STEM is a popular buzzword—or, more appropriately, acronym–circulating among educational circles, but it might not be a term one might expect to hear within summer camp circles. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, four subject areas to which educators are increasingly striving to give students additional exposure, and summer camps are hopping on the bandwagon. According to the American Camp Association, STEM related activities have been among the most popular additions to summer camp programs over the past five years and for good reason. Summer camp provides campers with an alternative venue to learn in ways that are fun. Classrooms are replaced with the outdoors or facilities designed exclusively for individual programs and class size is vastly reduced allowing campers to be able to take a more intricate, hands on approach to exploring STEM areas through related camp activities. According to the New York Daily News, the average class size in New York, an area in which summer camp is particularly popular, is 25 students. In some schools, class sizes exceed 30 students. STEM related camp programs such as Nature, Rocketry and Radio, are often capped at fewer than a dozen campers per activity period. STEM related programs increasingly prove to be among the most popular with campers. So why are children flocking to educational niche programs? There are likely several reasons.
First, summer camp provides an informal, laid back setting. There is no homework. There is no syllabus. There are no lectures.There are no deadlines. There are no exams. It’s completely a ‘participate to the level of your comfort’ environment. All campers are encouraged to try camp STEM related programs at least once during the summer, but some find a new interest or passion and return several times. The ‘participate as you wish’ approach also allows campers to choose how to focus their interests. Counselors, often college majors or professionals in the area that they lead, are facilitators. They are there to encourage and assist campers in channeling their efforts into particular aspect of a STEM related activity if they so desire.
Second, the whole point of summer camp is for campers to have fun. So it goes without saying that camp activities are designed to emphasize fun, even those related to subject areas in which students are traditionally less than enthusiastic during the school year. In that regard, educational niche programs at sleepaway camp aren’t intended to compete with or replace the learning that takes place during the school year, but to enhance it.
Third, there is a healthy mixture of activity. Unlike a school setting in which students move through subjects throughout the day typically in a lecture setting, at least half of the day at a traditional summer camp is spent outside where campers take part in sports and water activities. Many camps also incorporate a designated time to rest into their programming day in order to give campers and staff the opportunity to recharge. So those program activities that could be perceived as educational are mixed in with healthy doses of physical activity and relaxation. This allows campers proper time and space to both process the activities in which they take part throughout the day and to approach future activities with a fresh mind.
Although traditional summer camp STEM related programs are not intended to replace those offered in schools, they may ultimately be equally attributable to inspiring future scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians by encouraging campers to explore these subjects in ways and to a level that they might not get to do during the school year. Some campers may carry a new found interest in these subject areas home and take on a new enthusiasm at school, making summer camp STEM related programs an invaluable addition to their program lineup.
18439 is the zip code that has become my second home for five summers. Starting at the age of six, I learned many core virtues at Camp Weequahic in Pennsylvania. Summer camp has absolutely changed my life.
Living and sleeping in a cabin with different girls and no parents involves plenty of responsibility. Everyone has to clean their bunk and the bathroom everyday with only a little help from the counselors. Also, each camper has to create his or her own schedule of fun activities planned. In addition, I have to be accountable for brushing my teeth and folding my laundry. Responsibility is important, but cooperation is also a big part of the camp experience.
At sleep away camp, cooperation is used everyday no matter what. All campers must cooperate completely during their activities by including everyone. By cooperating with my fellow bunk members, we can accomplish chores and activities more quickly than doing it all alone. In competitions, different teams have to cooperate in order to win. When the entire camp breaks into different tribes, girls and boys work together creating songs, competing in relays, and answering trivia questions. At times, I can be a strong leader in my bunk or for my tribe.
Finally, I have gained independence every year I have been at this camp. Living 3,000 miles away from home allows me to take care of myself and be independent. I am in charge of serving others and myself food. I try new things like cooking, sewing, tubing, and kickball. I have created friendships with people from all over the world and have stayed in touch with them.
Arriving at camp is the best experience of the whole year. I am away from my parents but at least I still have my bother there with me. I learn many things and make many new friends. All of this creates a remarkable summer experience!
Many camp families ask the question, “Are you a competitive camp?” With over 50 activities from which to choose, we happily respond, ‘If a child wants to compete, they can. If not, it’s not expected of them.” For those who like to compete we have many options both on and off camp. The most lively of these options continued to be the Weequahic Basketball League.
Founded in 2010, the WBL allows campers who love to play and compete the chance to do so often. Divided up among equal teams by age group and skill level, our Ballers get the opportunity to test their teamwork and skill against other teams during a regular activity period. Run by our Athletics Director and Head of Basketball, kids who love the game get enjoy the opportunity for some friendly competition on the courts.
Starting with the NBA style draft during which the coaches pick teams, the WBL begins in style. After a few practices, during which the campers pick their own team names, the games begin. Near the end of the session, the teams participate in the WBL Finals. This single elimination tournament is hotly (and fairly) contested by all teams and culminates in the final game which the entire camp gets to watch.
During the games, campers not playing get to run the scoreboards, practice their on court interviews and play by play announcing, and, for the older kids, get some experience as assistant coaches.
Campers of all skill levels and ages who want to be a part of a basketball team get to be so. And, surrounded by a great staff and supportive friends, they learn and play and enjoy the game!
Attention college and university students: Have you started to think about how you’re going to spend next summer? Sure, it’s winter, it’s cold outside, and the thing you’re most worried about now are your upcoming finals. Perhaps in the back of your mind you’ve toyed with the idea of applying for an internship or two. But have you considered working at a summer camp? Right now, in the late fall and dead of winter, many summer camps are on tour, making stops at schools throughout the country and recruiting events around the world in search of the most caring, dedicated, enthusiastic and fun students who are interested in working with children. If you’re taking courses to become a professional in any field that pertains to the education, coaching or care of children, a summer spent working at camp is more valuable than any internship. Imagine how much you can dress up your resume after a summer living and working with children. Your understanding of diversity and your communication skills will also get a big boost because you’ll be working alongside people from all over the world, all walks of life and from a variety of professions. Best of all, you literally get paid to spend most of your days outdoors having fun while participating in activities with your campers!
If you think working at camp sounds great but you’re not a person currently majoring in an area related to children, don’t be discouraged. Although students are typically placed in camp counselor positions, there are many different types of roles at summer camp, and summer camp recruiters are always excited to meet and chat with candidates of any college major who may fill a special niche position. So even if you aren’t an athlete or education major, if you think you have a special talent or quality that you can bring as a camp staff member, don’t hesitate to pay summer camp recruiters a visit when they’re at your campus. You might just be that special candidate who is difficult to find but for whom a camp has definitely been searching.
There are a few things prospective staff members should be aware of, though, and recruiters like to be up front with candidates. Working at summer camp is fun, and you’re certainly not going to be fetching coffee (except for yourself at meal times) or be lost in Excel spreadsheets cursing the invention of pivot tables. But you will work harder at summer camp than you probably ever have or maybe even ever will again. In fact, we in the summer camp industry have a motto that working at summer camp is the “hardest job you’ll ever love.” The hours are long. You can expect to be on duty from breakfast to bedtime, typically, six days a week. Summer camp is extremely fast paced and the environment is best described as “organized chaos,” so you have to be able to keep up with the pace and make split second decisions. Being able to stay positive and provide encouragement, even when it’s storming outside, you’re stuck in the bunk/cabin, and the soccer team (of which most of your campers are a part) just lost a big game, is critical. You have to be able to put on a smile and choose a positive attitude even on days when you wake up not quite feeling the summer camp vibe. You must also be able to care about and for someone else’s children as if they are your own for several weeks. It’s still important to remember that those campers assigned to you are your campers for the entire duration of camp, and you are expected to do your best to make sure that ALL of your campers have equal opportunity to have an amazing summer. If you’re dependent on your tech gadgets, you’ll likely experience a bit of culture shock. Summer camps encourage campers to enjoy their natural surroundings and forbid most electronic equipment such as cell phones, laptops, iPads, and Kindles. Staff members may keep them in camp lockers or safes for use in their off time, but they may not be kept in bunks or used while on duty.
If you’re still reading after the “hard parts” of the job, you must really be interested in working at camp. So now that we have most of the difficult aspects out of the way, here are some fun and rewarding parts of the job. Your summer will be rent free. You’ll likely live in a bunk or cabin with another counselor or two and 8-12 campers. You’ll eat free, too, as your meals are provided. What that translates to is that you can save most or even all of your salary if you have no other financial obligations. The ability to be completely silly on the job when the situation merits is actually commendable. You’ll also get paid to play sports, swim, sail, make clay pots, build woodworking projects, make arts and crafts, do fun science and nature experiments, play crazy games, be in camp shows, go on trips with your campers, etc. You’ll likely make more friends in one summer than you have in the past several combined…real friends. Not just Twitter or Instagram followers. You’ll get to know some children who will remain in your heart long after camp has ended. You’ll also get to meet some staff members who choose to return to camp summer after summer. You may even decide that one summer working at camp is just not enough for you either. Regardless, a summer as a camp staff member just may be the summer that changes your life. Summer camps often get emails or phone calls from former staff members explaining how their time at camp clarified an education or career path. Sometimes it’s the collective of everything that happens over the summer that has such a profound effect on staff members. Sometimes it’s a single moment.
So if you want that summer that’s different, that will set your experiences apart from those of many of your friends, then be on the lookout over the next few months for a visiting camp recruiter and go into spring break free of worries about how you’re going to spend your summer. If you happen to miss the campus tour, don’t be discouraged. You can also apply to work at summer camp through most camp websites. For a good start, visit the Camp Weequahic website.
Building rockets that blast five hundred feet into the air before parachuting to the ground. Creating robots from scratch that race around obstacles. Turning bananas into a piano using a simple circuit board. Fashioning a ping pong table for your bunk out of some wood, nails, guidance and imagination. These are all camp activities many of our campers enjoy on daily basis at Camp Weequahic.
Do we have sports? Lots of them. Can you push yourself in adventure areas like climbing and camper vs. wild? Absolutely. Do kids jump in the pool and laugh in the lake? Every day.
But what about the camper who loves to create? The one who likes a bit of everything but really gets excited about making something with his or her own hands?
At Camp Weequahic, we are proud to foster creativity through doing. In our unique Makers Hub, children of all ages get to plug into their ‘maker’ spirit through Rocketry, Robotics, Woodshop, Radio, Digital Photography, and more.
Staff members in these areas are hired, first and foremost, because they’ll be great counselors in the campers’ bunks.Secondly, they are hired because they have a high level of interest and demonstrated skill in teaching in their area. In fact, our robotics counselors are engineers who want to teach. The woodshop team is made up of experienced craftsmen. Two of our rocketry counselors last summer were studying in the aerospace field.
These experienced ‘makers’ do their best to introduce their specific area of expertise to our campers in ways that bring the activity to life and ignite their imagination. We love walking through the Hub and listening to the laughter, feeling the energy and watching the campers show off their new creations. We hope you’ll come to enjoy it soon!