For the past two summers I have worked in a summer camp on Long Island, NY as a Camp Counsellor. As a student teacher, the opportunity to work in a summer camp has been the most rewarding experience for me to grow personally and professionally.
In my role as a counsellor, I work with children between the ages of seven to fifteen in a sleep away camp. In this role you should never be referred to as ‘just a counsellor’. You are seen as a teacher, parent, role model, big sister/brother, a shoulder to cry on and the list goes on. You cry out of sheer tiredness, you laugh the most you will ever laugh, and you see a side to kids that teachers do not often get to see when in a school setting. I have sat up with campers for hours reassuring them when they are homesick, been there for them in their trickiest moments, shared special memories such as pranking other cabins and generally making sure their camp memories last a life time.
We can often fall into a classic routine in which rules and order are the expected norm. This was difficult for me at first as I had to relax a little and let kids do exactly what they are best at, being kids. Camp is the perfect place for children to explore, relax, escape from the real world and broaden their horizons in all aspects. The idea for this blog post actually came from a camper who said to me that they feel as if they learn more at camp than they do in school, which made me realise the importance of letting children be children. Obviously, the American school system is set up differently from ours, however I do agree that there are invaluable lessons to learn at camp. There are campers who come here for weeks on end, campers who have come since they were seven years old and ex-campers who are now working as counsellors. The skills that you learn here can carry you forward in life if you are willing to give the camp experience a go. Campers here learn how to sail, cook for themselves, expand their knowledge of the expressive arts, play soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, take part in a specialised ECO program and learn about sustainability and the world around them. They go swimming, snorkelling, running, take part in meditation, choice activities, choreography, talent shows. They find summer flings and then fling them away again and stay up late gossiping (despite telling them a million times to sleep). If you do your job as a counsellor successfully, you should be exhausted… but also full of pride when a camper tells you they have loved their time at camp.
You can be constantly learning from children and new experiences. I learned at camp that you should always listen to what a child is saying as there can be so many things they are trying to tell you, such as emotional issues or problems at home. And I asked myself ‘why do we have the stereotypical outlook that adults know more than children?’. Children have fresh concepts and new ideas and if you inspire them enough, they can care about it enough. As a teacher or counsellor, you have the ability to shape young minds into strong, positive and caring individuals who will hopefully shape the world in the future. If you care, they will care and I realised if I worked with the children and communicated to them, my lessons became easier and more enjoyable for all of us. I could incorporate mathematics into a volleyball lesson through score tallying or teach geography through soccer by using ‘countries in Europe’ as a category for a passing game. While doing this, kids were using their memory, working as a team and challenging themselves in more than one curricular area, interdisciplinary learning at it best!
So, everyone (especially student teachers!), if given the opportunity PLEASE work in a summer camp at least once in your life. It will expose you to new perspectives and teach you new life skills you can only gain through experience. And honestly… it’s just super fun!
Jessica Millar, August 2019