Archive for Dave

Camp Story: My All-Time Favorite Camp Moment

I’m pretty sure this was my favorite camp moment of all time. It’s a little thing, but it meant so much. This story happened two summers ago, my first year as a camp counselor.

It was the third week of camp and it was one of those excessively hot days. Like my other counselors that day, I had little patience, little tolerance, and I wasn’t really in the mood to be at camp that day. We were at basketball. The courts we played at had really low baskets because they were for little kids. Anyway, me and my senior counselor were standing around at one of the baskets talking. We both had a ball. One of our kids walked over. He wanted us to pick him up so he could do a slam dunk. (Obviously they weren’t really slam dunks. We’d give the kids a ball and we’d pick them up and they’d put the ball in the basket and hang on the rim.) We weren’t really in the mood to but we did it anyway. I gave him my ball and I picked him up and he “slam dunked”. And when he was hanging on the rim he started cracking up. He was laughing so much. He must’ve really been enjoying himself. Well me and Eugene (the S.C.) looked and we saw him laughing. We both got the biggest smiles on our faces. It cheered us up so much! If I had a video camera with me, I definitely would’ve recorded it. In fact, I’d have to say that it was my best camp moment. I really felt good when I saw him laughing.

It was at that moment that I realized what it meant to be a camp counselor. It’s not about the money or the free food. I didn’t do the job so I’d get out of the house during the day. The job isn’t really about you at all. It’s all about the kids. We’re there to make sure our kids have the best summer possible. And that moment was just one of those times where I felt I was doing just that. Unless you experience something like this yourself, you can’t really appreciate the feeling I got. But let me tell you, it was great. I’d give anything to relive that moment again.

Activity Idea: GaGa

Anyone play this at their camp? At our camp it’s the most popular activity! The kids always love playing it. For those who don’t know about ga ga, here’s a summary:

  • Ga ga is played in a six-sided wooden-court with wooden walls.
  • Everyone is inside the court, along with a ball.
  • You can only hit the ball with your hand.
  • You can’t stop the ball. If you do, you’re out.
  • If the ball hits your legs you’re out.
  • If you hit the ball twice without someone else hitting it (or without it hitting a wall) you’re out. This is called a double hit.
  • Counselors have final say if a camper got out or not.
  • Often, if more than one bunk is playing, the game will turn into a bunk vs. bunk game. In our camp there are also boys vs. girls games as well as kids vs. counselors games.
  • You win by being the only person to not get out.

Having Favorites

I would argue that having a camper, or campers that you get along with better than some others is an inevitable part of being a camp counselor, along with homesickness and yet another squabble over the latest fad, including Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. This is due to what happens in other social situations: sometimes different people gel better than others, and counseling is no different.

Being inevitable, there is nothing wrong with this; you can have a really good summer if a couple of kids in your bunk are on your wavelength. The issue only arises if this is to the detriment of the other campers. The best way to avoid this is probably to be aware of it. If you are conscious of favoritism, this means that you can take steps to avoid it. You could spend time concentrating on the other campers as well, for example. Or do a group activity where everyone can get involved equally.

The other side of this coin, I think is to realize that you can’t be all things to every child: you can’t have that amazing relationship that completely turns a child’s summer around with every child. Some children won’t connect with you as well as others. The thing to bear in mind, is that you can still have fun with them, and still be a part of their summer, even if you don’t feel you <i>are</i> their summer.

Activity Idea: First Day of Camp Icebreaker

On the first day of camp, we always do an icebreaker with the kids in our bunk so they learn each other’s names and our names as well. Here’s what we do:

  1. First you have to get all the kids together in a circle, all at a table, etc.
  2. Then we (the counselors) introduce ourselves and our rank in the bunk (senior counselor, junior counselor, CIT, etc.). We then go around to each of the kids and have them tell us each of our names.
  3. Now we have each of the kids say their names.
  4. After each kid has said their name, we have each kid say everyone else’s names. If they get one wrong we have the kid whose name they had to say repeat their name. Then they continue saying the rest of the kids’ names.
  5. Once everyone knows everyone else’s names, we have each of the kids tell us their favorite activity at camp (the counselors do this too). If this is a camper’s first summer at camp, we ask them what their favorite thing to do is.
  6. If you really want to challenge your campers, you can repeat step 4, but this time have the campers say everyone else’s name and their favorite activity. Consider offering a prize to anyone who can get everyone’s names and favorite activities correct!
  7. Finally, we tell the kids to be sure to talk with everyone else in the bunk.

That’s the method we use during the first day of camp to get the kids to know each other a bit better.

Some General Camp Counselor Tips

Here are a couple tips I came up with. Just keep in mind that I worked with 7-year-old boys at a day camp so these may not apply to everyone.

  • Participation is key. The more you participate, the friendlier you become with your kids. Even if it means running around a playground, do it. If they ask you to join in, you should join in. Don’t think about how stupid you’ll look. Do it for the kids, and not for yourself.
  • If you see a kid’s really bad at an activity, encourage them. Don’t make fun of them. I know it may be tempting to do, but don’t do it. Because if you do, you may have a crying kid on your hands, and that’s never fun to deal with.
  • A good rule of thumb is to spend at least 5 minutes with each kid every day. Obviously you’ll be spending more, but be sure you get at least that much time in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re in a difficult situation, don’t be afraid to ask your senior counselor for advice. They may get annoyed but it’ll benefit both of you. You’ll learn something new and they’ll learn what areas of camp counseling you need to improve on.
  • A very important tip is to make sacrifices, no matter how small. What I mean is, for example, let’s say it’s lunch. There’s one pizza bagel left at your table before you have to go up to get more. You grab it and one of your kids starts whining and says he/she wants it. Give it to him/her. It’s little things like this that will make your kids like you more. If you decide not to give it to him/her, that kid will remember and they’ll hold a grudge (silent treatment, guilt, etc.).
  • If one of your kids is crying or is having a bad day, talk with them. Make them feel better. If the kid is crying because he/she got out in a game or something like that, remind them that it’s just a game and that there will always be another game. Obviously if the kid is crying because he/she is hurt, take them to the nurse. If the kid is having a bad day and isn’t enthusiastic or happy, talk with him/her. Tell them how much fun you’ll be having and that when you’re at camp you’re supposed to have fun and be happy. Make sure your kids are having a good time, all the time.
  • Have patience! These kids aren’t stupid. They know that if they want something, all they have to do is keep annoying you until they get it. Most of the time, the first time you tell a kid to do something, odds are they won’t do it. Don’t get mad at them though. Remember that they’re a lot younger than you. Ask them again.
  • Don’t raise your voice. Only do this in an emergency. This may scare your campers, or if you do this a lot they may just ignore it.
  • Campers hear everything, and I mean everything. So if you want to tell your friend something, first think about if you want a little kid to hear it. The bad part about kids hearing what you say is that they never remember it accurately. They’ll tell their parents and often exaggerate what you said (which usually has a negative effect) .
  • Find a positive trait for each of your campers, and emphasize on that. Don’t emphasize on the negative. If one of your campers is good at kickball, every time you head to kickball, tell that camper how excited you are to see him/her kick the ball really far or run the bases really fast. And be sure to tell the other campers that he/she is good at kickball so everyone will want him/her on their team. This will make that camper feel wanted and part of the group. This works especially well with shy/quiet campers.
  • Leave all negativity at home! If you come in to camp with a bad mood, this will hurt your campers’ days. Even if you had a horrible night, come in with a smile. If you feel you might feel below par, talk to your division head or a superior prior to camp.
  • Take breaks! If your camp offers you breaks, use them. Otherwise you may get worn out.
  • If you notice two campers conflict often, don’t wait until a fist fight breaks out to do something about it. As soon as you notice some questionable behavior, work it out with the campers as well as your superiors. The sooner you work things out, the easier your job will be.
  • Respect your campers and they’ll respect you. They’ll behave better if you respect them. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you can yell at them and boss them around. If a camper doesn’t want to participate in an activity, don’t force them. Instead, respect their feelings and talk it out. Ask them why they don’t want to participate. Be fair. Some other easy examples of respect include: smiling, greeting your campers when they first see you in the morning, treating everyone fairly, and giving them appropriate pats and touches (such as a pat on the back, or placing your hands on their shoulders when talking to them).
  • Show the kids you have fun with them! Don’t sit out of every activity. Participate with them. Let your inner kid come loose in camp (to an extent). This will show the campers that you really care about them, and this will make them feel better.
  • Let your campers know when they do something good. If a camper doesn’t want to participate in an activity but decides to anyway, tell them when the activity is over that they did really well.
  • Teach your campers good behavior. An good example of this was what our cooking instructor did this past summer. She’d tell the kids that before we could make anything or eat anything that everyone had to wash their hands. She’d tell them to put soap on their hands and scrub while singing Happy Birthday to themselves. Then rinse and dry. When they came back to the table, they’d have to keep their hands in the air and couldn’t touch any parts of their bodies.

Camp Story: Making an Impact

If you post on this site, you must be a dedicated counselor (or you were at one time). So I’m sure you’ve all made huge impacts on your campers’ summers, hopefully in good ways. 😛 So my question is, do you think you’ve ever made a big impact on a camper’s summer? How do you know?

I know I have. I found out one day last summer while we were at the pool. I usually don’t go swimming at camp, and there are some kids who don’t swim either. Those who don’t usually play run-the-bases in a shaded area near the pool. One day, I was playing with a bunch of kids. Some of those kids were from my bunk the previous summer. Also playing was their counselor for that summer. Well, one of those kids had to go to the bathroom. So he came up to me, and asked me to take him to the bathroom. I asked him why he didn’t ask his counselor, who was standing right near me. He told me that he liked me better and he wanted me to take him. Keep in mind that this was already about halfway through the summer so he had plenty of time to become friends with his new counselors. But he still asked me to take him over his counselor.

It was a small event, but for him to ask me over his real counselor to take him to the bathroom, it meant a lot because I must’ve made such an impact on his previous summer that he still liked me over his actual counselors.

(Oh yeah, in the end he had to go with his real counselor because I would’ve gotten in trouble if I took him.)

The ABC’s of Camp Counseling

A is for Active

You have to be active with your campers in order for them to really like you. If you sit out of every activity, the campers won’t think you care about them.

B is for Bravery

Try not to be too afraid of doing something. If you’re brave, your campers will probably follow you. Show them that what you’re doing is not scary.

C is for Cheerful

Be cheerful. Even if you’re in a bad mood, be sure to keep a smile on your face. A bad day for you is a bad day for your campers. They’ll notice if you’re in a bad mood.

D is for Desire

You have to have the desire to give kids a fun summer. If you don’t have that desire, you might not be the best counselor.

E is for Everyone

Interact with everyone and get everyone involved! If you notice one of the kids in your bunk is shy, be sure to get him/her involved with the other kids even more.

F is for Funny

As a camp counselor, you should be a funny person. Kids don’t want a camp counselor who’s serious all of the time. Make jokes, have a good time.

G is for Guide

It’s your job to guide your campers in the right direction of their life.

H is for Happy

This is a given. You have to be happy. Don’t be angry all of the time.

I is for Independence

Teach your campers to become more independent than they are. If they always ask you to make them a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, teach them how to make it on their own so when the time comes that you aren’t there for them, they’ll know how to make it on their own.

J is for Join in

Don’t sit on the side lines. Participate and have fun with the kids. Even if it means running around a playground or going down a slide. Do it.

K is for Kids

This could have two meanings. The first one means that you have to be good with kids to be a successful camp counselor. The second meaning is to let the kid inside of yourself come out while at camp. You may not be the most active or creative person outside of camp, but inside camp that doesn’t matter. Even if you aren’t the best at drawing, draw anyway. You may not enjoy kickball, but play anyway.

L is for Laugh

You should always laugh. If one of your campers tells you a story or joke that they find funny but you don’t, laugh anyway. Of course, remember to laugh at appropriate times. If a camper trips on a rock and falls, that’s not the time to laugh (even though you may want to). If a camper draws a bad picture, don’t laugh at it.

M is for Make Friends

Make friends with your campers. Obviously this will probably happen, but make sure it does. Never ignore one camper totally. Also, have your campers make friends with each other.

N is for No Yelling

You should never yell at a camper. You might scare them or make a bad situation worse. Or if you yell enough, they might actually get used to it and yelling won’t be a threat to them. Just don’t yell. There’s no need for that in camp.

O is for Options

Give your campers options. They’ll have to learn sometime to choose and make decisions. Why not help them out. Sometimes they might not like the options, but they’ll have to choose. For example, one choice they may have is to either go swimming or get popsicles. They can only choose one. Another time this is useful is if your bunk is given an option of activities to choose from. Don’t decide just amongst the counselors. Give the campers in your bunk a choice of what they want as well. Then go from there.

P is for Patience

Have patience. This is pretty self-explanatory.

Q is for Questions

Instead of punishing two kids for fighting right away, ask questions. Ask why they were fighting, what started it, who started it, was there a better way to solve the problem.

R is for Reasoning

Teach your campers to reason instead of fight. Teach them to reason instead of kick, scream, and cry.

S is for Sanity

Be sure to keep your sanity while working at camp, no matter how stressful times can get. If you ever need help, go to your division head or one of your superiors and talk with them. They’ll listen.

T is for Teach

Teach your campers the ways of life. Teach them to try and become the best person they can be.

U is for Understanding

Camp counselors are understanding people. If a camper is upset, a camp counselor will sit down and talk with them and listen to what they have to say.

V is for Vigilance

As a camp counselor, you are in charge of making sure your campers are safe. This is one of your most important tasks. Don’t let your guard down or assume a camper you don’t see is okay.

W is for Wisdom

In addition to making sure your campers have a fun summer, you can also teach them valuable life lessons. Share your wisdom with your campers and watch them grow as the weeks go on.

X is for eXcellence

You have a limited amount of time to give your campers the best summer they can have. Give it your all 100% of the time and be an excellent counselor.

Y is for Yes I Can

Camp is not only a place for campers to learn new things and explore outside of their comfort zone; counselors can do this too! Why not volunteer for an acting part in the camp play, even if you’ve never acted before? Why not play with the kids in a sport you’re not very good at? Lead by example and show your campers it doesn’t matter how good you are at something; what’s important is that you gave it a good effort and tried your best.

Z is for Zzz

Let’s face it: a well-rested counselor is always better than a groggy counselor! Get the sleep you need, whether you’re at a day camp or overnight camp.

What Makes Camp Special

There are lots of different features that are specific to your own camp. These could be little things, ways of lining up, a weekly show or the music played between activity periods… if any are played at all!

At my camp, for example, at the end of every meal the Program Director gives out announcements about what is happening in the day. To get all the camper’s attention, he crouches down, while everyone bangs on the table, and then they all shout something out, and he calls back at them. After the announcements, he will choose which table to go first and second.

This is a very poor description, but makes my point: how exactly do you tell the people around you (or even people from other camps!) all the little things that make your camp special. They are usually mundane, tiny things that happen every day, but make it a unique special place to be in. How exactly can you tell the people back home about your summer?

I think my ineloquence here highlights my point, that it is difficult to fully describe your camp experience, because — regardless of whether a day or overnight camp — it is such a huge all encompassing experience, and as such is like trying to describe an eight week holiday or traveling excursion: either way it usually involves taking lots of photos!

Overnight Camp Curfews

At camp this year, they introduced a curfew, to make sure there was more than one counselor in a bunk overnight. The previous system had someone on OD until midnight at the latest. There was one designated person, who slept in the bunk, who was on ‘twelves’, someone who would sign in and would stay in the bunk before, or until midnight. The rest could technically (but didn’t usually) go off and do whatever they pleased.

This year, this was changed. Instead of OD’s finishing at 12, they finished at 1am, by which point everyone had to have signed in. Those not signed in would have a ‘talking to’ if it became a pattern. If someone tried to sign in intoxicated, a Director was called, and not usually happy for being woken up.

The system had its hiccups, mainly that the senior staff (Unit Leaders, Support Intervention Team etc.) were having to do Super-OD’s (supervising the sign in sheets etc.) until beyond 1am, and were then having to be up before 7:15 for the morning briefing. I was wondering how other camps dealt with the issue of a curfew. Do you have one at all? How do you enforce it?

Activity Idea: Color Wars

Many longer session camps and some shorter session ones, sleepaway or day, have a version of color war or olympics…and some of you might want to try to start a color war for your camp. Ours has so much tradition and spirit in it. It’s really emotional when a PC chief gets up on a chair to make a goodbye speech to the camp at the end of the war, thanking everyone who made the war special for her and her friends, or when a counselor chief gets up on the chair and talks about making her dream of the team she’s been dreaming of since she was in the youngest age group as a camper a reality. Another special thing is seeing a girl in the youngest age group wearing a blue or grey shirt that she wrote “let’s go blue/grey!” on and cheering at an activity using her counselor chief’s megaphone. Not to mention seeing the teams at sing on the last night, singing the songs so passionately that they’ve worked so hard to learn for 4 days. Nothing compares, in my opinion. Here’s how color war at my camp works, hopefully you can follow it:

AUGUST 1ST CHEERING- Color war is spoken about all summer at my camp, and the color war songs from previous years are sung in the mess hall all summer, but the official buildup for the war begins on August 1st. That is when the oldest girls at camp (the PC’s) start the camp in cheering for the war at a meal.(1,2,3,4, we want color war, 5,6,7,8, we don’t wanna wait, plus other cheers that our camp specifically has). To the rest of the camp it is a secret surprise as to how and at which meal the PC’s will cheer. The cheering on the 1st is only for 1 meal, to get the idea of the war in everyone’s heads. After that, it is stopped for a few days until the war gets closer.

TAPPING- Also around August 1st is when the counselors that are going to be “in” the war as counselor chiefs, assistant chiefs, keymen, and artists for the scenery are “tapped,” or told in secret by the director of their position in the war. The campers do not know that this is happening. After those counselors have all been tapped (1 chief, 1 asst., 3 keymen, and 1 artist for each team) there is a meeting for them with the director after lights out that night, where the chiefs reveal the themes they have chosen for their teams to the other counselors in the war, (example Blue Nickelodeon and Grey Toy Story, Blue Under the Sea and Grey Explorers, or Blue Africa and Grey Wonderland). It is then the job of the artists to begin planning the scenery to go along with the theme to decorate the walls of the mess hall and social hall. It is the job of the chiefs to order their team t-shirts for themselves, the assts, keymen, artists, camper chiefs, etc.

MUSIC- After the tapping meeting, each counselor chief meets w/our piano director to discuss the songs they will write their color war songs to for sing on the last night of the war. Alumni who have been counselor chiefs before also talk to the chiefs and help them pick and write songs. Each chief has to write a march, new alma mater, and cheer, plus choose an old alma mater from a previous color war.

SCENERY PAINTING- To make the scenery process less difficult for the artists, each night after taps until the war the counselor chiefs, assts., and keymen go to the paint shack under the mess hall to help the artists paint the scenery. The campers don’t know about this, it’s another secret…obviously, since they don’t know who the involved counselors are! The people “in” the war have to make sure to talk to their co-counselors and their groupheads to get someone to cover for them. the campers usually think they’re just on a night out. They usually don’t get back until like 3 AM or later.

CHOOSING THE PC CHIEFS- Sometime in the beginning of August, before the war, a lot of thought by the director with help from the PC grouphead and counselors goes into choosing which PC’s will be the camper chiefs of each team. The PC chiefs are chosen based on leadership, kindness, and behavior throughout the summer and the ones before that. The PC chiefs do not find out they are chief until the war breaks. Each team has 1 chief and 2 asst. chiefs. It is a huge deal and a huge honor to be chosen to be chief or assistant, and girls get so nervous about it!

MAKING THE COLOR WAR SHEETS- Once it has been decided who the camper chiefs are, the director must make the color war sheets, the list of who (including every counselor) is on each team to “appear” when the war breaks. Each grouphead is in charge of making their teams, balancing athleticism and strong personalities. Once each grouphead has made their teams, they get together to switch people around so that all sisters are on the same team. On the PC list, the chiefs and assts. are the 1st names. It’s harder than it sounds! A lot of thought goes into it, it takes a few days to get it straight.

CHEERING- The cheering a few days after August 1st is the “real” color war cheering, cheering, starting the same way including many of the same cheers. The difference is that it continues at every meal until the war breaks.

THE BREAK- This is the start of the war. It can be as simple as placing the color war sheets on each camper’s bed while they are at a meal so when they get back they just see them, or as complicated as hiring a celebrity to throw out the sheets or having them dropped from an airplane. Be creative with this, it can be almost anything. The most important part is the 3 booms from a small cannon that make it official. When the war breaks, everyone finds out what team they are on, the themes, and who are the counselors and PC’s in charge of their teams. There is a lot of hugging and crying, especially the PC’s, those who are chief and those who aren’t, because PC color war is just so special to them and they’ve waited for it forever.

OPENING CEREMONIES- Where the director officially begins the war by introducing the people in charge to the camp and reminding everyone that although we will be divided into Blue and Grey for the next 4 days, we are still a family, and we respect and help each other, regardless of teams, just like always.

MESS HALL SCENERY HANGING- All of the counselors in charge of the teams meet after taps to hang the new scenery up and decorate the mess hall.

THE 4 DAYS OF THE WAR- In the mornings during color war, each age group is separately playing their own color war activities, which are the sports, 2 activities per morning. You can pretty much pick any sports for the kids to play. An official color war judge is at each activity and reports scores once the morning is over. After the morning activities each team meets for a song rehearsal where they learn and practice the songs that the chiefs have written for sing. After lunch, there is a whole camp color war activity. For example a track meet one day and a swim meet another day. After that, there is another song rehearsal. after dinner each night, the PC’s play some of their color war games in front of the whole camp, one night is basketball, another is volleyball, etc. The last afternoon of the war is spent entirely with song rehearsal for both teams.

SILENT MEALS AND INSPECTION- During color war, the campers don’t eat with their bunks as usual; they eat at assigned tables within their teams, made once the color war sheets are made. Each table has a couple of kids from the team in each age group and 1 or 2 counselors. The counselor and PC chiefs, assistants, and keymen on each team eat together, 1 table for each team, at the front of the room. Meals are silent, talking results in the judges deducting points from the talking team. The only speaking is at the end of the meal when one of the people in charge from each team gets up to make a speech. At the beginning of the war they’re pump-up speeches, and at the end they’re sentimental, thanking everyone for a great war and talking about how much color war means to them. After the speeches there is lots of cheering, and then the scores from the morning/afternoon/evening are read, followed by the dismissal of each team separately. Also, during the war, bunk inspections are for points. 1 team cleans the inside and 1 cleans the porch and grounds (it switches off every inspection) and the judges come around and deduct points from the team that didn’t do their jobs.

SING- Finally, after all of the planning and practicing it’s time for sing on the 4th night of color war. Each team performs their 4 songs and are judged on them. The marches are first and they are sung twice: once in a formation in the middle of the social hall and once w/the teams on the benches. Songs are “led,” (which basically means conducted w/hand movements), as follows: march-PC chief, new alma mater- one of the PC assts, old alma mater-counselor chief, cheer-other PC asst. At the end of sing the sing scores and final scores for the war are read, and everyone runs into the center of the social hall hugging and crying, it’s a really emotional and bittersweet night, because when the war is over camp ends 2 days later.

There are many other little traditions in our war too. I want to hear about everyone else’s color war! If you have an explanation similar to mine (but probably shorter) share it with us! Also if you have any great color war stories. I do but I’ll wait to share them.