Camps and Conference Center in Newton, New Jersey. He leads canoe and hiking trips for the camp's Environmental Trips for Challenge (ETC) program and is also the ETC counselor-in-training director.

"Programming" is open to anyone who has ideas or activities to share. If you would like to contribute, please send your ideas to: "Programming," Camping Magazine, 5000 State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151-7902 or e-mail Published authors receive three issues of the magazine in which their article appears.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Cardno, Anthony R.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
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