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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
September 6, 2012
Today's story comes from Katelyn Gillum, who now works for her camp fulltime! Send your story from the summer to media@ACAcamps.org.
If you would have told me nearly four years ago that being a camp counselor was going to change my life, I never would have believed you. I walked into my first summer at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, New York, thinking that it was merely going to be a two-month experience that would give me the opportunity to work with kids and boost my resume as a prospective teacher. What I didn't know is that it would change my world forever.
Having never gone to a sleep away camp as a child, I entered the camp world knowing nothing aside from what I had learned through movies such as The Parent Trap and shows like Bug Juice. I was expecting to find campers sneaking out of bunks, being sent to isolation cabins, and playing poker without any adult supervision. What I did find, however, was quite the opposite — an environment where people take care of each other, where long-lasting friendships are created, and where being yourself and trying new things is strongly encouraged.
After experiencing the beauty of sleep away camp, I began to wonder why everyone wasn't involved in summer camps. The sense of family, the amount of growth, and the ability to be 100% yourself is enough to make anyone want to spend two months in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Try explaining that to someone who has never been to a summer camp before, and the idea of it all seems a bit whimsical and unrealistic. That's when it suddenly dawned on me that part of what makes the sleep away camp experience so special is the fact that only a small percentage of us really understand the impact it has.
It's not only the special bonds created between campers and counselors alike, but it's the lessons learned and the ability to give and share with others that truly makes the camp setting unlike any other. I know that I would not be the person that I am today if not for my time at Camp Walden. Walden has allowed me to create lasting relationships with my campers and co-staff and has allowed me to find another place that I can call "home." I don't think I will ever truly be able to repay Walden for what it has given me, but I do know that I can share my experiences and encourage others to experience what the camp setting is all about!
Happy camping . . .
Photo courtesy of Camp Aranzazu, Rockport, Texas
September 4, 2012
Here's another camp counselor story! Thanks, Victoria, for sharing! Send your story to media@ACAcamps.org.
Ever since my first year at camp twelve summers ago, I’ve come to realize that camp can only be completely understood through experience. The following is my defense of a continued obsession with the experience called "camp" — for anyone who might not understand why I work as a camp counselor, including my dad.
“Working at Camp Howe is wonderful, but please don't delude yourself into thinking that it is all just fun and games (although there are definitely a lot of both). The truth about my employment at camp is that I work hard for excessive hours each day for very little money — the same principle that applies to most people in their own everyday jobs in the 'real world.'
The job world — like life, and society in general — brings competition, disorganization, and situations that we have to learn to rise above. As a testament to the wonderful upbringing I have received, and the experiences that I have gone through, I feel confident in my ability to make the right choices. I am confident in my ability to use the resources that I have been given, to overcome obstacles, brain storm, and solve problems. I am confident in myself. I foresee unforeseeable walls that I will come up against. I can overcome them. Or if I can't, I will learn how to do so. I am independent, resourceful, and armed with a strong belief in my abilities.
Camp Howe has given me that belief in myself. Camp has raised me to a level that a very select group of teenagers my age can say they’ve been at. Likewise, camp has taught me to shoulder responsibilities that some people, many years my senior, have yet to carry. Camp brought me to that level, creating an environment where I not only do well but excel. I'm young, willing to learn, make mistakes, and fall down if need be. I'm a strong believer that life is the choices you make. And I have continued to choose Camp Howe for many reasons: the experiences, the connections, the ability to be part of the team, to work with children, to understand myself and others, to gain confidence, to learn to be compassionate, and so much more.
But most importantly, I choose Camp Howe because it is my second home, and I love it. You can't put a price tag on the experiences that have helped make me who I am. It is because of experiences like the ones I have made at camp that I am so confident in my abilities today. I know you don't always see eye to eye with me about my decision to work at camp. I wanted to share with you how profound an impact camp has had on me. I know that someday I'll have to give it up and move on. Maybe someday soon. Who knows? But I will never regret giving up a few summers to do something special for kids who were a lot like me when I was younger. It is something I will never forget.”
Victoria Ware has spent twelve summers at camp, three of those on staff. This year, her roles included farm manager, lifeguard, cabin counselor, and laughter enthusiast.
Photo courtesy of Skyline Camp and Retreat Center, Almont, Michigan
August 31, 2012
Here's our first summer story! A big thank you to Justina Lau for submitting. Keep the stories coming! (Send them to media@ACAcamps.org.)
I spent my summer with the Diabetic Youth Foundation. During camp, we do midnight check of campers’ blood sugar levels. Before one particular midnight checking, it was my rotation to watch the kiddos and to put them to sleep. Well, I had no idea what I was up against! I was in a room filled with twelve campers by myself! They were shouting, laughing, farting, and causing chaos as young campers do!
After telling them that pool time would be taken away if they didn't get into their own bunks, they were immediately quiet. I asked if they would like music, and all of them agreed they wanted to listen to some. I played a variety of piano songs off of my iTouch. One of my campers surprised me when he recognized “Canon in D.” The other campers enjoyed the soothing melodies. Soon I had a request to play a lullaby, and the only one I had was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Soon, snores became the only noise in the cabin.
I sat down on an empty bunk waiting for my co-counselors to return for midnight checking when I heard a loud shout, “HEY GUYS!” I was so frightened . . . and then I realized it was just one of my campers sleep talking. He mumbled something I didn’t understand, and then another camper above the bunk I was sitting on, also fast asleep, started responding to his mumbles. Pretty soon the mumbling conversation ended with, “Okay, bye guys!” I laughed to myself at how silly my campers were. They were sleep talking to each other!
Then, it was time to do midnight checking. There was one camper that I checked every night. He talked a lot in his sleep, too. While I was trying to check his blood levels, he talked to me like I was someone else. It was funny but a struggle. He finally snapped out of it and apologized for thinking I was someone else.
The next morning, all three of my campers had no recollection of what I experienced. It was a very interesting night — a night I still tell my friends and family about.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
August 30, 2012
No doubt your camp counselor experience this summer included some awesome campers, co-workers, and even a “lesson learned” or two.
We want to collect the best camp counselor stories from across the country and share them here! Tell us about your favorite memory, camper, day at camp, boss, activity, etc. Write it up in 500 words or less and send it to us at media@ACAcamps.org, and you might just see it on the blog.
Congratulations on a “summer well-spent,” and good luck with your fall adventures!
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
August 14, 2012
Here’s a fun nature activity that you can do with your campers. No equipment or supplies necessary!
This exercise is valuable in helping campers become aware of the common habit of looking without seeing.
Without explaining why, ask group members to look in one direction for 60 seconds. Then, have them close their eyes and ask them questions about the area they just viewed. For example:
- Were there clouds in the sky?
- Did they notice any animal signs?
- How many colors did they see?
- What was the largest thing they saw?
- What was the smallest?
Participants may then open their eyes and take another look at the area. Ask them what they see this time that they didn’t notice the first time. Repeat the exercise and you will find that the campers have become much more observant.
Find this and more in 101 Nature Activities for Kids, by Jane Sanborn and Elizabeth Rundle, in the ACA Bookstore. (Also available for digital download.)
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts
August 9, 2012
Update October 2012: Camping Magazine Featured by NicheMedia for outstanding use of camp photograpy!
Did you take some awesome photos at camp this summer? Enter them into Camping Magazine's 2013 Golden Lens Contest!
You could win a $150 cash prize and your photo could be on the cover of the next May/June Camping Magazine!
Just send your favorite photos that depict the camp experience (and represent the best practices in the field) to magazine@ACAcamps.org.
Before you submit your photos, make sure to fill out the online photo release!
Include your name, camp name, contact address, and phone number in the e-mail.
(Photos must be .tif or .jpeg files and at least 300 dpi. For cover considerations, please don’t crop photos.)
The deadline to submit photos is November 30, 2012.
Check out previous Golden Lens winners and honorable mentions.
Submit your photos today!
August 7, 2012
Songs are some of the best traditions at camp! Whether you sing at meal time, bedtime, campfire, or between activities, your campers enjoy having something that unites them as a group. And they love teaching camp songs to their parents and friends — allowing their experiences and memories to live on, even when they’re at home!
What's YOUR favorite camp song? Share it with us in the comments below!
Try singing this song at camp — you might already know it! Find this and more than 170 other songs in Sing — a guide to camp songs! (Available for digital download. Comes with a CD of 99 selected songs.)
July 31, 2012
As a counselor, you make sure to have a positive attitude, and you encourage campers to see the bright side of life. You realize that camp is more fun when everyone is happy — but did you know that by promoting positivity, you’re also helping campers find success and literally reverse the effects of stress and anxiety?
When you are in a positive state of mind, you are more apt to succeed! According to Christine Carter, PhD, a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “When our brains are positive and we’re experiencing positive emotions, we’re much more creative, better at problem solving, and our perception is more open — making us more able to learn.” Help your campers learn that staying positive puts them on the fast-track to achieving their goals!
Carter also explains the physiological effects of positive emotions: “Say you are anxious and you’re heart rate goes up. If you have a good laugh, feelings of gratitude, or feelings of hope — any sort of positive emotions — generally speaking, your heart rate will drop. Positive emotions even boost your immune system a little bit.” A positive mindset will literally make campers healthier!
Want to know the best predictor of a person’s happiness, and how you can support positive emotional skills at camp? Read this interview with Carter from the 2012 January/February Camping Magazine.
Tell us what you do to keep a positive atmosphere at camp in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Happy Hollow Children's Camp in Nashville, Indiana
July 23, 2012
As a licensed clinical social worker, camp consultant, and regular Camping Magazine contributor, Bob Ditter has been helping children, youth, and camp professionals — including counselors! — for many years.
In his Pocket Guide books, Bob lays out a few critical concepts for camp counselors:
- YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL, which means campers won’t so much listen to what you tell them to do as they will mimic what you do and say. Even when you think they are not watching or listening, they often are. That old saying that “actions speak louder than words” is definitely true at camp.
- YOU ARE THE ADULT. Surrounded as you are day after day by campers who are known for getting carried away by their feelings, it is easy to slip back into less mature ways of behaving. That is why everyone — campers, their parents, other counselors, and your director — is counting on you to keep things from getting out of hand. Always remember to keep it safe while you are having fun!
- WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. Scream a lot, and campers will either tune you out or scream back. Be sarcastic or judgmental, and campers will return the same. Be more concerned about your social life or your time off, and campers will sense that and be less responsive to you. Be respectful, and you can ask the same of your campers and fellow counselors.
- YOU SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO CHANGE CAMPER BEHAVIOR AS MUCH AS YOU WILL NEED TO LEARN HOW TO INFLUENCE AND MANAGE IT. The roots of any child’s behavior are deep, and your time with them is limited. If you expect to change behavior, you may end up disappointed and frustrated.
Bob’s Pocket Guides are designed to fit in your "back pocket” to help you while you’re at camp. They’re full of quick and easy tips and guidelines for working more effectively and confidently with campers — topics range from homesickness to bullying at camp to useful phrases for challenging situations. For less than $10, add this to your counselor toolbox!
July 16, 2012
Whether this is your first and only week at camp, or you’ve already been there for a few weeks, it’s important to make healthy choices to keep you running on all cylinders!
Fuel your body with what it needs to make it through your busy days — which includes lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk, and healthy proteins like lean meats and beans. For more specifics, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Healthy Eating Plan.
Tip: “Most people eat too fast and even when they are not necessarily hungry. Use meal time as an opportunity to 'slow down' from the busy camp pace.” Read more in the Camping Magazine article: “Make a Commitment: Encouraging Wellness and Healthy Living at Camp.”
*Bonus* When you eat healthy, you set a great example for your campers, who look up to you! Lead by example and help campers make wise food choices. (Just be careful to guide — not dictate — what campers eat!)
The CDC recommends that adults get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week and do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week. So get out there and get involved in a fun game of pickleball with your campers!
Tip: Exercise helps your mind, too — and quick! According to Michael Otto, PhD, "Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect." So if you need a pick-me-up, try walking or jogging!
*Bonus* When you play fun new games with campers, they might just end up taking those activities home with them, continuing their fun and active lifestyle!
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself this summer! Not only will it put you in the right mindset to eat healthier and stay active, it will help your mood and keep you alert.
Tip: “Power naps” can be really helpful! During your break period, try to grab 10–20 minutes of sleep.
*Bonus* According to the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of children experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during a week. Helping your campers learn how to make getting enough sleep a priority can have a great effect on their at-home habits!
Photo courtesy of Camp Westminster on Higgins Lake.
June 26, 2012
Spider-like movements will be the physical activity of choice this summer now that the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has released “The Amazing Spider-Man™” lessons and exercise guides. Designed by NASPE for children and youth ages 6-11 and 12-14, the free online lessons are posted on NASPE’s Web site and are perfect for summer camp counselors and recreation program staff who want to help their campers get the nationally recommended 60+ minutes of physical activity every day while having fun. In addition, children and youth will have an opportunity to earn a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+).
PALA+ promotes physical activity AND good nutrition, because it takes both to lead a healthy lifestyle. Signing up for the six-week program can help children and adults maintain or improve their health. Anyone age 6 and older can earn their PALA+ — sign up today at www.presidentschallenge.org. The easy to use log sheet makes tracking physical activities effortless.
In conjunction with the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man movie, in theaters July 3, the lessons are intended to provide children and youth with activities that will help them improve in the five components of health-related physical fitness: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. The eight-legged (just like a spider) circuit training program has a heavy emphasis on spider-like movements. The eight body weight exercises include Spider-Man Push-ups, Spider-Man Stretches, Squatting Spider-Man Jumps and Spider-Man Rolls — all that require little to no equipment. As the children move from station to station, they will crawl like a spider.
“NASPE was thrilled that Sony Pictures asked us to develop the fun, simple and developmentally appropriate physical activity lesson plans,” says NASPE President Mary Jo Sariscsany, associate professor at California State University-Northridge. “Contrary to what most people may think, some children do have a tendency to gain weight over the summer. That is why we want to provide camps, schools, YMCAs, recreation centers, moms and dads with creative ways to get children and youth to be more physically active. While kids love to watch Spider-Man in the movies, The Amazing Spider-Man fitness program offers an opportunity to inspire them to be physically fit and active like Spider-Man.”
June 18, 2012
You will have tons of fun as a camp counselor this summer — but did you know that you’re also developing critical workplace skills?
Traditionally, the “3 Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic) have been the focus of workplace preparation. In other words:
- Can you write coherently?
- How’s your reading comprehension?
- Is your toolbox of math skills pretty full?
But according to the American Management Association’s 2010 Critical Skills Survey:
. . . [T]he new workplace requires more from its employees. Employees need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively—and at every level within the organization.
In fact, there’s even a new phrase to describe these additional, critical job skills: the “4 Cs” (critical thinking and problem solving; communication; collaboration; and creativity and innovation).
So now you need to ask yourself questions like:
- How do you work on a team?
- When was the last time you used limited resources to overcome a problem?
- What is your communication style?
This summer, notice all the ways you hone your skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity on a daily basis — and then write them down!
For example, what did you learn about communication and collaboration while teaching a new game to your campers? How did your prioritize your responsibilities at camp? Did you think of a creative and fun way to do cabin chores? Write all these things down in a job skills journal!
Being aware of your budding skills will make you more conscious and intentional in their development. And keeping a record of your critical job skills will make it much easier to list them on your resume this fall.
Have fun this summer and watch yourself grow!
June 13, 2012
Whether you’re a seasoned vet or this is your first summer as a camp counselor, it’s important to get the season started right! Here are some expert tips for your very first days at camp.
Set Goals for Yourself
From “Will I Be Enough to Make a Difference?” by Greg Cronin, CCD
Start this summer by setting realistic goals you can work toward. It’s important to verbalize your goals to your supervisors, so they can help keep you on task during challenging situations. Remember, they are going to hold you accountable for your decision making, so be pragmatic when you develop your ideas. (For a sample “Top Ten” list of goals, see the rest of Greg’s article.)
Help Campers Make Friends
From “Configure the Ideal Smartphone: ‘Apps’ for Camp Staff to Download and Install,” by Kim Aycock, MST
Most of you probably already have and use Facebook on your own smartphone. The camp version of this app is to facilitate the formation of friendships within your camper group. Campers will have immediate opportunities to "friend" others, and may need your help to know what to "post on their wall" or put out there for fellow campers to see . . . . It will be your job to assist campers during the introduction process — having several name games or icebreakers in mind is a great way for a newly-formed group to get to know one another. One idea is to have campers introduce themselves as their favorite superhero. They can include their character's name, costume preference, special powers, battle cry, and their sidekick, if it is desirable to have one. This activity is a safe way for campers to exchange surface information and begin to know the other members of their camp group.
From “Patience,” by Stephen Maguire
. . . Start with strong expectations of your kids. Start by introducing yourselves in a fun and positive way. Start by building your cabin group by setting the behavior expectations of the entire group together . . . . Spend that first day with your kids talking about how important it is that everyone treats each other well, including their counselors. Write it down and put it up in your cabin or in your bunk. Make sure you, your kids, and your co-counselors all sign it.
June 1, 2012
According to author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, 97 percent of children experience at least some occasional homesick feelings at camp. Considering that statistic, you’ll probably have at least a few campers who experience some level of homesickness this summer. As their counselor — their first line of communication and comfort — do you know what to say and do?
Selected Tips for Handling Campers’ Homesickness
1. Early on, introduce campers to older campers who were once in their shoes.
“One thing that helped me was bringing me to visit older campers in their bunks,” said David. The older campers welcomed David and shared personal memories of their first days many years ago. In their unpacking, they also showed a glimpse of a teenage world to which most ten-year-old boys aspire. When companies market products to children, they often will show children and teens several years older than the actual target audience. These older campers then recognized and said hello to David (at the waterfront, walking to meals, etc.) during the first crucial days of camp — building his self-confidence and feelings of importance.
From “Opening Day Blues” by David Fleischner
2. Ask campers how they’re doing, and really listen to their answer. Let them know it’s okay to miss home.
A quick check-in helps most campers with mild homesickness, and sometimes a group discussion can do the trick: a group conversation at bedtime, for example. One counselor said that when her whole group of girls was showing signs of homesickness, she had them all describe their bedrooms to each other and to her, in minute detail. She also described her own room at home. The girls felt enormously comforted by the extended opportunity to share these details of home. Other counselors, usually young men, tell me that they had the whole group describe their favorite meals.
From “What Camp Staff Can Do to Help Children: An Excerpt from Homesick and Happy” by Michael G. Thompson, PhD
3. Distract campers with all the fun activities at camp.
Remember the special things that only happen at CAMP — Distract. Distract. Distract. Find ways to keep campers busy with activities to take their minds off what is bothering them.
From “Top Ten Ways to Prevent/Treat Homesickness” by Paul Denowski, Rob Grierson, and Tony Oyenarte
"Camp is like life," my counselor told me the summer I was homesick. "The more you get involved, the more you'll get out of it."
So what did I do? I got involved.
. . . And eventually, you realize that the saddest part isn't being homesick at the beginning, but not wanting to leave at the end.
From “A Place to Share: Life at Camp” by Neal Levin
Photo courtesy of Camp Foster YMCA of the Okobojis in Spirit Lake, Iowa.