These top tips for controlling the campers come from Kylie Mayes, she went to camp in 2008 and stayed in a cabin with 14/15 year old girls and taught ropes. Now she works in early years at a school and still uses some of these tips in the classroom…
It’s great to suddenly be put in a position of power, but at the same time you don’t want to come across as the moany, nagging counsellor that just annoys the kids. You have to live with them 24hrs a day after all. The only really major thing that as a cabin we were strict on was count off. Before each meal time, the campers would usually be back in the cabin, it was important to make sure that they were all out the cabin and we walked to the dining room together as this was where the camp directors etc would usually be waiting. Almost like a roll call, we HAD to have all our campers or report the ones that were on trips, in the medical room. So to start…
#1 Count off
Right at the start of the session, give every camper a number (we’d normally have 20 odd girls at a time) and make sure they can remember it! Before you leave the cabin, make sure you’re all outside, shout COUNT OFF and listen to them calling out their number. If ‘number 3’ was missing you could then work out who wasn’t there – usually they’d be hung up in the toilet. If they didn’t listen, we’d make them go through it over and over until everyone answered. Don’t completely rely on this, and remember to count yourself to!
#2 Choose your battles
Before telling the campers off for something, stop and think ‘is this really that bad?’. At the end of the day they are there to have fun, not have their ‘mother’ constantly on their back. For example, the oldest boys’ cabin went through a stage of always swearing… obviously this needed to stop. The boys decided to compose a numbered list of swear words to ‘get around the counselors’ so they started talking in numbers. We could ignore this and eventually it wore off.
Also, let them have a bit of quiet time at night if they want. After lights out they have to be quiet but f they’ve been good and one asks to have torch time writing a letter or reading, let them. They tend to only do it for 15mins or so before they get tired and go to sleep anyway!
They’ll be other things, such as foreign campers only speaking their language infront of the other campers. This can be tough to deal with as its obviously easier for them to not think about talking ‘English’, but sometimes they’ll use it as a way to talk behind people’s backs. You just have to be careful with how you deal with things. They’re far away from home to and sometimes talking in their language helps them with homesickness.
#3 Crazy control
The best way to control them is to get them to do what you want them to do without them really realising. Being English, it’s easy to fall into an American accent. Switch this on and tell them to do things with an accent! They love it and will be so busy laughing they tend to just fall into place in a line or forget what they were doing in the first place. Don’t overuse this, as it can be used as a bit of a bribe too.
Another example: my girls were quite good at getting out of bed in the morning, BUT the days when they weren’t, I’d skip round the cabin (yes you need to turn on the energy at all times!) and sing something annoying at the top of my voice until they got up… I went in 2008 so Jonas Brothers songs were usually a good choice… turns out not all American kids aren’t obsessed with them so they’d get out just to make me stop!
As Lucy mentions in her book, the toilets are constantly getting blocked and backing up. As my cabin were older, we made a ‘how to go to the toilet’ poster and stuck it to the door. Technically I stole the joke from Lee Evans, but we wrote ‘1. Poop 2. Flush 3. Wipe 4. Flush’. The kids loved it and it did semi solve it as they didn’t put too much toilet roll down the toilet!
#4 Be their friend
Spend time with the kids at night. Get to know them, their American way of life, join in with their cabin crafts (one taught me how to knit a bobble hat and I taught them how to make those plastic scoobie knot things), have a laugh and a joke with them. If they know you’re there for them, they’ll respect you and so you won’t need to tell them off because they generally do what you ask them to first time. This way as well, you can always pull out the ‘I’m really disappointed’ trick and then they feel bad.
#5 Be careful what you say
I was a ropes counselor on my camp. We had a low ropes course that was focused on team building, I always enjoyed this, especially with my cabin each session. Because of the cabin layout, there were two sides (with the toilets and showers etc in the middle) and if you weren’t careful, the cabin would be divided and you’d get the ‘we’re the best side!’ talk (*Spin off tip: when you hang out with them at night, get them all on one side, have end of session sleepovers etc!). One particular session this was quite bad and I had just happened to ask someone when was our low ropes activity and this got out as “oh that cabin must be having troubles blah blah blah’ and then my co counselors were a bit like ‘you went behind our backs’ and it was just a giant mess. But, me being in that section, I had thought nothing of it at the time!
#6 You can’t win them all!
One day I was alone for evening activity (my co counselors were on days/nights off) and it all kicked off. I’d spent the whole session trying to help out one returner girl, she thought everyone hated her and felt alone. I’d make time for her, try and help her fit in again and for a while it was working, but then one of the campers said something to her, the paranoia went to a whole different level and arguments broke out between the girls. I tried to step in, but she turned on me and got quite violent and threatening. To be honest I was scared, she was bigger than me and I had a bit of a breakdown because I was all alone! I went and spoke to one of the camp directors and eventually the camper was sent home because of the words she had said to me (there had been issues with her other years to so thankfully they believed me). On the plus side, it brought the cabin closer and the girls respected even more for because of what I had been through!
Another not quite so dramatic time was (again a similar situation in Lucy’s book) someone would go to the toilet and then put their poo on the window ledge/in different places round the toilet etc. It was disgusting and happened three times. In the end we got the director involved and it was a case of ‘it either stops or you own up otherwise fun things like free time will be cut’. In the end it stopped but I’d love to know who it was!
#7 Don’t be afraid to ask for help
My camp were very supportive of us if ever there were problems, most first time counselors have never worked with large numbers of kids before so it’s expected and you’re not going to be perfect!
This list just covers a couple of examples. Just make sure you’re fun, battle through the tiredness, put on a happy front for the kids, use common sense and things will just fall into place! My day off was on arrivals day so I tended to miss the first day of settling in, but I’d come back and night and they’d all be excited to see me and would treat me like I’d never been away!
Have a great summer!