Thematic Framework

A thematic framework is found in many entertainment media: most video games; some movies; board games; restaurants; theme parks; and some books employ thematic frameworks to help participants feel as though they are a part of a different world. This artifice is part of how these media deliver their value to the participants, and in some cases, it is part of the transformative nature of the experience. For example, participants in Disney World's Animal Kingdom can believe they are really in Kenya experiencing a safari. Readers of the Lord of the Rings are transported into a world full of interesting creatures, languages, songs and legends that are a part of the fictional thematic framework of Middle Earth. Even though the story itself doesn't depend on the intricacy of this thematic framework, the beauty of the framework is one of the very compelling features of the books and the experience of reading those stories.

Camp Fitch's Thematic Framework

Camps face increasing competition from sports, special interest lessons/clubs, and video games. Video games in particular present a competition to us that is a compelling, highly evolved, immersive story-driven pursuit on which kids spend an inordinate amount of time. We believe that a Camp experience is better than video games because of its managed supervision, fundamental authenticity, and vastly increased social interaction. Although the upside of a Camp experience far outweighs any upside that video games can offer, we compete with these immersive, story-driven, and challenging games that have very powerful thematic frameworks. Our competition (video games and summer sports) also provide a sense of achievement and of belonging (to the community of people who achieve within the game framework) – and that makes it extra important for us to have a strong thematic framework to compete for the attention of campers and potential campers.

A thematic framework for a camp is a story that surrounds the entire resident experience. This story has some crucial elements:

  • The story involves the campers directly. They can imagine themselves, each unique self, having a role in the story, and a part to play.
  • Since kids and parents look to an organization such as Camp Fitch as trusted partners in child rearing, the story should be “based on” reality – there can be some fiction, but those elements should be so hyperbolic that kids understand the parts that are fiction and the parts that are factual.
  • The story can be taken very far by some kids, and be fairly superficial for those who don’t want or need to be immersed in it.
  • The story should be open-ended enough that future staff can improvise within the framework, and in that way, the main elements of the story might evolve over time to suit staff talents and ideas. The idea of a living story is more interesting to be a part of than a stagnant one.
  • The thematic framework should be reflected in physical elements of the camp.

Right now, Camp Fitch’s thematic framework is fairly weak compared to the great camps who are full every summer, and some elements of the thematic framework are misleading to kids (and make us look fairly naïve). For example, we call our age group divisions “villages”, yet name them after an entire tribe (or civilization) many of whom had several distinct geographical enclaves throughout a region of colonization – in other words, there was no single “Shawnee Village” on the map. More importantly though, these village names are wildly incongruent – Aztec and Inca are pre-Columbian civilizations (very large groups of people with shared religion and traditions) from Central and South America, while Apache, Sioux, Cherokee, Shawnee are tribes (comparatively small groups of people who have a less consistent language, religion and traditions compared to civilizations) of North American native people who, with the exception of maybe the Shawnee, lived nowhere near Lake Erie or Camp Fitch.

These could be some of the reasons why we really don’t do anything with these village names – no tradition/attribution that I can think of at all (e.g. many of the village cheers are just spelling chants, nothing to do with native traditions). If we do try to build a more powerful thematic framework upon these names, I think we do a disservice to our campers and will confuse their growing sense of history with the incongruency. Additionally if we wanted to build upon this weak, existing thematic framework, we would have to put a lot of thought into how to incorporate these people’s traditions honorably and respectfully (people who identify as part of these cultures do still exist, after all . . . ) Frankly, it would strain credulity to thematically connect the Aztec and Inca civilizations with a collection of mostly western Native American tribes.

As we start our second century of providing transformative experiences of friendship, belonging and achievement for kids, this is a good time to start something new that is self-consistent, historically accurate, and allows future staff to make dynamic modifications as the society in which Camp exists changes.

An idea for a new thematic framework

Motivated by our proximity to Lake Erie; the rich maritime history of not only the Great Lakes but also near urban neighbors of Conneaut and Erie; and our own commitment to aquatic activities; we would like to explore a maritime framework for the summer program. This framework has many attractive attributes that are relevant to our core values and the modern market – these include the theme of discovery (of self, of God, of friends, of new talents); risk-taking; grit and determination; self-sufficiency; and the intense community living of ships’ crews.

We have several times and ways throughout the week to reinforce a thematic framework to make it “stick:”

Age Group Names

The nuclear unit at Camp Fitch could be called a “ship”. Each ship is comprised of two cabents, or 14 campers, and two Ship Captains, who could also be referred to as a “Skipper” which is a more friendly term for Captain. Each ship should have a name determined by all the kids in the ship.

We propose the following names for age groups, which we will call either “fleets” or “flotillas”. Fleet rolls off the tongue easier, and an organization like a country can have several fleets of ships (the US Navy has six active fleets right now). If we want to refer to the whole of Camp Fitch as a single fleet, then age groups are sub-fleets, which might most accurately be described as flotilla. We could call flotillas “floats” for short. Fleets might still be preferable because it may be more obvious to kids and parents.

We would like to strongly consider calling an entire age group by a single designator to help promote unity and also for the sake of simplicity. Currently, we usually refer to both villages in the same breath, as in “Cherokees and Apaches will start at the pool, while Incas and Sioux can now help themselves to a hot dog.” This will make it easier, and give us some potential in the future to divide the whole camp primarily by age group, rather than primarily by gender.

We would like to maintain the names for each camp – Camp Ot-yo-kwa and Camp Chickagami. We can decide later if these designators are primarily about place, or about gender – and might depend upon what we do in the future regarding a primary division of Fitch. To the best of our knowledge, Ot-Yo-Kwa[1] comes from the Mohawk people and Chickagami[1] comes from the Chippewa people – and both of these groups lived within a few hundred miles of Fitch, with similar landscapes and seasons that we experience. Ot-yo-kwa is supposed to mean “group of people forming a single fellowship” and Chickagami is said to mean “by the Lake.”

Here is one idea for names of the fleets (age groups).

  • Mackinaw Fleet: 6- to 7-year-olds
  • Sloop Fleet: 8- to 10-year-olds
  • Schooner Fleet: 11- to 12- year-olds
  • Outrider Fleet: 11- to 15- year-olds(equestrian girls)
  • Clipper Fleet: 13- 15-year-olds
  • Perry's Fleet: LIT (because Commodore Perry was a very good leader who displayed some of the character traits we're looking for)
  • Curly's Fleet: CIT (because Curly Johnson was an outstanding leader and luminary at Fitch – since the LIT is about general leadership, the homage is from outside Fitch and since the CIT experience is more closely tied to leadership at Fitch, this program's homage is to someone within Fitch).
  • Galley Crew: Dish Crew
  • ??: Disabled Adult Program

Names for Places and Staff

We can keep all of the existing place names, and find some terms to describe places that either have no descriptor, or are terms we don’t like. For example, the Ot-yo-kwa Schooner Fleet can still live in The Cove and the Clipper Fleet at The Point. The Chickagami Clipper Fleet could still call their space “The Square”, and the Chickagami Sloop Fleet lives in The Hook. Ot-Yo-Kwa Sloop Fleet and the Chickagami Schooner Fleet might have an opportunity to choose a new name for their home base, as could any of the other fleets. In general, the home base for each Fleet could be called their “Harbor” instead of Village, as in “Meet you in the Village” could be instead “Meet you in the Harbor.”

The leader of each fleet (formerly Village Director) is called a Fleet Captain.

Senior directors such as Boys' Camp, Girls' Camp, Leadership Directors, full time program directors, could be called Admirals. This group of people could be referred to as the “Admirality”.


As a way to get more intentional about achievement within the thematic framework, we propose the formation of Guilds. All kivas (need a new name, though) will be a part of a Guild.

Each guild will establish levels of mastery like: apprentice, journeyman, expert, master (or maybe the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition). We will rig the scale so that attaining Master in a Guild will be a very big deal – maybe only a few kids in a summer would earn that rank, and no first year camper could get that far in a week. Conversely, lots of kids can gain the rank of Apprentice in a Guild. We need to discuss how this will work, but the goal is for everyone in camp to understand the level of effort/skill required to attain these levels in a Guild, and therefore we give kids something concrete and understandable at which to aim.

Tracking progress in a guild: It would be great if we could give each kid a paddle on which to chart their progress. They would receive the paddle as a first year camper, and then be expected to bring it back each year. We would buy custom brands that could be burned into the wood to commemorate various achievements, like Guild levels.

Guilds and their associated activities could be, but not limited to:

Defense Guild

  • .22 rifles
  • air rifles
  • archery
  • paintball
  • fort building
  • martial arts

Artisan Guild

  • visual arts (most of our crafts)
  • theater arts
  • music

Voyager Guild

  • canoeing
  • sea kayaking
  • sailing
  • swimming lessons
  • climbing
  • equestrian

Philosopher Guild

  • star gazing
  • rags and leathers
  • nature
  • warrior workshops
  • Clipper Chats

Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony has the following goals:

  • create a sense of wonder and awe
  • make it very clear what is most important for the week – making friends and creating community
  • introduce some achievement goals for the week

It will probably take place Sunday night after dinner. A rain plan will likely be to hold the opening ceremony in the Dining Hall.

The Opening Ceremony has its own page. Follow the link to the page, and them click on “Edit Page” in the top right hand corner to add your thoughts and ideas!

Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony is a pre-cursor to Candlelight. The ceremony will feature camper talent, show the weekly summary video and make some very big award presentations. Whereas Candlelight is about looking to life after Camp and making a commitment to take Camp's lessons to heart for self-improvement, the closing ceremony will bring closure to the week.

The Closing Ceremony has it's own page. Follow the link to the page, and them click on “Edit Page” in the top right hand corner to add your thoughts and ideas!

Tie-In with Candlelight

According to marketers, most people have to hear things seven times before it sinks in. Since we have a limited amount of time and attention with our campers, this marketing wisdom provides motivation to tie elements of our program together in a simple way. Our Candlelight Ceremony that closes the week is sacred to us, and is not tied into the Native American theme at all. I propose that we try to tie it in tighter to the theme through the Navigational Lamps of the Fitch Way. This could be a part of the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony – I imagine that in the Opening Ceremony we can have three very big lamps (red on the left of the amphitheater, green on the right, and a white light on a mast) and make a big deal about lighting them with an explanation. Maybe each port (fleet home) could also have lamps that have to be lit every night. Then, at the Closing Ceremony, we could revisit in some way before we go to Candlelight.

Physical structures and Signage

  • Each ship (two neighboring cabents) will have a flagpole between their cabents and a picnic table. The ship will make a flag (or counselors will make a flag they can use all summer) that they will put up on the pole and the picnic table is their group meeting spot, and also where the skipper will be stationed until 11:00 when he/she is supervising both cabents (the other skipper of the ship will have his/her night off).
  • It would be good to construct signs in each Fleet Harbor that have the Fleet Names, and maybe some icon for the fleet.
  • Each ship should have a sign on both cabents of the ship with the ship name.
  • Our new entry sign already has a maritime feel to it.
  • Some big ideas in this category are to erect “masts” in the Dining Hall – poles that reach the 40’ peak of the ceiling, and build a crows’ nest at the top of the pole. Kids can climb the poles and hang out in the crows’ nests for a meal, or just for fun.
  • We can rebuild cabents to look like an upside-down ship’s hull. Each berth has a porthole or gunport window.
  • We can build the soundbooth of Friend Circle to look like a wheelhouse, and add a pole to the back of it with a crows’ nest for videography and a steerable spotlight.
  • Games like tetherball or nine-square-in-the-air could be renamed/themed with maritime elements.
  • Mopping the floor is renamed “swabbing the deck”.
  • Semaphore flags can be hung in the Dining Hall to spell out mottos or messages.

Other Ideas to Reinforce the Maritime Theme

  • Each day, one ship from each fleet who exhibit some exemplary behavior can be named as the “Flagship” of the fleet. Maybe they get some special privileges for day.


See our Resources page for links to ship names and other details that you can use to enrichen the thematic framework.

1. a, b Florence M. Poast, 1916. Indian Names, Facts, and Games for Campfire Girls. The James William Bryan Press, Washington DC., pp.66-68.