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May 21, 2013
How much do you know about the typical kid in America?
Use this infographic to learn a little bit more about today's kids . . . and your campers! Familiarizing yourself with their realities, strengths, and challenges will help you connect from day one. (Viewed best in Chrome or Firefox.)
May 13, 2013
So you have your dream job this summer — working with a ton of kids, having fun, and staying active at camp!* How do you make sure that you get exactly what you want out of your summer at camp? We’ve already talked about what to expect. Setting goals before the summer can be helpful and make you more aware of your desired outcomes.
Get Clear on What You Want
Start by asking questions like this:
- How do I want my campers to feel at the end of their session?
- What would I want campers’ parents to be able to say about my counseling abilities?
- How do I want my coworkers and supervisors to feel about my counseling abilities?
- How do I want to feel at the end of the summer?
- What will allow me to do the best job I can?
Make SMART Goals
After you know what you want, make SMART goals toward getting there:
Examples of SMART goals:
- I want to “catch” each of my campers doing something good every day.
- I want to work with my campers to set 3–5 main ground rules of our camper group on the first day. (For help with this, read Stephen Maguire’s “The Cool Counselor: For the Right Reasons.”)
- I want to tell a coworker “thank you” for something each day.
Use these examples as a guide as you create goals specific to your job.
Keep a Record
As the summer progresses, it will be helpful to write your about your goals and how you are accomplishing them. That way, if you create a goal such as “Make sure all of my level-one swimmers are ready for level two by the end of the session,” you will remember the steps you took to achieve that goal — and the skills you gained. This notebook will serve as a reminder of your goals during the summer . . . AND afterward, when you are adding to your resume or portfolio.
If you have any other tips, share them in the comments below!
*Haven’t found your dream job yet? Post your resume or browse openings on ACA’s Summer Jobs at Camp site!
Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Wabansi, Brussels, Wisconsin
February 18, 2013
So you’ve found your dream job this summer — you’re working at camp for the first time!* You’ll be spending your summer playing with kids, making a positive impact on their lives, having tons of fun, meeting new people, and making friends. But there are a few other very important things that you should expect from your job at camp.
The most essential aspect of your job this summer is safety. Make sure your campers are always wearing the right clothing/equipment for activities. Create an environment among your campers that values respect — make sure everyone feels emotionally safe. Take care of yourself (get proper sleep and nutrition) so that you remain alert and can make appropriate safety judgment calls at all times. Physical, mental, and emotional safety should be your main priority at all times.
Resources to help:
- The Role of Safety
- A Healthy Camp Depends on You: Six Things Staff Can Do to Have a Healthy Summer
- Wanton Words: Curbing Verbal Crudeness and Cruelty at Camp
- Excellence in Staff Training to Reduce Bullying
- Risk Management: A Letter to Camp Staff
You Are the Example
This summer, as a staff member, your campers will look to you for guidance and leadership. It’s important to give campers structure (establish expectations at the beginning of camp), make sure your campers know that you are in charge and are comfortable in that role, and be able to communicate with campers effectively. You will be leading by example, so it’s extremely important to know the profound impact your actions, habits, and words have on your campers.
Resources to help:
- On the Care and Feeding of Adolescents at Camp (working with teens)
- The Seven Absolutes of Camp Counseling
- Four Simple Words to Better Communication
- Will I Be Enough to Make a Difference?
Games Are More Than Just Fun
Playing games with your campers is not only fun, but beneficial! Ice-breaker games on the first few days of camp can help campers adjust to one another and become friends. Playing games with your campers on the spot can make for better transition times (think of how much easier those extra five or fifteen minutes before lunch will be if your campers are occupied). And observing your campers while they play games with each other allows you to notice and give positive reinforcement for things like: good sportsmanship, including everyone, playing by the rules, and good communication, just to name a few.
Resources to help:
- Configure the Ideal Smartphone: "Apps" for Camp Staff to Download and Install
- Essential Staff Training Activities (staff training activities you can use with campers, too)
- The Right Activities for the Right Moments
- Staff Training: What Do You Expect?
Find more information about these topics and more in ACA’s Knowledge Center. Not your first summer at camp? Tell us what else someone might expect from their first summer working at camp!
*If you haven’t found your dream job yet, post your resume on ACA’s Summer Jobs at Camp site to help employers find you!
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
February 7, 2013
This week's post is a guest blog from Laura Dallas McSorley, a member of one of ACA's educational allies, Teach For America.
Camp Glisson was the most wonderful place I had been as a kid — almost magical. I had been to other day camps and even overnight camps, but nothing was like the first time I stepped onto the grounds of Glisson — beautifully nestled in the North Georgia mountains around a large waterfall, with an old wooden chapel. I went every summer, as did my siblings, and even my parents as a nurse or the minister for a week. (Glisson is a United Methodist camp.) When I was old enough, I was finally a counselor, getting to fulfill a long-held dream. Most of my co-counselors were passionate about Glisson's central mission: ministry to children. Many went on to go to divinity school or teach school.
I, however, couldn't imagine myself in the classroom or in a church. Instead, I spent the next several summers dedicated to various social justice causes that pulled me away from camp — homelessness prevention and housing reform, advocacy on my college campus. And as I began to dig deeper, exploring not just the effects but the root causes of the social injustices I saw around me, I found Teach For America (TFA). After graduation, I headed to Washington, DC, to teach in a Head Start classroom with TFA’s first cohort of early childhood educators. I spent the next five years teaching pre-K in the city.
At camp, the culture we built in our “living groups” was so powerful that campers and counselors were often crying at the end of the week when it was time to say goodbye. We often said at those times that, while we felt like we were returning to the “real” world, in many ways camp was more real. Camp and the communities we built offered a glimpse at what a “beloved community” could be, in the way God intended us to dwell in the world.
I thought about this often when thinking about how to build a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment for all my students, regardless of what might be happening outside our classroom or school. Of course, I worked intentionally to have strong relationships with families, including home visits, and to incorporate students' home lives and cultures — through pictures of their families, favorite books, memories of neighborhood walks, and community reading materials. Just like at camp, I tried to make my classroom a microcosm of the real place we want the entire world to be — one where we are free to explore the “outside” world with fresh eyes and discover new information about ourselves we can translate at home. For my three- and four-year-old students, this might mean being more independent in their routines or exploring and describing an array of animals that live in the ocean.
One of my dear friends and co-counselors, Rob, and I were known for singing — all the time — with our youngest campers. Not just at the designated chapels or special “singing on the porch” activities, but literally walking from lunch to the pool . . . and everywhere. Years later, this became my persona as a teacher as well — but with a different purpose. I wanted to use all my teaching time with students in developmentally appropriate ways as strategically as possible — making every moment count toward the ambitious goals we were working toward together. While we rhymed our way through “Willaby Wallaby,” counted down with understanding from ‘Five Little Monkeys,” or explored complicated new vocabulary like “Dreidel,” this brought joy and perhaps again a bit of notoriety to our neighborhood walks — just as I had enjoyed at camp — but also rigorous mastery for our students on key skills to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
I want all kids to have the chance to feel a part of a loving community as I did each summer at camp, just as I want all children to have an excellent start from their very first formal experience in early childhood through the rest of the school experience. I loved being a camp counselor, as you likely do, too. Now imagine you are getting to expand your impact to not just a few weeks, but to a year or more with a student and their family. As a teacher, you'll get build daily the “real” world we want all students to have. What could be better?
Laura Dallas McSorley was a 2006 D.C. corps member with Teach For America. She currently serves as Managing Director of Teach For America’s Early Childhood Education Initiative. Don’t forget to apply to Teach For America by the final deadline — Friday, February 15th. APPLY NOW
Photo courtesy of Lutherhill Ministries, La Grange, Texas
January 28, 2013
Want to know what it takes to have a career in camp? Take advantage of ACA’s upcoming Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA) — Texoma opportunity:
- Begins: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.
- Ends: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at noon
- Location: YMCA Camp Carter in Fort Worth, Texas
SCLA — Texoma brings students together with camp professionals to take an in-depth look at options for a profession in the camp field. It also helps students build skills to prepare for a career in camp. For more information about SCLA and its history, read Student Camp Leadership Academy: Developing the Next Generation of Camp Professionals.
After successful completion of the SCLA experience, all students will receive an ACA SCLA certificate. Learn more about outcomes of SCLA.
Registration fee: $135 program fee and board per person
For more information and to register, contact Tim Huchton at thuchton@ACAcamps.org, or 765-349-3539 by February 5, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Camp Aranzazu, Rockport, Texas
December 7, 2012
Camp is place to make new friends (or meet up with old ones!), learn how to be a leader, and hone your skills to help kids have fun and grow.
ACA’s 2013 ACA National Conference gives you the chance to do all that, too!
Network with peers and experts, attend great keynote lectures, and workshop your skills in a wide variety of educational sessions. And, as always, Student Members of ACA attend conference FREE. (Check out the registration page for details.)
Join us in Dallas, February 12–15, 2013! Visit the conference homepage to find more about the keynote speakers, educational sessions, and schedule — plus special events and pre-conference gatherings.
Not a member? First-timers can join ACA for free.
October 25, 2012
Guest post by Sarah Andes, a 2009 Mississippi Delta corps member, Teach for America
Summer camp is about discovery. New sports and hobbies. New friends and loves. New tans (at least if you’re in Texas). New songs. New independence. It’s all about creating and experiencing a community in which kids are free to explore and grow.
That’s why I loved Greene Family Camp at the time. I knew it as “fun.” Looking back on my experiences as a camper, counselor, and administrator, I now value camp for the unintended byproducts of those “fun” summers. I developed a set of values and beliefs at camp that have grounded the choices that I’ve made and the attitudes with which I have made them ever since.
Several years after my last summer at Greene, I once again packed up my belongings and loaded the car, but this time I was headed down a new path: east to the fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta to begin my journey as a 2009 Teach for America corps member.
My approach toward teaching Algebra 1 at Williams-Sullivan High School, beyond the state standards and the lesson plan templates and the learned pedagogies, stemmed from the wise words of my brilliant camp director, Loui. He constantly impressed upon us the understanding that, to their parents, each of our campers was the most important child in the world. Each camper deserved our unceasing respect, attention, and care, and this philosophy guided me in cultivating an empowering community within my own classroom.
Loui urged us to “talk independently with each camper every day.” And as a teacher, I greeted my students at the door and checked in one-on-one as I collected their homework and they worked on the first activity of the day.
An administrator implored me to “say yes if you can.” And as a teacher, I worked to create a student-centered culture in which I facilitated students’ learning by validating what they knew (“yes!”) and pushing them to think more deeply and to apply new knowledge.
And my favorite, Loui’s mantra: “enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.” As a teacher, I continued to make a fool of myself as I had years before. I sang math songs and made horrible jokes. I incorporated kinesthetic workouts and taught students algebra Taboo. I knew that I was the leader who had the power to make my classroom a joyful and exciting place to learn.
Being a good teacher is not being a good counselor. Your goal is not for your students to have a good time. Your students might not always want to be there. You are working within, rather than removed from, the pressures of your and your students’ day-to-day lives. But it is this challenge that drives me to continue working in schools and with students. The stresses may be new, but as I tackle them I can draw upon the experiences of my youth to frame my vision for the future. Education, too, is about discovery, and it’s my job to make sure all students, like all campers, are able to explore and grow. That’s a lesson I learned around the campfire a long time ago.
American Camp Association is proud to partner with Teach For America. APPLY NOW to the 2013 Teach For America corps! Next application deadline: Friday November 2, 2012. If you’re interested in learning more, find out who we look for and learn about your potential to change lives.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
October 9, 2012
Special thanks to Allison Lee, an archery counselor at Camp Chinqueka, for submitting our last counselor story of the year! Have a great fall — summer will be here again soon!
I don't even know how to narrow my summer down to one favorite memory. There are just too many! Having recently just worked at camp for my second year, I know 100 percent it will not be my last. As soon as I walked back into camp for the second time, I knew was back at home, my real home, a place where I feel completely comfortable to be myself and let go of all the stress and worries that comes with real life.
This year, the whole staff waited in anticipation for two weeks before the bright, happy, and excited campers came running through our gates. Honestly, the feeling is indescribable. I still get goosebumps now when I think about it. It felt as if the previous nine months back at home didn't exist and as if I’d never left camp!
There were campfires weekly where we would dress up as crazy as possible. The evening activities ranged from a talent show one night to running around camp trying to collect gold for your tribe the next! Oh, and you can't forget the socials with the boys. I will always remember the time when the social was postponed for a few days due to bad weather and I literally had a couple of girls in my cabin in tears!
One of my favorite things at camp is something called candlelight. This has been a tradition for over fifty years, and it’s one of the most beautiful things you could ever witness. The senior girls spend their mornings and afternoons practicing a synchronized swimming routine to perform in front of the entire camp. When the time is right and the sun has gone down for the day on the last Friday of session two, all the lights are turned off on camp and everyone makes their way down to the waterfront in complete silence. The girls start their routine, and all you can see are their hands holding a candle up in the air, moving gracefully in the water. It is a very emotional night, and you can be nothing but proud of the girls for all the hard work that they put into it.
But it seems as soon as camp starts, it’s time for it to come to an end for another year. After what feels like thousands of hugs and tears shed, all the campers are gone and the camp is empty again. All you are left with are the most amazing memories and friendships of another fabulous summer and the excitement of another summer at camp next year.
I've put my life at home in Sydney, Australia on hold two years in a row, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. At camp you meet the most amazing kids that really do change your life. They are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet — and so are the other counselors. At camp, I got to meet people from all over the world, and even though we only worked together for ten weeks, the friendships we made will last forever!
October 4, 2012
Thank you, Kyle Lefler, for sharing your summer story! Did staff at your camp overcome any obstacles this summer? Share your favorite memory with media@ACAcamps.org.
Along with much of the East Coast, our little summer camp was devastated by the thunderstorms the weekend of July 4th. Mar Lu Ridge (MLR) is a Lutheran summer camp located in the mountains of Frederick County, Maryland. The storms came quickly and hit our little mountain hard, felling trees, taking out the power (and water!), and leaving debris everywhere.
As a staff, we slowly made our way down the road and through the woods to investigate the damage. Much to our relief, our newly renovated dining hall was totally untouched, as was our 50-year-old A-frame chapel, which is entirely fronted in glass. What a blessing! Unfortunately, the road was impassable and camp would have to make some major adjustments.
In the wake of the storm, we rallied — campers were set to arrive the next day. A huge group effort moved as many supplies as we could down to our retreat center, which had been mostly untouched by the winds and rain. Our biggest week of the summer was a success, thanks to a lot of hard work and creativity on the part of the staff. Campers relished the new adventures and an opportunity to stay at a usually “off limits” part of camp. Nature hikes became grand excursions to a "hidden pond" and the lawn became our chapel. The work of our year-round staff and some awesome volunteers allowed us back on the mountain by Friday night closing — just a week after the storm!
That week, lovingly referred to as Chaos Camp, was such a testament to the love of the MLR community. There is a special sort of magic at summer camp — where anything is truly possible with the right amount of dedication. We met our challenge as a community, and proved something my director always emphasized during my first few summers on staff: Without the community, the LOVE of staff and campers alike, this place would just be a bunch of buildings on a mountain. Beautiful? Yes. But special? Not without those who gather here.
That loving community has shaped my life (I just finished my fifth summer as a counselor) and the lives of countless others. Long live summer camp!
Photo courtesy of Skyline Camp and Retreat Center, Almont, Michigan
October 1, 2012
A big thanks to Hannah (Tom Tom) Wiese from Camp Chinqueka for this summer story! What did your summer at camp teach you? Send your stories to media@ACAcamps.org and you might see them here!
As soon as the car rounds the bend and Bantam Lake comes into view, I smile and bounce up and down in anticipation for I know that I am almost at my summer home. I know that as soon as the car pulls on to the gravel drive, there will be my summer family, waiting to greet me with happy screams and lots of hugs. This was only my second summer at sunny Camp Chinqueka, but from the moment I stepped out of the car and my feet hit the ground, I felt like I was back home.
At camp, I’ve learned many lessons — things I could have never learned in school. Lessons such as, if you use a leaf blower to clean your cabin, you’ll probably set off the smoke detector. And, that if you let a CIT drive the golf cart, there’s a 90 percent chance she or another CIT will fall off it. I also learned to NEVER tip the waste toner cartridge from the copy machine, unless you want to wind up covering yourself and everything else in the room in a cloud of toner dust.
But, as it is camp, these lessons, however messy they might be, are never learned alone, but instead alongside at least one giggling friend. Instead of being sources of embarrassment, these stories turn into “camp legends” of sorts, stories to be shared by campfires for years to come. And that, I think, is the beauty of camp. Summer camp gives everyone — counselors and kids — a chance to be their own crazy, goofy selves.
At camp, it’s cool to wear underwear on your head and swimsuits over your neon spandex to campfires. It’s cool to make up a song about a “free-spirited pigeon” and belt it out while floating down the river in an inner tube. It’s cool to wear mismatched flip-flops and go days without shaving your legs because you’re having too much fun to be bothered with small details like that.
Camp is a place to relish the small things: ice cream sundaes; the whisper of the wind as it blows through the tall, stately pine trees; and the hug from a camper who just accomplished something she didn’t think she could do. Yes, at camp, the campers grow up, but so do the counselors as camp help shapes them into the people they want to be.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
September 26, 2012
Are you interested in one day having a profession in the camp or youth development industry? Attend an ACA Student Camp Leadership Academy (SCLA) weekend retreat!
SCLA brings students together with camp professionals to take an in-depth look at options for a profession in the camp field. It also helps students build skills to prepare for a career in camp.
Choose from 4 locations:
My time at SCLA was one of the best professional development opportunities that I have been given. I could tell right off the bat that everyone there was truly invested in my future as a camp professional, and I made connections that have lasted me well beyond the weekend of the event. Even today, years later, whenever I see someone who was there with me, we stop and say “hi” and talk about that weekend.
Learn more about Student Camp Leadership Academy!
September 20, 2012
Many thanks to Lynne Murphy from Ireland for this fun memory! Lynne was the evening program coordinator and Web manager at Camp Chinqueka in Connecticut this summer. Send YOUR summer story to media@ACAcamps.org.
As I look around my bedroom, a wall-to-wall shrine dedicated to camp memories, it is almost impossible to select one highlight of camp or explain how much camp means to me. It is a place where I feel more at home than I do in the house I was raised in; a place I have met the most spectacular people and children I will ever meet; and a place where I have grown, changed, and loved.
It was just two years ago that my life changed at sunny Camp Chinqueka. I had found a place where I could be myself and be happier than I have ever been. This summer was phenomenal! Despite the fact that every day at camp is packed with fun-filled activities, there is always one day that stands out in my mind. WATERSPORTS DAY!!! These are two words that are uttered with pure excitement and anticipation from the very first day at camp, even though it isn’t held until week six!
Camp Chinqueka is an all-girls camp; however, we also have a brother camp, Camp Awosting. On this very special day, we join together and have a massive swim meet for our campers. Each year, each camp has a theme for Watersports Day. It is a great excuse to get everyone excited, pumped up, and dressed up! This year, we were Egyptians (queue “Walk Like an Egyptian” — a song that will be forever stuck in my mind because of this day!), and the boys were Romans. The week building up to this day, we spent hours making costumes, building a giant pyramid and sarcophagus, and most importantly, singing songs and learning new chants to cheer on our girls and scare off the boys! It is incredible seeing all the campers become even more spirited than they usually are (which is truly saying something!).
Watersports Day isn’t just a day of swimming competitions, it is also very important for another reason: WAR CANOE — a test of speed, technique, and distance against the boys. The girls and boys train so hard each summer, and each summer we cheer them on until the entire camp has lost their voices! Even now I catch myself singing “I SAID, LET ME SEE YOUR WAR CANOE!” Win or lose, we are always so proud of them.
After many hours of swimming, cheering and excitement, we have a delicious feast, and the campers dance the evening away at a social! I’ll never get sick of joining in as the entire camp does the “Cupid Shuffle”!
Not only is this day full of fun, dressing up, and an excuse to get in the water on a hot Connecticut day, it is a day that shows what Camp Chinqueka is all about. Our campers learn all about working as a team, supporting one another, being proud of yourself knowing you’ve done your best, and being yourself — but most of all, having FUN! It was a spectacular day, one I will ever never forget, and it’s just one of my many, many cherished memories of my time at Camp Chinqueka.
Photo courtesy of Camp Chinqueka, Litchfield, Connecticut
September 18, 2012
Thanks, Krista White, for sharing this summer story! Krista is a head counselor at Eagle's Nest Camp in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. Send your summer memory to media@ACAcamps.org.
The moment that had the most impact for me this summer happened on my first day at camp. A group of five of us were starting a week of lifeguard training. Our instructor was a no-nonsense kind of guy, and we set straight to work. After basic introductions, it was down to the lake for the swim test. We spent the rest of the day doing laps, watching videos, and learning techniques. With about an hour left before dinner, we took a quick bathroom break before attempting to watch one last video. I took that chance to pull the cell phone that I had ignored all day out of my backpack and check if I had any messages. My only text message was from my husband — it read “Please call me as soon as you can.” I stepped outside to call him and that’s when he told me that my father-in-law had had a heart attack that morning at the finish line of a 10k race. My husband did not have much information other than that he had been defibrillated and taken in an ambulance to the ICU.
My knees gave way and I collapsed on the porch of the building in tears. When I got off the phone, not much explanation was needed as the entire class had seen my reaction and knew something big was wrong. I told them what had happened through sobs and felt like a trapped dear looking wildly around not really knowing what to do next. The lifeguard instructor started listing several percentages of heart attack survival rates in an attempt to reassure me, but it was the camp counselor who stepped forward and pulled me into a bear hug who did. This stranger who I had known for less than 24 hours was not afraid to hold me tight and hold me up until my world stopped spinning.
An hour later I was on the road to the hospital with my toothbrush and clean underwear packed. I realized later that I also brought with me the strength and compassion of my summer camp family. I spent some very scary days in the ICU with my family and I often found myself remembering that bear hug. I drew strength from the love and support I felt from my camp family who loved me even before they knew me. After a week sleeping in hospital chairs, my father-in-law was stable enough for me to return to camp — in time for all-staff orientation. It was a blessing for me after such a painful experience to be able to return to a place full of such loving and positive individuals. I truly believe that the best young people in the world work as summer camp counselors and I am privileged to get to work with them each summer.
Photo courtesy of Camp Robbinswold, Lilliwaup, Washington
September 14, 2012
Thanks Angela Marks for the latest entry on the Counselor Blog! Send your favorite summer memory to media@ACAcamps.org!
My week with Rising Abilities was full of great stories and memories, but one story stands out the most. There was an adolescent camper with Autism who was so excited to catch a fish to cook himself that he spent every day asking his group to go fishing for all of their activity choices. On the last evening of camp, he finally caught one big enough to keep. Just down the stream, there was a five-year-old boy who was trying really hard to catch a fish, but was having trouble. The older boy looked at the younger boy and said, "Don't be sad — you can have my fish." Then he dumped his fish into the other boy’s bucket and walked back to the cabins. It was in that moment that I realized my campers had learned a great social skill: Kindness.
Photo courtesy of Rising Abilities, Lebanon, Missouri
September 10, 2012
Here's another counselor's summer story — all the way from Australia! Thanks Nicola Hadskis Gordon for this one! Share your story with media@ACAcamps.org!
I first worked at YMCA Camp Weaver in North Carolina in the summer of 2011. I am from Australia, so I sadly had to return back to my family. This year, 2012, I missed camp so much I decided I needed to go back, even if it was just to volunteer for a month. A week after I arrived I had decided that I needed to stay the whole summer, so I volunteered the entire 3 months and I am returning for sure next year.
Camp is in my blood — I know that camp is my true home and where I can truly be me. And I feel as though each day I am helping a child overcome a fear, whether it is homesickness, swimming, or mosquitoes. Camp Weaver is my home.
This is my story, where my heart is and forever shall be.
Photo courtesy of Lutherhill Ministries, La Grange, Texas