Staff Week: When counselors are campers, too

Well, after months of preparation, planning, hiring and waiting, it’s finally time for the first day of camp! This morning, while our campers and their parents are preparing to say goodbye, our 200 energetic and enthusiastic staff members are getting ready to say hello. After more than a week of rigorous pre-camp training, they just can’t wait to get camp started for real.

At Bryn Mawr, we take staff training seriously — and that includes making it not only seriously educational but seriously fun. Our pre-camp orientation, which we call Staff Week, evolved from a simple philosophy: Counselors are best prepared to help campers feel welcomed and comfortable when they themselves feel welcomed and comfortable. Staff Week is modeled on a real week at Bryn Mawr, with a schedule that follows the camp day as closely as possible and provides counselors with an advanced course in camp life.

Staff Week has five basic objectives:

1. Introduce staff to camp.

While we enjoy a great counselor return rate, every summer we welcome many first-time staff members, some of whom grew up at Bryn Mawr or another summer camp, some who have been counselors at other camps but never attended camp themselves, and some who are experienced with children but entirely new to camping. An important part of Staff Week is getting all our staff members familiar with our facility, policies and procedures so they feel confident in the way things work.

2. Make everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

This one is critical, not just so staff members feel welcome but so they know how to make their campers feel welcome! Our Staff Week replicates the camper experience for counselors beginning the moment they step off the bus. Counselors learn firsthand what it’s like to be brand-new at camp, and they’re able to use that experience to help their campers feel at home right off the bat.

3. Help staff understand their role at camp.

Everyone at Bryn Mawr plays an important part in our camp community, and during Staff Week we help counselors (and group leaders, program directors, nurses, male staff, support staff and leadership) get a sense of where they fit in and how their job helps keep camp running smoothly.

4. Prepare for camper arrival.

Of course, preparing for camper arrival means getting camp physically ready — unpacking trunks, decorating the bunks, arranging the dining hall, setting up program areas — but just as important is helping staff members prepare to be good leaders and role models. Much of Staff Week is spent building skills in problem solving, communication, constructive discipline and leadership. Every year, we welcome “camp guru” Bob Ditter, who provides staff members with a virtual toolkit of techniques and ideas to help them manage their campers with strength and sensitivity.

5. Help staff understand the LBMC philosophy.

On the surface, lots of summer camps seem similar. They’ve got swimming and tennis and land sports, maybe horseback riding, drama, arts and crafts… but what makes a camp unique is its philosophy. At Bryn Mawr, we believe in making camp emotionally safe for all campers and staff, and we strive to help our girls grow up to be young women who know how to communicate, solve problems and sustain healthy friendships. During Staff Week, we teach staff what it means to live by the Angel Code of Loyalty, Beauty, Merit and Comradeship, and we help them learn about our camp traditions and what they mean to our campers.

It’s a lot to pack into just over a week, but we also remember to fit in lots of fun. Between the songs, games, get-to-know-you games and special events, counselors wrap up Staff Week with a strong understanding of what it means to be a part of the Bryn Mawr family — and they can’t wait to share their enthusiasm with the campers who are the reason we’re all here!

We’ll see you at the bus!

The First Day of Camp: Three Perspectives

It’s almost here — the big day we’ve all been anticipating! There’s so much build-up to the first day of camp, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel about that morning when campers board the bus for Honesdale. It’s completely normal to find yourself experiencing a range of emotions about the beginning of the summer, especially if it’s your first time.

While each person’s camp experience is different, over the years, we’ve observed that campers, parents, and even counselors often seem to share some common feelings and questions about the first day of the summer. This year, we thought we’d take you inside the heads of a typical first-time camp parent, first-year camper, and first-year counselor to get a glimpse of what your fellow rookies will be thinking. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments!


I can’t believe the day has finally come to send my daughter to camp for the first time! When we first started talking about sleepaway camp, it seemed so far in the future — it didn’t seem real. But now her trunks are shipped, her bus bag is packed, and I’m facing the prospect of saying goodbye to her for seven weeks. I’m excited for her and all the experiences she’ll have this summer, but I’m nervous, too. Did we pick the right camp? What will her bunkmates be like? Will she make friends? Will she like the food? Will her counselors be kind, understanding and enthusiastic? Will she miss me too much? What if she doesn’t miss me at all?

I want my daughter to succeed at camp, and I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to not be able to be there with her and help her find her way. I know camp will help her be more independent, but will I be able to let go and trust the directors and staff to keep her safe and comfortable so she can feel free to find her own way? And should I feel guilty that I’m looking forward to having some time to reconnect with my spouse… and maybe also feeling a little jealous that I don’t get to go to camp?

I’m glad I can contact Jane or Dan anytime to get an update on my daughter. And I feel reassured knowing how much time they put into hiring, training and supporting good counselors and group leaders. As difficult as it is to say goodbye to my little girl, I know there’s always someone available who can reassure me that she’s doing well — and I know her success at camp is as important to them as it is to me.


I’ve been waiting to go to camp for a year. Or maybe even longer — maybe I’ve been champing at the big ever since I watched my older siblings get on the camp bus way back when I was still in diapers! I’ve been so confident about my first summer away. But now that the day is finally here, I’m suddenly nervous. Who will I sit with on the bus? What if my counselors don’t like me? What if I don’t know anyone in my bunk? What if the activities are too hard, or I don’t like some of them? What will the first day be like? I don’t even know where to go when I get off the bus. What if I get homesick or hate the food?

I used to be sure I would love camp, but the first day is overwhelming, even for someone who knows she’s ready for camp — especially when there are so many returning campers around, cheering and hugging one another. I’m counting on the bus counselors to get me settled, help me find a seatmate, and make me feel at ease during the ride. And once I get to camp, I will rely on my counselors and group leader to help me get used to camp. It’s important for me to feel like I can ask questions, learn where things are, and start to feel at home so I can start camp off on the right foot.


Here’s a confession: I think I’m more nervous than the youngest first-year camper. This is my first summer at Bryn Mawr, and I’ve traveled from far away to be here. Even though I’m experienced and I love working with kids, I’m a little scared myself. What if my campers don’t like me? What if they play pranks on me or won’t listen? I feel like I’ve spent so much time getting to know them before they even arrive, but will I be able to match all the names and faces? I feel as anxious as I did on the first day of Staff Week, when I got off the plane and had to find the staff bus at Newark Airport. I didn’t know anyone, and even though I was really excited about coming to camp, suddenly it all seemed so overwhelming. It only took a few days, though, before I knew lots of names and had even started to make friends. Now I know some camp songs and cheers, I understand how the dining hall works, I’ve learned the rules — and I feel like I’ve known my co-counselors for years!

I’m glad Jane reminded us that the first day of Staff Week is a lot like the first day of camp. New campers are going to be experiencing all the same emotions I felt on my first day at camp, and I’ll be able to understand and help put them at ease. And I know I’m not alone. I have a lot of support from my co-counselors, my group leaders, my division head, and the rest of the leadership staff, and I know we all want the same thing: for every camper to have a happy, fulfilling summer.

Returning parents, what advice do you have for first-timers? Share your advice in the comments!