It’s been three years since my experience as a Camp Counsellor and I only did it the once, whereas I know many of my co-counsellors have gone back for three or four years since then. I’m sure they could do a much better job of explaining the ins and outs of being a camp counsellor, but really every experience is different, just as every camp is different. I worked at a Performing & Fine Arts camp, Camp Ballibay, in North Eastern Pennsylvania in the mountains.
Because of the nature of the camp, we didn’t do many of the activities you might associate with camp in America. Maybe you’ve seen The Parent Trap (1998) and think it’s going to be a mind field of different activities such as fencing, archery, swimming in the lake, etc. and for some camps it will be. Or maybe you’ve seen Wet Hot American Summer (2001)… and I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you it’s NOT going to be like that.
What I am going to do is give you a detailed run down of exactly how the days unfolded at Camp Ballibay, for me at least anyway. Every day was different for every single person on camp which is the beauty of Camp Ballibay, but the general structure was the same.
Also, thank you in advance to my co-counsellors whose pictures I may have stolen for this post! I don’t think it’s too many, but you are all much better photographers than me so do let me know if you want them taking down/crediting. I would automatically credit but I can’t remember where I stole them from! Bad blogger.
7am – Wake Up
Me and my co-counsellor Cherie looked after up to eight 13/14 year old girls in a cabin. We would generally wake up at 7am and we’d get to shower first. At the beginning of the summer, we also insisted that the girls got up at 7am which some of them didn’t like since they said they didn’t need all that time. I realised I was sticking to my guns for the sake of sticking to my guns and I wasn’t learning to compromise very well, so me and Cherie decided that if they could get up later and still be ready in time for breakfast then they could continue to get up later. And they did. There’s a top counselling tip for you: always look to compromise as long as you’re not breaking camp rules!
8:15am – Breakfast
We’d then all walk from the girls’ cabin area down to the Dining Hall. Sometimes I was on breakfast set-up duty so I would head down to the dining hall earlier. Each of the counsellors all had odd jobs to complete around the camp. Every week we’d be assigned a different table to sit on and if you sat with the littler kids you’d get your food first, score!!
The unique thing about Ballibay is that the Counsellors in most departments call individual lessons with the kids depending on what they’ve told us they want to do whilst at Camp. Counsellors then stand at the microphone and call the kids to lessons and hopefully they’ll write it down or have really good memories!
9am – Morning Activities
For the first hour the kids would go for morning activities. These would include music and singing lessons, art sessions and dance lessons. I was a Theatre Director at camp so I would use my hour to plan rehearsals, lighting charts, pick costumes or choose a play and print scripts for my next production. I would direct a One Act play/Staged reading every week and a Musical every two weeks so there was always some form of planning to do.
10am – Camp Activities
This is where the individualism of Camp Ballibay comes in. Ballibay is technically made up of several camps: Rock Farm where kids could be a part of a band and could take music lessons and would perform in big Rock Night at the end of their session, Farm Arts where kids would take part in all kinds of art activities such as painting and drawing, sculpture, photography and ceramics with a big Art Show to display all of their work. Endless Mountains Dance Camp was a dance intensive which was great because fantastic dance professionals would work with the kids and they would learn jazz, ballet, modern, goodness knows whatever else with a big dance recital to show off their skills.
The ‘camp’ with the most amount of kids was the regular Camp Ballibay where campers would normally be in one or two shows (depending on what they wanted to do) and would take part in music lessons, swimming lessons, horse riding lessons, work with the video and radio team, whatever else they chose around their theatre rehearsals. Another great thing about Ballibay is that it also has it’s own garden that grows a plethora of vegetables that the kids can learn to tend.
Anyway, the next two hours in the morning would be theatre rehearsals. If I was rehearsing a play, we’d be out on the outdoor platform. Or, if I was rehearsing a musical, I would be working in the Ballibay Theatre with my fantastic music director friend TJ who MD’d both of the musicals I worked on. He also took the reigns on Choreography which was also outstanding, he’s a crazy talented guy.
12pm – Back to Cabin
Because the kids do so many activities all around the camp it’s important that we know where they are and that they check in at different points of the day. Cherie would sometimes be on lunch setting-up duty (that is it’s official term, of course) so I would take the kids down to the Dining Hall from the Cabin.
12:30pm – Lunch
Back down the hill to the Dining Hall! Cue the daily dread that it wouldn’t be ‘make your own sandwich’ day and that we wouldn’t have Watermelon for dessert; we were so demanding.
1:30pm – Rest Hour
Everyone’s favourite part of the day. During rest hour we would all go back to our cabins and either read quietly, sleep, learn lines, and whatever else but we were always quiet during this time. I read so, so many books during these hours. Sometimes I would nap but I’d always wake up with an awful headache so it never seemed worth it, plus you actually have to watch the kids.
2:30pm – Hill Side announcements
You remember at breakfast that each of the counsellors had to go up in front of the microphone in the Dining Hall and call campers to a lesson? Exactly the same thing at Hillside announcements. We would all gather at a place unsurprisingly known as ‘the hill’ and call campers to a lesson. I never had to worry about lesson clashes because I was a theatre director and all the kids in my play would have to come to rehearsal. Sometimes, other counsellors would ask if a kid could be excused because perhaps they really wanted to work in the garden and due to other commitments hadn’t had chance yet.
3:00pm – Camp Activities
Exactly like the morning activities, except in the afternoon. Because I’d always have a play and a musical going on at the same time, I would do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
5:00pm – Back to Cabin/ 5 O’Clock Special
Most often we would head back to our cabins and make sure everyone was safe and sound. Sometimes though, all of the different departments would take it in turns to prepare a little show for us all to enjoy before dinner. You still did a quick head count of your cabin crew though, just in case!
5:30pm – Dinner
Back to the Dining Hall for dinner! Dinner was always extra special because we would sing the chorus of ‘Day by Day’ from the musical Godspell as a way of saying grace before we sat down at our tables. This was beautiful because we had a lot of various religions at camp and even if the kids weren’t religious, it was a nice inclusive way of expressing our gratitude of being able to enjoy the experiences that we had all universally been offered.
6:30pm – After Dinner Sports
Something I never really took part in, but I think occasionally the kids who wanted to play Basketball, Football (or ‘soccer’), tennis, whatever else was on the cards would play sports after dinner, if the main evening activities allowed for this time. You see, this is where it gets confusing because there were many different ways we could spend our evenings. Sometimes we had extended evening activities where kids would be called for more lessons. Another was Jam Night where kids would sign up for a specific department, not necessary one they usually took part in, and they would do something special. Another was Bonfire like on July 4th, and of course it may have been a show like a Camp Cabaret or Staff Cabaret, a play, musical, dance recital or rock night. No two nights were the same!
7:00pm – Evening activities
The final session for campers to be called for a lesson (which would be done at dinner, just like at breakfast and Hill side).
8:00pm – Back to Cabin
The final time where the campers would go back to their cabins before heading out to a show. My nights often didn’t include this because I was either with the kids doing a pre-show warm up, or I was house managing (ie. I supervised campers setting up chairs and making sure the theatre was fit for an audience and then I would introduce the performance) so Cherie would look after the campers by herself.
8:40pm – Performance
For this particular evening, it’s a musical or a rock night… They don’t actually start until 8:40! Well, the kids have to be outside the theatre at 8:30 and then I’d call them in cabin by cabin (usually tiny campers first then the big kids so they could sit at the back). Depending on their ages, the campers would go to bed at staggered times. The littler campers had a bedtime of 9:30pm or something like that and they rarely made that time!
10:oopm – Back to Cabin
It never happened but ideally our campers would be back to the cabin by 10pm and those who showered in the evenings could get their hair dried in time.
10:45pm – Lights out!
Exhausted, we would all fall asleep before our heads hit the pillow. If they were all in bed, quiet before bedtime, we’d let them read or listen to their iPod by torch but unfortunately due to late running plays that rarely happened. Often I would still be planning the next day’s rehearsals after lights out because the fun never stops.
So there you have it! An average day in the life of a camp counsellor at Camp Ballibay. Feeling inspired? Please do check out the Camp America website if you have any more thoughts or questions about being a Camp counsellor in the states; it’s hugely rewarding and the guys at CA are phenomenal and with you every step of the way. You can also check out the Camp Ballibay Facebook page if you want to see recent pictures and stories from the camp.
Did you ever work at a summer camp? Or wanna find out more? Let me know in the comments below!
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