Section 3: Child Engagement

Sanibel Sea School is not a babysitting service.  As an educator, you’ll need to engage with the children meaningfully and find interesting and creative ways to interact with them and teach them. You’ll be able to lead best through friendship and compassion, not dominance. Take a strong interest in their lives.  Once they realize you genuinely like them, they’ll be receptive to your leadership.  Leading kids is an art! 

We look forward to having you share your gifts and talents with campers.

Some helpful tips:

Try to memorize each child’s name. Please introduce yourself to them and to their parents. Let campers know you respect them and want to share their sense of discovery.  In the beginning, if you must err on ignoring either the parent or the child, spend extra time with the child; don’t ignore the parent, but they will understand when you spend more time getting to know their child than you do them.  Listen to the parents – they need to know we are hearing them.  Love the kids – let them know you care about them and their safety and happiness.  

Seize teachable moments. If something piques the kids’ interest, stop, and take the time to engage in meaningful education! Impart the information that the kids seek. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” You can also carry field guides and empower the kids by showing them how to use these tools to discover the world around them.

We strive to be a “Yes Institution.”  All too often, leaders of kids end up saying ‘no’ more than ‘yes,’ until it becomes a knee-jerk reaction.  Rather than saying ‘no,’ challenge yourself to say ‘yes’ to requests.  Remove the obstacles and figure out ways to make it work!

Educators are expected to engage with children in a supervisory manner throughout the entire session or camp day.  Personal electronic communication is not permitted while children are on campus.  Please coordinate with a counselor if you must conduct time-sensitive private communications during that period.

Management Techniques

Managing children who exhibit challenging behaviors gets easier with time. It takes practice. There are some techniques that you can employ that may help:


  • Be positive: Always stay positive – it’s all about attitude. Whatever attitude you exhibit will rub off on your kids and those around you. Sometimes it’s as little as reframing how you introduce concepts, plans, ideas, etc. Other times, it’s about remaining stoked and enthusiastic when the going gets tough.

  • “I need” statements: When kids are being difficult to handle or are refusing to listen, it can help to verbalize exactly what you need them to do, using the phrase, “I need….”

  • Choices (forced): If a child refuses to do something or is resistant to instruction, you can always give them choices. A “forced” choice is where you give them two options, but one is obviously more appealing. The appealing option should also be the one you would like the camper to choose.

  • Set expectations: It is always good to set expectations before an activity begins! Expectations include guidelines, rules, considerations, and structure. This will ensure flow, maximize fun, and minimize risky behaviors.

  • Positive reinforcement, positive narration: Positive reinforcement refers to encouraging behaviors that positively impact the activity or moment. Positive narration is a straightforward way to redirect undesired student behaviors by publicly recognizing desired behaviors. This is an excellent way to draw attention toward positive behavior rather than calling out the kid. It feels awkward initially, but it is super effective with kids aged 11-12 and below. Essentially, you name the student and state the desired behavior they are doing. For example, “Char has sunscreen on and is ready to surf!”

  • Say names: Kids tend to respond more effectively when addressed by name. Please try to learn the kids’ names and use them frequently!

Drop the Rope

Sometimes campers draw us into a power struggle, and our first impulse is often to engage. Figuratively, “picking up the rope.” If you want to be more effective with children in general, let alone at camp, your first strategy should be to drop the rope. We don’t mean that you let kids do whatever they want, but instead, avoid the power struggle as much as you can.

Following are the four steps involved in dropping the rope:

  1. Stay calm. Children are provocative with you in the first place to unbalance and unnerve you. You have picked up the rope as soon as you lose your cool. And they win; you lose.

  2. Make kids “right” about the part of what they are saying that is technically correct. For example, we might say, “You’re right; I’m not the boss of you.” Whatever you say, do it calmly and without sarcasm

  3. After you “make a kid right,” let it sink in. You might only pause for a fraction of a second, but pausing will hold the child’s attention for that moment, enabling you to secure command of the interaction. Then say, “And . . . .” Most people say “but,” which is a mistake; doing so negates everything you already said. “But” is also a word all children are programmed to tune out when they hear any adult utter it.

  4. As casually and deliberately as possible, state what you expect or what is true for camp. For example, “I’m not the boss of you. (Pause). And helping out is part of camp for everyone.” By speaking in this way, you are practicing clarity. Once you have gone through these four steps, it is important to move on. Your first impulse might be to stay locked in with a child. Granted, there are times when a safety issue may make it impossible to move on. But in most instances, once you’ve said your piece, shifting your attention to the next camper or activity forces the child to face a sobering choice: move on or take things to the next level.

Challenge by choice:

Challenge by choice is a general approach you may find helpful to implement. We never force kids to do things they don’t want. So, if a kid asks, “Do I have to,” you can respond by sharing the challenge-by-choice approach with them.

Through an educative lens, we challenge students by facilitating their learning journey rather than simply running them through recreational activities. The term challenge by choice describes the risk versus reward paradigm of participation.

As adults, we exercise choice through decision-making, but young people are often told what to do and how to do it.

Focus on safety, skill-building, and communication to empower and support students in making informed decisions regarding their safety and personal well-being at a level right for them. The challenge-by-choice model empowers young people to decide their level of participation and engagement in an activity; this approach allows them the time and space to tune into themselves, consider all things, and acknowledge their instincts.

Challenge by Choice does NOT mean a camper can choose not to participate at all, but can choose how they will participate. This may mean doing an activity at a different pace or level, participate as a judge, participate as an observer, etc.


This acronym stands for a 3-step conflict resolution technique. It is most useful when alleviating the tension between two individuals. A “VOMP-ing” session typically requires a third party to be present and to serve as the mediator. For each step, person A will begin. When person A has finished, person B will summarize what person A has stated. Person A will then confirm and/or correct person B’s summary. Then, the roles will reverse. This process repeats until all three steps are complete: vent, own & empathize, and make a plan. The person serving as the mediator must keep A & B moving forwards, i.e., don’t retreat to venting as the session progresses.

  • Vent: Lay it all out. Say everything you need to say.

  • Own and Empathize: Recognize where you are coming from and where the other person is coming from. Relate. Own. Acknowledge.

  • Make a plan: Work together to formulate a plan that will ameliorate the existing conflict and is proactive about future disputes.

Intentional Questioning: As CITs, you are responsible for helping us teach kids about marine science! A great way to effectively engage your audience is through questioning. The bullet points below list several ways to be intentional in this process.

  • Incorporate vocabulary words

  • Ask for specific examples

  • Build on other questions

  • Ask for clarifications from your students

  • Ask students to support answers (“why?”)

  • Avoid hard no’s when occupying an educational position

  • Make connections to prior days, prior experiences, and prior knowledge

  • Divergent vs. convergent questions: Divergent questions do not have one correct answer – they are open-ended and thus can be somewhat more dissonant for students. Convergent questions have one right answer. While convergent questions are an excellent formative assessment for the educator, they do little for the individual to form a response. Consider when it may be appropriate to ask divergent or convergent questions and use them to enhance the camp experience!

Most important: Be authentic, be enthusiastic, be passionate!