Written By: Sammy Schofield
“My left leg’s called Claire!”
It was a hot, sticky lunchtime when a camper declared this statement. Everybody was silent around the table. The staff were overheated and morale was low. It was a tough job trying to keep all the campers happy when you felt grumpy as the sun beat down. So when a camper announced this random fact whilst we tucked into hamburgers, we both couldn’t help but burst into fits of laughter, and the whole table soon after!
This particular camper loved to make others laugh. It was her particular talent, but most of the time, she struggles to make friends, let alone tell a joke others would find funny. At this particular camp, however, she finds it easy to connect with others and expresses herself freely for all to see!
This can be the case for many children at inclusive, barrier-free camps designed to embrace individual needs and enable all campers to access the camp experience. I worked specifically at a camp for children with various learning disabilities, AD/HD and high functioning autism, so I can’t speak for every type of specialized summer camp, but I imagine there are some parallels. Some of these children who went to my camp had terrible times in school with bullying and isolation, and some even had troubles in their home lives. Trying to socialize for some of these kids was really difficult, and even teachers could find it hard to connect with them. For the majority of the year, these children couldn’t wait for their first day of camp.
Here are just a few reasons why I would recommend working at a summer camp for children with exceptionalities:
- It’s like any traditional camp. The campers just want to have a good time! There are plenty of fun activities to partake in, songs around the campfire, and dressing up in weird and wonderful costumes! At my camp, there was a giant swing, which the campers absolutely loved (I’ve had 5 turns)! The staff are incredible too, and I’ve made some long lasting friendships!
- You get sufficient training. Often referred to as “pre-camp”, staff spend a great deal of time preparing for the children to arrive by partaking in fun and insightful training activities. You can have talks from professionals who explain and demonstrate helpful information on providing the best care for your campers. It’s a great opportunity to bond with other staff and create some positive relationships, which is so essential for support when the campers arrive.
- It’s a tough job, but it’ll make you tougher! I’m not going to lie; there are moments when camp life can get particularly tricky. This should not be viewed as a negative, however. You will learn to cope with emotional situations you’d never encountered, and your leadership confidence will grow as you realize you can help to control and evade difficult situations. When the summer is over, you feel so much stronger (and weirdly wish you could go through all that again!)
- You start to think critically, and it ultimately enables you to be a better camp staff. If you’re an Activity Instructor, you develop this ability to teach in unique ways, so that campers understand instructions best. As a General Counselor, you begin to find out so much about your campers, having both fun and meaningful interactions, and be their best friend! Your teamwork skills become more apparent as you help each other out! At times, you ultimately become the camper.
- The imagination runs even wilder. These kids have fewer boundaries, and will surprise and astound you! Even when I wasn’t instructing Drama, the campers really came out of their shells participating in camp! In Arts & Crafts, a camper invented 10 new kinds of poke balls. On the rock wall, campers would describe colours of the unicorn in the distant fields as they reached the top. Even in Drama, a camper was able to direct and imagine a full-scale production based on his adoration for famous ships, in 10 days! One camper liked to dress as the Grim Reaper every day, and another loved the camp dog so much, he built him a dog house!
- You can start that random quotes book you’ve always wanted to start. Come on, I know you’ve thought about it! I never did this at camp, but if I did, it would be full to the brim of quirky 1 liners! So many memories will be created… by the time camp is over, you’ll have thought up a name for your left leg too!
And our favourite…