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Environmentally Friendly Noise

Whether you’re a new or returning staff member who is preparing to work at camp this summer, the decibel level of those first few days at camp are always a bit above what you anticipate. Of course, we hear noise every day.  But camp noise is different than other noise. A camp staff member once relayed a memory of her first summer at camp. She recalled the shock of the day the campers arrived. ‘It was suddenly very loud,’ she said. ‘They don’t prepare you for that at orientation. Then again, there is probably no way they could.’ She is right. There is no way to describe what several hundred excited children who have been waiting for a moment for ten months sounds like. It’s certainly not noise pollution, though. It much more closely resembles environmentally friendly noise. It’s the noise of excitement, happiness and anticipation.

A strange phenomenon happens with environmentally friendly noise. You not only expect it, but anticipate hearing it every day. You don’t even realize how much you look forward to camp noise until the end of camp. When the buses pull away on the last day of camp, the quietness that settles over the campus is one of the saddest moments of the summer. You realize the kids are gone, and the summer really is over. Even after you return home, you find yourself wishing to hear the sounds that defined your summer–bugle calls or bells to signal daily activities, constant cheering and laughter, mealtimes with hundreds of other people. Everyday noise just seems like noise pollution.

Be Better

The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.

Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better whileothers actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.

Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp,  they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.

The Hard Part of Working at Camp

A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what’s the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.

First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to saying goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.

Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.

Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.

Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make it through the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.

There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.

10 Reasons Working as a Camp Counselor This Past Summer Was the Most Awesome Job Decision You Ever Made…

1.) Being able to put “Provided excellent care and fun for several hundred children” or “helped children improve athletic skills” on your resume is a pretty sweet bonus.

2.) Saying, “My friend who lives in Australia…” or “My friend who lives in Arizona…” sounds a lot cooler (and more worldly) than, “My friend who works two cubicles down from me…”  Not to mention, you’ll save a whole lot of money on accommodations the next time you travel!

3.) You’d take tutus over “business casual” as dress code any day.  Shorts and staff shirts meant you got some extra Zs in the morning, too, because you didn’t need an extra half hour to stand in front of your closet wondering what you should wear.

4.) Fetching snacks for your campers was so much more fun than fetching coffee for a boss–and your campers were more appreciative, too.

5.) You got paid to do lots of fun outdoor activities everyday.  Your friends had to request a day off to do fun outdoor activities.

6.) Your “office” had a much better view than your friends’ cubicles. Summer camp provided plenty of breathing room in the form of roomy campuses as workplaces.

7.) Every day brought new opportunities and challenges that, by the sounds of it, were much more gratifying than spending an entire summer filing and creating mail merges.

8.) Letting loose and acting silly was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  Your friends got verbal warnings for laughing too loudly in their offices.

9.) The amount of friends and connections you have through social media outlets multiplied exponentially.  Who knew summer camp would be such a great place to network?

10.) Laurel South was even more beautiful than it was in the video on the camp’s website that convinced you that you just had to work there–and the people some of the warmest you’ve ever met!

5 Tips for First Time Counselors

You’ve accepted the position and completed the paperwork.  It’s official!  You’re about to spend your first summer as a camp counselor.  Naturally, a lot of people experience a few nerves in the days leading up to camp.  After all, even when you’re a grown adult, leaving behind your family and friends to spend the summer in a strange place is a big deal, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time before.  If you didn’t attend summer camp as a child, working at summer camp holds even more mystique because you’re not sure what to expect.  If first time counselor nerves are haunting you, don’t be so quick to call up and accept that unpaid internship filing paperwork in a stuffy office all summer and, for goodness sake, don’t accept that job at the hot dog stand in the local park.  Instead, follow these tips to kick your summer into gear now:

1.)    Relax!  You are NOT the only first time staff member coming to camp.  If you know no one else going to camp or have never been to camp, that understandably may be a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around right now.  But trust us!  When you get to camp, you will be in good company.  If you’re feeling a little bit lonely when you first arrive, don’t panic and automatically assume you’ve made a mistake.  The majority of people who tend to be drawn to work at camp typically have laid back, easy going and open personalities with an extraverted bend toward making new friends.   Chances are that after your camp’s staff orientation period, you’ll have several new friends for life and wonder why you ever even doubted coming to camp.

2.)    Like your camp’s Facebook page and staff Facebook page if it has one.  Social media has arrived and most summer camps are completely aware that the easiest and most effective way to communicate with their camp staff is through means such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  By liking your camp’s pages, you can make friends before camp, pick up a lot of useful tips, and even possibly connect with a rideshare if you’re looking for a way to get to camp.  Most summer camps also now feature regular blogs.  It’s a good idea to pop onto the camp webpage every now and then in the weeks leading up to camp to see what new blogs have been posted.  Camps tend to post some blogs, such as this one, for which staff is the intended audience during the late spring and early summer.

3.)    Don’t over or under pack.  Packing lists are created by camp professionals who’ve spent enough summers at camp to know what you need to be comfortable for the summer.  So read over the staff packing list, if your camp supplies one, when determining what to pack as well as what not to pack.  Veteran staff members are also usually more than happy to field questions on staff Facebook pages, which makes them a good resource if you’re unsure about some items.

4.)    Arrive with the right mindset; being a camp counselor really is the hardest job you’ll ever love.  Camps tell prospective staff members this during the interview process…and they mean it.  You are about to spend the summer working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you will love most moments of it.  There will also be moments during which you will question how in the world you ended up working at a summer camp and why you thought it was a good idea.  Two things are essential to moving forward when these moments happen, and they’re actually most effective if you prepare yourself with them before you even get to camp.  First, arrive with the right attitude.  Yes, you’re there to work.  You’re there to work hard.  You’re also going to have a lot of fun creating amazing moments for and with your campers.  Second,  know what helps you alleviate stress or frustration and come prepared to engage in it should the need arise.

5.)    Be in the moment.  Yes, we spend our lives being told how important it is to plan.  But at camp, it’s very important to be in the moment and be present with the campers.  It’s how you’ll best appreciate the camp counselor experience as well.  Summer camp lasts only a few weeks each summer, and things tend to move very quickly.  On the first day, you’ll be looking ahead at a whole summer and thinking the end seems like a long way off.  But on the last day of camp you will wonder where it went.   Don’t find yourself with regrets on that day by realizing that you didn’t take advantage of every moment.

Make Your Camp Counselor Experience an Effective Tool in Your Job Search

So you’ve spent a summer—or maybe the better part of your college career—working as a summer camp counselor.  You’re nearing graduation and you’re starting to pull together your resume for finding a job in the “real world”.  You’ve been wondering, ‘How do I adequately articulate my summer camp experience?’  You’re worried that it will sound trivial to hiring managers, but you know that what you gained from your camp experiences are some of the most valuable skills you’ve learned.  You’ve learned the art of communication, having worked with people all over the world and children ranging in age from seven to fifteen.  You’ve learned the importance of discretion; your campers didn’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  You’ve learned how to negotiate, mediate, and maintain a positive morale, having coached your campers through swim tests, disagreements, activities, stage fright, and just about a million other things.  You’ve learned time management skills.  How many other job applicants can motivate twelve campers to move across campus from soccer to woodworking in five minutes or less, consistently coax them out of bed at 7am, and convince them that it’s time for lights out after an exciting evening of activities? You’ve learned how to use creativity to solve problems and are MacGyver with a few jars of paint, construction paper, a little bit of fabric, some scissors, and maybe a little glitter…add feathers and beads to that mix and you can practically re-invent the wheel.  In fact, you’ve learned so many things as a summer camp counselor that you’re not even sure how you’re going to fit it all onto one 8 ½” X 11” sheet of paper, nevermind about your other job experience. So how do you convey the importance your summer camp job experience has had on your life in a way that hiring managers will see the value in it, too?

First, as sentimental as those experiences were for you, a hiring manager isn’t looking for the screenplay to the next The Blind Side.  They’re looking for prospective employees who can efficiently yet effectively and specifically communicate their skills and abilities in a very concise manner.  This means keep it relevant and as action packed as most of those days at summer camp were.  Convey how active your summer camp job was through the verbs that you choose.

Second, without being too broad, make your resume sing of how well rounded your skill set is because of your summer camp counselor experience.  Employers love diversity.  A resume that sings of it will be sure to get a hiring manager’s attention.

Third, do your homework.  Job hunting is not a one size fits all endeavor.  You need to know and understand not only what you are looking for, but what the company to which you are applying is looking for as well.  If there is a particular quality you feel you possess because of your summer camp counselor experience that makes you a good fit for a position or a company, highlight that one quality in your cover letter.  Explain specifically how you feel your summer job experience and knowledge will translate into the new role.    Having experience is one thing.  Demonstrating that you understand how that experience can be integrated into others speaks volumes.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to remind prospective employers, either in your cover letter or at the interview, that being a camp counselor is a 24/7 job.  Employers are attracted to people who aren’t afraid to throw themselves heart and soul into their work.  What’s more heart and soul than being on duty 24/7?

Finally, be prepared.  Be prepared to tell a hiring manager at an interview EXACTLY why you feel your summer camp experience gives you the edge over other applicants.  When asked, don’t go into a lengthy mumble that basically amounts to a rehash of your summer(s).  Show the hiring manager that you’ve thought long and hard about how your summer camp work experience is relevant to your future and that you understand specifically how to extract your experiences and apply them to other areas of your life.  Most importantly, give examples, give examples, give examples!

Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation has been amazing and the weather has been spectacular. With counselors now assigned to cabins, we are focused on learning all about our wonderful campers, learning the Laurel South culture, readying the cabins and program areas and bonding as a cohesive unit. Camp looks great. In fact, the only thing that could make it look better is the faces of 400 campers arriving this Thursday!!! We can’t wait to see you!

Camp Is Looking Great!

Our hardworking Pre-Camp Staff has continued their great work. Each day, Laurel South looks better and better!! Last night, we all headed to Windham for a well- deserved night out for pizza and a movie. In just a few days, we will welcome our Adventure and Equestrian Staff for their training sessions. As we see camp shaping up, it only heightens our anticipation for the start of the 2011 season, when the entire Laurel South family will be reunited on the beautiful shores of Crescent Lake! We can’t wait to see everyone soon.

A Glimpse at Orientation…The Training of Camp Staff

Every summer you pack your children up and entrust them to the care of others for the summer.  Have you ever wondered what sort of training is provided for your child’s summer camp staff?   For summer camp staff members, the season begins at least one week before the campers arrive with Orientation.

What is Camp Counselor Orientation?  Orientation is a week for camp counselors and other staff members to…

Become familiar with the camp’s expectations.  Summer camp staff members participate in workshops relating to teamwork, camp policies, and child development. During this time, counselors are also familiarized with ACA standards and the importance of maintaining and exceeding these standards.  It’s during this training that counselors are able to grasp that their new summer job, though fun, carries a lot of responsibility and 24/7 focus.

Familiarize themselves with their surroundings.  Your camp wants counselors to understand the campus prior to your camper arriving.  During Orientation, staff members are given every opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, as well as which areas require special supervision.

Make new friends.  Why is this important to you?  Happy counselors make better counselors.  As you well know as parents, having a proper support system in place is essential to the success of any parent.  Those looking after your children this summer are no exception.  Orientation is a time for summer camp staff members to become comfortable with their new co-workers and begin to get to know each other.

Attain necessary certification.  Those staff members working in areas such as waterfront and outdoor adventure must have training and certification prior to supervising your children.  For some staff members, this entails arriving at camp well before the camper arrival date in order to be fully prepared from the day the first camper sets foot on campus.  Outside experts such as the Red Cross are often brought in to conduct lifeguard training.  Outdoor Adventure and Waterfront  areas also frequently utilize external professionals to train their staff.

Understand what it’s like to be a camper.  Many camp orientation programs follow mock daily camp schedules and encourage staff members to participate in many of the same activities that their campers will throughout the summer.  Most staff members live and function as members of groups during this period.  The role play isn’t merely designed to give staff members an idea of what’s in store. It gives them the opportunity to embrace the camp’s traditions so that they can share in the enthusiasm with campers.

Receive very valuable and essential education to understanding and working with children.  Summer camps take the well being of their campers very seriously and spare no expense in this area of Orientation.  Big name speakers are brought in for lectures and workshops that educate staff members with the latest, most up-to-date childcare information and relevant laws.  Counselors and other camp staff are left with no doubt or misunderstanding that the campers and their safety are the reason that they are there and, as such, come first.

Mentally prepare themselves for the arrival of campers.  Even the most seasoned childcare professionals and educators can feel a bit overwhelmed when suddenly surrounded by hundreds of enthusiastic children who’ve waited ten months to see their camp friends again.  By taking place on campus before the campers arrive, Orientation serves as a sort of segue from the camp counselors’ lives back home into their new summer lives by giving them some time to adjust to their new home and surroundings before the chaos that is summer camp ensues.

Finally, Orientation is an opportunity for Camp Directors and Senior Staff to assess how their staff interacts and identify individual strengths and weaknesses.  This helps them assign camp counselors to cabins and bunks and age groups in which they’re likely to provide the best leadership.

So when you put your campers on the bus in June, you can bet that a very excited and well trained camp staff is waiting on the other end to meet your children and give them the best summer ever.

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 3

Finally, we close our trilogy of camp counselor tips with one last blog dedicated to you, future camp counselors…

Get ready to build your resume!  Working as a camp counselor at a summer camp will provide you with some invaluable experience that will serve you well far beyond this summer.  Many HR Managers in lots of different fields find summer camp experience very impressive because of the level of dedication and commitment required.  Summer Camp also demonstrates that you can adapt well to new cultures, which is essential for success in many corporate environments.  In fact, many corporate executives were once campers and/or camp counselors themselves.  If you’re an education major, it goes without saying that experience working directly with children is a huge plus on a new teacher’s resume.

One final warning: As a summer camp counselor, you will act goofy, dress funny, and find yourself doing all sorts of crazy things you’d probably never ordinarily do…and you’ll have a blast while doing them.  It’s what summer camp is all about.  But what other job can you get where being an expert in painting faces, making signs, inventing outrageous costumes, and acting silly are all just part of your typical workday?

So there you have it!  A few suggestions for preparing yourself for a great and successful summer.  Have fun!

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