Life Hacks Travel

Why Work at Summer Camp?

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It’s no secret that summer camp is a big deal for me. I’ve worked in all kinds of camps – day, weekend-only, sleepaway, etc. I’ve done it all. I’ve spent time out west, but over the past couple of years, I’ve spent more time out in Maine. I’ve gone about as far east as I can go and it has always been a great experience. There’s something to be said about disconnecting from your everyday life and changing your pace for a while. There is definitely a job for all kinds of people at summer camp. However, there are a few specific things that always seem to draw people to summer camp: the people, traveling, and a passion for working with kids.

Photo: Indian & Forest Acres Camps

Who Works at a Summer Camp?

All kinds of people. Seriously. A successful summer camp experience takes a lot of people with so many different skill sets. College students (who are still deciding what they want to do), coaches, teachers, retired teachers, nurses, mental health & social work professionals, artists, musicians, outdoor enthusiasts, office pros (camps get an obscene amount of phone calls), food service workers, maintenance staff, transportation staff, and so on. There’s seriously a job for so many skill sets. According to the American Camp Association, summer camps across North America employ more than 1.5 million people to work in a variety of positions – it’s a BIG business.

Photo: Indian & Forest Acres Camps

Since there is such a variety of jobs to make a camp run smoothly, there are always people from various locations and of various ages working at a summer camp. Like I mentioned above, college-aged students are often a huge part of the staff. That doesn’t mean you won’t find people who are older and at different points in their careers working at a summer camp. Recent graduates who are taking gap years, stay-at-home moms who bring their kids to camp while they work, freelance people (like me) who have a fairly open schedule, career changers, retired out of the military and needing work, and people with any other range of career experiences are found at summer camps.

Related Post: 10 Must-Have Items for Summer Camp Counselors 

Why I Go to Summer Camp

Obviously, I go to direct some summer theatre for kiddos. At the minimum, that’s why I go. That said, now that I’ve seen the connections that summer camp creates, I think EVERYONE should work at a summer camp at least once in their life. I’ve met people who come from across the globe just to work at specific summer camps. There really is something about it – I almost can’t explain it! One of the sayings that I hear a lot is “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” That’s the simplest way to put it. I have no idea where that quote comes from, but it rings true in every summer camp experience that I’ve had as a “grown-up.” As a kid, I wasn’t really a fan of summer camp – unless it was theatre-related only…it never felt right for me. As an adult, I love it and I’ll herald the experience to anyone who’ll listen. It’s fascinating how a group of people of all ages and backgrounds, come together for just a few short weeks a year and create some amazing memories and experiences.

After the directing bit, I’m also into summer camp for the people and community. Where there is a community, there are also rituals and traditions. The camp I’ve been working with recently celebrated their 95th anniversary! 95 YEARS! If that doesn’t speak to the power of people and community, I’m not sure what does. Previous campers have sent their children and grandchildren to these camps – so something “right” is obviously happening. Some staff members have been affiliated with the camp for over 40 years, so the community here is strong. It’s also awesome to know that I have camp colleagues all over the USA and at various points around the world that I could easily reconnect with if our paths were to cross again. I can’t forget the kids as part of this community, either. We go to camp to work with people and that most certainly means the kids. They challenge me all the time and that’s a good thing. Working with a broad range of kids in several aspects of camp requires me to stay flexible and on my toes. Seeing kids grow in so many ways over our brief time together is inspiring.

Photo: Indian & Forest Acres

The travel aspect is also huge for me! Getting out of my midwestern bubble (and being paid in the process) is a major selling point for me. Not only do I get to go to Maine and so many of the nearby hotspots, but I can also do it and take my work with me. I teach in a new location and I grab my laptop and I can take my writing projects with me – all at the same time. I seriously get so much more accomplished when I’m out there in the summer – it’s NUTS! Plus, if there is a day where I’m called to the beach – I’ve got that option. If I want to hike, I can do that. If I want to eat amazing, fresh seafood, it’s widely available. Many camps, like mine, also send staff on trips with their campers, so I’m often seeing places that I wouldn’t normally get to check out. It’s a win-win all around.

Related Posts: Read more of my other travel posts!

Why You Should Work at Summer Camp

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I think everyone should work at summer camp at least once in their lives. No matter what camp you choose, you’ll work hard and come back with an experience that will affect your view of the world around you. You’ll meet incredible new people, see different places, and be challenged daily – guaranteed.

If a list is more your style, I’ve got a list of reasons WHY you should work at summer camp!

  • Variety – If all of your days are the same at camp, something is off.
  • Change of scenery – Everyone needs one from time to time. Chances are, a camp will put you in the mountains, on a lake, or out in the wilderness somewhere for a few weeks.
  • Dress Code – I don’t know about ALL camps, but the majority of the ones I have worked at have killed on the dress code front. The 24/7 athleisure wear is A-OK by me. Also worth mentioning, KEENS and CROCS are always ok!
  • Room & Board IncludedYes, if you work at sleepaway camp, you should expect room & board to be included as part of your compensation. Not having to decide what/when to eat is great for me. No decision fatigue and minimal cleanup/shopping required.
  • Your Clients (the kids) are Incredible – They want to learn from you (most of the time), they want to learn about you, and improve their skills. Some are always more challenging than others, that’s a given, but there are always more positives than negatives.
  • Practice in Time Management – Oh yeah, camp schedules can be a really challenging thing to maneuver. Teaching, cleaning, eating, planning, etc. all have their own little time blocks. You get really good at accomplishing a lot of tasks in pre-alotted amounts of time.
  • Build Your Resume – Working at a summer camp gives you a unique batch of skills. Working with kids, creating programming, developing leadership skills, and so much more happens at camp.
  • Time Well Spent – You won’t be a summer office monkey just going through the day-to-day motions. At camp, you’ll be connecting with kids and other staff – it’s just par for the course.
  • Hands-On All the Time – Your days are full from the moment you wake up until the moment you crash for the night.
  • Disconnect to Reconnect – I don’t know where this phrase comes from either, but it’s perfect for camp. You may have a phone, but you may not have good service. It’s also possible that your camp has a no-phone policy or whatever, that’s fine. It’s a no brainer that you’ll spend less time on your phone and more time in nature and face-to-face with people, so it’s still a positive.
  • People – Another one I’ve already mentioned, but camp really is all about the people. The days are long, but the weeks are short and the time passes very quickly and there never feels like there is enough time with all the people you’re surrounded by. It’s a crazy thing.

Are you convinced to try working at a summer camp yet? I’m sure I’ve converted you to the dark side already. All that to say, for me, it’s always been a great experience. It’s not for everyone, but even if you decide camp isn’t your cup of tea, You’ll come out of the summer as a more well-rounded person and have plenty of memories and stories to share. It’s a growing experience.

If you’re looking for a summer camp job, feel free to contact me! I may have some leads for you!

Have you ever worked at a summer camp? Or were you a camper? Tell me about your camping experience in the comments!

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4 Comments

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    […] I’m a small town girl who much prefers the big city. I moved to Chicago (to my own apartment) right after high school and loved it. I live in a popular urban area of Indianapolis, a far cry from the small town of approx. 800 people that I grew up in. I prefer to travel to bigger cities (I’m an NYC pro at this point), but I love disconnecting to spend time in nature when I can – Hello, summer camp! […]

    April 21, 2019 at 9:20 pm Reply
  • My Lib

    The majority of camps I worked at were with gifted students. These kids were not only incredibly intelligent but they were often very creative. It was too easy to be impressed by the things that they made, the ideas they shared. There are gifted artists, writers, musicians, comedians, those that are exceptionally skilled at science and math, etc. They did weird and funny things like write out algebra formulas on the sidewalk during our Art Night. They’re unbelievably nerdy and unbearably loveable.

    May 20, 2019 at 7:27 pm Reply
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    July 26, 2021 at 4:14 pm Reply
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