Ten Parenting Skills I Learned as a Camp Counselor

The summer before fifth grade, I went to summer camp for the first time. I fell in love with it so hard that I devoted six summers in college and grad school to being a camp counselor. Our camp was a good old fashioned outdoor camp, with activities like archery, canoeing, horseback riding, and arts and crafts. My job involved being solely responsible for a cabin of 8-12 children around the clock for eight weeks each summer. Although I didn’t realize it when I was younger, looking back my job as a camp counselor taught me so many skills I can use as a parent.

Get Creative

The camp setting is full of creativity, whether it is building a fire, making a craft, or coming up with a spur of the moment game. I know the catalog of songs and games that we had to pull out to engage our kids will be a resource I will rely on for years to come with mine. Keeping a child entertained with riddles, singing “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” or rounding up a group of children for a game will almost always be a hit.

Make Things Fun

10 Parenting Skills I Learned as a Camp Counselor | Houston Moms Blog

This was our most important “rule” at camp, and I think it can apply to parenting as well. Getting up and ready in the morning is way more fun rocking out to Hannah Montana {or whatever the kids listen to these days}, as is shower time. Racing to the next activity burns energy and gets the kids to comply when they don’t even know it. If I can make it fun and get a kid on board, I am all for it.

Pick Your Battles

This is a parenting cliche for sure, but it is so true. If a kid was running at the pool, that’s a non-negotiable rule that can jeopardize their safety. But if they are at arts and crafts and would rather paint than make a friendship bracelet….we have the paints, go crazy! Of course, this is different for everyone, but learning to be flexible when I can is a lesson I will carry with me forever as a parent.

Teach Life Skills

My favorite thing about camp was watching children grow in their independence and life skills. Summer camp is unique in that children are away from their parents and get to practice being more independent in a safe environment. Watching a child learn to ride a horse, to knit, paddle a canoe, learn to swim, or sometimes just learn to set a table is so satisfying.

Share Responsibilities

Each cabin at our camp rotated who would set the table at meals, and clear the dishes, we had cabin “kapers” to keep our living space clean, and also camp-wide kapers to help keep camp clean as well. Many of the children that came to camp for the first time may not have known how to set a table, or sweep a floor. It was always nice to hear surprised parents talk about how their child insisted on setting the table when they got home from camp! A kaper chart is something we already utilize in our home, and I know as a parent I will want to teach my kids that we all have responsibilities to take care of things in our family.

Be Messy

My favorite week of camp was called “Pig Out Week”. We would do a big event where we made a giant mud pit, baby pools full of jello, whipped cream pies, and other accouterments, and basically just let the kids loose. They would get covered in muck, and have a blast! Then we would hose them down, or go jump in the lake to wash off. Now, I probably won’t be making a mud pit in my backyard every week, but I have learned it can be so fun to embrace the mess, and you will definitely see me having shaving cream fights or playing paint tag with my kids.

Practice Problem Solving

The camp environment provides opportunities for independence and problem solving for kids in so many ways. You have a conflict with another child in your cabin-how do you work it out? You are playing a game that requires you to work as a team to solve a puzzle. You have to navigate your way from the lake to the barn. Problem solving and critical thinking are such important skills for children to learn, and as a parent I will encourage my children to seize the opportunities to practice these skills.

Outside is Great

Our summer camp was 100% non air conditioned. In June and July. In TEXAS. You would think it would be terrible, but each time new campers came, they got used to the heat quickly, and focused on more important things, like having fun. As a parent I want my children to experience the outdoors as much as possible, and not have the heat hold them back!

Put Away the Screens

Electronics were not allowed at camp, which was difficult in the age of cell phones {and probably even harder now}. However there was a magical thing that happened when children were pulled away from their phones, tablets, ipods, etc. They played. They made things. They read books. They TALKED TO EACH OTHER. I know, so novel. In this day and age, where screens are everywhere, I feel this is even more valuable. I want to teach my kids to put down the screens and connect. 

Encourage New Relationships

10 Parenting Skills I Learned as a Camp Counselor | Houston Moms Blog

I have a few campers who I have kept in touch with over the years. One in particular I grew very close with. I attended her school performances, and have gone to her high school and college graduation. Recently she told me what it meant to her to have me in her life and supporting her. As an 18-22 year old I had no idea the impact I was having at the time. Encouraging your child to have relationships with young adults gives them more support and people to love them and cheer them on. I can’t wait to see the relationships my children will develop with cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, and hopefully their future camp counselors. 

In my time as a camp counselor I have seen camp be a place where children can be their true selves. They get a break from the outside world, the pressures of school and sometimes home environment, and just get to be kids. There is a magic there that is unique and unlike any other childhood experience I have had or seen. I am excited to bring some of that magic home, and can’t wait until my children get to go to camp. 


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