A few years ago now, I headed over to Long Island to work at a USA Summer Camp with the Camp America programme. There wasn’t much written about Camp those days so I had no idea what to expect. Here is a run down of what YOU should expect as a camp councillor.
This is the most popular question for those heading to work in a summer camp. This of course depends on your camp but generally you will stay in a wooden or brick cabin with 12-15 children of the same gender as yourself as well as another co-counsellors. Counsellors often get single beds but depending on space, you may end up with a bunk bed. I was lucky at camp, we had a large brick cabin with 4 large rooms for the children leading off one central living area and then 2 smaller rooms for the counsellors to stay.
Our camp had private shower cubicles and as the girls in my cabin were teenagers, they were pretty good at organising themselves with each other to plan when to shower at different times of the day.
I was actually a vegetarian during this time of my life so eating at Camp was a bit of a pain. I believe that food options are more varied at summer camps nowadays but when I was there in 2011, there wasn’t much of a range of food to have.
Breakfast: 3-4 different types of cereal was offered as well as scrambled egg. Each day varied but you would either have potato tots, bacon or rounded sausages. Fridays were often Pancake day. A friend who worked at camp last year said she had more breakfast burritos and french toast at her camp.
Lunch: A mixture of some of the following: chicken breasts, burgers, potato tots, fries, sausages, lasagne, cheese and ham rolls. Lunch was a bit more varied and a salad and fruit bar was also available during lunch.
Dinner: Again, a mixture of the following: Burgers, pizza, lasagne, pasta, Hot dogs, noodles and chicken. A friend of mine said her camp had different themed nights so one night she would have a Mexican night with fajitas and tacos and the next night she may have an Italian night with pizza and pasta available.
Like I said, food really varies depending on what camp you are at. If you have any dietary requirements then make sure you notify your camp before arriving. If you are worried about food, you can always check the camps website before applying or accepting a job offer. Sample menus are often displayed on the website, if not then you can try the camps Facebook page.
Generally, you will be with the children for the majority of the day between 7am to 10pm. This is structured so you have time for a shower and often have a short period of time away from the children to just get away from them for a bit! For a typical day working in a summer camp then head to my blog to read more.
Some camps have a weekly rota; children will arrive on Sundays and head home on Saturdays. This is the type of camp I worked at. Other camps have children stay for a whole 2-3 weeks then those children go home and new children come whilst other camps may offer a whole summer program for children, with some children arriving for a few days, weeks etc during that summer. However, after speaking to friends who have worked at a range of camps, I can give you a rough guide to your weekly routine at camp.
Sunday – For me, this was the day that the children arrived. We would have a staff brunch followed by a staff meeting before heading to our check-in base, ready for the children to arrive around 1.30pm. By 3pm, all the children had been checked in and children are taken to the campfire. This is when a informal introduction (normally a song of some kind) is given and children take a tour of the camp. This is often the case at most camps, making the first day a pretty easy day for you. Because our camp was situated with a lake and a beach, the children were then taken down to the beach for cabin swim tests and to get to know each other. This is followed by dinner and a welcome campfire singalong before an early night.
Monday to Thursday – These days are pretty similar and follow a typical day working in a summer camp. Children have different activities throughout the day and whole camp activities are planned for the evening. At our camp, we would have a weekly dance on the Thursday evening whilst the other evenings were filled with various group and team work activities.
Fridays – Fridays were a bit different for my camp because the children went home on a Saturday. The children would have a similar morning to the rest of the week but after lunch would be followed by a whole camp olympic-styled competition. This was followed by a t-shirt decorated activity, friendship circle and camp clean-up. After our BBQ dinner, we had a farewell campfire where children shared their favourite moments of camp.
Saturdays – Again, for some this may be a normal day of activities but for my camp, this was the day the children went home. Wake up was slightly later at 8pm, followed by breakfast and a whole camp roundup to give campers a final farewell and instructions for collection time. By 10.30am the children had all been collected and we had a weekly debrief meeting before a campus and cabin clean up. By 12pm, Counsellors were allowed to leave if they had plans or just sit around and relax.
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Induction to Camp
Once you arrive at camp, you will likely have a week of induction with the other staff. This week is often super busy, you will be getting your head about the structure of the camp day and week, be introduced to the various policies of camp and build friendships with those have just met but will be spending the next 9 weeks with.
During this week, you will also be taken to the local town to get your social security number and given a first aid course of some kind. This is your time to enjoy your time with fellow counsellors and get use to the layout of your camp. Trust me, there is nothing worse than getting lost trying to find the nature trail with a group of 15 children.
There are so many different roles available at camps. I worked as a drama instructor but was also a co-counsellor for a group of girls each week. Here are just a few roles you could apply for at camp:
General Counsellor – You will be assigned a group of children to spend all day with, assisting and supporting an activity leader with the session. Great for those who just love working with children.
Sports or Horse Riding Counsellor – Pretty self explanatory… Those who can lead a sports or horse riding session can go for this role. Camps often offer unusual sports and can, at times, even be led by a counsellor who has little experience in the sport. If you want to spend your summer playing games outside then search for roles of various sports and get applying.
Adventure Counsellor – This is a great role for those who love adventure but are responsible to take care of children’s safety. You may end up teaching rock climbing, mountain biking or zip lining.
Creative and performing arts Counsellor – For those with a talent for art, dance, drama, music, photograph and even videography, there are roles available for you to share your skills with children. Apply early as these roles do fill up fast!
Religious Counsellor – There are a range of religious camps that accept all counsellors regardless of religion (a friend of mine worked at a jewish camp, she isn’t jewish and it wasn’t a problem). However, these camps do look for counsellors of a particularly religion to help organise and run religious focused events and activities through the summer.
Special Need Counsellor – For those with experience as a TA, a special need counsellor is a particularly rewarding role to apply for. Campers are can be aged between 8 up to 80 with various needs. You are given a smaller group of campers to care for but can really make a difference in others lives. If you want to apply for this type of role but have no experience then that is fine, support and training is given on arrival.
Lifeguards and Waterfront staff – There are so many positions for qualified lifeguards at camp. If you have a lifeguard certificate or experience as a swimming teacher, this is the ideal role for you.
Support staff – For those who want to travel and experience life in America but are not too sure how well they can work with kids, a support staff role may be the perfect fit for you. From drivers to cooks, cleaners to office works; camps look for seasonal support staff to help them during the busy summer. You still get the perks of free accommodation, you get more time off and you often get paid much more in your first year in comparison to a counsellor.
Expectations and Rules
The main expectation for you as a camp counsellor is to look after the kids and make their experience at camp fun and enjoyable. Counsellors shouldn’t be or feel the need to tell children off and get angry with the children but instead set clear cabin rules and have a fun summer with them! There are some general expectations and rules that you will be expected to follow at camp:
- No technology around the children – This one is a biggie for most camps. Camps should be about socialising with other children and enjoying nature. Therefore, mobile phones and laptops should be kept out of sight from the children and are only ever used in the staff areas.
- Safety – Obviously children’s safety is an important factor of camp life. You need to follow camp policy with issues like bullying. If something arises and you’re not sure how to respond, speak to more experienced counsellors for advise.
- Stick to the schedule – You will rub people up the wrong way if you are often late for activities throughout the day. Camp is full of hundreds of children, so stick to the schedule just to make everyones life a little easier.
- Take part – No matter how silly or ridiculous an activity may be, it is important you give everything a try. It is often this ‘give it a go’ attitude that your camp will want to promote in children so you need to show you are giving things a go too.
- Obvious rules – things like no drugs, no drinking and no smoking are givens. If you are under 21 then don’t bother trying to be served on evenings out. Remember that some of your co-counsellors have grown up at that camp and are likely to share information back to your camp director. That is not to say you can’t go out and have fun but just be cautious!
- Follow appearance regulations – it may sound strict but often camps have very strict rules on dress code. Make sure you read it and follow the rules to avoid an early dismissal.
- Run sessions – So this is often a big worry for those heading to work at camp. Depending on your role, you will likely have to run a session every day whilst at camp. During orientation you are given lots of guidance and training for this and can always use handbooks and the internet to help you prepare for your sessions. I was a drama instructor so before heading to camp, I purchased a “fun drama games” book that gave me loads of ideas for games during my sessions. The children aren’t expecting professional athletes to teach them so don’t over think this part of your job, just mentally prepare lots of different activities you can use.
- Have fun! – This sounds silly but working at a USA Camp should be a fun and exciting time. If you are worrying about things over there then stop! The people around you are there to help and support you, so seek support if you need it. I was so fortunate to have an amazing team of counsellors that cheered me up when I felt home sick and made my days so much fun.
So in most cases, tipping is NOT permitted at camps. However, some camps are stricter on this than others. To be honest, after my first week at camp, I had several parents give me thank you cards or do the subtle ‘handshake with a few notes passed over’. I was able to use this for my travels after camp so I am not going to tell anyone to refuse thank you and appreciation gifts.
So camp is over, what should you do next? One of the great things about working at a USA Summer Camp is that you then have some time left at the end of your contract and before your working visa ends. This is the perfect time to get travelling and exploring parts of America. Calum flew out to America and we travelled to a NYC, Niagara Falls and Washington before heading back for my final year at University. You can choose to travel with people you meet at camp or join a tour. Camp America have a partnership with Camp America Treks who offer discounted tours around America for Camp Counsellors. Remember, you do not need to worry about travelling after camp and who you may travel with; most counsellors will travel with others they have met at camp or embrace the fun of travelling alone too!
Read some tips on how to plan like a PRO!
Creative Tip: You can opt for a flexible flight option with Camp America, meaning your flight home can be arranged two weeks before you fly home. So you can wait and see what happens at camp, choose your destinations with some fellow counsellors and book flights home for any airport around America.
I hope this has helped anyone hoping to head over and work in a summer camp in the USA. It is an amazing experience for those who want an interesting summer.
Have you worked in a USA Summer Camp? Is there anything else you would share with fellow counsellors to be? Comment below, I would love to hear from you.