by Matt Kaufman
on September 19, 2023
My name is Scott, and I have been working as a counselor for the three- and four-year-old boys in the Bluejays since the summer of 2019 (it is now summer 2023 as of the time of writing this). Obviously, these children are quite young and have high needs, so the thought of working with them may seem intimidating and daunting. However, I have continued to return to Ramaquois and work with the Bluejays every summer since I was sixteen in high school. Now, I am twenty-one years old, entering my senior year of college. The fact that I willingly come back each summer and choose to work with such high-needs young children suggests that there must be something about them that keeps me returning. Today, I will describe the perks of working with the little ones, as well as provide some tips to make your day more manageable if you decide to work with them.
When working with such young children, it’s likely their first time being in this type of large and stimulating environment. They exhibit curiosity about everything, and nothing seems boring to them due to their initial exposure to the camp environment. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel to keep the kids engaged in activities because everything is new to them. It doesn’t take much effort to make a young child excited and happy. (However, putting in more effort can lead to even greater excitement, so maintaining a high level of effort is essential.)
For instance, in my group, we played soccer nearly three times a week this summer. Surprisingly, the kids never grew tired of it and remained consistently engaged. Even when the Junior Camp Hill was covered with ice for Snow Day, we managed to convince them that it had snowed overnight! Even a fire drill could become the most captivating thing ever because, in their eyes, “Yay, I get to see so many people from all sides and ages of the camp!”
This one kind of goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. These little children that you get the gift of working with each day are incredibly endearing and heart-meltingly cute! Each day seeing them will brighten your mood and warm your heart!
Besides simply being adorable, the young ones are also adorable in how sweet they can be towards you and each other. They are not embarrassed to give you or their friend a hug or to just say the nicest things. They love attention and are super sweet and heartwarming in return for the attention. I always have kids hug me, and sometimes adorably make me pictures or find me other random things.
When you are so much older than them, they truly look up to you as an adult, even if you are just a high school or college student. Many times, they even idolize you and treat your word like the word of gold. With that being said, you have the opportunity to teach them how to be a good human-being while being their role model, impacting their interactions with others for the rest of their life. Also, while there is a bit of pressure, it feels good and fulfilling to have someone look up to you. You get to feel like the most important role model for these children for 7.5 hours per day for 8 weeks!
Congratulations, you are the first experience these children have at Camp Ramaquois. You have only one opportunity to make a first impression, so make it count in a way that encourages them to return year after year. They might always look back on their experience with you throughout their camp journey, especially considering that you mark the beginning of many lifetime milestones. They might go on a zipline, score a soccer goal, pick up a tennis racket, or learn to swim for the first time ever in their lives, and witnessing these moments is incredibly rewarding. During this summer, one of my campers experienced their first zipline adventure, and they consistently referred to it as “the best thing ever” throughout the season. The remarkable part is that you had the privilege to witness this transformative moment in their life! Additionally, you might have the chance to witness them forming their very first friendships.
Children at this age are not tainted by an attitude yet. They don’t talk back to you nor have a fresh mouth towards you (instead they sometimes whine, but that is much more manageable). There is also an added bonus of them not understanding sarcasm: When they say “I’m done” and you make the dad joke, “Hi Done, nice to meet you,” they think it is the funniest thing ever. In fact, I did this at Craft =R= when they finished their art projects, and the entire group was laughing for the rest of the period!
This perk is perhaps the best part of working with the little ones! You get to feel young again and see and do activities from your childhood again! You get to run on the playground and play with the kids. You get to go sledding down a hill on Snow Day! You get to make big bubbles! You get to watch a fun magic show! Hear stories! Make art with the kids! Go on a boat! Play in the sand! Use your imagination! You truly get to be a FUN PROFESSIONAL, and this makes you a better counselor when you engage with the kids! Every year, I look forward to having fun at camp! After all, where else can you sled down an icy hill over the summer?
When you work with four year old boys at camp, it is NEVER boring. You can always expect the unexpected, whether a positive or negative surprise. These kids are young, so things happen, whether they do something adorable or are crying in need of comfort over a paper cut. The bright side of this is that you will never be bored working with this age!
If you’re a college student looking for experience to talk about for a job interview, caring for someone else’s young children is a huge responsibility. Parents trust you to take care of their babies. Perhaps, there is no greater demonstration of responsibility for a job interview!
As you can tell by now, there are many strong reasons why I keep coming back each summer to work with the three and four year old boys in the Bluejays! At the same time, it is not an easy job. Below, I’ll give you some tips to make a day in the life of a junior camp counselor way easier and more enjoyable:
It is critical that you take the little ones to the bathroom before lunch. Lunch is approximately the halfway point in the day for junior camp, and if the child did not already use the bathroom, they’re going to have to go very soon. Save yourself the sanity of getting up from the lunch table every 5 minutes during lunch when someone asks to go to the bathroom. Also, decrease the risk of an accident in their underwear or bathing suite. I always make my entire group use the bathroom before lunch, even if they claim “I don’t have to go.” Yes, they usually do have to use the bathroom, even if they do not admit it! This summer, we had to take a child to the bathroom during lunch maximum once per week because of this routine. As a result, us, counselors, had much more time to eat our own lunch and not be hungry (and have more sanity).
As a counselor for young kids, it is quite easy to excite the kids and make even the mundane appear fun. It is great that it is easy to do so, since it will make both your day and the campers’ day better. In the last tip, I mentioned the importance of bathrooming the kids before lunch. I try to make the kids actually excited for this mundane task by calling it our daily “Potty Party.” The potty becomes a party since I play music they enjoy while they wait in line for the bathroom. Better yet, when they are finished using the bathroom, many dance too! Furthermore, another example I employed this summer was the job of being a “towel helper.” After the kids go swimming, they tend to leave their wet and slightly muddy towels on the grass, which you are then responsible for picking up and putting in the hamper. Instead, I choose kids each day to be towel helpers to do this task. Not only does this make my life slightly easier, but it also excites the kids!
Positive reinforcement is always very important when working with young children. In fact, I find that it tends to work better than negative reinforcement. For example, instead of yelling at all the kids to sit, I compliment one of the kids who is sitting out loud for everyone else to hear. For example, I say, “I like how Jasper is sitting so nicely.” The other campers hear me say the compliment, and now they desire positive praise from their counselor as well. As a result, they all gradually start to sit nicely. Another type of positive reinforcement I do each summer is “Bluejay of the Day.” This was essentially a camper of the day who listened the best, was a good friend, helpful, kind, respectful, and participated. Each day, I would have the ritual of asking the group what makes someone “Bluejay of the Day” and letting them answer before I filled in the rest of the gaps. Then, I would announce the camper’s name, and they would pick a prize in front of the rest of the group. This small action of giving a prize to a camper each day would motivate most of the campers to try really hard to be the best version of themselves the next day to earn the prize. In short, positive reinforcement is really important. By the way, I think it is amazing that you are reading this blog! 🙂
First, it is very important to keep the kids hydrated. It is very hot outside, and the kids are constantly moving. They must drink water! Don’t forget that you must also drink water. Here are some tips about giving the very young kids water if it is not at a water cooler during/after an activity.
Transitioning from place to place with 3 and 4 year old boys is no easy feat. It takes a long time and there are always stragglers. There is also a risk of a wanderer too! To avoid all of this, when my group transitions from activity to activity, we require them to hold a counselor’s hand. For example, in our group of 12 campers with 3 counselors, each counselor had two campers holding each hand: 4 campers per counselor. This method is safer and faster. Also, it helps you establish bonds among and with campers.
As a counselor, it is vital that you are always engaged. Talk with your campers and try to learn something unique about each of them. A strong relationship with every camper goes a long way in more successfully managing the group and just having a better time overall. Additionally, engage in all the activities that the group does. It makes your day more enjoyable, the kids love it, and it makes the specialist’s job much easier when the counselor is not sitting around and doing nothing. After all, the kids look up to you as a role model. If you model participation, they will want to participate.
In conclusion, my journey as a counselor for the three- and four-year-old boys in the Bluejays at Camp Ramaquois has been an incredible experience. The joy, growth, and unique moments I’ve shared with these young kids have kept me coming back summer after summer. From their boundless curiosity to their heartwarming milestones, each day is a reminder of the meaningful impact we can have on their lives. Engaging with them, fostering positivity, and reliving the joys of childhood activities have made this journey immensely rewarding. So, whether you’re considering this path or already on it, remember that the little moments hold the most significant memories. Your interest in exploring these insights is truly appreciated – thank you!
Matt has spent his summers at Camp Ramaquois since 1984 — as a camper, counselor, and in various administrative positions, including his current role of Associate Director. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering from Cornell University. At camp, Matt works in program development, staff training and camper engagement. He has served as the program chair of the Tri-State Camp Conference and authored a book about summer camp staff training entitled The Summer Camp MBA. Outside of camp, he enjoys hiking, reading, website development, and spending time with his wife, nieces, nephew and dog.