10 Things You Learn During Your First Summer as a Camp Counselor

1. Camp is for campers. If you did not realize it before, you will as a staff member. Yes, staff members are supposed to have fun too, but campers always come first. You let them eat first at meals, you let them keep you up all night when they are crying because they are homesick, you let them dress you up in ridiculous costumes just for fun. Because camp is for campers.

2. It is hard to get a lot of sleep as a staff member. On top of waking up early with campers, staff do a lot of things at night that prevent them from getting as much beauty sleep as they would like. Aside from shmira/night duty, where staff are required to stay in their cabins at night so they are there if a camper needs them, many camps allow for staff to spend time as a group once campers are asleep, letting staff go into town, serving snack, movie nights, and/or planning other fun nighttime activities. On top of that, nighttime is a prime time to plan for the next program.

3. What you were like when you were a camper. As a camper, it is hard to step back and realize what kind of a camper you are. Once you are staff and can see all your own campers, it becomes abundantly clear just what you were like back then. Were you the eager beaver camper, always volunteering to be first in line? Were you the troublemaker, giving your staff premature gray hairs? Were you the slacker, who refused to participate in anything? Every staff member will find the one camper who is basically themselves reincarnated.

JUL 11 Foundation for Jewish Camp - Greensboro, NC4. Days off are solid gold. You love your campers. While at camp, you are the parent and they are your children. That said, even the most dedicated parents need some alone time. When your day off rolls around, you will be so happy to get out of camp and experience civilization for the day. Aside from giving you a much needed break, it makes you all the more excited to see your campers when you return.

5. Seriously, do not let your campers know that you have your phone at camp. Unless you want to be surrounded by crying, begging kids, it is not a good idea. Plus it is likely against your camp’s rules.

6. The most outspoken, seemingly obnoxious campers are often the most insecure. You won’t realize it until your first heart-to-heart with them, but that rude kid? It’s just armor and they’re just nervous. Talk about it with them – they will open up to you.

7. Do the activities too. Especially if you weren’t a camper! This is twofold: First, you are at camp! You have so much available to you that you don’t have during the year! Take advantage of the waterskiing, ziplining, pottery throwing, and cliff jumping. You don’t know whether you will get a chance to do it again. And second, if you participate, your campers will be more likely to do the same. On that note…

8. Your campers think you are the coolest thing in the universe. They look up to you so much. You are their role model; be sure to set a good example. Before you know it they will be the staff themselves, weirdly enough. You are creating a legacy.

9. Take care of yourself. A lot has been said in the camp world about “tapping out,” or taking a break when you are struggling with a camper. It is important to remember that needing that time to breathe is not a failure or giving up; rather, it is taking care of yourself so that you can continue to do the best possible job as a staff member. Vent to your co-counselor, have a dance party, take a long shower – do whatever you need to get it all out. There will be someone else to pick up where you left off.

10. Stay as long as you can. Camp is Neverland (a la Peter Pan).  Camp is beautiful and enriching and unique and magical. Though eventually you do have to grow up, hold on until the last second.

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