How Summer Camp Prepares You (and Your Campers) for "Real Life"

I’ve been spending a lot of time up at camp this summer and also interviewing instructors for our fall STEM and outdoor education season.  I’ve seen a lot of staff in action and have been hearing about all of the great experiences the instructor candidates have had working with youth in such diverse capacities.  Even though not all of these individuals will work with youth throughout their careers, any experience in a residential setting teaches so many valuable life skills. I've listed some of the skills that I feel help everyone as they journey through their lives and careers below. Thanks for reading!

- Kristen Fenstermacher, Director

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Responsibility

As a camp counselor / instructor, you are responsible for someone else’s most prized possession.  In some cases, you may never meet their parents or guardians. It can be overwhelming at first to realize how much help young people may need, and that they are naturally looking to the adult for that support.  But all counselors have one skill on their side: they were kids once too and needed help. So they can draw on those experiences to help them help the campers. And being responsible to make sure another person gets rest, gets to swimming on time, learns to identify a new plant, puts on sunscreen, and stays hydrates (and all of that in just one day) requires planning, caring, and high-energy.  Counselors and instructors leave a residential season and understand what true responsibility is and know how to be accountable to youth and coworkers.

Punctuality

Now, this isn’t to say that groups of kids are always on time to activities.  It is not an easy feat to get any number of campers out the door and ready to go somewhere.  Just when they are all outside and you’ve double checked they have all their belongings….. someone is suddenly back inside.  But counselors learn to establish routines to make this as smooth as possible. They help the campers understand the importance of being on time as well.  Everyone attending the camp is one community and if folks are late, then others have to wait. The same is true for staff meetings. Punctuality = accountability and it is something all counselors strive to achieve.  

Compassion

Camps bring people of all backgrounds together.  Just like in the “real world”, it is never possible to truly understand the experiences of others and how those experience shape who they are.  As a camp counselor, you are continuously challenged to put yourself in the shoes of others and understand their experiences as best you can.  Day-to-day happenings can impact people very differently. Counselors learn how to be compassionate towards their coworkers. Someone might be very tired and need a little support.  A camper might be from another country and really missing home. Even if you can’t fully relate, it is important to be compassionate so you can help them get past these things and enjoy the present.

Problem solving skills

This is important.  The campers were supposed to go sailing and it is now thundering and they are so upset that they can’t go.  A group of campers is on top of a mountain and one of their shoelaces falls apart. These moments happen constantly at camp.  Counselors learn to get creative and solve these problems to ensure it doesn't impact the campers’ experiences. This skill helps in daily life, because we all know things don’t always go as planned.  And it certainly is a great skill for any occupation. Also, counselors who have these tricks up their sleeve know to stay calm and that always helps in any situation!


When I was at camp, the most important part of my experience was the counselors.  They are what kept me coming back year after year. Many of them even wrote letters to me during the year.  They made me feel valued and appreciated for who I was. This, above all, is what staff should feel most proud of when the end of the season comes around.  Adults who truly appreciate kids for who they are and meet them at their level is one of the best things we can do for kids!