As someone who has worked as a counselor and program director, I’ve hired and trained staff for both day camp and residential camps and I’ve seen a lot of young adults apply for jobs. Some have had experience as a camper but other than babysitting, most have never worked at a camp or even with kids and that’s okay. Although experience is great, most camps hire counselors based on the references you have and on your personality.
With that in mind, the following is a list of the top 10 skills that I feel you need to be a good camp counselor.
1. You must like kids
This seems like a no-brainer but there is a difference between tolerating and liking kids and If you can’t stand to be around them then there’s no point in being a camp counselor.
2. Be a good role model
Younger kids always look up to the older ones so if you act out of line, they will too. If you don’t care, then they won’t either. If you use rude language or make indecent jokes or remarks, the kids will think that it’s okay and do the same. On the other hand, if you are enthusiastic, polite and cooperative, they will be too. A counselor sets the tone for the group so be conscious of what you say and do.
You are responsible for the safety and well-being of these kids and you are responsible for them having a good time so you must have control but without making them feel that they are in the army. It’s a skill that takes a little time to develop but once you have it, it will stay with you for life.
4. Have patience
If you don’t have patience then find another job. You may have a group of kids that will be cooperative, enthusiastic and great to be around but then you’ll have a group where each one wants to do something different or they just doesn’t get along with each other.
5. Communication skills
Being able to communicate with the kids is extremely important if your group is to have fun. You’ll need to be able to communicate with them as a whole and to each individual kid.
6. Problem solving
If you think there won’t be any problems, think again. You’ll experience everything from “he’s sitting too close to me” to “she keeps hitting me when you’re not looking.” Just like the sun rising every morning, you will have problems and you’ll have to deal with them.
A day camp program makes for a long day. A residential camp program makes for a really, really long day and you need to keep up your enthusiasm and energy at a high level until the end of that long day.
8. Be fair
When you have a handful of kids, it’s easy to pick your favorites. They are usually the most enthusiastic and cooperative. Sometimes a councilor will show favoritism towards a camper because they are cute and sweet but that’s not right. You need to treat all your campers as your favorites, even if a lot of them aren’t.
The kids are not your buddies back home where you can make fun of them, call them rude names or get rough with them. These are kids and they need to be treated with respect despite their physical appearance, physical and mental abilities and their possessions.
10. Low maintenance
Day camp counselors usually work a nine to five schedule but residential camp counselors work from morning until after nightfall and you’ll have to be prepared to go without some of the comforts you may enjoy at home.
There are many more skills that will make you a good counselor and many of them will be developed as you work but these are the top ones that I looked for in hiring and evaluating staff.
Not everyone is cut-out to be a camp counselor but if you are okay with sand in your underwear, wet shoes, bad food, kids screaming and all for a small pay check, you will have fun and make memories that will last a lifetime.