Going to camp for the first time can be a daunting prospect for many of us, especially if (like it was for me) this is the first time you have travelled away from home on your own. You try and picture in your head what camp will look like, what to expect when you arrive or what you will spend your first few days doing. Although every camp is different, the majority of camps begin their summer with a week or so of staff training – and this is where the fun begins…
My first piece of advice would be to prepare yourself for anything. Actually no, scrap that, my first piece of advice would be to get as many hours of sleep as you can prior to your arrival, and THEN prepare yourself for anything. The first year I arrived at camp, I was picked up from the bus station and driven for 30 minutes into what seemed like the middle of nowhere (maybe watching the Haunting in Connecticut before I left wasn’t such a great idea after all!). Within an hour of arriving at camp, I was rolling around at the Waterfront in my swimming costume with a bunch of other Counselors trying (and failing) to inflate a HUGE water trampoline with a leaf blower. If only someone had a camera…
Like I said, prepare yourself for ANYTHING!
After your arrival at camp, you will usually move into a cabin (as glamorous as it gets in the summer camp world, I’m afraid!) with other Counselors for the duration of staff training – basically think of it as week-long sleepover! This is a great time to suss other Counselors out, start making friends and find out who has the best day-off outfits for you to borrow during the summer (essential!). My second piece of advice, as cliché as it sounds, is to be yourself during staff training. If you put on an act during this time, you will have a looooooong eight weeks ahead of you trying to keep it up. Camp is literally FULL of people who are different – from different backgrounds, cultures and religions – and people will love you for who you are, regardless of who that person is! Make the most of living with adults before the campers arrive and the work REALLY starts.
The first couple of days of staff training are usually filled with lots of paperwork (yawn, but sadly essential) and talks from various people about the ins-and-outs of camp life. Have you ever heard the term ‘flooding your brain’s engine?’. Well, give it a couple of months and you will all know EXACTLY what I mean! You will experience serious OVERLOAD. There is so much to take in and learn; the expectations, the rules, the procedures, the schedule. You will be given information on health and safety, how to deal with homesick campers, what to do in bad weather… the list is endless! Although it may not feel like it at first, you will be well and truly prepared by the time the campers arrive. My third piece of advice is to always ASK if you are at all unsure, especially during this time before the kids arrive. Ask returning staff (they secretly love it when they are able to help a newbie out!), ask your admin team or even ask each other – I guarantee you will never be alone (literally – not even in the shower!).
Team-building activities are also a HUGE part of staff training. Name games are often really popular; remembering someone’s name can be tricky but as soon as they put a dance move with it then BANG – you can suddenly remember it! It’s important that the staff all click and work well together, as you will find yourself working as a team throughout the whole summer, so expect to find yourself involved in a human knot at some point during staff training (nothing says teamwork more than having someone’s sweaty armpit in your face when you are well and truly in a tangle).
You will have time during staff training to check out your activity, find out what equipment is available to you and to start planning sessions ready for the camper’s arrival. Camps often have manuals/diaries of what has happened at that activity in previous years, which can be helpful to give you some ideas if there is no returning Counselor at your activity, but (and here comes my fourth piece of advice!) try and plan ahead and bring some fresh, new ideas to camp with you. Many campers return to camp year after year, and they LOVE it when they arrive at an activity to find out they are not just repeating the same things they have done in previous years. Last year I was the Mountain Bike Counselor, and I invented a game called Bike Polo (like the thing they do on horses, only on bikes instead!). The campers were armed with (plastic) hockey sticks, and the aim of the game was to hit a large sponge volleyball through a ‘goal’ (a.k.a. two plastic cones). The kids LOVED it, but mostly because it was something new for them to do when they came to Mountain Bikes.
Staff training is also a great time to try out other activities on camp. I personally couldn’t wait to jump in the lake and test out that water trampoline we had all sweated over on my first day but for some, it’s a chance to get up the climbing wall, race around on the go-karts or pretend to be Robin Hood down in the Archery zone. Make the most of it – your days are SO busy once the campers arrive, you often don’t get many other chances.
You will learn new songs, start new friendships, find yourself dressed in strange outfits you would never wear in the real world and begin to realise what a CRAZY summer you have ahead of you. Staff training can be fun, stressful, hectic, EXHAUSTING, but it is what you make it. Get involved, be yourself, ask questions and don’t be afraid to share your ideas.