No matter how much we talk about working at a sleepaway camp being almost a 24/7 job, every summer a few staff get burned out after just a few weeks. In reading staff applications, we start to weed out staff whose personal statement talks about how they want to work at camp because it will be "fun". Summer camp jobs can be lots of fun, but it is very hard work. Staff who love working at camp find it to be one of the most meaningful jobs they have ever done. We look for staff who want to make a difference in children's lives, as well as young and experienced teachers.
Along with a thorough interview process and reference checks, most of our staff at Maine Arts Camp are ready for the all encompassing job of a camp counselor. We gear more toward staff who have worked with kids, either in day camps, schools or other venues. Even so, living with and caring for children is a much tougher job. When a counselor who is sound asleep is woken by a homesick camper, the adequate counselors are separated from the exceptional ones. Imagine if that counselor is tired from a tiring "day off", not enough sleep, or just a general wearing down after time from the daily demands of many needy children/teens.
Here are some suggestions for ways to prepare for a successful summer:
*Get enough sleep! Without proper rest, staff won't be able to pull their weight and not have the patience to properly deal with daily issues among the campers. Sleep deprivation is quite normal in the U.S., so camp counselors need to take good care of themselves.
*Less electronics. At most sleepaway camps, campers aren't allowed cell phones, internet access, or anything but the most basic electronics. Camp counselors need to limit their exposure in such areas to time off. It is healthy for campers and staff to be "all in" for the whole camp experience. Candy Cohn, assistant director at our camp, wrote an article about this called "Unplugging the cord".
*Use time off wisely. Most staff have one day off per week and a period off per day. Use this time to escape from camp. What this means is that staff should find a quiet place to rest, read or exercise by taking a run, walking, swimming, biking or whatever works for each individual staff member. On days off, take care of yourself, choosing who you spend time with wisely. There is a good video about "Wise use of time off" from Chris Thurber at Expert Online Training.
Camp Director, Maine Arts Camp (a small camp community of creative kids!)
Owner of MySummers (the best resource for summer camp jobs) and Camp Finders (a free referral service for sleepaway camps).