Life Lessons Learned From Working At Summer Camp

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UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources blogger Shannon Columb shares nine life lessons learned while working at summer camp.
Summer is hands-down my favorite season. I love feeling the summer air, warm on my skin, and the smell of burgers grilling and freshly-cut grass tickling my nose. Like some of you, I would spend a portion of my summers at camp; for me, those memories are the fondest.

 

There were three camps that I went to, all of which were for blind and visually impaired children. One of those camps, which isn’t too far from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus, holds a special place in my heart.

Wisconsin Lions Camp is located near the small town of Rosholt, which is about 20 minutes northeast of Stevens Point. My first year of camp was in 2011, when I was 14. I was like any other bratty teenager and wasn’t at all enthused about living with strangers for five days and doing “stupid” activities with these strangers. My mom forced me to go anyways.

Moms are always right, because Lions Camp broke me out of my shell, which eventually led to making me who I am today.

My week was full of new, exciting activities. I was shy at first, before I started to open up to my cabinmates and camp counselor, Noelle, who to this day is my favorite camp counselor. I was encouraged to participate in activities I had never done before, like canoe, climb a rock wall and camp in the middle of the woods. By the end of the week, I was already starting the countdown for when I could return next summer.

I attended Lions Camp for two more years after that; each time, meeting new friends and having new experiences. From successfully completing low-rope and high-rope courses to being named the “Marvelous Maple,” Lions Camp gave me confidence in myself. For once in my life, I could participate in activities “normal kids” did, in a safe and encouraging environment.

 

Summer Camp

 

I knew I wanted to go back to that magical place – full of happiness, inspiration and possibility. At the age of 17, however, I was considered a graduate of camp. That meant I’d have to go back as a staff member, which is exactly what I did. I wanted to give back to the organization that had done so much for me, and I wanted to make a positive impact on campers’ lives like my camp counselors did for me.

I applied to be the Environmental Education Director, otherwise known as a specialist, for summer 2017. A specialist is not a camp counselor, but rather a co-counselor. My main duty was to run educational programs for the campers. This included hikes, scavenger hunts, nature games and crafts, and exploration of the nature center.

 

Throughout the summer, I learned a lot of life lessons. Here are nine I still apply to life today:

 

1. Patience.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from working at camp. I have to admit, I’m quite an impatient gal. However, impatience doesn’t cut it at camp.

Camp taught me that being impatient leads to frustration, which only makes life more stressful. By learning to be more patient, I became more present. Both helped me make clearer decisions, rather than hasty ones.

 

2. Flexibility.

Camp activities largely depend on good weather. I’m that kind of person who likes to have a concrete schedule of the day. So adapting to sudden changes in my daily schedule was difficult at first. However, this showed me that life doesn’t always go as planned, and being flexible will eliminate frustration. If campers were already upset with a rainy day schedule, why should I mope around along with them?

 

3. Positivity.

Ever take a two-mile hike in the pouring rain? Ever do it with a group of campers? Let’s just say…there was a lot of complaining. In spite of the gloom, I remained cheery, encouraging my campers to look on the bright side of things.

Being positive is contagious. I’m an optimistic person and love to spread my happiness to others. As an educator, I saw how my attitude impacted camper enjoyment of my lessons. It also helped with creating bonds with campers and fellow staff. Over the course of the summer, a number of campers said how much they loved my happiness, which warmed my heart.

 

4. Leadership.

I wasn’t much of a leader until I was responsible for children. Through my experience of working at camp, I improved my confidence and public speaking skills, which are important traits for any leader. Having proficient leadership skills is important for any career, so I’m grateful for my experience at camp. It made me feel empowered and more confident in myself.

 

5. Keep calm and carry on.

Handling behavior or medical emergencies can be a bit stressful and overwhelming at times, especially for a 20-year-old that can barely keep succulents alive.

Staying calm is vital in any type of high-stress situation. Like positivity, calmness radiates to those around you. It’s best not to draw attention to a camper situation, especially when you’re surrounded by a bunch of curious kiddos. Assuring everyone that “Susie” is alright, and carrying on with the activity is the best thing to do. It’s beneficial to you and everyone involved.

 

6. Water is the cure for everything.

Headache? Drink water. Tired? Drink water. Feeling weak? Drink water. When you’re outside and fully engaged in activity, drinking water is something often overlooked.

Staying hydrated, whether at camp or in the office, is important. So always remember to bring a water bottle along with you.

 

7. Clear communication is key.

With the chaotic atmosphere of camp, communication is an essential part of having things run smoothly. To help ensure good communication, here are some guidelines we followed at camp:

  • If something is important or urgent, talk to a person directly. (In-person is the most effective form of communication.)
  • Written notes are another form of communication, and often didn’t involve anything urgent. I personally like notes because I remember things when they’re written down.

In any situation, clear communication is crucial for everyone’s sake. It eliminates confusion, frustration and ensures a positive environment.

 

8. Mistakes are important and OK.

I used to be a perfectionist until I worked at camp. For the first two weeks of camp, I’d stress myself out with trying to make my lessons perfect. Whenever they didn’t go as planned, I’d tear myself apart.

But life isn’t perfect, and mistakes are inevitable. The best way to learn is through mistakes, so you’re more prepared for next time.

Whether it’s making sure you have all the necessary supplies for an activity or accounting for all staff members before leaving for a hike, use mistakes to your advantage.

 

9. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

When you’re outside all day, the sun can be your worst enemy. I haven’t met anyone who enjoys the pain of a sunburn, so don’t let it ruin your day. Staying protected from the sun and hydrated will reduce the likelihood of a sunburn, headache or feeling fatigued. Campers will be more inclined to use sunscreen, if they see their counselors using it, and nobody wants a sunburned camper.

 

Anyone can benefit from working at a summer camp. No matter what your major is, there are so many lessons you can only learn at a camp. I credit working at Lions Camp last summer for making me a stronger leader and for giving me more self-confidence.

 

There is no place like camp. Seeing the impact you have on children’s lives is so extremely rewarding. If you want a summer job, check out camp counselor positions. You won’t regret it!

 

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