Secrets to Running an Amazing
Marching Band Camp
Marching band camp is one of the most powerful weapons music educators have in the war against summer learning loss, but this summer musical tradition actually does much more than that. It’s a time that’s completely devoted to refreshing musical memories, introducing new material, and laying out expectations for the coming year. From building trust, respect, and camaraderie in your students to tackling complex musical challenges, marching band camp delivers massive benefits to music programs, but getting the most out of this summer music staple isn’t always easy.
This article is devoted to helping you get the most out of your summer marching band camp, with helpful tips and strategies to actionable advice for better understanding the summer pre-teen and teenage mindsets. We’ll cover everything from how to keep your students healthy in the summer heat to tips for learning how to empathize with preteens and teenagers in order to better reach them.
Start by finding empathy and understanding for your summer students
On an emotional level, the group of kids you teach during the school year aren’t going to be the same ones you work with during summer band camp. The average student’s summer mindset almost always is less focused than their fall, winter, and spring’s counterpart. Finding real empathy for your students is a great educational foundation to plan your marching band camp teaching philosophy around.
According to the Wabisabi Learning blog, “Initially, our youth enter the educational environment with all sorts of concerns and problems. To counteract this, an empathetic teacher encourages nurturing and support and sets appropriate guidelines for how students engage with one another, in doing so, everyone is given a safe place to work through and overcome cultural, racial, socioeconomic, and personal issues.”
Think, for a moment, of how you spent your summers as a teenager. Where was your head at and what were the things you were worried about? The times have probably changed quite a bit since you were your students’ age, but the summer mindset you were in how ever many years ago is probably similar to what they’ll be experiencing in your band camp this year. The fact is that all of your planning and teaching efforts will be vastly improved if you can have empathy, grace, and patience for your summer students.
Common summer attitudes you’re likely to encounter at marching band camp:
- Withdrawn or easily distracted students
- Students who are unusually unruly and overactive, or, conversely, ones who are lethargic and depressed
- Kids who are uncharacteristically anxious or self-conscious
Music educators don’t have the power to solve all their kids problems, but by caring about and better understanding your kids, you’ll get the most out of working with them during marching band camp.
Make your student’s health and safety your top priority
The National Association for Music Education recommends keeping marching band students safe with strict health and weather procedures:
- Make sure students wear hats
- Set aside time for water breaks
- Make sure your students warm-up for sessions through stretching
- Establish procedures for what the marching band should do in the event of weather and other emergencies
- Don’t leave it to your kids to bring their own water and sunblock. Make essentials available to your students
When it comes to keeping your kids safe and healthy during marching band camp, preventing and looking out for heat exhaustion should be one of your top priorities. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are common symptoms associated with heat exhaustion:
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
The Mayo Clinic recommends taking breaks during the hottest parts of the day, wearing loose-fitting clothing, applying sunblock, and drinking plenty of fluids for preventing heat exhaustion. If there’s no natural shade points located near your band camp, you’ll need to set up canopies or other shelters for you, your staff, and students to find shade under.
Unite your staff and students with a common mission and goals
You shouldn’t expect to have a productive marching band camp without creating a detailed list of goals and expectations that you share with your students and staff. “Team-build before you play a note,” is a great piece of advice for how to have a great band camp from the blog Band Directors Talk Shop. Get your staff and students on the same page about goals and expectations, and your summer marching band camp is much more likely to be a success.
It’s also important to note that you can’t do everything, even if you happen to be a talented, accomplished band director. Let your staff pitch in to help, and delegate tasks to the students you consider to be trustworthy leaders. Empowering your kids will make them feel included and like they have skin in the game.
Create a schedule that leaves room for fun
Prioritizing fun is essential for running a successful marching band camp. Since you’re demanding sweat and summer sacrifice on behalf of your students, it’s only fair you make a real effort to reward them with fun, lighthearted experiences in return. According to a post on the smartmusic blog, fun is also crucial for helping your students get to know and trust one another. Writer and band director CJ Garcia recommends these fun icebreaker and community building activities:
- Set up woodwinds and percussion against brass and colorguard in a game of capture the flag
- A “march-off” with the whole band. Have the eliminated students cheer on the ones who are still marching
- Create “ensembles” that have one member from each section. Have them sing through their music for the band using only the names of the members in their ensemble as the singing syllables
It’s a good idea to start your camp with fun activities like these rather than launching into the hard work straight away. Most likely, your kids want to do a great job for you. Easing them into the hard work of band camp through fun is a good way to help them feel and be their best.
Take care of yourself
No two band director’s goals, talents, and group of students are exactly alike, but all directors need to invest in self-care in order to lead their marching band camps successfully. Writing for the National Education Association, Lindsay Thompson recommends teachers do things like set boundaries, take time for breaks, and to remember that some things are simply out of your control as an educator: “No matter how hard you try, you can’t control everything. The sooner you learn this the better. Remind yourself that not everything falls to you, and there are people around you that want to help.”
You’re bound to be a much more effective leader and teacher to your students if you take the time to rest, connect with loved ones, and to remember that your marching band isn’t the center of the universe. It’s natural to care more about your students and staff than yourself during marching band camp, but you’ll end up being kinder, stronger, and smarter if you make sure your needs are being met first.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to running an incredible marching band camp, but through empathy, self-care, common goals, and an unwavering commitment to health and safety, band directors will have the best shot at getting the most out of the summer camps with their students.
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