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During one of my round tables I asked camp directors what their rules for being a great camp counselor were. Here is a list of my favorite answers.
Many of these would look great on a poster in the staff room, or as a slide during a PowerPoint presentation.
Model all the behaviors you want to see in campers – cooperative with others, enthusiastic, cleaning up spaces you use, supportive of camp leadership.
If you question whether something is OK to do, imagine the parent standing there. If you would not do it with them watching, then don’t do it without them there.
You will get from your experience what you put in to it. Bring a smile and positive energy each day!
If you say it’s going to happen – make it happen. Don’t make empty promises.
Be a good listener. Listen to their stories, concerns, both sides of the story, jokes, and what is important to them.
Always make sure every camper has a chance to win.
Watch for any kids being left out or bullied.
Setting expectations early and often will set yourself up to succeed. Relaxing rules midway through the week is a lot easier than trying to tighten them up as you go.
You’re in the memory business. Make good ones.
Praise whenever possible, for big and ‘small’ things.
Laugh at the jokes, even if you know the punchline.
There are two sides to every story, the first one is believed until the second person comes along.
Be flexible. You might need to be a counselor, or the maintenance person, or the transportation person, or the lunch lady. It all makes the camper’s day better!
Apologize when you make a mistake. It shows children that you’re only human and you make mistakes too, but that you take ownership for your wrong doings.
Don’t let little things slip by. Chaos is a slippery slope.
When kids get dropped off the first day, make sure you smile, look parents in the eye and shake their hands. They are entrusting you with their child so make them feel comfortable leaving them with you!
Remember, it can be just as hard for parents as campers in the beginning.
Watch for the kid that needs a little extra encouragement or doesn’t make friends easily – keep them involved with the group.
Never, NEVER be afraid to ask for help – this is important for camp and for life!
Your mood affects their mood.
Speak clearly and with conviction.
Utilize your skills. If you are great magician, teach the kids some tricks. If you love to sing, read, play a certain sport, whatever, let the kids see your passion for whatever it is you love to do. I’m not saying they will all want to be magicians but they will see an example of someone that loves to do something.
Be present both mentally and physically. Sitting near campers isn’t enough – be sure you’re actively engaged with them!
It’s okay to be nervous. Some of the best things in life come out of doing things out of your comfort zone and being nervous means you care about doing it well.
Look for the positive. If you look for the good in a situation even a stormy day will be fun.
Remember that not everyone understands sarcasm, especially the youngest campers.
Help your campers have the experience you wish you had when you were their age.
Your job is simple: Your job while at camp is to always do what needs to be done. No Matter what the job may be. At camp you are mom, climbing master, fire builder, and song leader in the same 2 hour period!
If you have a camper that is “difficult to get along with”, look for one thing that you like about that child and celebrate it. Find out what they enjoy and try to bond over shared interests.
The number one thing you can do for your campers is… listen. They’ve got stories, feelings, and lots to say!
Even though you heard the same question 10 times, it is the first time each parent is asking it.
Make time to talk to each kid every day. Even if it is only for a couple of minutes walking between activities, show them that you value each and every one of them.
Play WITH the kids!! There are appropriate times to simply be a ref, but there tends to be less behavioral problems and arguments when you’re playing WITH them too.
Don’t play favorites.
Your attitude is everything. You can make the most exciting activity difficult or the most boring activity epic, depending on your attitude.
As soon as you get to camp, make efforts to befriend the 3 support pillars of camp: Maintenance Staff, Kitchen Staff, and Medical Staff. They will have the answers and solutions to all of your programming and camper care needs, so it pays off to have them on your side.
Make sure you learn every kid’s name and use them when talking to your campers. Show them that you care enough about them to address them as an individual and to know who they are.
Remember, what you say and do will be shared with mom on the car ride home.
You are a molder of dreams. Take the opportunity to inspire, encourage and uplift all you meet. You never know how you might affect the path they are on and how you might change it in a positive direction.
You are a Role Model, like it or not, understand you are working in a position with kids who are going to think you are the coolest person on planet Earth and will want to do what you do, say what you say and even go so far as to like what you like. Understand that before you accept the job if offered.
Don’t tell them what they can’t do. Show them what they can do.
Listen first, then respond.
Remember that although you will gain a lot from camp, the Camp experience is not for you, it’s for the kids you serve.
Support your fellow counselors.
Eliminate the negative. Point out what is being done right/going right, not what is wrong.
It’s all 10-90. Ten percent of any situation is what actually happens, 90 percent is how we handle it and the attitude we have.
Camp is a good place to develop professionalism- practice it well and take evaluations seriously.
Every Monday (beginning of a new camp session) is the first day ever for at least one child. Make it their best day ever.
Pour yourself into your work, and you will find that the kids changed you as much as you changed the kids!
You are the closest thing to a parent during the campers time at camp. Greet them in the morning, ask how things are, what are the highs and lows of their day, let them know you care, close their day with positive thoughts about tomorrow.
Praise in public, discipline in private.
Teach campers kindness and gratitude.
It’s CAMP (the best most amazing thing ever that is super important and can change lives), but it’s just camp (we’re here to have fun, so what if you don’t make it to swim). At the same time, while it’s just camp don’t forget that it’s CAMP!
Always have a couple no/minimal equipment needed activities ready in case you finish your scheduled activity early or weather interferes with your plans.
You are not a kid, but a leader. Enjoy what you are doing, have fun, but don’t get carried away. It’s easy to unintentionally hurt a campers feelings by being sarcastic or teasing – even in jest.
A positive attitude and flexibility goes a long way. If something doesn’t go as planned, just think ‘plot twist!’ and go with it!
Watch and learn from the great staff (and the not great ones, too). We learn from everyone!
Define yourself by what you CAN do and LIKE, not what you can’t or don’t like. Help the kids see themselves in the positive as well.
Celebrate successes – individual & team.
We have a High 5 commitment that the counselors go over and weave into everything we do at camp. It’s easy to remember for campers to remember and take ownership of because every commitment or guide applies to one finger on their hand. Here is an older YouTube video showing how we explain it. All of the camp cabins have a sign with the hand as well.