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5 Things for Camp Staff to Begin Thinking about in the Spring

Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:

1.)    Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.

2.)    Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.

3.)    Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.

4.)    Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.

5.)    Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.

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.

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!

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!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 2

We promised a sequel and here it is: Orientation 101…

The first thing you should know about the orientation is don’t sweat it.  Yes, it’s intense.  Yes, it’s a VERY busy week and there is a lot to get done.  We know that, by the time months of anticipation for your new summer camp job to start come and you travel (sometimes for hours or even days) to get to the camp and find yourself actually there, even the most staunch start to feel the butterflies.  Remember that everyone with whom you come into contact those first few days is probably feeling the same butterflies—even returners who’ve done all of it before.  But relax.  Orientation is also full of opportunities.  Opportunities to learn more about your new surroundings, opportunities to learn more about your summer camp and embrace its traditions, opportunities to learn more about your summer job as a camp counselor, opportunities to change your mindset and grasp expectations, and opportunities to make friends.

Speaking of making friends, be ready to make LOTS of them from all over the world!  Sure your summer camp job will only last for a couple of months.  But a couple of months are plenty of time to make lifelong friends when you spend everyday together.   You may even find that you don’t need the whole summer to bond.  You’ll probably be planning vacations to visit some of your new friends during the winter before orientation is even over.

Don’t over- or under-pack.  Yes, we know that you’re going to want to cram your entire bedroom into your suitcase or duffel..  But the fact is that camp housing isn’t exactly spacious.  Most summer camps provide their camp counselors with packing lists.  Of course you’re going to want to bring a few personal items, but don’t stray too far from what’s recommended and definitely avoid packing the “DO NOT BRING” items.  In other words, make sure your camp permits camp counselors to bring outside food onto the campus before you pack a stash of Doritos and energy drinks.  It’s also a good idea to make sure you read the camps guidelines about permissible items, particularly those related to swimsuits and shoes.  Once you’re packed, inspect your suitcase one more time to make sure you remembered things that are often easily overlooked or forgotten by new summer camp counselors, like rain gear or bedding (if your summer camp requires you to bring your own).

Chances are that you’re going to get a very important email or envelope from your summer camp very soon, if you haven’t already.   It’ll have some pretty important paperwork for you to complete.  Be sure to pay attention to the specified deadlines for each form.  For one thing, you’re not going to want to be bothered with it after you get to camp.  For another, not filling it out on time may cause pesky delays in important things…like being paid!

Well that about covers the orientation.  We’ve still got enough tips left for you that we’re going to make this one a trilogy.  Be sure to come back in a few days for the final part of this series!

So You’ve Got a Golden Ticket…Ready, Set, Go Part 1

So you’ve gotten a great job at a summer camp and are wondering what to do while you impatiently wait for June to get here…

First things first.  You found this blog, so we’re assuming you want to know as much as you can before you leave.  You’ve come to the right place! We’ve got a few suggestions for you…Actually, a lot.  In fact, since we understand that you’ve come to this site to read a blog, not War and Peace, we’re going to have to divide this into a few different parts.  But we figure that’s okay because they do it with movies all of the time, right?  So without any further delay…

Have you started checking out your camp’s blog as well as this one?   Many camps now maintain regular blogs and they frequently post blogs (like this one) intended specifically for staff members.

Check out the camp’s website, if you haven’t about a thousand times already.   Even if you visit the website everyday and spend hours staring dreamily at the photos as you imagine images of you having the perfect summer showing up on the site this time next year, dig a little deeper.  A camp’s website can also tell you a lot about the very special world that you will be part of this summer.  Many camps  have FAQ pages for staff members or special staff areas.  They give you ideas about what to bring and what to leave at home.  Some post sample daily schedules, which are a great way to familiarize yourself with how you will be spending your days.  If there are videos on the site (or if the camp sent you one), watch them.  Not only will you be ready to leave the same day, but it’s a great way to get to know the camp.

If the camp has Facebook or Twitter pages, join them.  They’re another way to keep up to date on what’s happening and, as summer inches closer, the anticipation that builds is infectious.  Many camps also post helpful information or instructions for staff members as summer nears.  Facebook and Twitter are great ways to connect with other staff members before you get to camp.  Not to worry, though.  You’ll make PLENTY of new friends during your Orientation, even if you show up knowing no one!

Prepare to work hard.  We won’t lie.  Camp is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have.  It’s also one that you’ll probably love the most.  Every second of every day, SOMETHING is happening at camp.  It’s all a lot to take in at first, but the chances of you making it through the last day at camp without shedding a single tear and hugging hundreds of people are pretty much nil-to-none.  And you’ll probably be making plans to come back next summer before this one’s even over.

Well, like we said, we’re well aware that if you were looking for a novel, you’d be downloading the latest best seller for you Kindle right now.  So we’ll call it a day for this blog.  Be sure to tune in next time for advice about what to pack (and not) and some tips for orientation.

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