If you love kids and being active outdoors, then being a summer camp counselor is basically a dream job. You get to play all the outdoor games you loved as a kid, go hiking and swimming pretty much daily, sit around a campfire every night singing goofy songs and telling scary stories, and if you’re lucky, you get to create bonds that will shape a kid’s life.
But being a summer camp counselor isn’t all fun and games. To be a truly great camp counselor you’ll need to have a specific set of skills that allow you to create a fun, safe, and memorable time for all your campers. Developing and employing that skillset every day for an entire summer is hard work!
If you want to be the best camp counselor there is this summer, follow these tips each day and you’re guaranteed to have the time of your life!
1. Get to Know Your Campers Quick
The most important thing about being a summer camp counselor is the connection that you create with your campers. Since most of them will only be at camp for a week or two, it’s important to get to know them quickly.
On the first day of the new camp session, play some name games with your new campers. Name games that pair names with an interest or favorite thing also help you get to know your campers.
While you’re playing, make sure that you’re repeating each name to yourself as you hear it, maybe coming up with a memory trick to remember each. Knowing your campers’ names within the first hour of the new camp session is essential for creating bonds.
On the first day, while you’re walking between activities or at mealtimes, seek out each camper for a quick conversation. Get some tidbits about their interests and their lives that can be used for future conversations. You’d be surprised how much of an impact it makes on kids when you remember a snippet from a previous conversation.
2. Establish Boundaries from the Get-Go
As much as kids hate rules, they need them in order to thrive. And they especially need rules at places like camp, where the rules help keep their bodies and their feelings safe.
On the first day of a new camp session, maybe after the name games are done, set out some simple rules with your campers. You shouldn’t sit there and recite a long list of rules to them. That’ll just make you look like the strict and boring counselor that everyone hates.
You should come up with some simple phrases that convey how they should behave toward you and others. Phrases like “no broken heads no broken hearts” and “give respect and you’ll get respect” are concise ways to let them know the behavior that’s expected of them.
If there are other rules, such as rules about phone use, make the consequences clear from the start – like if you get caught on your phone it’s mine for the day.
Also, make sure to let the campers know that the rules aren’t there to ruin their fun and that you don’t want to be an enforcer. If they follow the rules respectfully, then there won’t be a struggle.
3. Rely on Your Other Counselors
Bonding with the other counselors is essential to your success because you’ll be relying on them to back you up, to save your butt, and to help you out every single day. If you’re in a situation you feel like you can’t handle, reach out to another counselor to back you up.
This is especially true when you’re having trouble with a specific camper or group of campers. Every counselor knows that there are some campers that just get on your nerves. And once they know that, they’ll do everything they can to push your buttons.
Instead of engaging with that kind of behavior, reach out to a counselor with a different interpersonal style who can engage with the camper in a different way.
And if there’s a particular skill you don’t have or something you don’t excel at, don’t feel like you have to fumble your way through it. Find the counselor that does excel at that thing and ask for their help. Relying on others makes you a better counselor, so do it often!
4. Act the Way You Want Them to Act
Camp counselors are, above all, role models for their campers. This is a big responsibility and you need to take it seriously at all times.
The biggest part of being a role model is showing your campers the behavior that you want to see from them. Don’t want them yelling at each other? Then don’t yell at them. Want them to speak to each other respectfully? Speak to them with respect. Don’t want them on their phones? Then make sure they don’t see you on yours.
The easiest way to lose the respect of the kids you’re working with is by being a hypocrite. If you ask them to behave a certain way, you should already be behaving that way.
Of course, we’re not all perfect all the time. Part of modeling good behavior is modeling what to do when we behave poorly. So, if you lose your temper and snap at a kid, take a minute to cool off and then apologize. Own that you engaged in bad behavior and promise them you’ll do better in the future.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Being a summer camp counselor is a tough job. You’re working long hours – 24/7 if you’re working at a sleepaway camp. You’re out in the elements all the time. You’re interacting with kids who have all sorts of different behaviors, quirks, and habits.
It’s a demanding gig that takes a ton of physical and emotional energy.
So, it’s essential that you take care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs. Make sure you’re eating enough at every meal and staying hydrated. Take some quiet time before the campers arrive or before they wake up to center yourself and prepare for the day. Try your best to get a good night’s sleep.
When you’re feeling super drained, reach out to your other counselors and your supervisors to let them know you need extra support. Again, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help!
Being the Best Camp Counselor You Can Be
Being a summer camp counselor is one of the best jobs you’ll ever have. You’ll work your butt off every single day, but the rewards are always worth it.
To be the best camp counselor you can be, all you really need to do is focus on the relationships you’re creating with the people around you and foster a healthy relationship with yourself. If you can do that, you’re guaranteed to have the best summer of your life.
For more information about summer camp and ways to make summer camp the best experience ever, check out our blog!