This time last year I had just booked my flight to America. My place at camp was confirmed, visa in the bag and I was eager to set off. Now I want to share a load of advice that I learned from a summer at camp. So if you’re off to camp, or you’re just interested in some tips and anecdotes, please read on. This is all based on my experience – your camp might be different but I’ll try to give varied advice!
I wrote a post about the details of my camp job and how much it cost to get out to the states which you may read here.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
BUY A BACKPACK
Backpacks far surpass suitcases in my opinion. After camp you’re likely to be travelling and will want a backpack for ease of use. At my camp we also had to move rooms pretty much every week which meant packing everything up in the backpack and transporting it between cabins. If you’re lucky and don’t have to do this, it can actually be a good habit to get into. Each week go through your stuff and clear out rubbish, old clothes, discover dirty things down the side of the drawers and make sure you still have all of your stuff.
You won’t do this, but I’ll tell you anyway. At camp you are most likely going to be wearing the generic tops with the logo on. Every day. So you don’t need a wardrobe of beautiful t-shirts with you. You are also probably going to be shopping in the states, which is very cheap, so leave space in your suitcase for bringing stuff home! I have a couple of posts showing everything I packed:
But here are the basics:
- A couple of pairs of DURABLE shorts – not those bum-cheek grazers that are highly inappropriate for working with children. Or other humans for that matter.
- A few basic t-shirts to get you going and to use at weekends. Maybe something nice to wear out, you may have the chance to go somewhere nice.
- PLENTY of underwear as washing can be few and far between and when you’re running between canoeing, pool time, football and rain storms, you may need more than one per day.
- Same for socks, your feet will get destroyed.
- Very comfy shoes for wearing all day every day – trainers seem to do the job well.
- A fleece and waterproof, depending on where you are in America, because it can rain, a lot.
- Modest pyjamas – if your camp is like mine, you might have to sleep in with the kids so you’ll want some decent PJs. Even if you don’t have to stay with kids, you might be wondering around camp before bed.
MEMORIES FROM HOME
Take photos, postcards, music, flags, food, and even traditional clothes if you have them. It’s great to surround yourself with memories from familiar home, but that’s not the main reason to do this. The kids find it fascinating learning about you and being able to show them things from home is great. I would show my kids photos of my family and friends or where I live and tell them stories. They LOVE it. I worked at a camp with children and adults with disabilities, and one week I was the supporter for a 25 year old girl who was non-verbal. She couldn’t talk to me and for a day or so I found it difficult to communicate with her. I started showing her photos when she seemed bored and she loved listening to my stories. I told her about everyone in my life. She smiled and nodded along and I knew she could understand what I was telling her, she just couldn’t reply. So take lots of memories to share.
BUG SPRAY IS IMPORTANT
Yes, there are a lot of bugs in America. Yes, you need bug spray. Sometimes the camp provides this for using on the kids (and yourself) but take some just in case. It’s super important when you’re trekking through the wilderness all the time.
The magical daypack solves everything. Before you leave, set this up so that it’s ready straight away when you start your job. Trust me, this is a life saver.
- A backpack you don’t particularly mind getting dirty.
- Durable water bottle (large).
- Pen/paper, for when the kids get bored and you need a quick game or when you have to keep track of things you need to do.
- Watch, you’ll need the time to be on time to activities.
- Sun cream – obvious?
- Wet wipes – potentially THE most important item. They fix everything: muddy child, food fight, touching bugs, seeing the horses, tears… etc etc.
- Phone (if you’re allowed) to take lots of photos, entertain your kids, PLAY MUSIC – again a magic trick for solving boredom, and to get in contact with people for emergencies.
- Sun hat to stay protected from that midday sun and set a good example for your kids.
- BUG SPRAY.
WHILST YOU’RE AT CAMP
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
At our camp, there was one phrase that was drilled into each and every counsellor. ‘Fake it till you make it’. We all lived by it, and secretly, I still do. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, worn out, missing home, sad or feeling lonely. Whilst you’re at camp you are the most important person in the world to your kids and you have to fake it. Smile through any pain and make everyone believe that you are the happiest person in the world. Most often, it’ll make you feel better too. Smile and your kids will smile and that’s the most important thing. Another counsellor and I had a girl one week who was probably one of the most annoying kids I’ve ever met. We felt miserable for the first couple of days and that in turn made her more annoying. We realised that we just had to fake it. We turned into the bubbliest counsellors you’ve ever seen. She ended up having so much fun with ‘the happiest counsellors at camp’ that she wasn’t even that annoying for the rest of the week. Happy counsellor = happy camper = happy counsellor.
OVER THE TOP IS NORMAL
Lose whatever inhibitions you have because at camp, you are a whole new person. This point follows on from the last one. If you have to sing Disney songs at the top of your voice to make a camper happy, do it. If you have to dance to get your group to keep up and move from one activity to the next, do it. If you have to put on a funny voice to get someone to eat their vegetables, do it! You become an actor, an entertainer and a best friend and you’ll enjoy it far more if you throw every cell of your being into your job. It’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had!
IMPROVE YOUR SINGING VOICE
I’m kidding. Don’t improve it. It’ll be far funnier if your rubbish. Think it’s a myth that Americans recite the pledgeof allegiance every morning? It’s not. (And by the end of camp you’ll love it). And all of those cheesy camp songs you’ve seen on films? They’re all real, and you’ll sing them all. It’s great fun so embrace the singer inside of you, whether you’re good or not.
CAPTURE ALL OF THE MEMORIES
One of my favourite things to do is go through my photos from camp. I love seeing all of the smiling faces and the things they all got up to. I enjoy watching the singing videos I made with my campers in the cabins. Most importantly, I take a huge amount of happiness from the letters, notes and cards that campers and counsellors gave me. Keep everything you want to remember and capture moments you can’t forget. (At my camp we were allowed to take photos, obviously check the policy on this at yours – I hope you can because camp photos are the best photos.) See some of my favourite memories here…
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Camp is loads of fun, like I’ve said, but it can get hard. Sometimes things happen that shock you, upset you or hurt you. Just know that it’s okay, you’ve done your best, and you’ll soon feel better. In the moment, you just have to slap a smile on and carry on. It’ll all be fine in the end.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
I strongly believe that as a counsellor, you have a responsibility to be a role model and respected leader. Your kids should learn right and wrong from you. You should encourage manners, sharing and patience, all things kids struggle with. However, sometimes those life lessons can wait. Choose carefully when it’s worth picking up on something with your kids. Sometimes an easy life is preferred but if you are going to pick them up on something, maybe sweeten the deal after. A negative should always be followed with a positive.
Camp food is at best, edible. (My camp food was actually pretty good, but I want be dramatic for this point). You may be inclined to stock up on snacks and goodies to nibble on when you’re starving at 9pm having skipped the majority of dinner. However, be careful because it’s quite common to put on weight at camp. Buy yourself a big bag of grapes or something, instead of a kilogram bag of skittles (ah Walmart how I miss you). I wish I had taken on that advice, but alas, walmart drove me to consume many a bar of Hershey’s cookies and cream, which I dearly miss.
DON’T PLAN YOUR TRAVEL AFTER
You will meet other counsellors who you’ll want to travel with, hear stories about places you hadn’t considered and need to be flexible about your time after working. You are allowed up to 30 days travel time after working at camp and I would suggest using at least half of this. Book a flight back from either somewhere you are desperate to go to or from a big city popular airport. For example, my camp was in Maryland, near DC, but I booked my flight back from New York. So did most people. If you’re camp is in California, don’t book a flight back from NYC because it’s thousands of miles away, but maybe LA would be a good shout. Be flexible if you can!
TAKE SUFFICIENT FUNDS
A number of factors can affect how much money you have at various times in the summer. You may not get paid straight away and need some money to tide you over for the first couple of weeks. If you’re camp is well connected to towns or cities, you may have the chance to go out at weekends, which can cost you. Make sure you take a decent amount of money with you so that you can cover this. In addition, be smart with your wages and make sure you don’t leave yourself struggling for cash at the end of the summer when you want to be enjoying yourself travelling.
ENJOY EVERY SECOND
Camp will be an amazing experience. You’ll fall in love with the kids and cry when they leave. You’ll make friends for life and promise to keep in contact. You’ll surprise yourself and feel proud of your achievements. You’ll also probably get injured or ill and miss home. You might have people be rude to you and you’ll feel bad. You might get so tired and worn out that you can barely stand up. But trust me, you’ll miss it when you’re home, so enjoy it whilst you’re there.
That’s it from me, I hope this has been useful or at the very least entertaining. Camp was the best experience of my life so far and I cannot wait to go back, hopefully in a couple of years. Barely a day goes by where I don’t think about that wonderful place, the friends I made there or the kids who I absolutely loved. Good luck to those of you heading off to camp this summer!!
From Lou (Camp Counsellor 2016)
PS. Here are links to all of the letters I wrote about summer camp – I love looking back on them so I hope you enjoy them. x