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January 27, 2014
Guest post by Kevin Austin
As Rex, Stephanie, and I walked we argued over the proper way to sing "Rig of Bamboo.” We were at the Lazy W Ranch for the Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA), and took a walk while sharing our camp experiences, games, plans for the future, and favorite debrief tools. I knew I had found a special community of camp professionals.
SCLA is an invaluable program for young camp professionals. Veteran camp leaders gave us personal insight into their knowledge and experience; a crisis management presentation gave us grounding in theory and asked us to develop response plans to various challenging scenarios. We didn’t know that the situations came from the leadership team’s personal experience, and discussions became real as they compared our response plans with what actually happened. I’ll always remember Billy Stempson as he described a fire that started in his craft cabin during a camp session of elementary kids!
Shared stories, a highlight of the program, included other emergencies, funny campers, and first-year director challenges. Through the narratives of these current and future leaders, I realized both the diversity and unity of camp experiences.
I’ve taken all the lessons learned from SCLA with me into my first year on the leadership team at Tom Sawyer Camps. Both the serious lessons, such as “What to do when you need the paramedics,” and the fun ones like, “How to Build Camp Community,” have served me well. I also found a network of amazing leaders that I continue to connect with today.
While there will never be an agreement on how to sing “Rig of Bamboo,” — (Seriously. Never.) — the other SCLA graduates and I agree that SCLA was one of the best steps we took on the path of camp leadership.
Kevin Austin is a program director and registrar at Tom Sawyer Camps in Pasadena, California, where he has been a camper and employee for the last sixteen years. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Wagner College in English and education and is proud to be a member of ACA.
November 27, 2013
Guest post by Anne Archer Yetsko
When I speak with friends who work in other industries, I always tell them that if you have an applicant who has been a camp counselor and has a positive reference from that camp, they should move to the top of that pile of applications that are overflowing on their desk. A camp counselor is one of the hardest jobs out there. It is not all fun and games. Here is my list of the top 10 qualities you get when you hire someone who has been a camp counselor.
- A good communicator: Camp counselors have to be able to communicate well with children, parents, coworkers, and superiors. This is different from any other job because parents leave the most valuable thing in their lives with us, their child. At our camp they have about 10 minutes to speak to the counselors and feel confident in them before they leave their perfect child with them for two weeks. That 10-minute conversation is one that will have a lasting impact on that parent. THEY WILL CLING TO EVERY WORD! If a child is sick or homesick, that same counselor is the one to call the parent to update them on the situation and ensure them that their baby is safe and being well cared for.
- A life-long learner: When someone works in a camp setting, they learn that to be successful in camp and in life they have to realize they have a lot to learn not only about camp and their campers but also about themselves. Once they make that transition they are able to approach every situation in life with an “I want to learn more” attitude.
- A self-starter: Most camps have between 25-150 cabin counselors. While they are given very good supervision, no one is holding their hand every step of the way. They very quickly learn that as far as their campers are concerned, THEY are the “go-to” person. If one of their children forgets a toothbrush it is their responsibility to get them one from the infirmary.
- A resilient individual: Camp counselors can handle anything. Just ask the counselor who has been helping a camper overcome homesickness while teaching their activity in the rain for 4 days straight, only to learn that there is a child in their cabin with lice. When they hear this, instead of curling up in a ball and hiding (the way any normal person would), they grab their gloves, strip all the beds in the cabin, get all of the laundry to the cleaners, and get all the campers lined up outside to check each one for nits. I repeat, camp counselors can, and do, handle anything!
- A problem solver: At camp we try to keep things very scheduled and organized, but at the drop of a hat, plans can change. Imagine walking out of the dining hall with 250 campers and staff to play sock war (like capture the flag but you get to throw socks at each other!) when you hear a loud burst of thunder and have to come up with a new plan in an instant.
- A creative thinker: When you need a new plan immediately, leave it to a camp counselor to come up with the most brilliant and fun game that anyone has ever heard of. If you think a boardroom of 10 lawyers is intimidating try standing in front of 200 children who are expecting to have the most fun they have ever had and your plan that you have been working on all week just got rained out.
- A detail-oriented worker: Remember, camp counselors are responsible for THE most important thing in a parent’s life. Each and every detail is unbelievably important! Did a child have enough to eat at breakfast, drink enough water, make a new friend, skin their knee, play soccer, miss their mom, have wet shoes, lose their sweatshirt . . . ? Now multiply this by a whole cabin of campers!
- A leader: It does not matter if you consider yourself a leader or not, the moment children arrive on property their counselor is their leader and their biggest role model. They watch their counselor’s every move. It is amazing how quickly camp counselors learn how to take on this role and own it. The way these children talk about their counselors when they leave is a testament to what great leaders they are.
- A team player: Camp counselors are some of the best team players you will ever meet. They have learned that they cannot do it all on their own and that the best product is produced when you have a team working on it. In a camp setting, you need all different personality types to be able to meet each and every child where they are. To come up with the most fun game, camp counselors know it won’t come from one person but an army of people working toward the same goal. Most people come into this job thinking they can do it all, but it does not take long for them to realize that this job is physically impossible alone.
- A solid work ethic: It is very difficult to explain to someone who has never been a camp counselor how hard this job really is. These college students work 24 hours a day for 3 months with very little time off and they do all the things mentioned in 1–9 with a smile on their face.
Employers who themselves have been camp counselors understand the qualities required to successfully do this job and, consequently, often seek these individuals out when filling positions. But now the secret is getting out and having “Summer Camp Counselor” on a resume can make a potential employee much more desirable!
Anne Archer Yetsko is the associate director of Camp Merri-Mac in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She has worked for Merri-Mac for 12 years and is also a recent graduate of Touro University’s Camp Administration and Leadership master’s program. This blog was originally posted on the Merri-Mac blog.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
November 13, 2013
ACA has teamed up with Teach For America to present two webinars for young professionals. Learn tools that can help you land your dream job and master it once you’ve got it!
The Art of Public Speaking and Networking
November 19, 6:30–7:30 p.m. ET
- Learn the importance of effective public speaking and networking
- Tips for successful public speaking and networking practices
- How to draft and deliver an effective elevator pitch
REGISTER (Free for ACA members!)
Operate and Manage Like a CEO
November 25, 6:30–7:30 p.m. ET
- Make a game plan to tackle large priorities
- Choose a system for keeping yourself organized
- Learn how to catch things that come up
REGISTER (Free for ACA members!)
Both webinars are complimentary for ACA members. If you have never before been a member of ACA, access them for free by taking advantage of ACA’s free one-year membership opportunity.
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
September 24, 2013
Want to learn something new, share some ideas of your own, and connect with people who also love camp? There are local ACA conferences being held across the country this fall and winter!
ACA, New England — October 4, North Andover, Massachusetts
ACA, Virginias — October 15-16, Shepherdstown, West Virginia
OctoberWest — October 21-22, Orange, California
ACA, Oregon Trail — November 7–8, Gresham, Oregon
ACA, Keystone — November 12–14, Macungie, Pennsylvania
ACA, Heart of the South — November 12–14, Burns, Tennessee (just outside of Nashville)
ACA, Great Rivers — November 13–14, Moravia, Iowa
ACA, Rocky Mountain — November 20–22, Florissant, Colorado
ACA, Northern California — November 21, Oakland, California
ACA, Evergreen — December 9, Carnation, Washington
ACA, Upstate New York — January 14–16, 2014, Moravia, New York
ACA, Southern California — January 15, 2014, Santa Barbara, California
ACA, Northern California — January 15–16, 2014, Sacramento, California
ACA, Texoma — January 16–18, 2014, Burton, Texas
ACA, Ohio — January 23, 2014, Columbus, Ohio
Participants of ACA education events and gatherings receive continuing education credits to track their professional development. For more events, including local standards trainings, retreats, and educational sessions, visit ACA’s events calendar.
Photo above taken at ACA's 2013 National Conference. Don't forget, students attend national conference for free (just provide your student ID when you register)! Find information on the upcoming 2014 ACA National Conference in Orlando Florida, February 5–8.
September 18, 2013
The following is a Summer Story from 2013 by Jake Klingensmith (see right), Geza Head Counselor at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI). Check out GUCI on Twitter: @URJGUCI. Thanks Jake and GUCI for sharing your Summer Story!
This is my fourth summer as a counselor at GUCI, and over the years I’ve had a lot of time to figure out what my role as a counselor is and what kind of counselor I want to be. I’ve spent three years at Carnegie Mellon, a school that is very heavy in technology, and I see people spending a lot of time sitting in front of screens. I see the amazing things that can happen on those screens, but I know there are more amazing things that happen out in the world — especially at camp.
As human beings we have an unbelievable potential to create and to interact with the world. During my time as a counselor, I‘ve noticed that many children today spend more and more time engaging not with the world around them, but with a screen —TV, iPads, etc. My goal as a counselor is to show my campers just how big and amazing the world is, so that when they go home, in addition to an awesome summer, they have a more open mind, a stronger urge to explore, and a broader vision for the future. Because of this, the moments at camp that have the greatest impact on me are when I recognize that my relationship with a camper has paid off.
One thing that I value very highly that I try to pass on to my campers is the idea that all living things are important and sacred — no matter how annoying or buzzy or strange — so when campers tell me that they just saw a really cool insect and they didn’t let anyone smash it, to me those are the most important moments of camp. Those are the times that I know that I’ve changed someone’s life and hopefully made the world a slightly more tolerant place.
This post originally appeared at http://blogs.rj.org/guci/2013/07/30/broader-visions/.
August 21, 2013
What’s your favorite memory from this summer? Tell us at media@ACAcamps.org and you might just see it here on the Counselor Blog! We’re looking for stories about:
- lessons learned
- favorite mentors
- skills you gained
- camp moments you’ll never forget
Submit now through September 16. Stories should be 500 words or less.
Include with your story:
- a camp photo (if you have one) (be sure to fill out our photo release)
- the name and location of your camp
- a 25-30 word bio
- your Twitter handle (if you have one, we’ll mention you when we tweet the link to your blog from @ACAcamps)
Looking forward to your stories! As always, stay in touch with camp counselors year round on the ACA Camp Counselors Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina
August 12, 2013
This summer at camp, you undoubtedly learned a lot about character. We've compiled a few quotes on character from some famous former campers and camp staff.
“It’s important to push yourself further than you think you can go each and every day — as that is what separates the good from the great.”
— Former camper Kerri Strug, Olympic gold medalist, gymnastics
"Well, when you're trying to create things that are new, you have to be prepared to be on the edge of risk."
—Former camper Michael Eisner, longtime CEO of Disney
"I'd like to be remembered as a guy who tried — tried to be part of his times, tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life, tried to extend himself as a human being. Someone who isn't complacent, who doesn't cop out."
— Former camper Paul Newman, American actor, entrepreneur, and icon
"Success is not about the money you make, but the difference you make in somebody's life."
— Former camp staff Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."
— Former camp staff Albert Einstein, scientist
August 7, 2013
Whether you already have a new camp leadership role, or you’ll be going for one next summer, there are a few things to keep in mind as you become a camp leader.
Your role is different than it was as frontline staff member, and your responsibilities are more complex. Keep in mind these tips from Harvard Business Review (HBR) and Careerealism as you make the transition:
- Find the middle ground between listening and ordering. Michael Watkins from HBR calls this a “consult-and-decide” style. Show you value others’ input, but that you will make the decision that is ultimately best for your camp.
- Own your title as a leader. As Yun Siang Long points out on Careerealism, there are opportunities to lead everywhere. Make it your responsibility to find win-win situations and make sure everything that you are in charge of is running smoothly. If it’s not, what can you do to make it better?
- Keep open lines of communication with your supervisors and those that report to you. Be open to criticism and use it in a constructive way for the betterment of camp. Be open to hearing the good and not-so-good news of those who work below you, and encourage them to bring ideas for solutions to the table, even if they don’t have specific answers for a problem.
Have you made the transition to camp leadership? Share your advice in the comments below!
More resources for becoming a camp leader:
- Camp Certificates of Added Qualification
- For entry-level staff, experienced staff, middle managers, and camp directors
- Becoming a Camp Leader, by John D. Litten
- "Succession Planning: Rasing Up the Next Generation of Leaders," by Kurt R. Podeszwa, Camping Magazine
- Effective Supervision Skills for Senior Staff, by Bob Ditter, online course
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
July 31, 2013
You might call them international staff, but they’re really camp cultural exchange visitors! We love working with and learning from people from other countries — and there’s no better place to do that than at camp!
Did you know?
- According to ACA’s 2013 Compensation, Benefits, and Professional Development Report, 50 percent of ACA camps utilize international staff.
3 Reasons to Love Camp Cultural Exchange
- Global Awareness is a core subject for 21st-century learning. (Partnership for 21st Century Skills)
- Personal connections with cultural exchange visitors enrich our lives with new perspectives.
- Learning about each other leads to a more peaceful world.
What are the reasons YOU love camp cultural exchange? Share your comments!
Learn more about camp cultural exchange. Tweet why you love camp cultural exchange with #CampCulturalExchange.
July 16, 2013
The fun doesn’t have to stop when it rains! If you’re looking for some ways to spend a rainy day at camp, try these activities out.
1. Marshmallow Tinkertoys and Towers
If there’s one food that you have in abundance at camp, it’s probably marshmallows! Put those to use on a rainy day by building a 3-D house, tepee, or even a marshmallow buddy with pretzel sticks and marshmallows. (Idea from www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/kids-indoor-games-activities/)
Or even better, build a S'more tower, like the picture to the right. (Great idea, Camp Howe!)
2. Board Games
Bust out your favorite board game. From Pictionary to Monopoly, board games a great way to get everyone involved on a rainy day. If you have a big group, set out a few different games and have campers split up and play their favorites.
Take some time to enjoy a good book. Camp is a great place to show kids that reading is fun — if you’re enthusiastic about reading for pleasure, your campers will be, too! Record your reading minutes for Scholastic’s Summer Challenge. Already this summer, kids around the U.S. and world have broken the summer reading world record!
4. Creative Greeting Cards
Put a spin on the typical letter from camp and have your campers get creative with stickers, glitter, magazine photos, and more to make a greeting card for mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, or friends at home. When the rain clears up, put them in the mail! (Idea from www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/kids-indoor-games-activities/)
5. Word Searches
You know you love ‘em! Find some great word searches you can print for free at Science Kids. Or get creative and make your own using words about your group or camp.
6. Indoor Bowling
Create your own indoor bowling lane. Make the pins by filling up 6–10 plastic water bottles with about an inch of sand or dirt. Clear out a lane on the floor and use a soccer ball (or whatever you have around) as the bowling ball. (Idea from http://chocolateonmycranium.blogspot.com/2008/02/homemade-bowling-pins.html)
Some nature-focused coloring pages that you can print for free:
8. Making a Collage
Use magazine cutouts and other craft materials to work on a collage. Let campers decide if they each want to make their own or if they want to work on one as a group. Try themes such as “All about Me” or “Our Favorite Things about Camp.”
9. Indoor Treasure Hunt
Have an indoor treasure hunt by hiding several small toys, books, or special snacks around the cabin, then give your campers clues or a map that leads to the treasure. (Idea from http://fun.familyeducation.com/play/35560.html#ixzz2ZDUjFJH3)
10. Slow-Motion Tag
Play a game of slow-motion tag indoors! Bonus points if you can communicate in slow motion, too! “Yooooouuuuurrrrrrr’eeeeee iiiiiittttt!!!!” (Idea from www.parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/kids-indoor-games-activities/)
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
July 10, 2013
“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
—John Dewey, influential educational reformer
After a day on the ropes course or canoeing on the river, we ask our campers to reflect on what they learned about themselves, their skills, and their relationships. We know reflection is a powerful tool — but as leaders, are we using it ourselves?
Well, now’s a good time to check in!
How are you doing on your goals? What skills have you gained? What have you learned are your strengths, and what could you improve?
If you’re keeping a journal of what you’ve learned this summer, take some time to look back at what you’ve written and set some new goals or refine some old ones if you need to. If you haven’t logged the skills you’ve gained, take a moment today to reinforce your memory by writing about a time when you:
- Showed leadership acumen
- Were resourceful
- Taught something technical to beginners
- Encouraged positive group dynamics
What have you learned so far this summer? Share it in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Manzano Mountain Retreat, Manzano, New Mexico
July 2, 2013
As a camp counselor, you have a special bond with your campers. Maybe it’s because you teach them new games and songs, eat your meals together, and experience the thrills of camp as a team. And maybe it’s something more, too . . .
Michael Thompson, PhD, an author and psychologist, writes in “Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents”:
Children love to learn, but they get tired of being taught by adults. Children want to learn from older children, and, at a camp that means older campers, CITs (counselors in training), and camp counselors. They want to live with them, emulate them, absorb them. In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where an eleven-year-old can get the sustained attention of a nineteen-year-old.
So this summer, take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to support your campers’ development just by being the caring, fun, responsible leader that you are! You truly are a role model, and your campers love learning from YOU!
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
June 25, 2013
On the first day of camp, your main objective is to make your campers feel comfortable. But it’s also a great opportunity to make parents feel more comfortable about the camp experience, too!
In their absence, you will take on many of the responsibilities of a parent for your campers. So it’s important you present yourself as the warm, informed counselor you were hired to be! Here are some of our favorite tips:
Get yourself in the right mindset.
Most of you aren’t parents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine how it feels to be dropping your child off at camp. In her Camping Magazine article, “Wow Your Campers’ Parents,” Audrey Monke describes an exercise from training expert Michael Brandwein:
Michael Brandwein . . . has an exercise called “A Letter for Learning” (2004). You are asked to pretend you are a parent sending your child to camp for the first time and write about your fears, hopes, and concerns. After discussion, there is a moving letter for you to read that Brandwein has composed. He really sums up how parents feel about sending their child to camp and the mixed emotions that are involved.
If your camp doesn’t do Brandwein’s exercise during training, you can do some of your own empathy training by doing the following:
- Spend a minute identifying an important child in your life (sibling, cousin, close friend).
- Think about how you would want him/her treated by his/her counselor.
- Think about what you would worry about.
Be polite and confident.
Shake the parents’ hands, greet your camper at his or her level, and tell them a little bit about yourself. Maintaining good eye contact and a friendly warmth will put campers and parents at ease. Learn the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the initial greeting (among many other ways to be a great counselor) with ACA’s bestselling “Camp Is for the Camper,” available in both online course and book formats.
Prepare for common questions and concerns.
Authors Karla Henderson, Kelly McFadden, and Deb Bialeschki researched what kinds of questions parents asked of camp counselors. The most common questions fell into five categories: staff qualifications and supervision, camper health and safety, technology and opportunities for communication with children, camper expectations and behaviors, and camp program logistics. Here are some questions to be prepared for:
- What is the camper-to-staff ratio?
- What happens if my child gets sick?
- Will my child have access to e-mail?
- How do you handle homesickness?
- How much time do campers spend outside?
(Read more in the Camping Magazine article, “What Parents Want to Know that Camp Counselors Should Know.”)
Remember, you were hired because your skills and personality make you a perfect fit for the job! By being yourself and keeping these tips in mind, you’ll make a great first impression on campers and their parents. Share your tips for making a fantastic first impression with parents below!
Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California
June 19, 2013
Chances are you’ll encounter some camper behavior this summer that leaves you frustrated, confused, or worn out. But don’t worry — these tips will help you handle difficult camper behavior and keep everyone on track for a great experience!
Remember to follow any behavior management guidelines specific to your camp or your director’s preferences, and keep the following in mind:
- Give the camper one warning; make it clear that the behavior or action was inappropriate and undesirable.
- Give the camper a chance to explain; he or she may have a good reason for the behavior.
- Be consistent and impartial.
- Stay cool and calm; keep strong emotions in check.
- Avoid lecturing or embarrassing the camper; discipline in private if possible.
- Stress that the camper's behavior is the problem, not the camper's personality. Help the camper identify acceptable alternatives to the problem behavior.
- Once the disciplinary time is over, accept the camper as a part of the group again.
- Follow the camp behavior management policies for continuing discipline problems.
(From Behavior Management 101)
Camp experts have written extensively on managing camper behavior for Camping Magazine. Check out a few of the most recent articles:
- Behavior Plans at Camp — A Powerful Tool, by Bob Ditter
- Camper Behavior — Growth without Shame, by Bob Ditter
- Confessions of a Disciplinarian: How Managing Camper Behavior Can Save the Summer, by Stephen Gray Wallace, MS Ed
- Do You Want To . . . Hey, Look Over There! Strategies for Working with Children Who Have Attention Deficits, by Chris Thurber, PhD
- There Is a Reason! Understanding Challenging Behavior, by Scott Arizala
ACA also offers a recorded webinar on Managing Difficult Camper Behaviors, hosted by clinical counselor Susan Fee, MEd.
How do you handle difficult camper behavior? Share your tips and success stories in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Sugar Bay Holiday Resort, Zinkwazi, Nkwazi, South Africa
June 11, 2013
Making sure your campers are safe, healthy, and having fun all summer long is your main goal. To do that, you need to take care of yourself!
Here on the Counselor Blog, we want you to have the best resources for self-care . . . because camp is just that much more fun when you’re alert, ready, and in control.
Read up on these past blogs before camp starts, and make plans to be at your best!
“Stay Healthy at Camp!”
What you’ll learn about: eating well, staying active, getting enough sleep
What you’ll learn about: how much sleep you really need, tips for getting more rest
Did you notice how many of the posts mention the importance of getting enough sleep? That'd be ALL of them. So this summer, can you make sleep a top self-care priority?
Have fun and stay healthy!
Photo courtesy of Pali Adventures, Running Springs, California