Being a summer camp counselor is the best job you can get. It means spending your summer playing in the lake, getting covered in slop, reenacting early 2000s teenage angst, wrestling whales, learning and living restorative justice, making art, connecting with kids, making the best friends you can imagine, going above and beyond, working harder than you ever have before, and making a real impact on a diverse group of young people. It is equal parts being a parent, club promoter, plumber, actor, and teacher. It is awesome. Plus, the truth is being a camp counselor isn't that complicated. It can be hard, but not complicated.
To be honest, there are just four keys to being a good camp counselor. As you get better at each one, you develop more tools, tactics, and skills that can help you make more impact, but it all comes back to these four:
1) Show up
Just show up. When you are scheduled to lifeguard, be there. When you are supposed to take out the trash, do it. Just be where you are scheduled to be when you are scheduled to be there. Then level up. Be present. Think about ways to make the situation better. My old program director used to always say “Hold a plunger and wear a wig.” Things are funnier in costume. So just show up. Show up mentally and physically and bring the fun.
2) Talk WITH kids
So you showed up. Great. Now let’s talk to some kids. Most kids at camp will think you are way cooler than you are. They will think that backwards hat and tie dye shirt combo is LIT! So talk with them. Just ask them how they are doing. What do they like? Where are they from? Do they want to play a game? As you walk from the dining hall to the cabin, be a person and talk with them. You wouldn't walk silently with your friends. Make jokes. Tell a story. Teach some kids how to tie a knot, make a bracelet, or play mafia. Show up and then just talk to kids.
3) Use judgment
To be fair this one is a little harder. I originally called it use good judgment, but then what does good mean? It can be complicated. The key here is just be a person. When you show up and are talking to kids and they tell you they are lonely, ask them more. Try to help. Tell your boss (at Stomping Ground that is your Panda). If a kid pees the bed one night, check the next morning if he did it again. When kids are being mean ask them to stop. If you start a hike with 8 kids, finish the hike with 8 kids. I am being a little crass here, but seriously think to yourself, is this safe? If you aren't sure ask your boss.
4) Don’t be a jerk
This one might be the most important part. Kids are plenty used to adults being rude, condescending, or making up rules that don’t make sense. Just be nice. If a kid is doing something unsafe and you need to step in, use judgment, be NICE, don’t be mean about it. Just ask them, “what’s up?” Talk to them like people. Ask them what they think is the best way to move forward. If you disagree with other staff, AWESOME, don’t be mean about it. Just talk to them!
Ok jokes aside! Being a camp counselor is challenging, and sometimes you won’t know what to do. If you show up, talk to kids, use judgment, and try not to be a jerk you are 80% of the way there. During staff orientation you will learn all kinds of strategies for risk management, conflict resolution, how to lead games, how to help kids get through the showers, and so much more. The key, the real key, is just engage in the job. Focus on how to help each kid you are with have a better time than before they were with you and smile. If nothing is on fire life is good.
Remember, hold a plunger and wear a wig!
Looking for a job this summer? Send me a quick text/email and let's figure out if we can make that happen or check out our camp, Camp Stomping Ground.