So you’re working at summer camp this summer! You’re going to have the best experiences, a tonne of fun and face some character-building challenges. Not only will you experience positive life change, it’s also a time of major social and emotional development for the kids you’re caring for.
There’s more to being a camp counselor than knowing how to build a campfire or teach canoeing, you’ll learn how to communicate, understand and nurture those campers so everyone has the best summer ever. Photo from Canadian Camping Association
Here are 5 tips for working with campers this summer:
1. Get to know your campers!
In the age of hovering helicopter parents, some campers might expect more support from you since that’s what they get at home. Find opportunities to give them praise and recognition and get to know each kid as an individual instead of as a cabin group. Take the time to learn about what they like, what they’re good at and their qualities. You can sit down with a camper at lunch and asked about new activities they may have tried so far, if they’ve made a new friend or if there is something they found difficult. Getting to know your campers will go a long way for them and make things easier for you too.
2. Make instructions simple.
From cleaning up after meals, tidying the cabin to participating in activities and learning a new game, make sure your directions are simple and easy to follow. Giving young children too much to do and learn at once can be confusing and you’ll find it difficult to get anything done. For example, instead of telling your campers to ‘clean up the cabin’, be more specific with simple instructions.
- First we are going to zip up our sleeping bags and make our beds look nice!
- Then let’s put all our clothes in our suitcases and tuck them under the bed.
- Before we leave the cabin, every will check the floor for garbage.
Then ask them to repeat each instruction so you know they understand.
3. Get into a routine as soon as possible.
Kids work well with routines. The sooner they understand the structure and expectations of a day at summer camp the better. Not only is it good for them, but a routine will help you plan ahead and be consistent with your campers. For example, make it very clear that everyone will receive a 10-minute warning near the end of the arts and craft block to start cleaning up their area. After you give the warning, tell them where they can put their supplies, garbage and project. Then give a 5-minute warning as a reminder for those who are getting distracted. As long as they know these warnings are coming, they’ll get used to them and start the process before everyone is late for lunch!
4. Be careful. Not all ‘joking around’ will be positive for campers.
You might understand and think sarcasm is funny, but to a little kid sarcasm or joking around can be misunderstood and seem harsh. Saying something like “Hurry up, my old grandpa moves faster than you slow pokes!” Most kids don’t even ‘get’ sarcasm until they’re teenagers and what they hear from you is hostility. They might repeat that behaviour in a negative way to other campers which can lead to bullying, hurt feelings and other behavior problems.
5. Teach sharing and thankfulness to your campers.
It’s proven that children experience positive social development at camp. They learn to make new friends, interact with a diverse range of other people and for a time, live in your camp community. Teaching your campers to share with one another and show gratitude to one another and camp staff will help them develop key social skills that they will use later in life.
An example of doing this would be to have your cabin group sit in a circle at the end of the day. Have each camper share one thing that happened during the day that they were grateful for, or to give an example of when someone shared something with them that day - whether it be an extra cookie at snack time or if a friend helped with their clean-up duties at breakfast. This will encourage everyone to do more sharing, helping and to be more grateful during their time at camp so they will have things to share.