“Ben is bringing brownies, Chris is bringing cupcakes, Malcolm’s bringing marshmallows…”
Notice a trend? It’s the Picnic Game, and if you've played it, you know it’s one of many name games counselors use to get campers familiar with each other early in the summer. Everyone goes around in a circle and says a food with their name, then repeats everything everyone else said before them. Though it may sound a little boring, it helps establish one of the main reasons many campers enjoy their experience so much: community.
Only at summer camp can you meet people from all over the country, bond in a matter of hours, and leave as best friends. Doing everything together, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, creates a special kind of relationship. It’s a surprising layer of depth that forms between a group that spends 24 hours a day in each other’s company. You move past the superficial small talk and soon know everyone else intimately, their motivations and dreams, what life is like back home, who they care about most…the list goes on.
Part of this stems from being around so many people in the same age range. The same effect can be observed on college campuses, where friendships form fast and run deep, simply because there’s a pre-established foundation. Similar majors stick together just like the group of campers taking woodcarving might play with each other outside of arts and crafts. Everyone is there for the same reason, and the shared experience makes a great starting point for conversation and relatability.
Understanding someone else in this way is rare, and the fact it occurs so quickly, yet is still genuine, is a testament to the power and influence of camp. However, this is only possible in a fostering, supportive environment. Summer camp should be a haven, and the staff behind it should be aware of the atmosphere they are trying to create. When done properly, the result is a place people are free to be open, be themselves, and appreciate others in ways seldom explored anywhere else.
Counselors are your program’s primary point of contact with campers. They make every fantastic, memorable, behind-the-scenes element of your camp run. Knowing how they work and think is important, but, as a director, can be difficult. To help, we’ve asked a few counselors to tell us a little about their camp experiences.
Why did you become a counselor?
Adam: I had gone to this camp before, and it was a really positive experience when I went. I was looking for something to do over the summer and thought ‘people do camp counseling… what camps do I know?’ I had a couple years IT experience before that and found a fun way to use it.
Jessica: I enjoyed it as a camper, so I went to back to help out as a leader when I aged out.
What was your favorite camp memory?
Jessica: One year, my birthday fell during VBS where I was a leader. So they sent me to get my mom, who was helping out, in order to get me out of the room. When I came back, they surprised me with a cake.
Andrew: The last campfire before everyone goes home, we do this ceremony where we shoot flaming arrows into the lake. You have to be really careful because you balance the supplies in the boat and paddle out a bit to do it. So I’m in charge of steering and my partner has the bow, but he stands up a bit too soon and loses his balance. I help him back in sopping wet, and we have to finish this very serious ceremony the whole time trying not to die of laughter. I still tease him for it.
Adam: There was a dance. We went to the mall beforehand, and the goal was for the kids to find something ridiculous to dress the other counselors in. Half of us went, the other half got dressed up. So my boys found gold lamay leggings. I will never forget the look on Jimmy’s face when he opened up that bag…
What were your favorite and least favorite duties?
Jessica: My favorite part was working so closely with the kids. My least favorite was dealing with the kids who didn’t want to be there at first.
Andrew: My favorite job was inflating the Blob for “Fair Day” and watching the tiny kids all laugh and fly off. Least favorite was cleaning the showers after the campers left. Spiders literally everywhere
Some people say being a counselor is just being paid to go to camp. Do you agree or disagree. Why?
Andrew: I agree. Being a counselor, you still get to hang out with all your friends the week they show up. But you also get to know your other counselors. I mean, you eat together, sleep together, work together; they’re like a second family. Honestly the money is like the icing on the cake.
Adam: I think in some ways yes, others no. You are at a camp and there to facilitate activities that you participate in too. But that phrase ignores a lot of the responsibilities you have as a counselor. You hopefully don’t ever have the I-just-have-to-get-through-the-day mentality as a camper. You should hopefully have fun facilitating activities, but it’s not the same thing and it’s not the priority. You have the responsibility to, for instance, maintain order and keep things smooth and safe, which aren’t things the campers need to think about.
What was your favorite part about being a counselor?
Adam: The difference between 13 and 18 doesn’t seem that big, but when you interact with these kids and see what they’re going through or focusing on, it is. It’s great to be able to reach back through time and recognize the things in the campers from your own experience and provide the guidance you wish someone had given you.
Andrew: My favorite part was definitely getting to do all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you don’t think about as a camper. Putting skits together was the best part; everyone’s just laughing and having a good time.
Jessica: Watching the kids learn about Jesus while having a great time playing sports and making friends.
As director, the responsibility to provide a positive camp experience falls on you. Here are a few tips to create a better experience for all involved.
Be a Leader. Definitions for “leadership” vary. To David Casullo, it is the “collective action of everyone you influence.” To Jonas Falk, it is
“inspir[ing] workers to achieve greatness each and every day.” To Forbes, being a leader entails practicing delegation, communication, enthusiasm, and accountability.
Figure out what being a leader means to you, and lead your organization to greatness.
Know Your Decision Making Style. According to social entrepreneur Jeff Shinabarger, there are seven decision making styles, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing which style you most adhere to allows you to take proper advantage of your strengths while mitigating your weaknesses.
This quiz can help you get started.
Devote Time to Improvement. Don’t lose yourself in the minutia of everyday life. In any work environment, especially a camp, there is always something pressing to command your attention. Avoid the temptation. Every day, devote at least half an hour to something important and intentionally not immediate. Here are a few examples:
· Review parents/camper/staff feedback
· Research industry trends
· Check active blogs for posts with valuable advice (The American Camp Association and Camp Network blogs are both valuable resources)
· Adjust the interview and hiring process for next year
· Read part of a book or article on child development, psychology, leadership styles, or other relevant topics
Embrace One-on-One Communication. Camps are inherently interactive. Campers chat face-to-face, not through text. They learn new skills from experience, not a book or YouTube tutorial. In this environment, it is important to lead your staff by example, taking the time to know their names, roles, and at least part of their backstory. This interest will lead to a more cohesive camp culture and better relationships through every level of the camp. And an added bonus? The summer will become much more fun.
When you don’t take care of yourself, it becomes difficult to take care of others. The middle of the summer, the middle of camp season, can easily turn into a chaotic stress fest for those involved in creating the whole summer camp experience. Whether you run a camp or a small group, make sure to take a breath and take care of yourself this summer. You’ll thank yourself… and so will your campers.
Make Breaks Count. According to Psychology Today, self-care means “choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors.” When you have a break during the day, even if it’s only half an hour, make it count. Use your break time to take care of yourself in whatever way best balances against the stressors you have been experiencing. Too much running around? Meditate or quietly read a book. Not enough energy? Enjoy a healthy snack and a cat nap.
Get Enough Sleep. One of the most important elements of a healthy lifestyle is sleep. It can be so tempting to spend all your nights catching up on work, stressing about the little things, or even, on a more positive note, hanging out with other staff. While all of these things are worth doing, they should not be done to the detriment of your health. If you notice your eyes getting droopy or your coffee cravings increasing, make sure you focus on what’s important: sleep. You--and everyone else around you--will thank you.
Make Relaxation a Priority. Everyone has that “one thing” that helps calm them. Mine’s cross-stitch. Others enjoy cooking, yoga, organizing their planners, or a plethora of other tasks. When you have a moment to yourself, quiet that little voice in your head which says you should do something more “practical.” Your health is practical. Doing your “one thing” will help you calm and focus yourself, putting you in a better mindset to face the rest of your day!
Sneak Your Favorite Things Into Your Schedule. I’m not talking about a chocolate bar stashed in your fanny pack here. I’m talking about your favorite things: watching the sunrise, running through sprinklers, making daisy chains… There is something magical about being able to not only do your favorite things, but being able to do them with others. Camp gives you that opportunity. Do a little digging and figure out how activities get planned at your camp. Can you volunteer to organize and lead an activity? You'll get to teach others something you love, someone else doesn’t have to lead it, and campers get the chance to experience one of your favorite things! It’s a win-win-win.
Camp Network provides online registration, website design, and marketing for camps, clinics, tournaments, and more. We work with some of the biggest universities and organizations in the country because we offer a quick, simple, and an extremely affordable solution. We automate the whole registration process so you and your staff can focus on running the event.