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Friendly Advice for Summer Camp Teachers

It’s pretty early to be talking about summer camp, I know, but in Northern Virginia things tend to happen sooner. Summer vacation plans are often locked down by December, Summer camps spots are booked in February, and most parents have a 2019-20 school calendar already printed out and highlighted on a wall somewhere. A little crazy, but a fact of life. So where does this leave us camp providers, summer teachers, and purveyors of vacation adventure? In a flap, that’s where we are left. Flapping around like hysterical, wingless birds, trying to get things organised earlier and earlier each year.

I’m doing well so far. My summer registration is open, my location is booked, my teachers are willing and able, and I’m about to start writing curriculum that other people can understand – gasp! Of course, teaching at a summer camp (or anywhere, for that matter) is more than just the sum of its parts. I often discuss what running a summer camp entails with my colleagues. Here is some advice about teaching at a summer camp for you…

Relax!
It is a summer camp, not school. If you are stressed and uptight, the kids will feel stressed. If you pay attention to what the kids are enjoying, and are willing to be flexible about your schedule, then things will go a lot smoother. Summer camp is about exploring interests, and enjoying the experience.

Have high expectations
…of everyone. You will be amazed at what students can do if you operate this way. I have taught middle school projects to 4th graders, and they have turned them into amazing work – different from what a 7th grader would do, yes, but amazing nonetheless. Children who fear art during the school year can thrive in a non-competitive, open ended camp where nothing is graded, and everything seems possible.

Tabula Rasa
When a student misbehaves, or acts out at camp, deal with it, but don’t carry it around with you. Have amnesia the next day, and greet them as if it never happened, and a great day looms ahead.

Know everyone
Pay attention and notice everyone. Let them get to know you – talk informally in class. I often tell kids funny and embarrassing stories from my school days, and they love to hear how awkward I was. It can kickstart a whole discussion about their own experiences. This is how you get to know more about the group’s dynamics, whether there are any cliques, or anxieties. Do notice what happens during breaks, but…

Leave them alone
Break time is break time. If kids want you to play with them, great, but know when to back off. Leave things unscheduled and free and know that there will always be a kid who just wants to sit under a tree and stare at grass. Leave them be. If a kid wants to poke a bush with a stick repeatedly, let them do it. Back off.

Let it go
Don’t get into arguments with kids. Just…don’t. You will never win. Just back out gracefully or say ‘I’m not going to argue about that’. Let it go.

Admit your mistakes
One thing about kids: they are much more forgiving than adults when it comes to mistakes. Just be honest with them. I once got the wrong type of paint for a project, and came clean to my class about it. They helped me troubleshoot the problem, and we could still get the work done.

Just enjoy it
A no brainer. Find your inner child and be a goofball. I always think teaching at my summer camp is a privilege. How many adults do you know that get to listen to fart jokes, play Apples to Apples, and make up names for invisible pets as part of their work day? I get to carry on having childhood summer experiences for longer than other adults!

I think this post is long enough, although I could go on and on about this. I have a similar list for camp counsellors that I will share with you in another post. Click here to find out more about my camps, and have a lovely Friday!

About Author

Artist, Educator, Parent, Small Business Owner, Big kid from a big city, in a small town.

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