It seems like all of the best childhood memories come from summer camp. Those of us who were lucky enough to attend some of the best summer camps in the US look fondly back on a few sweltering weeks in July that changed our lives forever.
Those of us who didn’t get to attend a summer program live out their summer fantasies through favorite summer camp movies like It Takes Two, The Parent Trap, or Wet Hot American Summer.
What makes summer camp so great?
At AmeriCamp, we connect participants from around the world with the unique cultural experience of an American summer camp. Our camp counselors have had lifechanging experience. Let’s dive into what makes summer camp so transformative for campers and camp counselors, and how you can still live out your best American summer camp dreams as a counselor.
A Quick History of Summer Camps in The US
The first summer camp for children in the United States was founded in Gunnery, Connecticut in the late 1870s. Here, the well-known abolitionist Frederick Gunn, established a summer camp so that boys could connect with nature, escape the city, and spend the summer outdoors.
Many summer camps popped up in the Northeastern United States between 1870 and 1890. These summer camps were designed to help young boys build character and receive structured education in the otherwise aimless summer months while school was not in session. By the end of the 19th century, there were about 100 established summer camps. By 1980, the number of American summer camps exploded to over 10,000!
While early summer schools catered to boys, girls were included in the early 20th century. Summer camps for girls focused on homelife skills, like homelife, sewing skills, and preparation for motherhood.
Even during the Depression Era, summer camps for all children were protected but the New Deal, which helped to finance summer camps to help them remain open during tough economic times.
In the first half of the 20th century, the United States saw the depression and two major world wars. Summer camps were seen as an integral way to keep children innocent, nurture their childhood years, and to help them learn and grow usable life skills. As the US progressed through the 1960s and 1970s, summer camps became less segregated in terms of sex, ethnic, and racial divides.
With the integration of all types of children, summer camps became a great place for everyone to expand their worldview. Suddenly, campers who previously only knew children within their own town limits were meeting campers from across the country and learning from counselors who just arrived from across the world!
Today, summer camps are as popular as ever. Here are some statistics from Regpack about summer camps in the US:
- There are over 12,000 operating summer camps, including 7,000 overnight camps
- More than 6 million children participate in summer camp every year
- There are over 1.5 million employment opportunities from summer camps every year
Summer camps are a great employment opportunity, especially for someone who longs for that quintessential American summer camp experience that we’ve seen depicted in movies, television, and film.
A Typical Day at The Best Summer Camps in the US
If you’ve ever been to camp or have watched a camp movie or television show, you’re familiar with a morning horn sounding, and groggy campers waking up to seize the day. After that, the days are full of outdoor activities, swimming, crafting, playing music, and virtually anything you can think of!
Let’s explore what a typical day at a summer camp looks like at some of the best summer camps in the US from a counselor’s point of view.
6:30am – Time to Wake Up!
Before the campers wake up, counselors must be ready to face the day. Enjoy the peaceful summer morning before the yelling, running, and learning commence. Counselors can use the next hour to take a shower, brush their teeth, and get ready in the clothes that will take them through the whole day. Since the peak summer days in the Northeast can last through 9pm, these are some of the most sacred quiet moments until after dark.
7:15am – Time to Wake the Campers
Whether you sound a trumpet or wake your campers by entering their bunks, it’s time to wake and motivate the campers to get ready for their long day of fun and adventure.
8:00am – Breakfast!
The summer days are long, so breakfast is extra important. Counselors should eat a high-protein breakfast to keep their energy going—anc encourage the campers to do the same!
Some great morning fuel includes:
- High-protein meats or meat substitutes
- Eggs or egg substitutes
- Bread or whole grains
Pro Tip: Pack some high-protein snacks throughout the day. Always have a big bottle of water with you, too!
9:00am-12:00pm – Morning Activities
The Camp day starts now! Morning activities can include more active work, before the heat sets in. This can include morning camp activities like:
- Soccer, basketball, running, or other strenuous sports
- Rope courses, rock climbing, or hiking
- Arts and crafts, painting, or writing
12:15-1:30pm – Lunch
Time to refuel. This is a great opportunity to connect with your campers about their day so far. Get your campers excited about what’s ahead for the remainder of the day and the evening, too.
Pro Tip: Pack another snack
1:30-2:45pm – Free Time or Cabin Time
After lunch is a great time for everyone to digest their lunch, decompress from the morning activities, and unwind—all before launching into afternoon and evening activities.
Some ways for you and your campers to fill this free time include:
- Writing letters to loved ones at home
- Playing card games
- Asking and answering icebreaker questions
- Telling stories and learning more about each other
3:00-6:00pm – Afternoon Activities
Time to hit the outdoors again! Since the late afternoon heat can be harsh, the afternoon is a great time to dive into the crystal clear lake or pool! As a counselor, you’re unlikely to find too many campers who aren’t looking forward to swimming all day long.
Some swimming activities can include:
- Swimming laps or swim races
- Diving and snorkeling
- Pool games like Marco Polo, Noodle Jousting, or Octopus tag
6:00-7:15pm – Dinner
It’s time for dinner—and it’s likely that everyone is very hungry after their active days outdoors! Dinner is the biggest meal of the day, and everyone can use this time to satisfy their appetites and eat a delicious dessert (like an ice cream sandwich or DIY sundaes) afterwards.
7:30-8:30pm – Evening Activity
Ever wanted to show off your dancing skills at a party to everybody? After dinner activities are a great time to get silly, show off unusual talents, and have fun. Some evening camp activities at the best summer camps in the US can include things like:
- Talent shows (or hidden talent shows!)
- Outdoor hide-and-seek
- Treasure hunts or scavenger hunts
- Magic shows
- Stand-up comedy (where campers can showcase their best jokes)
This is a great time to laugh, unwind, and use everyone’s last bits of silly energy before winding down for the evening.
8:45-9:30pm – Camper Bed Time
Time to get the campers to sleep after a full day of activities. Some campers will still be buzzing from their day full of activities, so winding down is a crucial aspect of the day, which can safeguard counselors from finding the more mischievous campers out of their bunks in the middle of the night.
Some great before-bed activities can include:
- Showering and cleaning up before bed (although some campers will prefer to shower in the morning)
- Readying clothing and gear needed for the next day
- Sharing the best and most challenging parts of the day, as well as their goals for the following day
- Before-bed journaling or reading
9:30-10:15pm – Relax
As a counselor, it’s finally your time to relax and unwind before your last scheduled event, the staff meeting.
10:15pm – Staff Meeting
This is where you catch up with other counselors and your supervisors to catch up on the day, and plan for the next day. This is a great time to share any challenges or input for improving the campers’ experience in the coming days and weeks.
10:45pm – Your Time
This is the time for you. If you’re a night owl, you might be ready to socialize, laugh, and bond with the other late-night counselors. Other counselors might be ready to hit the hay immediately after the staff meeting. Whatever the case, you can use the next approximately 7.5 hours to do what you please—before you start another great day at camp.
The Best Types of Summer Camps in the US
For counselors looking for a summer camp employment experience, it’s best to align your skills and interests with the camp where you’ll seek employment.
Examples of Aligning Skills with Summer Camp Employment:
- Sports summer camps for counselors who are athletic and team-oriented
- Arts summer camps for counselors who are creative and hands-on
- Outdoor adventure summer camps for counselors with high energy levels who love adventure
- Waterfront summer camps for counselors with boating, swimming, and kayaking skills
- Film summer camps for counselors who are passionate about photography and self-expression
- Extreme sports summer camps for counselors who are highly-skilled and careful
- Horse riding summer camps for counselors who love animals and have equestrian experience.
- Special needs summer camps for counselors who are naturally empathetic caregivers
Counselors looking to pursue a career in occupational therapy might find their skills more aligned with a special needs care camp, where they can help differently-abled children have their own special summer camp experience at some of the best summer camps in the US that are designed with their specific needs in mind!
Here are some of the most common summer camps to consider as a counselor.
Private summer camps are independently-owned camps that devote a lot of time to sports, water activities, arts, and outdoor activities.
Private camps are usually outdoorsy environments with cabins and meeting houses scattered by a lake, a forest, or a mountainside. Campers and counselors spend time, whether on a daily basis or for weeks at time, engaging in a number of outdoor activities designed to educate campers and create meaningful lifelong bonds.
Some Private Summer Camp Activities Include
- Performing arts
- Arts + crafts
- Language learning
- Wellness + health
Like private camps, non-profit camps offer many of the same activities and daily routines.
The difference is that non-profit camps are tax-exempt from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) because they are mission-oriented and serve to further a social cause or provide a public benefit.
Due to the tax-exempt status, non-profit camps typically cost far less than their private counterparts. However, that doesn’t mean that campers and counselors don’t derive just as much experience and education from non-profit summer camps. In fact, since non-profit summer camps are mission-based, they can be some of the most meaningful opportunities for counselors to make a real difference over a few summer weeks.
Special Needs Care
Special needs camps are summer camps designed to allow campers to feel respected, accepted, and empowered by who they are.
For many campers, a week or two at a special needs summer camp is the one time of the year where they are away from their parents and/or caregivers. This is a huge deal—and, as a counselor, it’s so important to make this an extremely memorable experience for these campers.
While counselors typically do not need previous experience working with special needs individuals, they will need to possess the skills needed to work with their campers.
Special Needs Camp Counselor Skills Needed
Another key difference of special needs summer camps is that they typically are open to children and adults, so counselors can work with people of all ages.
Many of the most popular camps in the US offer a variety of specialized activities for campers interested in specific activities. Some of the best summer camps in the US specialize in the performing arts, music, magic, computer programming, language learning, mathematics, and sports.
Depending on the type of themed camp, campers are taught the core skills and competencies that accompany the overall theme. For examples
- Sports Camps teach skills like endurance and teamwork.
- Performing Arts Camps teach skills like creativity and empathy.
- Wellness Camps teach skills like confidence and self-love.
- STEAM summer camps teach skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.
When considering the type of camp that would suit you as a counselor, you may naturally gravitate to a themed camp, where you can focus on teaching your skills in relation to sports, arts, or even computer programming.
Religious camps are also increasingly popular in the US. Religious camps are a chance for campers to connect with their beliefs, their faith, and the customs and history of their religion.
Religious summer camps also allow campers to discover, connect, and reconcile with what it means to be a part of their religion and its philosophies—all alongside other campers who are on similar journeys.
Religious camps are great places for campers to make lifelong friends, and to truly recognize how their faith fits into their life as they grow.
If you’re a faith-based counselor looking for employment in the US, a religious camp might be the perfect opportunity for you to share how your faith has affected your life. This is a great way to show campers a perspective from an elder who has navigated their religion in a different country.
Not all camps are sleepaway camps! Some campers are disinterested in traveling far away or leaving home to attend camp. For these campers, day camps are a great way to have the summer camp experience without leaving the comfort of their own bedroom at nighttime.
For counselors, the experience of a daycamp can be very similar to overnight camp, just without the nighttime and early morning activities. As a bonus, counselors don’t need to keep one eye open all evening to ensure that campers are safely within their bunks.
While the original summer camps were deeply segregated, modern summer camps are melting pots. Summer camps are purposefully constructed to allow campers to meet other kids from across the country and even from across the world. This is part of the reason that international camp counselors are so sought after, too.
Coed camps are camps where boys and girls are intermixed. While cabins are typically divided by sex, coed camps allow boys and girls to enagge in all camp activities together. This is a great learning experience for everyone to explore their abilities and share their own experiences and challenges as they enjoy summer together.
Looking For Your Own Special Summer Camp Experience in the US?
Every year, camps recruit for an assortment of positions in a bid to deliver a Summer of a Lifetime to their campers!
Some of the benefits of becoming an AmeriCamp camp counselor include:
- Placement at one of our amazing Camps in the USA
- Minimum salary of of $2000
- Comprehensive medical insurance for the full duration of your camp contract
- All meals and accommodation for the duration of your camp placement
- Guidance and sponsorship for your J-1 Visa and cultural exchange permits
- Up to 30 days of travel included on your visa after you have completed your camp placement
- A pre-departure orientation to ensure you’re fully prepared for camp before flying out
- 24-hour emergency helpline in the USA if you ever have any problems
- Full support throughout the application process
- An unforgettable American summer camp experience that is far better than any movie or television show