For the last several years, I have directed a Kids Camp. I ran all the operations, led the staff, tried to keep everyone safe, and managed the environment and expectations of all those involved. No small task.
This past year, however, I demoted myself. Because I’m in graduate school I needed to step back from a few responsibilities, so I tendered my Kids Camp Director resignation. I’m still involved with Kids Camp, but I’m now just a counselor.
That’s a funny way of saying it: “just” a counselor (there’s no “just” about it!). Being a cabin counselor and not the whole camp director anymore gave me some incredible perspective on what it takes to engage with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students for 5 days and 4 nights.
Here are a few of the things I learned as a former-director and fresh cabin counselor:
Giving the campers time to read their Bibles is so important. Kids Camp, after all, is a Bible camp. We are not just a fun summer experience of spending a week away from one’s parents and having fun (although we do spend a week away from parents and we do really want to have fun!). Stepping away from the culture has a way of quieting kids’ hearts and minds where they are really searching and asking great questions. Normal culture is so loud that it is difficult for children, parents and adults alike to hear the voice and direction of God. I was amazed at the hunger of my campers when I gave them time to read their Bibles. They couldn’t get enough of it. They wanted more. And as they read their Bibles they began to ask all sorts of good questions! It was amazing!!
Counselors need to have a delicate balance between being firm and compassionate with their campers. What we need to always remember is these are kids who are without their Mom and Dad for 5 days. They need guidance and a whole lot of room to be a kid. Sure they need to be managed. Sure they need to be safe. Sure I needed to be the adult at various times to prevent kids from falling through the exposed rafters in the ceiling (they loved to climb on those!). But kids are kids. My constant “be careful” or “stop doing that” might be appropriate in small doses, but I found myself saying those things more often than I realized I did. I backed off a little and let them be kids. And they still survived. Also, I didn’t realize how important being compassionate and tender would be with my group of 3rd grade boys. I thought they’d be able to function more maturely than they actually could. And not only did I need to be tender, but I had to strike a delicate balance between tenderness and firmness. It was fun!
Counselors are immersed all day long with their cabin of campers. It can be real tiring. Moments of reprieve in the day are welcome. During the school year, when children have a day off of school for something, spending the whole day with your children can be tiring. Imagine doing that for 5 straight days with a group of 9 kids! Each day is exhausting. Having moments where I wasn’t in charge and could take a break was helpful.
Having a positive attitude and outlook on things is good. If the counselor is complaining or in general has a bad attitude, his/her campers will reflect that same attitude. The kids look to the counselor to see how to live life at camp. They take their cues from the closest adult to them. If the counselor participates, then the campers participate. If the counselor sits down during the singing and doesn’t engage, then his/her students will sit down and not engage. I never realized the extent of the influence a counselor’s attitude had on the student’s’ experience at camp.