My Camp America Experience: A day in the life of a Camp Counselor

I was very lucky with the Camp that I was hired at. It was a private camp, located on a lake in Michigan, where we lived in wooden built cabins that all had running water, which thankfully meant no need for me to attempt to put up a tent or pretend that I was ok with going for more than a day without a shower. 

When I first got to camp, after being collected at the airport by camp staff, we had a week of staff training. This included team building activities, getting familiar with our activity space (for me the gymnastics hall), and even being trained to help teach activities that I had never even tried myself like stand up paddle board (SUP). In the evenings we did activities such as learning chants round the camp fire and whole staff square dancing, which was honestly one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. We had one day off before the kids arrived and this was spent going tubing down a river, which was kind of like the lazy rivers you get at a Disney theme park but ten times faster and without the health and safety, so occasionally someone would get their pants ripped or scratched by an unexpected branch! 

At the end of the week we were put into our cabins with around three counselors and 8-14 kids, which we would be responsible for and prepared for the kids arrival! After meets and greets and helping make several hard to reach bunk beds, the children were signed up for their daily activities and normal camp routine commenced. Which looked something like this:

8AM: The wake up bell! This meant waking up your cabin of sleepy children and getting them all out of bed and ready for breakfast. 

8:30AM: Breakfast. As a cabin we walked down to the ‘Mess Hall’ where we would sit on our cabins bench and be called up cabin by cabin to help ourselves to whatever was on offer that day. The food consisted of fruits, yoghurt, granola and porridge, with one main that changed each day including: scrambled eggs, french toast, pancakes. Despite the fact that we were there to eat meal times often consisted of the kids chanting or singing, which turned into a whole hall event at times. Every morning a camp newspaper would be handed out and the managers would make any announcements that they had that day. After everyone  had said what they had to say and all the tables had been cleared and wiped by us, we’d head back to the cabins.

POST BREAKFAST-10AM: Clean up. This meant making the beds, sweeping the cabin floor, clearing the leaves and general tidying up. Each cabin tended to come up with a rota, including the counselors, so that everyone switched jobs each day. This time was also used to make sure that all of the children were ready and suitably dressed for their activities and knew where they were going.

10AM: First Period! This for me was often Gymnastics. I was responsible for leading a session with another counsellor, which we would often plan the night before when we had some spare time. Groups were made up of around 12 campers of different abilities (some way more advanced than both myself and my co-counselor!). 

11:15AM: Second Period! The bell would ring five minutes before and we’d send the first group off to their next activity and welcome another bunch of campers, running through the same kind of plan.

12:30PM: Wash up. Everyone head back to their cabin to wash their hands and get ready for lunch.

12:45PM: Lunch! The same protocol as breakfast applied. Kids would get their food and talk about what they’d done in the morning. Meals ranged from tacos to pasta, with a salad bar and a vegetarian option available.

1:30-2:30PM: Rest period. This time was for campers and counselors to head back to their cabins and chill for a while to let lunch go down and get some rest before the afternoon activities. Sometimes this was the case, but most of the time the children were still quite restless so would play outside on the swingball or basketball courts or just go crazy in the cabin and run around. 

2:30PM: Third Period. Usually in the afternoons I’d be helping to teach something different such as SUP, tennis, kayaking, basketball, or field activities. This was great, not only because it gave me a bit of variation, but I was also trying activities that I wasn’t as familiar with. As teaching meant doing it yourself alongside the kids, I was getting a taste of what camp was like for a camper and not just as staff. 

3:45PM: Punch and Cookies. Every group of cabins around the same ages had an outdoor bench area where we’d gather for a snack and a drink and hand out mail for that day. Kids (and counselors) would read their letters from home, which could sometimes get quite emotional.

4:15PM: Last Period.

5:30PM: Wash up before dinner

6PM: Dinner. Again, the salad bar would be in the middle and a range of different dishes would be on offer each day. This included chicken nuggets, pasta, burritos etc.

7-8PM: Twilight. This was time for the children to do an open activity which they picked on the day such as bike riding, playing on the playground or in the games room or games on the field. As a counselor I would be put on duty just to monitor one of these areas and make sure that the kids were playing safely and getting along.

8:15PM: Evening Programme. This was either in Cabins or cabin groups of the same ages. As a group we’d take part in scavenger hunts, counselor quizzes (where the kids would have to guess about their counselors) or camp fires.

9-9:30PM: Evening Snack.

9:30-10PM: Bedtime. All campers and their counselors would head back to the cabins to get ready for bed and have some time to relax before lights went out at around 10PM (this was later for the older ones but I was always with the younger age groups). One counselor would be on duty at this time to stay in the cabin and go to bed at the same time as the kids, others had the night off to leave and go and chill in the staff room.

Every day each counsellor would get one free period and one day and night off per week. It was up to you what you did in that time, be it exercise or sunbathe in your free period, or go out to the shops. Days off were spent going somewhere with your fellow counselors and having a mini party in the evening or catching up on sleep and then seeing some of the local sites in the day time. Counselors would have to be back on site by the end of their night off for a decent nights sleep ready for the next day of activities!

The pedalos and Swimming area on the lake front

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