It’s a real treat watching campers grow into amazing adults.  Piper MacDonald recently wrote about her experience as a Counselor Apprentice for her Common College Application Personal Statement.  We are very pleased she is allowing us to publish it here. 

Five-year-olds love sparkly nail polish.

Before last summer, this detail would have been of no real importance to me, but at the Barn Day Camp in Vermont, it was a well-known fact among counselors. It was also one of many things I had to consider as a counselor when coming up with afternoon activities for my campers, ages three to ten. The best activities were engaging, challenging, enlightening, and above all, fun. To lead the perfect activity, I needed only to get inside the brains of a few dozen kids. Harder than I expected! I had to pay close attention to what got them excited. Aside from the Ziploc bag of nail polish that I kept in my backpack, my campers were interested in anything that involved music or singing. The sillier the song, the better. Campers needed enough help so that they didn’t feel lost, but not so much that they felt they weren’t learning to do something for themselves, even if the results weren’t perfect. And of course, I had to introduce my activity with a hilarious skit that would entice the campers to come.

Every day when I walked into the Rainbow Circle of benches, the hundred campers around me didn’t know what to expect. On the second day of camp, I advertised my activity of making birch bark boats by playing a song to the tune of “If I Had a Boat” on guitar while another counselor ran in circles around me making boat noises. On the fifth day, I presented the activity of building a sandcastle city by dramatically zombie-walking into the circle and laying down and telling the giggling audience that I missed the skyscrapers of Chicago and wished we could have them there at camp. After I earned my lifeguard certification from the Red Cross, my friend and I performed a skit that involved us “diving” straight at the ground and asking each other, “Do you think that this might be more fun in the water?” to the wild laughter of the campers. Sometime during the sixth week of camp, I had to teach music lessons, and so I walked into the circle playing “Bittersweet Symphony” on guitar while looking up at the sky and gave a small monologue about how I wished I had a band to play with. Then, I looked around at my young, captivated audience and said, “But I bet that I can find some people to play music with… right here in the Rainbow Circle!” I was learning that my enthusiasm was essential to influencing my campers to participate.

The activities weren’t always a success, like when only one camper came to my guitar lesson. My enthusiasm might draw people in, but they would only stay if the activity was interesting and fun for them. I needed to become a more perceptive listener and make sure that I wasn’t inadvertently forcing my interest on others. Taking these skills home has helped me in group work in Calculus and Economics at school. My enthusiasm gets the group focused, and I facilitate the discussion of people’s interests, listening and suggesting roles that match. When people get roles, they’re excited about they contribute more fully, projects flow smoothly, and we’re more satisfied with the final result.

Enthusiasm and listening are essential to good leadership. Back at camp, when I energetically encouraged my campers not to fear challenge or imperfection, they approached tasks with matched eagerness. I also needed to be empathetic of the individuals I work with and listen to their concerns. Silliness and swagger on my part made leading a group all the more enjoyable, while careful listening makes individuals feel included and engaged. And seeing that the results of my influence were kids and parents telling me that they couldn’t wait for camp next year really put the sparkly nail polish on top of an amazing summer.

Piper has decided to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and return to the Barn Day Camp this summer as a counselor – congratulations Piper!!

Would you or someone you know like to pout some sparkly nail polish on your summer?

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