Yes, that's Kristin (in purple) at YMCA Camp Fuller, circa 1994

Yesterday a friend  – we’ll call her Mary – came to visit, and the fighting began almost immediately. Sophie wanted to play with Mary. Anders wanted to play with Mary. Of course none of them could agree about what they should be playing, who should be playing – and within 15 minutes at least 5 arguments had broken out between Anders and Mary, Mary and Sophie, Sophie and Anders . . . you get the idea.

Then, in a moment of parental brilliance, I created an impromptu scavenger hunt. The rules were simple, gather the items on the list (eg 3 rocks from the front yard, 2 from the back yard, 4 purple leaves, 5 green leaves and one dead flower) and STICK TOGETHER. Upon delivery of their bounty the group would receive popcorn and hot chocolate with marshmallows.

The activity kept them busy – and outside – for at least 30 minutes, with only minimal complaints. Sophie, as the youngest, did get left behind a couple of times, but she also was the keeper of the list so the bigger kids did (mostly) keep her with them.

As a former camp counselor at YMCA Camp Fuller, an overnight camp in Rhode Island, this is the kind of activity I used to be able to whip up at a moments notice. So why hadn’t I thought of it before? And what other lessons from my days as a camp counselor could I utilize today as a parent?

The hands goes up, the mouth goes shut. Rather than yelling to get the kids to quiet down, we used to simply raise our hand. Within a minute we could get over 200 kids in a crowded mess hall to quit talking and start listening. Seriously!

Who’s the waitress? Every day, one camper was the waitress (or waiter), responsible for setting the table for the cabin and picking up the food, as well as cleaning up after the meal was over.

Cabin cleanup and inspection. While the kids were in their activities, cabins were inspected and graded for cleanliness. The cabin with the most points at the end of the two-week session received a special reward (pizza party, ice cream, movie night).

Stick to a schedule. Over two hundred kids and staff members were kept on track, and on schedule, with the help of the camp bell. Everyone knew when the bell rang, it was time to move to the next activity.

Everyone’s a winner! Competition was encouraged, but everyone was a winner with special awards given to kids for trying their best; best spirit, etc.

Get gimp. When all else failed, every camper could be quieted by the promise of several yards of gimp (plastic crafting .

Have fun. How seriously can one take themselves when then are running around in a bathing suit all day, covered in bug bites, sunscreen and bug juice (which some kid just threw at me). Being a camp counselor was a dirty, disgusting, exhausting job, and yet I loved every minute of it because I was always having fun.

Every now and then I need to remember to check in with that girl I used to be – she was a kick ass camp counselor who would definitely have something to say about the mom I’ve become (both good and bad).

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7 Responses to What I learned as a camp counselor

  1. Kristin says:

    Brilliant….takes me back to being a camper. Here’s hoping it will be that simple on today’s snow day :)

  2. Brenda says:

    Oh my gosh–I thought my mother was the only one who did the hot chocolate and popcorn! Snow day here today. I am sure hot chocolate is on our agenda along with snow cream:)

  3. Lainie says:

    YES! I was a camp counselor for 8 years. Where did I go? Thanks!

  4. Christine says:

    That all sounds like such an easy way to deal with kids. I like it. Now that you’ve solved that issue – how to solve the brain-fried mother who forgets things like these when tired out and having difficulty mustering up energy to get them going. It’s a snow day here – Wisconsin – and the younger 2 are playing “school”. I’m letting them go with it…

  5. Osheta says:

    Love this post! As former camp counselor, I related. It’s encouraging to know that I actually have the tools necessary to manage my 3.

  6. Cooley says:

    YES! I was a camp counselor at Camp Merrie-Woode for two years and a camper for six, and while I don’t have kids, I utilize TONS of my old “skills” when I babysit. The raised hand, table waitress (or “TG,” for table girl, as Merrie-Woode called it), and scheduled events are all great, and I plan to implement them when I have a kid in the future. Thanks for taking me back to some fun memories!

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