I was a counselor at the Romanian Archdiocese’s summer camp this year (7-13 year olds). I had 4-8 girls in my cabin. This is a post of all the things I learned during the two weeks of being a counselor.
- “I Can’t Fall Asleep” only happens the first night at camp. I’m not sure what the purpose behind this statement is, but I’m guessing it’s testing out the limits. I simply told them that it takes 15 minutes to fall asleep, and that I’d tell them when the 15 minutes were up. (I, of course, fell asleep in about 5 seconds). After the first night, we only had moans and groans about nap time, which persisted the whole two weeks.
- The inventor of “three more bites,” “you can’t have any more spaghetti if you don’t finish your broccoli,” and other such statements was a genius. I don’t know where I absorbed these things from (I certainly never did it consciously), but they burst out of me on the second or third day of camp, after one girl after another had ignored the ‘icky’ part of her meal in order to grab a second helping of the ‘yummy’ part. Having stated that everything on the plate must be finished, I firmly held my ground and most, if not all the girls, ate everything on their plate before having dessert, lemonade, or second helpings of spaghetti.
- “No dessert if you don’t…” is a fantastic incentive for listening to your counselor. One of my girls was a little wild child, running with the boys to capture grasshoppers, hornets, bees, wasps– you name it, she was trying to find it. As a counselor, my job is to keep the girls together at all times while keeping them interested, happy, and what-have-you. Grasshopper Girl did not understand this, and would go running off while I used the facilities, or had to make sure that the table in the dining hall was cleaned, or whatever. She taught me more than the other girls combined, including the fact that revoking dessert is usually a very powerful motivator.
- Taking away dessert for a long time is not a good idea. Grasshopper Girl lost her dessert for a week after repeatedly going past the safety boundaries near archery. I quickly, to my chagrin, realized that, having lost dessert, Grasshopper Girl could not be threatened with anything.
- A little bit of dessert for good behavior is also a great incentive. Grasshopper Girl was speedily told that if she was good, she could have a little bit of dessert. (This was a win-win, as she got a little dessert, and the other girls and I could split the rest of hers.) The interesting thing about this is that Grasshopper Girl was happier to have a bite of chocolate chip cookie after the archery incident, than she was to have a whole chocolate chip cookie BEFORE the archery incident.
- How to Shout. Grasshopper Girl and Miss Ballerina (who stayed with her grandmother and little brother in their cabin because she didn’t like sleeping with strangers), must have some deafness (or really, really good concentration), because I learned how to shout without hurting my voice (too badly). With as many acres as the property has, and as noisy as kids are, (and as tired as your feet will get), shouting is sometimes the only way to make your voice carry. I have scared people before by shouting for the girls while being next to other campers. The idea, if you want to learn to do it, is to suck your stomach in as you’re shouting.
- Kids are nice once you know them for about three days. Many, many of the older boys think that a lot of dumb things are cool and funny and awesome. Like twisting a waterbottle until the cap shoots off and then inhaling and breathing out the water vapor formed. This actually is pretty cool, but they don’t quite understand the concept of throwing away the waterbottle and the cap after using it, instead of leaving it in the grass. They drove me nuts, until I saw a couple of instances where they were being ‘normal,’ instead of trying to impress people. What I saw then impressed me, and made me be a whole lot nicer to them in future encounters.
- You can get a whole lot done without talking. One morning in the second week I didn’t speak to my eight girls from 8am (when I woke them up) to about 10am. Two hours in which I got them: dressed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, beds ‘made,’ up to the dining hall, fed, table cleaned, down to prayer (with skirts and head coverings on). I had to talk partway through because one wasn’t feeling well at all. They thought I’d lost my voice, and asked me, at one point, if I’d answer the priest if he asked me a really, really important question. I’m glad they don’t understand anything below a certain level of decibels, because I was talking to the priest right in front of them at breakfast.
- Twelve year old girls are impossible. They need to change their shirts, pants, sunglasses, all the time. They don’t have anything to wear, despite their entire suitcase being all over the cabin floor (I don’t have any energy to make them clean it up during nap time or at bed time, when they should). The younger girls take the older girls’ example and start with the same idea.
- Kids have to learn to do things by themselves. Little Questioner, the seven-year-old whose grandmother stayed with us in the cabin, is one of the sunniest, happiest people I know. She also has a question for everything (“What time’s breakfast?” “Are girls swimming before boys?” “Do I need my sneakers?” “What are we doing after nap time?” “How long is church?”), despite the answer being mostly the same. If she has a water bottle in her hand and is in a room full of tables, she will ask, “Where can I put my water bottle?” I learned and implemented (sometimes not very nicely), the art of asking HER the question, or guiding her through the thought process of how to find a cup so you can drink water from the water cooler.
I’m certain there were a few other things I learned, but currently these are the ten things I learned in two weeks of being a counselor at camp. Part 2 deals with what I learned while being with my father and brother at home, while my mother and sister are away at camp. It’ll show up sometime in August.