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10 Tips For First Time Camp Counselors

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Nothing beats being a summer camp counselor. You learn how to manage and motive a team, become one with the great outdoors, develop lifelong friendships and perhaps make nice with another counselor by September. But there are a few things you need to know before you put your paddle in the water and head off for fun.


1. Realize You Will Lose a Kid to a Bear


Why do summer camps take payment upfront and accept more kids then they can house? Because they know that there are going to be a lot of irate parents, empty cots and full grizzlies come mid-July. That’s what happens when you base a business in the wild. But don’t feel too bad. After all, this is what is known as the “circle of life” (at least according to the waivers families are forced to sign). Best just to focus on the kids you did bring back uneaten, and hope they don’t turn their archery lesson into “The Hunger Games.”


2. Give Every Kid the Same Nickname


It’s hard to remember every camper’s name, especially if you weren’t listening to introductions in the first place. That’s why you should give all your campers a universal nickname like “Sport” or “Champ” or “You There.” Of course, this may make things awkward when singing “Happy Birthday” to a camper or trying to name the latest child to be eaten by a bear. In that case, best to go for the personal touch and give nicknames that play off of a camper’s outstanding characteristic, like “Freckles,” “Insulin User,” “Cute Asian Kid” or “That Kid with the Shirt.”


3. Get Everyone Involved, Whether They Like It or Not


Some children will be hesitant to get involved in camp activities because they’re shy, not particularly active or are having a seizure. But as a counselor it is your duty to make sure they take part in all the fun, no matter what their objections. So toss that crying kid into the lake. Hurl that screaming child across a zipline. Launch that shrieking camper on a makeshift catapult. Of course, always remember that there’s a fine line between getting kids involved in camp activities, and just winning insane bets with fellow counselors.


4. Experience New Allergies


Summer camp is a time to open yourself to new possibilities, including realizing you’re allergic to wood cabins… Or grilled food… Or fresh air… But remember, camp is first and foremost about the campers. So try to deal with any new allergies by appearing each day in a hazmat suit, keeping at least a 100’ distance from all nature, or teaching your kids to swim, hike or mend their own broken legs through Skype video calls.


5. Have a Romance That Will Shatter Your Heart


Camp is about meeting new people, both for the campers and the counselors. Some of theses people may prove to be lifelong friends. Others may become distant memories. And maybe one will be the boy or girl of your dreams. Until you realize they have another boyfriend or girlfriend back home… Or at camp… Or on your dates. But until then, make the best of it by holding hands, sneaking kisses and sharing free time together. And should the romance go sour, just settle it by pitting each of your campers against each other in an all-out battle of strength, endurance and nine-hour hand-to-hand combat.


6. Don’t Sob Hysterically in Front of Campers


Sometimes it all gets to you. The countless kids who don’t respond to “Whatsyerface”. The sudden allergic reaction to both daylight and moonlight. The camp romance that ended when you blurted out “I LOVE YOU!” immediately after he or she said “Hi” for the first time. The fact the bears seem to be targeting only your campers. It’s enough to make a counselor drop to their knees and cry so loudly it causes an avalanche to bury the remainder of your troop. So if you must cry, turn your back and do it when the kids are too busy learning how to swim, operating a weapon for the first time, or holding on for dear life on a mountainside.


7. Learn to Make Private Threats


Sometimes a camper might misbehave. They will tease the other kids or ignore everything you say or somehow lead the woodland creatures in a revolt against the cafeteria. The important thing is to never yell at the camper or act in a manner that might frighten the other children. Instead, take the unruly child to a remote section of the camp—like a mountain’s edge or roaring rapids—and calmly, maturely, say something so terrifying and cold-blooded that the camper goes white with fear. Then bring the child back to the other campers and happily state, “Look who’s decided to be a team player! Just ignore his shaking.”


8. Don’t Take Arts & Crafts Too Seriously


Camp “arts & crafts” is about mistaking dried macaroni for creative expression or putting on a play finally revealing how awesome summer is. It’s not about teaching kids how to sculpt metal with 40 blowtorches and one shared pair of goggles. It’s not about you screaming at a child how they spit on the corpse of Cezanne every time they try to paint a bowl of fruit. And it’s not about you strapping a bunch of children to flying harnesses so you can direct your own version of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” Just stick to the “arts & crafts” basics: popsicle sticks, yarn and killing 40 minutes until they drain the pool of pee.


9. Keep the Mood Upbeat, No Matter What Happens


By mid-July you’ll realize that everything has gone to hell. But part of being a camp counselor is making sure the experience is fun and light-hearted for the kids despite all evidence to the contrary. So always maintain a big smile, even if you have to keep your fingers in your mouth to upturn your lips. Repeatedly shout, “Everything is great!” even if your voice starts to crack and everything is burning. Keep dancing a happy, happy jig even as the campers realize all the archery lessons in the world did not prepare them for a zombie assault… And never, ever stop laughing even as the asteroid strikes.


10. Know When to Call It Quits


Eventually you will reach that point when you must ask yourself, “Should I finish doing the job I signed up for, or should I just jump off this canoe and let the campers experience the wonders of a waterfall for themselves?” Of course, the adult thing to do is fulfill your obligations and stick with it. Or at least leave a nice resignation letter stapled to random tree in the middle of the night… But remember, whatever you choose, do it with an upbeat attitude, a big smile and constant laughter as you walk deep into the dark woods, knowing the bears await.

Have you ever been a camp counselor? Do you have any advice for the new crop of camp counselors? Are you a camper? Do you have advice? Let's share the fruits of our experience with new camp counselors below!

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