The Day Camp Chronicles Part 2: A Day in the Life of a Camp Counselor

Meet one of the people guiding, caring for and playing with your children this summer.

Heather Vanderwarker’s step-grandmother helped start a national YMCA child care program. Her mom attended YMCA Day Camp.  Fast forward 40 years and now Heather works for the Trotter Family YMCA as a day camp counselor.  Heather describes a day in the life of a day camp counselor in her own words…

Heather poses with day campers

Heather Vanderwarker poses with some of her Trotter Family YMCA day campers

7:00 AM: About the time I arrive, I am already in my first room for the day getting the early arriving kids engaged in an activity. This part of the day is relatively peaceful because even the teens are sleepy; still one never wants boredom to set in because that leads to chaotic kids. I get an arts and crafts table going with foil sculptures and a variety of coloring sheets along with a table of Connect Four and Mancala.  I see smiles emerging and everyone seems happy.

8:00 AM: The majority of the campers have now arrived and are split up into their rooms. I’m pre and post staff, which basically means I go where I’m needed. This summer in the morning I make sure the swim lesson kiddos get to the lap pool dressed, sun-screened and ready to learn. I spend most of this hour helping little ones put on swim jackets and get ready to go swimming. 

9:00 AM: Being a pre and post staff means by 9am I need to be clocking out. At this time I have just returned all the swimmers to their rooms and am attempting to find the owner of a lost sock that was left by the pool. And off to a summer session of college I go.

10:00 AM: I arrive to Spanish class and we begin going over the lecture for the day.

11:00 AM: Still in Spanish class…

12:00 PM: Spanish class concludes and I rush back to the Y.

1:00 PM: I’m finally back to the Y and cannot wait to clock back in and discover where I am needed today.

2:00 PM: Front desk duty until the other half of camp returns from their field trip. The phone rings about a million times. The phone line is full of inquisitive parents wanting to sign up new campers, asking about swim lessons, inquiring about field trips and one wrong number.

3:00 PM: The downstairs campers return from their trip and the hallways are temporarily flooded with giggling campers who are just bursting to tell you what they saw on their trip. With the little ones, I encourage them to draw a picture of what they saw or help them to paste together a sentence or paragraph, so they can tell their parents when they go home.

4:00 PM: Get my ten kiddos together and march on down to the closing ceremony. We sing the explanations as to why “you can’t ride in my little red wagon” and get everyone to “show us how [they] disco.” Even after a long day, we are all on our feet singing.

5:00 PM: Carpool hour… how to describe carpool hour? The counselors in the room start an organized game and the walkie-talkie sounds off constantly calling kids home. Almost every day I hear comments, or with the younger kids see them try to bargain with their parents to stay just another five minutes. This is the only time of the day I do not mind seeing a child cry because I know they are tears of “Mom, I had a really awesome day please don’t make me leave so soon.” When I hear this, I know I did my job for the day and made part of their summer unforgettable.

6:00 PM: For half an hour children continue being called to go home at the rate of a mile a minute. We get down to three kids. Before you know it, they are gone and I leave for the day.

A photo of Heather Vanderwarker

Heather, posing at the Trotter Family YMCA

Most people go into education and child care to give back and inspire the next generation. Yet, not enough is said about the amount you get back. I actually think they teach me more than I teach them. It’s seeing the children’s faces light up in the morning when they understand a new game for the first time, when they realize they know a camp song you do not and they get to teach you a thing or two, or that they simply have a safe, happy, positive environment to meet new friends. The possibilities are infinite at my Y.

-Heather Vanderwarker

Next week, see YMCA Day Camp through a camper’s eyes!

Learn more about YMCA Day Camp here.  Think you’d like to work for the YMCA? Search open positions.

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