Camp Counselor=Great preparation for the future!

What do camp counselors learn at camp that helps them later in life? The specific answers to that question are varied, but one thing remains constant—camp has a big impact on individual lives long after campers grow out of their camping and counselor years. Recently ReadyMade magazine featured Kelly Stoetzel in its regular series about awesome jobs. Kelly works for TED, a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading” and spends her days interacting with fascinating people from around the world who work to make things better. What was her first job? Camp counselor! And what does she list as her “Best Job”? Camp counselor!

Kelly learned that “being a camp counselor is all about leading a group of people into enthusiasm,” and that continues to be important in her job today. Just as campers and staff still gather each summer—sometimes for the first time and sometimes after waiting all year just to come back—Kelly went to camp! There, learning, personal growth, fun and friendship blossomed during intense times and life-long skills and ideas were forged. Camp operates as a microcosm of experiences that mirror real-life situations as everyone negotiates friendships and different personalities, tries new things and finds their unique role in the group. If you’ve been a camper or a counselor, you know what I’m talking about. You also know that facilitating fun and teamwork takes creativity and enthusiasm. (If you’re thinking about being a counselor, camp is an incredible way to learn skills and prepare for future jobs!)

One counselor puts it this way, “Many aspects of camp allowed counselors to forget life outside of camp and just live in the present focusing on how to facilitate fun in the moment. I don’t think you get to do that as frequently in other life experiences, or at least you are not encouraged to do it as frequently.” She goes on to state that these skills are important in any profession and that camp administrators also served as references for her later jobs. For this counselor, camp led to asking questions about larger social structures at work in the world which led to going to graduate school and a career as a professor!

Another famous camper, Disney’s Michael Eisner, credits his many happy years at camp for teaching him to be honest, loyal and “willing to help the other fellow.” He’s quoted as saying, “Working in business can be another canoe trip!” You can read more about the impact camp had on Eisner’s life and career in his book Camp where he shares his memories and multiple lessons learned. If you’re a social and outgoing person and drawn to the opportunity to lead with enthusiasm, camp counselor could be the summer job for you–check out the Camp Laurel, Camp Laurel South, Camp Weequahic and Camp Starlight websites for more information.

Do you already have “camp counselor” on your resume? How has that experience contributed to your life or career?

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the image kirvanvlandren.

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Camp Counselor 101

Recently some camp counselors shared what they’ve learned on the job and I’d like to highlight two important concepts they talked about. Think of this as your basic introduction to camp counselor skills and also how important professional development is to your overall future:

1. Time management

High school students often focus on preparing for college by earning acceptable grades and participating in additional activities. While these strategies are essential to the process, students too often rely on parents/care givers for structure and reminders and fail to understand that managing time is one of the most important skill required for college success. Across the United States, students with ability and good intentions often struggle in college, just because they have not learned to schedule assignments, work, reading and most importantly the time they spend having fun or relaxing.

In contrast, one past camp counselor explains, “time management is crucial at camp,” and even if you are familiar with regimented schedules, “a camp counselor is responsible for keeping others in line with the daily schedule.” So the job requires not only learning to manage time personally, but also for large groups and that becomes a skill counselors develop. Camp counselors also “learn to be disciplinarians in strategic ways.” These skills are essential and applicable to keeping an undergraduate student motivated to complete assignments and participate in college activities. So, since professional experience at camp requires “all counselors to be responsible,” and to “learn to be accountable for personal actions as well as those of others,” camp counselors benefit in multiple ways.

Working as a camp counselor is also the perfect component to rounding out a year of personal and professional growth by managing the time between semesters! As students mature and move into the realm of adulthood, they often have to face the reality that they are not completely self sufficient.

2. Independence and freedom

Once a young adult goes to college, no matter how much they miss home or home cooking, they are changed forever! One past camp counselor puts it this way, “After my first undergraduate winter break back home I decided I didn’t want to return home for three months during summer. College gave me independence/freedom from parental supervision, and I wanted to continue the experience through summer employment.”

So, as you can see, being a camp counselor is a great fit for young adults who expect to do more than the minimum. Since campers often want to prolong their time at summer camp, they can also take it to the next level as counselors. After repeat summers a few even go on to fill additional camp staff positions before making their mark in other careers!

What’s your plan for personal growth next summer? Do you see “camp counselor” in your future?

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the image Michel Filion.

How to fire up your resume outside of class!

According to American Camp Association (ACA) CEO Peg Smith, approximately 1.2 million camp staff make summer camp happen each year. Camp counselors are a large group in that staggering number and many are also college students who not only earn money for school but also professional experience, resume-building skills and learn a lot about themselves!

Smith says that summer camp provides a unique learning experience for college students since “a camp job offers real life experiences and a hands-on education that simply cannot be found in a classroom.” If you’re looking for a way to earn money and also develop and grow as a person, summer camp is a place where children and adults come together to form a unique community. It’s a job that you can take seriously and share what you know—but also learn—from staff and campers.

Here are some benefits you can expect from the job:

  1. No research then writing arguments here! You’ll have to master real-life, problem-solving skills in the moment, like how to get your campers to clean up and go to activities on time.
  2. You’ll be a role model and surrogate parent for children who grow to love and respect you while you have a significant and positive influence in their lives.
  3. As you care for and encourage others, you’ll develop greater self-understanding. You’re moving into adulthood and it shows in the way you treat others and make choices for yourself!
  4. Professional development and training are required—no taking a back seat here. Hone your leadership and people skills.
  5. You’ve heard about “networking,” and this is where it starts—you’ll develop and expand a network of peer relations that can last a lifetime.

Do you want to know more? Find out about camp counselor opportunities at AFSC camps and how you can combine earning money for college, professional and personal development and yes, a little camp fun!

Deborah-Eve

What’s happening at camp right now?

How would you describe the essential elements of a summer camp? Do the adventures of spending days with peers, learning new skills, trying new activities, bonfires and skits, great counselors—all the fun of the whole experience—first come to mind? These are definitely important elements of summer camp from a camper’s perspective, but there are a lot of other elements that have to be in place for a camp to be successful year after year. Have you ever wondered about what it takes to set the scene and create spaces where good times can take place?

The camp experience is part of the heritage and culture of the United States, and for generations American families have sent their children to camp—about 10 million children last year alone! As you can guess, each camp has it’s own story and distinct cultural and physical environment, so each camp experience is unique.

The ACA is the professional organization that educates camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. The ACA also establishes guidelines for policies, procedures, and practices when running a camp. Each year, camp professionals gather for a national conference to discuss their work. Last year’s conference title alone, 20/20 Toolbox: Tomorrow’s Camps, Today’s Realities illustrates how camps are focused on creating the best camps for today and the future. As camper’s needs and tastes change over the years, camp staff are dedicated to making each year as special as the last–and while traditions are an important part of camp life, there is lots of room for fresh programs too. When your child arrives at camp, they step into an experience that has been especially prepared for them, one detail at a time.

All year round, staff at ACA accredited camps, like America’s Finest Summer Camps, work to make sure that facilities are maintained and prepared for when camp is in session.There are so many details to take care of—from making sure that buildings are cared for, to improving camp facilities, adding or updating equipment and ensuring that health and safety codes are met. Camp owners and managers also have to keep up with changing demographics and expectations from their clientele—so long before campers arrive, camp staff are learning about new practices, meeting up to date regulations, putting current ideas into practice and working towards providing the best of the best. There are activities and events to plan, qualified counselors to recruit, ideas for even more fun than last year to implement and new campers to meet around the country.

What questions do you have about camp facilities? What details would you like to ask about?

Deborah-Eve

Thank you for the images Horia Varlan and whereareyousimon.

An International Camper Experience

In an earlier blog we wrote about how to judge whether or not your child is ready to go to camp and pointed out that it really depends on your unique child and their level of maturity. One mother, Christine, puts it this way, “each kid is different…each mum is different …so I do not feel I can really give blanket advice. . .” However, Christine’s 12 year-old son was ready to go to camp—so ready that last summer he came to Camp Weequahic from Switzerland and arrived without knowing a single other camper!

Nicolas had mostly attended an international school and studied English in Switzerland, so his communication skills were well developed and he felt comfortable with the prospect of adjusting to a new culture. He had also previously visited the United States and after switching to Swiss school last year, his mother wanted him to retain his fluency in English, learn about American culture first hand, and make American friends. Christine says there are a number of American camps that promote their programs in Switzerland but she avoided their outreach since she “did not want to send Nicolas to the United States just to meet other French guys!!!”

Christine decided instead to look for a “really American camp” on the internet and spent a lot of time researching and comparing her options. What guided her final choice was the Camp Weequahic website with its video clips, and she was drawn to the camp’s obviously family atmosphere. After all, she was sending him a long way to try different things and have new experiences! Since Nicolas travelled from Europe, a three-week session seemed the perfect fit—two weeks seemed too short and four weeks seemed too long for a first time camp experience across the Atlantic.

Nicolas travelled to camp with his mother and then later flew back to Europe by himself after the Weequahic staff put him right on the plane at Newark Airport. (It’s also worth mentioning that each airline has its own rules about when and how children can fly alone.) Christine’s nieces both had a wonderful camp experience in the United States, but Christine felt that Nicolas would be more open to forging friendships and getting to know American kids, if he ventured on his own—and every mother understands that each child is different! Nicolas completely agreed about coming to camp on his own and since he was a little familiar with American culture and speaks English, that’s what worked for him.

In Geneva, Nicolas has developed friendships with students from all over the world and his mother’s commitment to raising a globally-aware child was well under way, but coming to the United States added a whole new level of intercultural awareness. For example, camp gave Nicolas time to develop deeper relationships with Americans his own age and broaden his knowledge about the game and traditions of baseball. He also experienced cultural details that a tourist might miss. Nicolas loved Camp Weequahic so much that he wants to return and is now dreaming of coming back as a CIT (Counselor in Training). His younger brother has also caught camp fever and wants his turn as a camper too!

No matter how many miles a camper literally travels to camp, the adventure stretches them in many ways and contributes to measurable personal development. Campers return changed from both travel and their personal journey–and in Nicolas’ case, even more fluent in American English! Have you sent your child on a long distance to camp? How did the experience help your child develop self-reliance and skills? How did you decide what your child could handle?

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Christine and Nicolas!

Deborah-Eve

Gratitude – A Weequahic Core Value

It certainly is a good time to thinking about gratitude. Just following Thanksgiving, we just returned from our trip to the grandparent’s house, finished making our list of yearly ‘thankfuls’, and enjoyed spending some extra time with those most important to us. Thankfully, even the media gets into the action as well.

I just finished a great article on gratitude which you can find here. Kate and I always felt feelings of gratitude lead to a happier, more productive life. It’s nice to see science catching up with us!

Gratitude is so important that I end each day with our boys at camp asking them about their two favorite things from that day. Our Head Counselor or Kate does the same on the girl’s side. We center our first campfire around gratitude. (Here is a great poem I’ve found for the occasion.) We also have a longstanding tradition of our sport teams thanking their coaches, refs, and drivers in front of the whole camp, win, lose, or draw.

Researchers believe feelings of gratitude are 50% genetic. The remainder is learned. We focus on teaching our campers to be thankful for their many blessings (and make it fun in the process!)

At this thankful time of year, I challenge each of you to make a list of people and experiences for which you are grateful. Happiness is colored most effectively and durably from these two categories. Further, I challenge you to start your own gratefulness habit: Each evening, before you fall asleep, find two things you are happy about from the day. Write them down or say them out loud. It’s a great way to end the day.

As for Weequahic, we are thankful for:

  • The vision of our founder, Art Lustig, in creating the traditions of Weequahic
  • The work of the Lustig and Seffer families for shepherding and adding to these traditions along the path
  • The incredible staff with whom we have the pleasure of working during the summer and throughout the year
  • Our supportive and thoughtful families who share their children with our community each summer, and
  • Campers from around the country and world who bring energy, excitement, friendship, and joy to us each and every day

We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Cole Kelly, Camp Weequahic Director

Growing Up Global

As parents, we often hear predictions about the necessity for our children to prepare for a new and “global” world. While some people explain that the roots for global interactions were planted centuries ago, current electronic and transportation technologies make people across the globe even more connected and interdependent. So how can we prepare our children and give them experiences to help them become globally literate?

Of course, travel is an obvious way to help children increase their cultural currency, but going to camp also helps foster global thinking and skills in specific ways. Summer camp is a place where children from around the world and different parts of the United States connect with each other, build lifelong friendships, try new things and practice living together. At AFSC camps for example, while just a few campers come from abroad, they bring a great deal to camp life and community as a whole. Everyone benefits from a diverse mix of kids at camp. Kids can practice a language and will definitely learn about different customs with daily interaction and time to soak it all in. Most importantly, they will learn how to respectfully engage with people with different views, who may not approach everything the same way.

In her book, Growing Up Global:Raising Children to Be At Home in the World, Homa Sabet Tavangar says that the first step towards developing a global outlook requires “embracing the mind-set to make a friend and be a good friend.” Making friends means practicing universal qualities like empathy and respect, and building lasting friendships at camp is a huge part of the total experience. Counselors and staff are trained and at the ready to help campers grow in this area, build new skills when necessary and model caring for others. Tavangar explains that versions of the Golden Rule, or “treat others as you wish to be treated,” permeate all cultures and faith traditions and elaborates on these in her book. When children embrace the universal values of caring for each other, they employ humility, curiosity and compassion which then leads to making true friends—and that’s what makes a world citizen.

So, wherever we go in the world, it’s the experience of breaking down the elements of diverse cultures and seeing what makes them similar or distinct, that prepares us for relating to each other. For kids, a baby step towards negotiating new cultures can be overcoming the fear of new foods or being away from home at camp where things are “different”—after all, every camp, and each year, has it’s own special character or culture. For example, many campers bond over the issue of learning to like new foods and it’s that kind of experience that prepares children for the future.

Growing up global is not just about preparing to do business in the world economy. It’s about having the comfort and desire to connect with the Kenyan dad who coaches a local soccer team, a Turkish neighbor with distinct fashion style or an American who expects consistent electrical power! Ultimately it’s about being curious about differences instead of afraid of them and valuing making friends with the diverse people we meet. Psychologists link friendship to an individual’s health and ultimately to the ability to survive—so friendships are key to feeling at home in our individual skins as well as feeling at home on our planet.

Our experiences at summer camp are a key component in raising globally aware and confident children. The friendships and lessons learned at camp will last long after camping season ends as campers continue to expand their horizons, stay connected with friends across time and geography and find their life’s passions. How do you plan to raise global kids and make camp a part of their preparation? Have you read Growing Up Global or used any of Tavangar’s suggestions? We’d love to hear how camp contributed to defining your world view!

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the images Amer Khalid, gavinandrewstewart and woodleywonderworks.

I can do it myself!

While no actual human being develops in the precise sequence of a child development chart, new parents quickly learn that children do go through dramatic stages. Like other skills, becoming self-reliant takes time and can only develop through real time.

To begin with, parents often track all the “firsts” that a child achieves on a daily basis but as the list grows longer we come to expect changes. The way that most young children acquire language and skills is so rapid that later—even when parents are getting a little more sleep—it becomes difficult to remain excited about each previous new word or action! However, there is one stage that most parents don’t forget and that’s when a child starts declaring, “I can do it myself.” All of a sudden, totally dependent infants morph into adamant creatures with distinct needs and wants. This exasperating but essential stage is filled with cute moments when children seem to hover between babyhood and childhood. But it can also be a difficult time for some parents if they fear that their child may not need them any longer.

As children mature, they continue to develop and require more experiences where they can make independent choices without parents. If parents don’t allow children to make decisions and do things on their own, they won’t develop confidence or realize that they are not just extensions of their caregivers. It’s a tricky line that parents walk! Sometimes giving children room to spread their wings seems counter intuitive, but in order to grow into a self-reliant adult, children need to struggle without the offer of a quick fix. Even when parents can take care of things, the better choice is to support a child through the process of working through and solving problems. Long after a problem has been forgotten, a self-reliant child will remember hearing, “Wow! You amaze me! You really worked hard to figure that out.”

A child who is self-reliant can think for themselves, trusts their own judgment and feels in control of their life. This leads to becoming more active, independent and competent adults and citizens. The child also develops skills to draw on inner resources and use coping mechanisms even when they feel things are not easy. Sending a child to camp is a perfect way for a child to further develop self-reliance in a nurturing, safe and supportive environment. The whole camp experience is designed to illustrate to the camper that becoming a successful person takes personal strength as well as playing a role in a larger group–with the emphasis always on FUN. I can’t think of a more wonderful childhood experience for facilitating such important life skills!

Of course, the process of becoming self-reliant is not easy, but that’s where camp staff and counselors are there to help your child adjust and learn. If you wonder how to help your child develop self-reliance, remember that each child comes to conclusions for themselves, so the only way to experience camp is to be a camper. They are building on early determination to “do it themselves,” and those first fierce moments of independence are precious. Camp offers a full range of fun, adventure, and opportunities to experience emotions with different adults and in new, safe situations. By the end of summer camp, campers bring a lot of stuff home. There’ll be great crafts, stories to tell and some inevitable laundry to wash—but every camper in the world—also brings home a new understanding of themselves.

How did you learn self-reliance at summer camp and what strategies helped you support your independence? Which experiences do you think especially helped kids develop inner strengths? We look forward to your stories too!

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the images AmberStrocel and nattu.

Something New to Look Forward To – Camp Weequahic – Your Summer, Your Choice!

This week, I had the pleasure of touching base with Cole Kelly, Director of Camp Weequahic, who has some exciting news to share regarding Weequahic’s program for 2011!

Starting this summer, Camp Weequahic is moving to an individual choice based program where campers can design and create their own fun summer experience. Prior to camp, campers and parents will complete an on-line program selection form where they will have the opportunity to list 8 to 10 of their favorite activities they want to enjoy throughout the summer. These choices are called “Excel” Periods. Once the Weequahic programming team receives this information, they will build a program especially for you! To round out each program day, each camper will then get to choose 2 ‘Explore” periods a day once they are at camp. The Explore periods are age- and developmentally appropriate activities. These “spontaneous” choices are activities a camper may like to try once or twice…instead of being “focused” on that program for their entire stay at camp. These daily choices can be anything in the Weequahic menu of activities and change daily such as climbing, play practice, guitar, baseball instruction, cooking and so on. Try one or try ’em all during these speical “Explore” periods! There are tons of daily activities to choose from.

This program model also allows camp staff to really focus their teaching because they know what your child wants to achieve, while building in some wonderful flexibility to encourage kids to try things out. Activities that they might have never thought of but heard their bunkmates discussing, for example! Or maybe they just feel like doing something else that day. The model also allows bunks to make group decisions and share new experiences together, such as everyone going to the waterfront for boating, swimming and the water trampoline, which builds community and camaraderie.

Knowing my own kids — two boys under 8 — such an individually based program would be a real treat. They could focus on things they absolutely love, but also be able to choose other activities to explore. Both these opportunities develop their decision making ability, sense of choice and autonomy. So I look forward to hearing about your experiences and seeing your pictures next year at Weequahic!

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the image theilr.

Camp Mom — Woman of Wonder and Grace

The official end of summer has passed and kids all over the nation are back at school and I can easily imagine the hallways are still bursting over with stories of summer camp and all of its amazing experiences. Let me tell you about College Days! The fireworks over the lake on the last night! I so miss my camp friends…

Someone else campers might be missing as they return to school is their Camp Mom. Usually assigned to the youngest campers, the Camp Mom serves as the wonder woman of camp life. Ever wonder who keeps nails clipped, or makes sure kids eat a balanced meal? Camp Mom.

“I work really closely with them,” says Amy Blum, who served as Camp Mom for the youngest girls (7-11 year olds) at Camp Starlight this summer. Blum lived at camp the entire summer and saw her role as being an “extra set of eyes and ears to make sure the younger kids were having a great time.” Counselors are in their early twenties, Blum points out, and they haven’t had or raised children, so having a mom on hand was a source of comfort for everyone.

“The counselors would come to me for advice,” Blum says, and she would often think of things that young college students just wouldn’t. “We would always be there at lunch time, taking a look at everyone’s plate as they walked by. When kids came by just filled up with French fries, I’d send them back to get something else. That’s not something the counselors may notice,” she says, admitting that sometimes it’s the counselors themselves who may need a nudge toward the healthier lunch options.

Camp Moms are also just what their name implies, a mom away from home. If a camper is missing home, Amy is ready with a hug and a listening ear. When campers in the nurses office or the health center need a cold glass of ice water, Blum is there to deliver it and check in on them. Blum was always there to help apply sunscreen and Chapstick in the morning, help the girls get their bunks ready for inspection and check in after phone calls home or visiting day.

“I was very impressed with how independent the girls were,” Blum says. “I expected more adjustment issues but the girls were very well prepared for camp. The knew what was expected of them and they did it very well.”

There’s always the need for a helping hand, though. Blum was there to lead a circle game while girls waited their turn on the archery field- don’t like the idea of waiting maybe sing with them as they go to activities or something, for example, encourage the girls as they tackle the climbing wall, and make emergency bathroom runs. She would also hand out the “secret snacks” and be their constant cheerleader.

Blum herself has been involved with summer camp continuously since she was a camper herself in the late 70s. “I’ve missed only three summers since then, and I met my husband at summer camp.” The Blum family tradition is continuing; Amy’s daughter was a counselor in the youngest girls’ bunk at Starlight this summer. She hopes to continue the tradition next summer and would love to return to be Camp Mom again. “I loved what I did and we all enjoyed it and had a good time. It was a wonderful experience.”

Susan

Thanks for the image sponselli and Glen Bowman.