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5 Tips for First Time Counselors

You’ve accepted the position and completed the paperwork. It’s official! You’re about to spend your first summer as a camp counselor. Naturally, a lot of people experience a few nerves in the days leading up to camp. After all, even when you’re a grown adult, leaving behind your family and friends to spend the summer in a strange place is a big deal, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time before. If you didn’t attend summer camp as a child, working at summer camp holds even more mystique because you’re not sure what to expect. If first time counselor nerves are haunting you, don’t be so quick to call up and accept that unpaid internship filing paperwork in a stuffy office all summer and, for goodness sake, don’t accept that job at the hot dog stand in the local park. Instead, follow these tips to kick your summer into gear now:

1.) Relax! You are NOT the only first time staff member coming to camp. If you know no oneelse going to camp or have never been to camp, that understandably may be a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around right now. But trust us! When you get to camp, you will be in good company. If you’re feeling a little bit lonely when you first arrive, don’t panic and automatically assume you’ve made a mistake. The majority of people who tend to be drawn to work at camp typically have laid back, easy going and open personalities with an extraverted bend toward making new friends. Chances are that after your camp’s staff orientation period, you’ll have several new friends for life and wonder why you ever even doubted coming to camp.

2.) Like your camp’s Facebook page and staff Facebook page if it has one. Social media has arrived and most summer camps are completely aware that the easiest and most effective way to communicate with their camp staff is through means such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. By liking your camp’s pages, you can make friends before camp, pick up a lot of useful tips, and even possibly connect with a rideshare if you’re looking for a way to get to camp. Most summer camps also now feature regular blogs. It’s a good idea to pop onto the camp webpage every now and then in the weeks leading up to camp to see what new blogs have been posted. Camps tend to post some blogs, such as this one, for which staff is the intended audience during the late spring and early summer.

3.) Don’t over or under pack. Packing lists are created by camp professionals who’ve spent enough summers at camp to know what you need to be comfortable for the summer. So read over the staff packing list, if your camp supplies one, when determining what to pack as well as what not to pack. Veteran staff members are also usually more than happy to field questions on staff Facebook pages, which makes them a good resource if you’re unsure about some items.

4.) Arrive with the right mindset; being a camp counselor really is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Camps tell prospective staff members this during the interview process…and they mean it. You are about to spend the summer working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you will love most moments of it. There will also be moments during which you will question how in the world you ended up working at a summer camp and why you thought it was a good idea. Two things are essential to moving forward when these moments happen, and they’re actually most effective if you prepare yourself with them before you even get to camp. First, arrive with the right attitude. Yes, you’re there to work. You’re there to work hard. You’re also going to have a lot of fun creating amazing moments for and with your campers. Second, know what helps you alleviate stress or frustration and come prepared to engage in it should the need arise.

5.) Be in the moment. Yes, we spend our lives being told how important it is to plan. But at camp, it’s very important to be in the moment and be present with the campers. It’s how you’ll best appreciate the camp counselor experience as well. Summer camp lasts only a few weeks each summer, and things tend to move very quickly. On the first day, you’ll be looking ahead at a whole summer and thinking the end seems like a long way off. But on the last day of camp you will wonder where it went. Don’t find yourself with regrets on that day by realizing that you didn’t take advantage of every moment.

Who is Watching Your Children? A Look at Camp Staff and Leadership

If you submit prospective babysitters through background and reference checks just for a date night with your spouse or significant other, then you probably have an extreme interest in just who will be taking care of your children at summer camp.  Thanks in part to movies and television, many parents have images of young, barely out of high school teenagers filling counselor roles.  However, the truth is that camps conduct searches for months to locate and fill leadership and key staff roles with mature, knowledgeable professionals, many of whom work with children in some capacity year round.

Even though camp is still six months away, chances are that your child’s summer camp (or prospective summer camp) has already kicked its recruiting season into high gear.  To find counselors, many camps traverse college campuses across the country searching for college students and recent grads who are pursuing careers in education, social work, youth athletics, or other fields related to working with children.  In order to avoid staff members that are too immature—or mature—the target demographic for counselors is typically between 20-25, although some camps will vary from this in certain scenarios or for special needs.  A successful camp counselor works 24/7 and must be mature enough to make split second decisions that concern the welfare and well -being of children.  Although counselor staffs tend to have relatively high turnover rates from year to year because college students complete college and move on to full time jobs that they cannot leave for an entire summer, leadership staff tends to return more regularly.

Camp leadership is often comprised of seasoned teachers and coaches who have been involved with summer camp in some capacity for several years or even decades.  Some of them grew up as campers and worked their way into leadership positions beginning as counselor assistants or counselors.  Others began as counselors and loved the experience so much that they have returned from year to year.  Still others are hired directly into their leadership roles after extensive searches by camps to find the best candidate for the role.  However their camp experience began, one thing that all camp leaders have in common is that they not only have extensive experience working with children, but thorough knowledge of the intricacies and behind the scenes goings on of summer camp.

Aside from leadership staff, other mature individuals are employed to staff health and dining facilities as well as offices.  In fact, parents are sometimes surprised to learn that so many mature, experienced professionals spend their summers at sleepaway camp.  But, for many, the experience, as it is for the children, is beyond compare.  Those who return each year will tell you that they wouldn’t consider spending their summers anyplace else.  They love what they do, they love their campers, and they love their camps!  How many traditional jobs can boast such high morale and collective years of experience?

A Network of Lifetime Friends

One of the most touted benefits of working at a summer camp is the network one may build even within the parameters of a single summer.  Unlike many work environments, which tend to draw locals with a telescoped set of talents, summer camp attracts staff from virtually all over the world who possess an array of abilities.  A successful summer at camp requires the expertise of athletes and artists alike.  Because summer camps are 24/7 communities, staff members tend to form very close bonds within the two months that they reside at camp each summer.  Camp breeds a sense of family, which is precisely why, for a good many staff members, goodbye at the end of the summer is seldom goodbye forever.  Thanks to a little help from social media outlets such as Facebook, it’s possible to stay in touch with summer camp friends no matter where on earth they live.  Whether it’s couch surfing while traveling, hunting for a job, needing a little bit of advice or support, or sharing an inside joke, camp friends are there.  Working at summer camp is more than just a summer experience.  It’s a way to form a global network of friends for life.

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