Working on summer camp is a whole load of fun and new experiences, but it is not without its challenges. There are lots of things that challenge us on summer camp (the possibility of being covered in gunk is one of them!) – here are the most common challenges, how to overcome them, and why they are worth it!
Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges of working on summer camp is being responsible for children. As the majority of our monitors and teachers are young people, they may never have had experience being responsible for another person before, never mind a tiny kid! Whilst supported by our coordinators, the staff are first hand responsible for looking after the campers – this can involve watching them brush their teeth, teaching them to put their clothes in the laundry basket, and making sure they are eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This may be daunting, but it is definitely one of the most rewarding areas of camp. To see your group of campers, sleeping soundly, knowing that you helped them to get through all the small, complicated parts of the day, makes you truly feel like you are making a difference to their camp experience.
We help staff to cope with the responsibility of being a surrogate parent to their campers by firstly giving them a comprehensive training week, to equip them with tools and skills which will help them. When camp gets started, we also have daily meetings with the coordinators, who having been staff members themselves, once were a camper’s surrogate parent too, and are able to offer first hand advice.
Working in the heat
The south of Spain gets hot in July and August… very hot! Sometimes temperatures are in the high thirties, meaning both campers and staff can get tired and sunburnt. Of course, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives – being able to spend lots of time outside, at the beach, in the pool, is the perfect summer camp environment – nobody likes the rain! We also make sure to have lots of water activities for our campers – water balloons and sponges are very important and are used very frequently. Nonetheless, it can be an adjustment for those of us who are used to the Irish wind and English rain to get used to constant sun. Staff are often seen carrying litre water bottles around to help with the heat, as well as constantly applying suncream – the heat can also result in monitors and teachers spending 90% of their time off in the pool or at the beach!
Everybody always talks about the ‘camp bubble’ – working and living on camp you tend to forget about the outside world, and your morning, noon and night revolve around camp life. Sometimes, this can be a big challenge – your brain can feel like it really needs a rest from thinking and talking about camp constantly. Luckily, this challenge is easily remedied in many different ways – taking a quick phone call from home in your break lets you briefly escape, as does making an effort to have a conversation with someone about something other than camp (sounds simple, but you wouldn’t believe how much you talk about the campers and that days antics over anything else when on camp!). Getting off site always gives some respite also – whether it be going for an ice-cream, a coffee, or some tapas on your night off, you really appreciate the outside world like you haven’t before. The funniest thing is, that after one of these breaks you find yourself looking forward to seeing the campers and other staff members again!
Camp is a 24/7 environment, filled with energy and excitement, and anybody who has worked with children before knows how tiring it can be. A definite challenge of summer camp work is feeling tired, and knowing you have to keep going. Different people cope with this in different ways – many staff swear by a nap in their time off to recuperate, and having a full day off on the weekend also comes in handy to catch up on some rest. We all look out for each other on summer camp too – working as a team and supporting each other only makes the work easier, and so helping out a very tired teammate can really make their day easier. But ultimately, the thing that makes the tiredness both worth it, and also helps it disappear, is the campers. Sometimes you feel ready to fall into bed, but you see the campers excited for Capture the Flag and you feed off their energy. You may feel your eyelids dropping, but then a camper asks you to sing a song and your energy lifts. Even something as simple as a hug or a smile from the campers helps you to forget about the tiredness and focus on having fun with them.
Saying goodbye to the campers (and staff) and returning to the real world
At the end of each fortnight of camp, emotional scenes are aplenty – campers and staff alike cry as they say goodbye to their new found friends, and to their monitors and teachers. It’s often difficult to find a dry eyed staff member during departures, as many hugs and tearful farewells fill the camp. It’s definitely a challenge of summer camp that after two weeks of caring and helping the camper, you say goodbye, not knowing if you’ll see them again.
Once all the campers have left and camp has finished, it’s time for another goodbye – this time to the staff with whom you have worked and spent almost every living minute with for the past two, four or even eight weeks. Emotions always run high as staff say their goodbyes, and thank yous to those who have made a difference to their camp experience. After spending so long with the other staff members, it is a bit surreal not to see them first and last thing every day – the separation anxiety we feel after summer is a real challenge! However, it only stands to the great bonds the team has and the real friends we make.
Making a difference
Ultimately, every challenge on summer camp is worth it because we make a difference to the campers who attend our camps. By being their surrogate parents and taking full responsibility for them, by helping them stay cool and play games in the pool, by pushing through our tiredness to make evening entertainment the best ever, we really help the campers in many different ways. There is no better reason than that to work on summer camp!