Words of Encouragement to the Camp Counselor: Ideas and Tips for a Successful Summer

by Allen Schottenfeld

So, you're a new camp counselor. This will be a rewarding summer for you. In the next few weeks, you will be like a parent, as you guide your "family" through the fun and adventure that camp provides. You will be a role model, the most important person in your campers' eyes; what you say and do, how you act, how sensitive and caring you are will have a profound impact and will be recorded in your campers' memories for the rest of their lives.

Camp is a special place. Campers grow and learn about themselves, try new things, discover hidden talents, and reach out without fear of negative criticism. At camp, children learn to share, to trust, to be themselves in a nurturing environment.

Here are a few suggestions for living and working with campers:

  • Have fun. Everyone is here to enjoy doing things together.

  • Be fair. Young people have a keen sense fair play.

  • Be consistent. Don't change your standards.

  • Have great patience. Always be prepared to listen and to be helpful. Don't lose your temper. Campers will constantly test you to see how far they can go.

  • Don't shout or raise your voice. Save these actions for a time they many really be necessary, such as an emergency. Otherwise, campers may believe that shouting is the way you normally speak, and they will pay little attention to your raised voice.

  • Be a role model. Lead by example.

  • Watch your language. Don't use profanity.

  • Teach manners by saying "please" and "thank you."

  • Have fun at the dinner table. Get everyone talking. Try playing word games.

  • Don't show favoritism. You may have a favorite camper, but never show this by your actions or words. Campers will lose respect for you and it will cause problems for everyone.

  • Learn to anticipate what campers will do next.

  • Do not permit campers to be teased. Learn to sense a developing situation, and stop it before it starts.

  • Take an active interest in the interests of your campers. You will learn a lot from them.

  • Young people can be experts in some areas. Genuinely recognizing and respecting this fact is one way to win over a camper.

  • Look for the positive in each campers and emphasize it in front of others. Help campers to be accepted by the group. Find the campers' abilities and talents; then put the campers in a position to demonstrate those strengths to others.

  • Stay a few minutes after lights-out at bedtime to talk with your campers. Lights-out and rest periods are two excellent opportunities to really get to know your campers.

  • Almost everyone feels homesickness. It calls for extra attention to the camper and a talk about the great things that have happened and the exciting things to look forward to. Most homesickness occurs after lights-out and during quiet times.

  • Don't be afraid to admit that you have made a mistake or are wrong about something. It shows that you are human.

  • You are the campers' counselor and friend, not their contemporary or peer. You must remain an adult, while playing at the campers' level. If you become one of them, you will lose their respect and your job will become difficult.

  • Take time off away from the area.

  • Get enough sleep each night. Other wise, you may be tired, irritable, and impatient the next day. Campers will immediately notice this change in you.

  • Talk with your group leader or supervisor at any time, about any problems, campers or otherwise. You will not be able to handle all of the problems and challenges by yourself. Talking with a group leader or supervisor does not mean that you are not doing a good job. Becoming an effective counselor is a learning process.

  • Have fun!

For more counseling tips and other information about working at camp, visit ACA's Web site: www.ACAcamps.org.

Originally published in the 2001 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.