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Days in the life of a Camp Counsellor

From cookie lines to camp dance parties, here are some of the things to expect when working as a Camp Counsellor at summer camp in the USA. 

By Cicely Norman 

We can talk about the awesomeness that is working at summer camp for DAYS. But when no two days are ever the same, it’s almost impossible to do a typical ‘day’ in the life. Instead, here’s Cicely, class of ’23 summer camper, on what to expect during your nine weeks at summer camp in America. (We’re living for those cookie lines and Dunkin’ Donuts in your PJs days…).  

‘Normal’ days 

 Although no two days are ever the same at camp, you’ll have an overall daily routine which will outline most days. For me, this meant breakfast at 8am, followed by two activity periods. Then we had one of our favourite times of day – cookie line! A perfectly baked, huge, American cookie every day at 11.20am – if it was red velvet day, the sprint to get in line ASAP was intense. 

 Then came one more activity period and some rest time before lunch – the whole camp ate together, with counsellors assigned tables of campers to sit with. Rest hour followed this – you would either supervise your bunk, or have some free time. Next came two afternoon activity periods, then a free period (duties during this would vary), then dinner.  

 To round off the day, we had an evening activity (sometimes you were on duty for this, sometimes you had the time off), then it was bedtime for the campers. Once all the bunks were settled by around 9.30pm (no mean feat!) counsellors were allowed to be off duty. You could relax in the counsellor lounge or dining room, and sometimes leave camp for an evening out. Curfew to be back in your bunk was 12.30am – if you were lucky, all your campers would already be asleep. 

 This timetable could vary. Sometimes, you had activity periods off, or meetings, or theatre plays or special events would alter the timings. Everyone’s favourite schedule change were the surprise PJBs – a late breakfast of Dunkin’ Donuts in your pyjamas!  

 All in all, though, for a ‘normal’ day at camp you can expect a mix of activity periods, mealtimes, and bunk time – with some (if not much) free time scattered throughout. 

Special’ days 

 Over the course of the summer, your camp will likely host a few special, off-timetable days. These might include 4th July, team competitions, traditional events, or other occasions unique to your camp.  

 Our two biggest celebration days were (the appropriately named) Special Day, and Fun In The Sun Day. Both were heavily-guarded secrets, with the campers only finding out they were happening on the day of each event.  

 For Special Day, each department dressed up in extravagant costumes – my department dressed as Valentine’s Day, to fit with the day’s overall theme of Holidays. All the staff did a big procession for the campers, then hosted a day of carnival games, fun food and festivities. The weather was – admittedly – terrible. This day was a good test of everyone’s positivity and ability to make fun for all the campers whatever the weather – having grown up in Britain, at least I was used to making the best of rainy summers! 

Luckily our second big day lived up to its Fun In The Sun name – in brilliant weather we had giant inflatables, water activities, boat rides, and coveted red velvet cookies. As a counsellor, you had specific role assignments – but special days are also just about mucking in and helping with whatever’s needed to make the occasion a success. 

Rainy’ days 

As I mentioned, we weren’t always blessed with the best weather this summer. We did of course have some hot days – but we also had more than our fair share of rain and lightning! Although I can’t pretend that more sun and less rain wouldn’t have been pleasant (it is summer camp after all), the rainy days actually ended up producing some of my favourite memories and I wouldn’t ever want to swap them all.  

I loved my campers’ dance parties, bracelet making seshes, letter writing hours, and bunk bonding periods that spontaneously happened during rainy hours. We wouldn’t have had as much bunk time together without these, and it could be really special. 

My recommendation for rainy days is to have as many games up your sleeve as possible – for your bunk and/or department. You’ll be amazed how the one you thought would take ages only lasts a few minutes and you’re onto the next activity. These ideas don’t have to be complicated – often the simplest word puzzle or traditional card game proved the most popular.  

As with basically everything at camp, ultimately it’s your positivity that counts the most. So even if you’re secretly (and understandably) as desperate to go outside as the campers – keep the enthusiasm up, get stuck into just one more game, and dance along to just one more song and you’ll get there. (And then of course make sure you maximise every second of sun when it comes). 


Trip’ days 

Every so often, your campers might get a chance to go out of camp on trip days. Sometimes as a counsellor you might run activities for kids staying at camp, or you might go out on the trips, too. I went to a theme park, wildlife park, cinema and crazy golf course. There’s lots of organisation involved – and especially if your campers are young, you’ll have to help them pack their bags, bring all the right supplies etc. I’d recommend that you also bring an extra of everything needed – especially the snacks – there’s bound to be something forgotten or lost. 

My favourite part of trip days was the rule that if you left camp, you couldn’t return without having ice cream first – a rule we all very happily followed! 

So there you have a brief run-down of some of the days you’ll likely have at camp next year. The last one I should mention is days off – but they’re for you to discover and enjoy any way you want. They’re days exclusively for you! 

Been inspired to spend your days working at camp, making new friends and making a difference to the lives of your campers? Check out our Summer Camp USA program for more. 

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