How to make opening day at camp great
5 tips on talking to counselors when you arrive at camp
Carrie Kashawlic & Margaret Price
Summer camp is a wonderful adventure for campers. But sending kids to camp requires a leap of faith from parents who are leaving their child with camp counselors for two weeks.
It is important to know that camp staff are screened and train extensively before campers arrive.
Most camps require an application, references, interview, and criminal background check including a check of the sex-offender registry, and after that, a week, sometimes two, of on-site pre-camp training. Staff is trained in behavior management, dealing with homesickness, and emergency procedures. Staff is also certified in first aid, CPR, lifeguarding, as an instructor for an activity, among many other things.
After all that preparation, staff is ready for campers to arrive, but there is one thing that concerns collegiate camp counselors.
As nervous as parents might be about leaving their campers, counselors are nervous about talking to “real adults”—meaning you, the parents. Camp counselors can sometimes feel intimidated.
As a parent meeting your child’s counselor on opening day, here are a few tips to help ensure your conversation leaves you feeling good about the young professional caring for your camper.
Ask for help if needed or wanted. Counselors don’t want to step on parent’s toes or feel intrusive, so they might hold back out of respect. Don’t hesitate to invite them in to help make the bed or carry in items from your car.
2. The graceful exit
Counselors are trained to welcome each family upon arrival, so they may feel conflicted when they are engaged with a family when another arrives, so they are working to master the “graceful exit”. They are nervous about this, too, as they don’t want to appear rude. If this happens, consider saying: “I see another family has arrived. If you’d like to welcome them, we’re OK making this bed on our own for right now.”
3. Camper focus, concerns and games
Counselors are trained to focus on the camper. That means counselors often speak directly to the camper instead of the parents. Don’t hesitate to ask the counselor to step aside if you have a question or concern that you want to share without your camper present. If it is a busy time with arriving families, you might ask to talk privately later. This allows the counselor to make time to listen attentively when there is a break in the action. Counselors also want each camper to make new friends. They will often invite campers to join in a game or activity to assist campers in feeling welcome and making friends. It can be hard to go play when parents are still close by. Consider this as a good time for that private chat with a counselor and/or time to meet other parents. It gives your camper “permission” to go play and begin building friendships.
4. Returning parents and new parents
Camp counselors try hard to welcome each family to camp, but often returning parents can be helpful in welcoming new camp families. It’s a bonus to hear about how nervous another adult or child was upon their first arrival. If an introduction doesn’t come naturally, don’t hesitate to ask your counselor to connect you with other parents.
The goodbye can be hard for parents and campers. Don’t hesitate to ask counselors for assistance when saying goodbye to your camper in a way that allows for hugs and kisses, but then with the counselor’s help puts your camper right back into the fun of an activity.
Don’t hesitate to talk with the camp director if your counselor was spectacular or if you still have a worry. Your feedback about interactions with camp counselors helps the director. They can share your accolades or provide additional training and guidance to ensure every kid has a great summer. And never leave camp without having all your questions answered; the administrative team will answer any questions that you might have.
Carrie Kashawlic is the executive director and Margaret Price is a counselor at Fleur de Lis Camp in Fitzwilliam.