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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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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