I can promise you one thing about camp: you’ll literally have no idea what is going on for the first few hours of Arrival Day. There’ll be a feeling of euphoric chaos as the campers get to see their friends for the first time in a year and reacquaint themselves with their summer home.
As a counselor it’s vital to be prepared for the first few hours of arrival day. Children can be extremely judgemental so it’s important to know what to do when they first arrive. Here are some tips which might help out!
Get to know them
This may sound pretty obvious, but the quicker you can get to learn your campers names, the better you’ll look. If you’re still referring to campers as ‘mate’ or ‘red hat kid’ on the 5th day, you’ll look like a bad counselor. It’s your job to get your bunk working together as a team so if you can’t be bothered to learn names; you’re not setting a very good example! It’s also a good idea to get to know their personalities. If you spend some time getting to know each of your campers individually, you’ll get an idea of how to get the best out of them.
‘Getting to know you’ games
If you’re working with the younger children, it’s a good idea to play some quick games on the first night. It’ll help you to see personalities develop and give you an idea of how the campers are interacting. My kids always loved ‘The Toilet Paper Game’ mainly for the fact that it involved toilet paper. To a 10 year old boy, there is nothing funnier than toilet paper. Or bums. Or wee.
The toilet paper game is simple. To start, each camper and counselor rips off as much toilet paper as they want. When everyone has some, you explain that they have to tell the group 1 fact about themselves for every sheet of toilet paper they have. It’s a great way to get everyone talking and discovering shared interests. Also, there will always be one camper who rips off about a billion sheets. It’s a special moment, seeing his/her open-mouthed, slightly gormless face when they discover the rules of the game.
Early on, it’s handy to get a list of bunk rules drawn up. Get all of the campers involved and ask them what they think. You’re all going to be living together in a confined space so you’ll need some rules to live by. My campers loved coming up with rules such as ‘Don’t Touch Other People’s Belongings’ and ‘No Swearing.’ My personal favourite rule was ‘No Fun Without Pants.’ This was a result of my campers being so keen to start playing after taking a shower that they’d forget to put their clothes on. The counselors moved quickly to introduce a new rule to ensure that this NEVER happened again.
Dictators aren’t known as particularly happy-go-lucky people. Did you ever hear about that time Hitler bought everyone a puppy? How about the time that Kim Jong-Il told a joke? The reason you’ve never heard these stories is because they never happened. They were too busy oppressing their people to have fun.
It’s important to remember that you are looking after children. By definition, they are not as sophisticated or grown-up as you are and they will mess about. If you start off camp by trying to shut down every silly game, story or song you’ll get a bad reputation pretty quickly. Let your campers have fun. Let them be children. You’ll find that a lot of what they do is actually pretty funny!
Using your outside voice
Despite what parents may think, children are not perfect all of the time. There’ll be times over the summer that you have to raise your voice, but it’s important to use your outside voice sparingly. If you start bellowing at campers on the first day, you’ve got nowhere to go… apart from getting louder and higher pitched. If you’re not careful you’ll be sounding like a dog whistle by the end of the first day. That would be ridiculous and will ensure that you have no authority and lose respect very quickly.
It’s much better to take misbehaving campers to one side and talk to them. Your campers will respond to this as they’ll feel like you’re talking to them as an adult, rather than trying to rupture their eardrums with your voice.