About campamericadreaming

22, England

Where Do You Sleep at Camp?

One of my biggest questions and concerns before I started my first year was about the cabins I would be staying in. I really had no idea beyond the descriptive terms used by the Camp America website of ‘rustic’ and ‘traditional’ cabins. I was imagining a combination of something like the Grandma’s house from ‘The Little Red Riding Hood’ fairytale or some kind of military style boot camp with rows of bunk beds.

When I arrived at my camp for the first time, I was actually surprised by how close my imagined cabin was to the reality. Some of the cabins are over 100 years old and were originally part of a hunting lodge, although there are some much newer cabins, the cabins are beautiful buildings and some look like they really could be part of a fairytale.

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Inside you will find beds that might not look like much but have been the place of some of the most comfortable nights sleep of my entire life. If space is a little short, counsellors may have to use bunk beds. Despite their age, all the cabins have electricity outlets near each bed and large bathrooms with heated showers.

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Of course, there are many different styles of cabin at different camps; some camps may use platform tents or day camps may use university halls as accommodation for counsellors. At most sleep away camps, the counsellor team sleep in the same room as the campers however some camp cabins may have separate adjacent rooms for counsellors. IMG_6164

One really important thing to bear in mind is that most summer camp cabins are only used in the summer and this means that when you first arrive, the cabins may be a little grubby and dusty. Don’t be put off as this won’t last long, one of the first tasks for you and your counsellor team will be to get the cabins clean and ready for the arrival of the campers.

On a final note, some camps may have additional buildings or even allocated space for tents that counsellors can sleep in when they are off duty (and not required to be in the cabin) to allow them to get a good night sleep away from the children.

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How Many Hats Should I Take?

My last post covered a wide variety of general things that I recommend taking to camp. This post is going to be a more specific run down on clothing that I shall be taking with me this summer. I’ve been told I pack quite light before and as a guy, I can’t provide as much detailed advice for girls on this topic but regardless if you are a girl, don’t stop reading; hopefully, you’ll find this post at least a little helpful in guiding your packing.

Before I talk about clothing, one of first travelling decisions you have to make is whether you want to use a suitcase or a rucksack. I think rucksacks can be really great if you’re travelling to a lot of places and moving onto the next place fairly quickly. I personally use a suitcase as I prefer the larger size and ease of being able to open it right up. Suitcases are also great for under bed storage, just remember to bring a lock so you can keep nosy children from taking a peek at your stuff.

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My general intention when deciding how much to pack is to bring enough stuff to last two weeks. This means I take around 14 t-shirts, 14 pairs of underwear and 14 pairs of socks. This means I can get away with not having to wear the same things every week and allows me to change multiple times in a day if it’s hot or wet. I normally take two or three vests for wearing on the super sunny days and I pack one or two shirts with one being reserved for smart/ casual events such as nights out or the camp prom.

I very rarely wear jeans at camp, it’s normally too hot, but I take a pair again for prom and for nights out. I spend most of my summers in shorts and I take around five pairs; a mixture of cotton shorts, chino shorts and sports shorts. Swimwear wise I take three pairs of swim shorts which allow for at least one pair to always be dry.

I always take at least two sweaters or hoodies and a pair of nice warm trackies to wear on some of the colder mornings and evenings.

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It’s a really good idea to bring some form of pajamas as it would be very inappropriate to walk around the cabin in underwear like I walk around my bedroom before I get into bed. I have a pair of camp branded full-length pajama bottoms which I wear on most nights or I wear a pair of sports shorts depending on the temperature.

My camp provides bedding and towels for international counsellors, however, I still bring a bath towel and beach towel with me as it’s great to always have a dry towel and to use whilst travelling once camp has ended.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, it can occasionally rain fairly heavily and you will probably have to run somewhere during at least one rainstorm so a coat is essential. It can still be very warm when it rains; a lightweight sports jacket with a hood or a rain poncho are the best options as they won’t make you too hot and are highly portable which saves you valuable packing space.

Shoes wise, I typically take two pairs of comfortable sports trainers (I always try to keep one pair clean/ dry), two pairs of converse/ vans or similar shoes and my trusty Havaianas flip flops. When it comes to footwear in general, I really can’t stress enough how important it is that they’re comfortable to wear, particularly your beach footwear, as you are going to spending lots of time wearing them.

Finally, accessories; I take a belt, a pair of sunglasses (more than one cheap pair normally), and it’s worthwhile to arrive with baseball hat or snapback to protect your head from the sun (these are a great thing to buy with local sports teams or landmarks on so don’t worry about bringing many, you’re likely to buy at least one at some point). I then take whatever small pieces of fancy dress I have (and have space for) like masks, bandanas or even onesies – which are great for dress up and sleeping in on some of the colder nights!

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Hopefully, you’ve found this post a little helpful in helping you decide what to pack and if you have any questions be sure to comment or contact me via the contact page. Thanks for reading!

25 Things You Should Bring to Camp

DSC_0046Going away to camp for the first time can be a hard thing to pack for; it’s basically a super fun holiday but it lasts a lot longer and you probably don’t know exactly where you are going to be staying, let alone what you are going to be doing daily. I found it hard packing my first summer as I wasn’t entirely sure what I would need or rather, what I wouldn’t need but luckily there was a returning counsellor who had friended me on Facebook and I was able to quiz him on what was worth taking.

So here’s a list of twenty-five things I think are great to take with you stateside. A list that’ll hopefully help you prepare for your summer!

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1. Your passport and all the other important paperwork

This is the only thing on this list that you actually have to bring with you and without these things, you are not going to get very far. Important paperwork includes you DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility, a printed copy of your medical insurance certificate, a printout of your flight details, a copy of the Camp America Participants Handbook – which is a good summary of all the important to know stuff, a copy of your ‘arrival in America instructions’ and finally at least $150 in cash.

2. Camp America T-shirt

This t-shirt holds a lot more power than you think. Not only does it look great but when you turn up to the airport and see somebody else wearing it, you know that you can go right up to them and say hello. In my first summer, I met one person when I first arrived at the airport and by the time we got to the plane there was easily thirty of us all wearing the same t-shirt about to go to the same camp.

 

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3. Your Phone

In 2017 your phone is everything, it’s your camera, your music and your connection to everyone, you probably wouldn’t get to the end of your street without it. Despite this, there will be days at camp where you don’t even think to check your phone and it’s possible to go weeks without opening the Facebook app minutes after you last closed it. Don’t leave it behind though as you shall definitely want to call home at some point, plan your end of summer travels and post awesome Instagram photos.

4. Beach Shoes

Flip flops, sandals, Crocs? Every camp has a lake or a pool, or even both. Chances are you will end up spending plenty of time in the water and then walking around camp afterwards so whatever style you choose, make sure they are comfortable!

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5. A Torch (Flashlight)

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it gets dark at camp, a lot of camps are located in forest areas and not all the areas of a camp will have lights. So, to make sure you don’t go wondering off into the woods at night, take a torch. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy just bear in mind the smaller and brighter the more useful it’ll be. Amazon has dozens of styles which can be fairly cheap.

6. A Waterproof Watch

For the most part, camp life runs on a pretty structured schedule and your need to get to lunch on time can make a big difference to how much time you get to spend eating. Not only are you going to need to know the time, but the campers are going to be asking what the time is (a lot), so you make sure you get a comfortable watch that you can wear both during swim sessions and on the sports fields.

7. Sun Cream (Sun Block)

It’s summer, it’s going to be hot and you don’t want to be the one that gets burnt in the first few days and then has to suffer whilst stuck inside for a while. You are going to be responsible for making sure your campers don’t get burnt so ensure you are prepared for being their role model. Don’t forget you have all summer to perfect your tan!

8. US plug adaptor

America has funny looking plugs that are different to ours here in the U.K. and that means you’re going to want an adaptor so you can plug in your electrical things. Amazon sells packs of two for about £5.

9. Sunglasses

In my three previous summers, I’ve learnt one thing about sunglasses at camp; buy cheap ones. Over my three summers, I’ve lost or broken 14 pairs of sunglasses. Camp life moves pretty quickly; the fast pace and fun of camp activities can easily lead you to forget where you have put things and then there’s the off-duty antics which can lead to anything happening. This summer, my goal is to hold on to one pair of sun glasses and not sit on them.

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10. Labelled Clothes

Speaking of losing things, writing your name in your favourite hoodie can make finding your stuff a whole load easier. My camp is fairly small compared to most with a total population of fewer than 200 people, but plenty of clothing can and does go missing every summer. In addition, with a population of special needs children, it can be easy for a camper to not realise what is theirs. My advice is to write your name or initials in everything… but not so that it can be read whilst you are wearing it!

11. Swimwear (One piece AND two piece)

You are going to end up swimming at some point this summer, you don’t want to forget your favourite swimwear. Dependent on what work you’re going to be doing you may need more swimwear than others. I personally take at least three pairs of shorts because there’s nothing worse than putting on a wet swimsuit. Whilst selecting your swimwear remember that you are going to be working with children and need to keep things modest. Gentlemen that means no speedos, and ladies no bikinis. However, for your times off-duty you can wear whatever you like, and most days off can involve as much water activities as camp days so bring your speedos and bikinis or whatever you feel comfortable with for your own time.

12. Raincoat

Unfortunately, it rains in America and whilst it doesn’t rain as much as  in the U.K., when it does rain, it pours. I have seen some incredible storms during my summers and during these rainy days’ camp life still has to go on and you are still going to need to walk to the dining hall for breakfast. A small lightweight sports coat or poncho will do.

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13. USB battery charger

Travelling around can leave your phone battery flat and a USB battery will give your phone a power boost and keep your Instagram-ing alive. It could even lead you to make some friends if a person you’re with is out of battery juice. I have two and use them all the time whilst travelling, they are especially useful if your phone battery is a little unreliable. You can get good portable ones on Amazon for around £10.

14. Warm clothes

Daytime at camp can be beautifully sunny and warm, but the mornings and evenings can sometimes cool down so I always take a pair of warm comfortable trackies and at least one hoody or sweater.

15. Fancy dress

A lot of dressing up happens at camp, my camp runs a themed dance every week with themes like country western, Hawaiian luau, superhero and movie characters. Don’t pack massive costumes but consider anything small and simple you may have and then you will always be able to buy or make additions to your outfits. Fancy dress is also a great way to boost spirits around camp on some of the less exciting days so consider anything fun but make sure it’s all child appropriate and friendly!

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16. Flags

Flags are a great way to decorate cabins and show off where you are from or even what teams you support. Last summer I hung a large half British half American flag outside my cabin and everyone seemed to love it. There are loads of flag designs or even bunting on Amazon if you don’t have anything.  (Flags also make great capes for superhero themed fancy dress!)

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17. Toothbrush (or two)

I forgot my toothbrush last year and whilst I was able to get a new one relatively quickly, it’s not something you want to be without. Maybe bring a spare just in case something happens to your first.

18. British chocolate!

You may have heard that there’s nothing quite like British chocolate and unlike American sweets, their chocolate sucks. Bring a stash of your favourite chocolate to keep you going on some of the colder nights on duty or use it to cheer up a friend halfway through the summer. I never leave for camp without a box of Cadburys Heroes!

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19. Comfortable shoes

Camp can be tough on the feet, there is a lot of walking and running around and a pair of super comfortable trainers will make your summers a whole lot more enjoyable. I always bring two pairs in case one gets wet. Don’t worry about bringing serious hiking boots unless you’re told too, as the chances are you’ll be fine with trainers which also take less space in your bags!

20. Extra socks

Speaking of feet, you can never have enough socks at camp; it can be hot and sweaty and occasionally wet, plus you are bound to lose at least one in the laundry so bring lots, you won’t regret it.

21. Deodorant

Weirdly Americans aren’t big fans of the spray style deodorant we use here in the UK; they only seem to sell roll-on deodorant, so if like me you prefer spray deodorant then make sure you bring a bottle or two!

22. Bugs spray

There can be lots of mosquitos around camps with lakes, especially at the start of the summer so protect yourself from the chances of bug bites and bring a good quality insect repellent.

23. Bluetooth speakers

Music is a wonderful thing at camp, it’s great for waking children up in the mornings, soothing them to sleep at night and keeping them entertained throughout the day. Portable speakers are ideal at camp and you can buy all sorts of styles from Amazon. Also, check out the Camp America Spotify playlist for an awesome summer soundtrack!

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24. Hobbies materials

Things like friendship bracelet making or card games can be great ways to pass down time at camp and campers will love watching, helping or even learning how to do new things. I always bring a colouring book to camp and then photocopy the pages so my campers can enjoy colouring some relaxing patterns.

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25. Prom Suit!

Finally, the summer ends with a prom and smart attire is the dress code (although there is no real dress code). Bring a dazzling summer dress or your sharpest shirt, for you shall want to be looking your very best. But don’t go overboard dress shopping, it’s probably going to be very hot and a little less formal than your imagining. Something from River Island will do.236

See more of my blog posts here!

 

 

What Makes a Special Needs Camp Special?

There are literally thousands of summer camps across America and everyone of them is unique, even if two camps are owned by the same company they will be very different and that means no one ever has the exact same camp experience. Whilst there’s thousands of camps, there are only five main types and when you fill out a Camp America application you will have to select what types of camp you are willing to work at. Here are the five main types of summer campNorthwood 2016 (490):

  1. Mainstream Co-ed
  2. Single Sex
  3. Religious
  4. Underprivileged
  5. Special Educational Needs

These types of camp can then branch off into a wide variety of specialist camps such as specific sports camps (e.g. soccer camp, gymnastics camp), performing arts camps (e.g. violin camp, drama camp). On top of this, camps can span different periods of time; ‘day camps’ see campers visit during daytime and then go home at night to return the next day. Alternatively, ‘sleep away’ camps see campers stay days or weeks at a time sleeping in traditional dormitory style cabins under the supervision of counsellors.

Whilst any kind of childcare experience will be enough to get you a place on the Camp America programme, some religious and special ed camps will look for applicants to have specific experience within their respective field. It’s important for you to be super honest when you select what types of camp you are willing to work at as you don’t want to end up doing anything you aren’t comfortable doing.

Also remember that whilst there are many different types of camps, they are all doing the same thing; letting children have a fun and enjoyable summer and no matter what camp you get placed at you will also have an incredible time. That said, and rather biasedly I admit; I totally recommend special educational needs camps if you think you are up for the increased challenges that come with working with an incredible population of children.

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The camp I have worked at for the last three summers is a co-ed (boys and girls) special educational needs camp, which I specifically choose to work at after meeting some of the staff at the Camp America Recruitment Fair in London. When I applied I had about a years’ worth of volunteering experience from a local community club that ran two hours every Tuesday and provided sporting opportunities to children who were excluded from other local sports clubs due to their disability. It was very rewarding work and I was excited to find out I could do similar work in America through the Camp America programme.

My camp is a sleep away camp that lasts 7 weeks and focuses on improving social skills, self-esteem and independence for children aged 8-18 with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders and similar conditions that make it hard for the child to make and keep friends. This camp runs all the fun types of activities that would be seen at a mainstream camp but there is extra emphasis on encouraging the three key aims of social skills, self-esteem and independence.

I love working at my camp, it really is an incredible place and I couldn’t imagine going to work at any other type of camp. So here is a quick list of what I think are the top benefits to choosing to work at a special ed camp if you have some experience and are unsure:

  1. More staff – Due to the increased needs of the children, most special ed camps have a much higher counsellor to camper ratio. My camp has a 1:2 ratio which means for every one member of staff there are only two children. Mainstream camp ratios can get as high as 1:30! Cabin group sizes are also much smaller with my largest cabin having eight campers and there are only around 120 campers in total making it a very small camp compared to mainstream camps which can have several hundred.
  2. More time off – More counsellors on site means much more time off than mainstream camps, sure the time spent working can be tougher but you benefit greatly from the extra spare time!
  3. More rewarding ($$$) – The nature of special needs camps can make the work more stressful at times but the rewards of such work can be significant. First time camp America participants at special ed camps could earn upwards of $150 more than mainstream camp counsellors
  4. More rewarding (personally) – The smaller size of the groups means you really get to know your campers and create strong bonds with them which means it’s super awesome when you see them succeed and progress.
  5. More friends, more fun! – The higher staff ratios mean you inevitably spend way more time making friends with other counsellors and this means you have way more fun in your spare time going swimming, for ice cream or partying.

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Camp What?

What even is Camp America?
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For the past three years, I have spent my summer months living and
working in sunny America on a cultural exchange programme that sees young adventurous individuals work at children’s summer camps across the USA. Camp America is a company which secures work for applicants at summer camps where they work as camp counsellors.

Counsellors are an essential part of summer camps, second only to campers (children). Counsellors provide the activities and entertainment whilst acting as guardians, looking after a group (or bunk) of several children. Particularly at sleep away camps where children stay for several weeks, all counsellors are assigned to a bunk of campers to whom are they will look after for the duration of the campers stay. Alongside this most counsellors will also be instructors in a specific ‘skilled’ role such as a football coach, arts and crafts specialist or swim instructor.

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Individuals with advanced experience and certified skills in activities will be sought after to run the activities that keep summer camps fun but generally speaking, often some experience of particular activity and a strong confidence to give it a go will be enough to qualify any counsellor to at least help teach an activity. For instance, I instruct archery and paddle boarding at my camp but when I first arrived I only had small experiences of either but I showed that I was eager to help and now I have been able to gain a certificate in archery instructing.

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In addition, Camp America also sends individuals to work at summer camps as support staff who’ll be working behind the scenes in the kitchen, laundry, maintenance or as administrative staff. These positions are essential as they keep camp life going and are ideal for those who are less inclined to work directly with children or who perhaps don’t speak confident English but still wish to participate in the cultural exchange programme.

Applicants to the Camp America programme are all interviewed and greatly supported in creating applications that will make Camp directors want to hire them. Camp America offers a range of events to find out information throughout the year and also several recruitment fairs which give applicants the chance to meet camp directors face to face and get themselves hired!

Find out more about Camp America on their website!

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Welcome!

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Hey! This is my first every blog post and I guess this is probably the part where I introduce myself. My name is Jack, I’m 22 and I’m a student from Northamptonshire in the UK.

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For the past three years, I have spent my summers living and working as a counsellor at a special educational needs summer camp in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York. The camp is co-ed with children aged from 8 to 18 and has all the normal land and water sports that can be found at every camp. It also features activity programming to aid in the social skills, self-esteem, and independence of children with High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficits, Language Processing Weaknesses and children with other forms of minimal learning issues. Once the summer starts, all the disability labels cease to exclude the children and they become campers which thrive and enjoy themselves like children at any typical summer camp.


Due to the sensitive nature of the children who visit the camp, no photos of campers or camper names will be used throughout this blog. All names that do appear will be fictitious.


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Working at the Camp has let me do all kinds of awesome things and it even provided me with a new direction in life. I ended up working in a primary school back in the UK and I’m now completing an undergraduate degree in Special Education and Inclusion.

When it came to deciding whether I should spend another season in the America, it was a pretty easy decision. With my fourth summer only two months away, this blog is going to feature some explanations of life at camp to help you understand the camp bubble, my plans, preparation’s and then travel diaries once I’m away!

Thanks for stopping by, I hope you enjoy my content!

Jack 🙂

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