Long Live the Camp Counsellor

Categories: Camp Life,Pedagogy

Life at summer camp is a high octane life. It’s full. It’s Full On. It’s Festive. It’s routined yet full of surprise. Structured and chaotic. Noisy and nature-full. Camp is fueled by larger-than-life characters. Young children are catapulted from their homes and from the familiar. Some children have been waiting (without knowing they’ve been waiting) for this experience all their lives.

I had the good fortune to spend time at camp this summer. Two camps, actually, both Tim Horton Children’s Foundation camps. Onondaga Farm in Cambridge, Ontario and The Tim Horton Camp at Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. All my memories of being at camp—as a camper, a counsellor, a senior staff member, and eventually as an assistant camp director—came flooding back to me. (Happily.) I am happy to report that camp is still full of magic. Yes, very much so. And who spins the magic? Everyone at camp is involved at some level but, in my opinion, it’s the counsellor who is the Keeper of The Magic. The counsellor is on the front lines of summer camp. The counsellor: part parent, part kid, part jester, juggler & clown, part mediator, part ‘bad meany guy’ person,’ part Hollywood celebrity. The counsellor is the Maker of Fun and the Keeper of Rules (not always an easy combo). The counsellor fires the campers up, calms them down, breaks up fights, comforts the homesick, cleans up after the sick camper, makes up songs and stories, uses her back pocket bag of tricks—anything and everything she possibly can to keep her cabin full of campers engaged and happy. Bad jokes, two-minutes mysteries, riddles, ambulatory games, current pop songs, old camp songs all make up the bag of tricks.

The counsellor is usually a ‘twenty-something.’ In the prime of life. A ball of energy. Ready to rock. Ready to roll. Malleable enough to make it through extreme rough patches and come out the other side smiling. Elastic enough to snap back from a rocky Session 4 and make Session 5 a winner. The counsellor is hard-core. I stand in complete admiration of the twenty-something counsellor.

If you are a 10 year-old camper, you do not know what it means to be 20. You can only dream and imagine. You want to be your counsellor. You are safe to admire, adore, idolize and generally worship your counsellor. If you are ‘fifty something’ as I am, you no longer know what it means to be 20. You can only try to re-member, re-imagine. You can try to keep nostalgia at bay and dream about what it was to be twenty-something, when you were a counsellor and were adored and idolized and looked up to. And this process of re-membering can be both pleasant and discomforting. (Nostalgia is not easily held back. Time can be your friend, Time can be cruel.)

During my time at camp, as I jumped up with guitar in hand to lead the dining hall in song, I did feel like a twenty-something. (Yes, I also felt like a fifty-something.) But most tellingly, I felt GOOD. I grew up but I’m still growing, thanks to the campers and counsellors who made me feel so welcome at their camps. As August slips away, I salute Summer Camp in all its glory. I salute the amazing campers and I salute the fabulously brave camp counsellors. LONG LIVE THE CAMP COUNSELLOR. LONG LIVE SUMMER CAMP.

If you would like to ensure that summer camp lives on please consider making a donation, either to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation OR to Kids In Camp OR to a favourite camp or children’s charity of your own. See below for a couple of possible ways to donate. And PLEASE feel free to download the song ‘Walkin’ from my ‘What’s the Big Idea?!?’ CD as a small thank you from me.

Visit the Tim Horton Chilren’s Foundation Website and find out how you can make a difference in the life a child. http://www.timhortons.com/ca/en/social/childrens-foundation.php









KIDS IN CAMP is a registered charity that subsidizes camp experiences for children and youth. They are dedicated to assisting families, who otherwise would not be able, to send their kids to camp. KIC works with accredited camps of the Ontario Camps Association who apply for funding for deserving children in the upcoming summer. KIDS IN CAMP makes the wonder of camp experience available to kids of all backgrounds. It’s an opportunity for them to gain positive life-long memories. It’s a chance to learn about nature, themselves and others. It’s all about creating wonder, hope and building confidence.

And please let me know if you’d be interested in having me visit your camp. I offer campfire and singsong sessions for camp staff (see my website for the workshops I do with Song, Story & Sound) and also offer dining hall and campfire song sessions for campers.

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