Counselor Blog

July 16, 2014

Our job is to help campers form connections with us as staff, each other, and their inner selves. If we can help connect them, their best qualities will shine.

As a camp counselor, the findings of brain research can be a tool to lead your camper group. As campers encounter new situations, we want them to form connections with past experiences, future goals, and each other within the camper group.

In a Camping Magazine article, molecular biologist Dr. John Medina (2008) offers twelve principles that he calls Brain Rules to help you be more successful in leading your campers to make connections.

July 2, 2014

River Way Ranch Camp, Sanger, CA

In a recent report, young adults were shown to be the most stressed-out generation (Sifferlin, 2013). This summer at camp, odds are you’ll have your share of stressful moments, so it’s important to know some self-care and stress relief strategies to help you take it all in stride.


Part of combating stress will be long-term self-care strategies that you can employ throughout the summer. Camp consultant and psychologist Ethan Schafer, PhD, offer these tips in his 2011 Camping Magazine article “Be at Your Best to Do Your Best”:

  • Create a set of three aspirational goals that will help you gauge whether or not you are on track throughout the summer.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep needs vary from person to person, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, adults (eighteen years and over) need seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or do drugs (including marijuana and medications not prescribed to you). These can alter your short- and long-term ability to function.
  • Reach out to others for support. Tell those you trust your strengths and weaknesses before you feel stressed, and give them permission to talk to you if /when they notice your struggling.

Use time off well. In his 2013 Camping Magazine article, “Wise Use of Time Off,” Christopher Thurber, PhD, recommends, “As a rule of thumb, staff should spend no more than 25 percent of their time off in the car” on road trips. This will keep you from burning out on long drives. Thurber also encourages staff to find safe ways to have fun, like “camping out, seeing a movie, or eating at a restaurant.” Don’t  risk an injury or unwanted consequence with activities like “cliff jumping, drag racing or having unprotected sex….”

In-the-Moment Stress Relief

Inspirational speaker and author Michael Eisen, founder of Youth Wellness Network, gives this advice in his 2012 ACA Camp Counselor blog post, “My Favorite Camp Counselor”:

“If you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take five minutes off and find yourself a quiet place. Practice breathing deeply in through your nose and letting out a big sigh through your mouth as you exhale. Do this ten times with your eyes closed and your stress will melt away. Most of the time, when you are stressed out, you are not breathing enough —and without enough oxygen moving through your body, everything tenses up!”

Eisen, M. (2012, May 9). My favorite camp counselor. ACA Counselor Blog. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (2013). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from

Schafer, E. (2011). Be at your best to do your best. Camping Magazine, 84(3). Retrieved from

Sifferliln, A. (2013, Feb7). The most stressed-out generation? Young adults. TIME: Health and Family. Retrieved from

Thurber, C. (2013). Wise use of time off. Camping Magazine, 86(3). Retrieved from

Photo courtesy of River Way Ranch Ca​mp, Sanger, CA

June 4, 2014

Guest post by Tamsin Andrews

So you’ve made it. You’ve finally got that e-mail or phone call or snail mail letter and you’re over the moon, you’re on staff, and it’s like being a camper without bed time and full access to the snack stuff. You’re thinking of your staff name and finding out who else got hired. But you’ve suddenly realized you have to be in charge of campers like yourself, and you’re lost. Now what? How do you make the most out of your first year in the staff shirt?

It’s almost impossible to be completely prepared for you first year on staff. I’m on my fourth, and I still surprise myself every time. You’ll never pack enough, but you’ll still over pack. You’ll learn how to deal with ridiculous situations before camp starts, but the campers will always invent more. And you can rely on what you’ve observed in books, movies, magazines, and all your years watching your counselors at camp, but you’ll never be completely prepared for your first year in the staff shirt.

There are a million lists on how to prepare yourself for camper-counselor situations, for what to pack, for how to plan your summer. This one is for you, the staff member, the crazy camp counselor, the first-year friend, and making the most out of it. Hopefully these tips will help ease you into the crazy summer ahead.

  1. Keep a journal. That’s the first thing. Keep a journal, or a quote book, or even a list of whatever happened each day. Just keep some kind of record of the unforgettable but somehow forgettable moments. And make sure someone is getting at least a few crazy pictures.
  2. Make bracelets, but make them for others. They’ll in turn make some for you, and those bracelets have more of a story than the ones you made for yourself. (But if you make a truly stellar one, there’s no shame in adding that one to your own wrist.)
  3. Learn how to take 20-minute naps. You’ll love the 20-minute naps.
  4. If you have an idea, tell someone. Tell everyone! Try them out. Even if your idea flops, everyone loves new ideas and new experiences.
  5. Be yourself with megawatt energy and less swearing. Your wonderful self was hired there for a reason, so don’t be afraid to let your zaniness show.
  6. Let yourself be a camper sometimes. You are there for the campers, but you can occasionally be a camper yourself. Let yourself loose in games. Show your insane enthusiasm for your favorite activity, whatever that may be. The campers will feed off your energy, and in turn show their excitement for their favorites. Sometimes being the camp counselor can mean being the camper with a staff shirt.
  7. It is okay to take time for yourself. We all do it. Yes, you are there for your campers, and you are switched on 24/7, but if you are on your break, and you need to recharge, it is 100% okay to ditch your fellow counselors and take some time to yourself. You can also be with people and still be by yourself. I love bringing a book to wherever the time-off hang out is and relaxing to the background murmur of my friends.
  8. Drink lots of water! You’ll tell your kids to, but you can’t forget yourself. Nalgenes were made for camp and are meant to be filled to the brim.
  9. Open up to your fellow staff members. They understand your stress, your fears, and your love of camp. Chances are, they’re going through the exact same things. You’ll know these people for one summer, but feel like you’ve known them for years.
  10. And most importantly, even if you are dead exhausted, sweating from head to toe, or bathing-in-aloe-vera sunburnt, spend time with your kids. The eight-year-olds, the fourteen-year-olds, the fellow counselors, who are, yes, still kids. Spend time with them, because even in the downtime, the most hilarious, most adorable, most cherishable memories are made.

Tamsin Andrews has been a camp kid for as long as she can remember. She spends her summers working at Long Bay Camp in Westport, Ontario, and has been attending sleep-away camps since the age of seven. She is currently studying English and creative writing at Dalhousie University, where camp continues to influence her pieces of fiction.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

May 7, 2014

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month! Camp experiences are great ways for campers (and you!) to stay active in the summer.

Did you know?

  • According to a recent study by ACA, over 80 percent of all camps have campers engage in physical activity levels greater than the CDC-recommended hour per day.
  • Free, unstructured play time is great for getting kids moving while developing critical social and problem-solving skills.
  • Helping campers find fun ways to engage in physical activity is more important than ever. According to the CDC, obesity rates among children remain high (approximately 17 percent of children ages two to nineteen are considered obese).

Click to enlarge

Summer To Do List:

  1. Intentionally emphasize physical activity each day by programming a free-time active hour as well as a rest hour.
  2. Encourage campers to walk around the world, across the state, or to some destination by using pedometers and having campers convert the steps to miles. Walking teams or walking buddies can be encouraged at camp. Note: Pedometers may need to be purchased but are relatively low cost — or perhaps these devices could be donated.
  3. Try new activities at camp (e.g., pickle ball — which NBC Nightly News calls the fastest-growing sport in America — geocaching, etc.) that will be fun and get people moving. Campers may be able to continue these activities at home.
  4. Get campers involved in a road race or community walk. Themed races can be especially fun.
  5. Do not emphasize winning or being the best. Always focus on making physical activities FUN.

Reference: Henderson, K. and Saltmarsh, A. (2012). Make a commitment: Encouraging wellness and healthy living at camp. Camping Magazine, 85(2). Retrieved from

Photo courtesy of Kingswood Camp for Boys, Piermont, New Hampshire

April 23, 2014

Don’t wait ‘til you get to camp to start being the best counselor ever.

1. Check out this infographic.

Click to enlarge










2. Sign up for a free ACA membership.

Get loads of discounts and access to camp resources.
(For those of you who have never before been members.)

3. Set your goals for self-care.

Read this article for tips.

4. Post your best counseling advice or question to your fellow counselors.

Like the ACA Camp Counselors page on Facebook.

5. Develop your leadership potential.

Watch this free recorded webinar.

March 26, 2014

Working at camp is great way to hone your skills, meet new people, and have fun. But if you’re new to camp or are looking for a new camp to experience, where do you start your job search?

Here are 3 tips to help you find a summer camp job.

  1. Browse summer job openings. Search a list of openings by job function, work setting (day, overnight, or travel camp), and location. You can even create an e-mail alert for when new jobs are posted.
  2. Post your resume. Let camp employers find YOU when they browse through ACA’s summer resume bank. Posting your resume is free and easy. (For tips on writing your resume, see the sidebar below.)
  3. Find a camp that matches your interests and reach out. Use ACA’s Find a Camp database to search for a camp by location, affiliation, specialty, and much more.

Looking for a year-round job at camp? Subscribe to the Year-Round Jobs @ Camp e-mail. Twice a month (at the beginning and the middle of each month), you will receive an e-mail listing open year-round camp jobs (or longer than just May – August) throughout the U.S.

What you should add to your resume before applying:
  • Any experience working with children, such as babysitting or daycare
  • Any leadership positions filled
  • Certifications such as First Responder certification, CPR certification, or lifeguard certification

Free Recorded Webinar: Resume Writing and Interview Skills Workshop (Must be a member to access. Use ACA’s free membership opportunity.)

Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina

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

Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

These webinars each offer one continuing education credit (CEC) toward your professional development goals. Track your progress online.

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

August 21, 2013

What’s your favorite memory from this summer? Tell us at 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.

Share your thoughts about character in the comments below, post them to the Counselor Facebook page, or tweet us at @ACAcamps!

“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

Check out more camp inspirations.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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:

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

  1. Global Awareness is a core subject for 21st-century learning. (Partnership for 21st Century Skills)
  2. Personal connections with cultural exchange visitors enrich our lives with new perspectives.
  3. 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.


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