There are several articles that circulate this time of year discussing the positive impact camp has on children. Communication, new experiences, confidence building, new friendships, and the list goes on and on. What I want to emphasize is the impact that camp has had on me, an adult (if I really can call myself that). The list of meaningful things I’ve gained from spending the last 6 years at a camp is endless, but I’ve narrowed it down to 5 big ones that are incredibly important to me. If you’re still looking for a summer job, look into camps. Employers don’t overlook an applicant that lists a summer camp as a previous job.
We work outside with kids. Things almost never go exactly according to plan. Sometimes you have a surprise thunderstorm and have to entertain 12 squirrels, I mean kids, inside for several hours. Sometimes you look over and realize one of your campers has eaten whatever disgusting liquid lives inside those ice packs in lunchboxes. I’ve learned to think quickly and creatively. Making up stories and new games on the spot is now second nature and when things go wrong, we make it work with not only a smile on our face, but on the campers’ faces as well.
What other job can you have that ENCOURAGES you to lie to kids? Well, maybe that isn’t how I should phrase it . . . In what other job are you encouraged to be creative and make up stories, invent characters, and have epic dodge ball battles to end civil unrest in the realm of a land called “Exploria?” The magic of camp is something that is just as real for me as it is for the kids. The world of camp is filled with mermaids, pirates, secret agents, trash-eating orks, and is completely separate from the “real world” of grad school, bills, jobs, and stress. When your kids are looking up at you, filled with wonder and excitement, intently listening to you tell the story about the time you and the other counselors battled pirates for secret treasure, it’s hard to be stressed about anything.
Ready, Fire, Aim
A very wise man once told me that the best way to tackle a new experience is “ready, fire, aim.” At first, I was pretty confused by this statement wondering why in the world you would place “firing” before “aiming.” As he explained it, the phrase actually made a lot of sense. 1. Be ready. Prepare all your plans and gather all of your supplies. Take into account the details. Is this a project for 10 kids or 20? What kind of safety precautions do we need to take into consideration? How long will prepping and clean up take? As someone who is NOT a natural planner, this was the most difficult step for me. Working at camp and having the well-being of several tiny people as my main responsibility forced me to think about these planning and detail-oriented questions. Much to the excitement of my camp director, I now carry a daily planner and a notebook with me at all times. 2. Fire. Now that you’re prepared, time to put the plan into action. Lead that activity, introduce that new game, or teach them a new song. It’s all been prepared for. 3. Aim. Of course, nothing goes as planned. Sometimes that really awesome craft that you saw on Pinterest you knew the kids would LOVE turns out to be just a glue-soaked ball of tissue paper and yarn. Now the kids are all sticky and the ground is covered with scraps of tissue paper and your dignity. This is where the “aim” comes in. I’ve learned to look at the things that didn’t go so well and alter those mistakes so the next time I try this activity it will go much smoother instead of a glue-covered catastrophe.
In a camp setting, you are constantly surrounded by people of all ages; kids, counselors, leadership team, parents, counselors-in-training, etc. At a job where you’re constantly interacting with other humans, there WILL be conflict at some point, whether it’s between a counselor and camper, camper and camper, or counselor and counselor. Camp teaches you to recognize that this conflict is inevitable and how to deal with it professionally and gracefully. Counselors recognize that stirring the pot and causing drama will not make a situation better or easier to deal with. Camp is a team effort and counselors must be able to rely on each other to get them through each day. They recognize that kids are still learning and that each response to a behavioral problem must be dealt with appropriately, with great care and understanding.
This is the one that has probably had the biggest impact on me and has kept me coming back year after year. It is why I made the decision to take another year to finish school (I call it a Victory Lap) so I could work part-time during the school year. Camp attracts a certain type of people and if you’ve worked at camp, you know what I’m talking about. They are joyful, creative, passionate people with larger-than-life imaginations. They are team players and inspiring role models. When I think about the people who have had the most influence on me, I think of my friends from camp. These are the counselors that are here to give the kids the best experiences possible, to encourage them to learn and grow, and provide them with a safe environment to make mistakes and develop new skills. They are the ones who challenge me and inspire me to be a better person and I am grateful for all of the people I’ve had the honor of working with. Their energy and creativity is infectious and the relationships I’ve made at camp will last forever, despite time and distance.