Teaching is Learning.

Following the reunion we we’re quickly back into camp mode for one week of Family Camp then another week after that called Week In the Woods. Family camp was where family’s stayed in the cabins, and could engage in any of the activities available on camp. Week In The Woods was very similar but there were also couples staying in the cabins.

The schedule during these two weeks was more relaxed than when the girls were here. During the day I had one on one swimming lessons with the children that signed up for swimming. It was very different to teaching the previous campers as these kids at family camp actually couldn’t swim so I was teaching kids how to swim instead of working with children that could already swim like during the main camp. The parents were also at the beach watching and were paying the camp good money for 30 minute lessons so there was a bit more added pressure than there was during the previous camp sessions. I also had less experience in teaching younger kids as I had worked with the older children during the summer so for these two camps I’d probably say I felt less prepared as two of the children I were to be teaching were 3 and a couple of other were 5 and 6. To add to this one of the 3 year old girls was a relative of the camp director. No pressure Michael.

When I found out I would be teaching this age group I jiggled my brain about to try and remember games and teaching techniques I’d seen other swim teachers use back home while I was working as a lifeguard. I also Googled games and songs to use and after about an hour or so I felt relatively prepared as I had a list of games that aim to build children’s confidence in the water which is the first step to learning how to swim!

The first lessons went well as I had lot of games and the kids wanted to play the games that I suggested. Sometimes they really had trouble focusing but they’re very young so it was expected. As they were so young they also became cold very quickly if the water wasn’t at its warmest so some lessons had to be cut short. However over the days you could see the children’s confidence increase in the water and they were not as upset as they used to be when water went on their faces. As the week progressed I kind of found myself running out of ideas for the lessons but I think I just about had enough different games and songs in to last the amount of lesson I had without repeating too much.

All in all teaching swimming at family camp was a new experience for me. I had never really had experience with one on one lessons with such young children before so I was slightly apprehensive. However I helped myself out by drawing from my pat experience watching lessons as well as doing some research so I was prepared for the lessons. This showed in some comments I received from parent saying they wished they sent their child to more swim lessons and they appreciated the work I did. Safe to say I learnt a lot.

The Reunion.

After the counsellor party there was a day off in which to recover and chill out by the beach. The day was pretty strange; after 7 weeks of having hundreds of girls with all their energy and excitement at camp there was now just us staff members left and the camp felt pretty dead. However this ‘dead’ period was not to last long. The next day preparations started for the 100th season reunion that would take place over the coming weekend.

Past camper and counsellors from all over the world including Australia and the UK were to attend. In total around 450 people would be at camp for the reunion with about 200 people staying in the cabins where the campers had previously been. This meant that for us non lodgers this involved a lot of moving beds from cabins as different amounts of people were staying in each cabin.

At the Reunion counsellors were allowed to drink as long as we were not on duty or in uniform. To be honest it felt pretty weird; all summer we’d been sneaking beverages into our cabins so it was nice to be able to drink and not worry about any consequences even if you felt a bit on edge when you saw an admin. The reunion was a lot more relaxed than the previous weeks. The people who came for the reunion basically stayed at the camp for two nights and ate, drank and engaged in the activities that were available such as canoeing or swimming. I had lifeguard duty as well as some clean up tasks but no teaching and more time off than when the kids were here. The food at the reunion was really good with lobster and steak on the menu. The camp also had a company come in and provide plates, cutlery and napkins that is all compostable. It’s called Garbage to Garden and when we were done with our meals we threw it all into to these green bins and then the company came along and took the bins and made compost out of them. It was pretty sweet and really good for the environment – my inner geographer coming out there!

The reunion was also where we started to say goodbye to counsellors who were going home. The First day of the reunion we said goodbye to Sasha who was one of my best friends at camp and my fellow swim coach. When she left I wasn’t that sad because we’re going to visit her in North Carolina when we travel through the USA when camp is done. People were also leaving on the last day of the reunion and as we were busy lifeguarding or doing other jobs we didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone which annoying but we managed to say goodbye to Katie who Myself, Sasha and Kyle hung around with most of the summer! However were also visiting Katie when we travel so again I wasn’t too sad to say goodbye.

Aufedersein, Goodbye

The next morning the non-lodge counsellors got up before everyone else in order to collect the children’s luggage from their cabins and take them up to the top of the hill so they could be put on the coach, picked up by parents or mailed home. Everyone then came up the hill to the main lodge for breakfast and by that time the tears were already flowing. The kids realising they were actually leaving and the older CTG’s realising they won’t be coming back as campers again.

The first batch of kids left on the coach. After some emotional goodbyes among the campers all the counsellors and campers who were not on the coach lined the main road outside the camp to wave the bus off. Every year the bus is meant to leave at 8am sharp and bets of 1$ are taken among the counsellors as to what time it is actually going to leave. This year the bus left at about 8.18 which no one bet on as the latest bet was 8.11. Apparently the bus usually leaves pretty promptly but this year there were some delays. We kept ourselves entertained until it left by cheering on cars and cyclists who passed us while we were waiting…..they secretly loved it.

Once the bus had left it was show time for the non lodgers as we had to direct the 10 or so parent’s cars to park and help them identify their luggage and help move it to their vehicle. There was a steady stream of cars and our lifting and packing skills that we had trained over the summer were put to use from around 9am till around 2pm. Once the final few children had left, the camp was empty and just had the admin staff and counsellors left.

We had a brief meeting saying well done for the Days work and were told about the infamous counsellor party that was to happen that night. It was to be on a boat circling a lake in the nearby town of Naples. We all showered, took a deserved nap and got changed for a 7pm departure. Once on the boat we had a buffet of very good food which was devoured, there was also a bar which was used and abused by pretty much every one of age. Everyone danced and sung on the lower level dance floor. All in all it was a great night; everyone was in good spirits and it was a nice final social gathering where everyone was together as our previous days off only had a portion of the counselors. Once the boat party was over everyone headed back to camp and continued the party at a camp site we owned by the lake. Not much else can be recalled after that. Oops.

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Swim Department 2015!
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I’m on a boat.
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Wobble baby, Wobble.

The Final Night.

So a couple of days after the counsellor play the camp had its final Sunday meeting where the girls who achieved their 4th level swimming received their awards! This was the culmination of a summers work for these 3 girls as well as for myself and Shauni who had taken the majority of their lessons this summer. When girls a camp arcadia PG they receive a gift. This year the head of the swimming department, Shauni, made the girls bracelets with the saying ‘just keep swimming’ engraved on them along with their initials. When I say make I actually mean make. She had a kit where she had letters she hammered into the metal then she bent the metal to fit around a wrist. It was a pretty sweet gift.

The Bracelets For PG Swimers.
The Bracelets For PG Swimmers.

That night was the final night of camp, all the campers and counsellors headed down to the waterfront to perform the traditional ritual of taking the spirit of Arcadia back down the hill to the lake as the summer was over. This involved everyone having a piece of wood which a candle on it which was lit at the main lodge at the top of the hill then walked down to the lake and placed in the lake to float in the darkness. Usually this was done when it was still light but a thunderstorm kept us inside until it was dark at about 9.30pm. I think this was a blessing in disguise because the candles looked amazing being taken down the hill and reflecting off the water in the darkness of the night.

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Taking the spirit down the hill.
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Lining up with candles in hand.
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The spirit goes back into the lake.

Once the candles were in the water a surprise firework display was to follow as it was the hundredth season. The counsellors knew it was happening and I think the campers had an inkling. The fireworks were on a floating dock out in the lake and after a short delay where the starter button didn’t work the fireworks started. The fireworks were donated by a family tied to the camp and they were a lot larger and lasted longer than we expected. A large town would have been happy to use them for their fireworks display and they went on for about 8 minutes. After the fireworks were over the campers headed up the hill to their cabins ready for bed. The CTG’s headed to the main lodge as was tradition they would sleep there on the final night. The non-lodge crew stayed at the beach and collected all the candles from the lake and then made final preparations to walk around the cabins singing goodbye songs.

The goodbye songs we sung were both sentimental as well as humorous. Whilst heading around the cabins we sung ‘leaving on a jet plane’ as well as backstreet boys I want it that way with the lyrics ‘tell me why’ replaced with ‘you’re going home’. Once we had sung to all the cabins it was pretty late and we headed up to the main lodge to our final audience; the GTG’s. We sung our songs to them and then bid them goodnight and prepared for the kids to leave the next day.

The Counselor Play

Each summer the different age groups at camp produce and star in their own plays which they perform in front of the rest of camp in the drama hut. Traditionally there is also a counsellor play which is held at the end of summer. The counsellor play this year was to be a Camp Arcadia version of the Parent Trap.

The kids really look forward to the play each year but this year we pretty much managed to convince the whole camp that there wasn’t enough time to plan the play and that it wasn’t happening. I had kids come up to me during swimming lessons saying “Is the counsellor play really not happening?” they were devastated and quite angry. The reason we were so good at convincing the kids it wasn’t happening was because in truth, the counsellors didn’t really know if it was happening until a week before. On the morning of the play we found out our parts and had top secret rehearsals up the hill whilst the kids were banished to their cabins making plaques. The non-lodgers would be in two scenes; we were various candies from candy line and had to sing a candy line song to Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday night’, whilst in another scene we were boys from another camp at the camp party.

At announcements on the rock after supper the kids still didn’t know the play was happening in the evening. Each year the counsellor play is announced by a song being sung about elephants and all the counsellors then run down to the drama hut in a line holding hands through each other’s legs. During announcements we pretended to have song practice and then started to sing the song. As soon as the song started the kids went insane and we could hear them cheering as we ran all the way down to the drama hut.

We had about 20 minutes to find some outfits that we could wear. I was a skittles packet so just went with tie die and colourful shorts. The kids came in and the play started. When counsellors weren’t in a scene we stood to the side of the drama hut and watched the play through the large open windows. It was great to watch as we had the scripts in our hand and new how much improvisation was going on whilst the kids were oblivious and loving the show. The non-lodgers candy line scene went well, we each introduced our individual candies, I went for a really chilled out skittles but quite funnily came across high. We sung our candy line song pretty well considering we’d practiced only twice. In our other scene we were boys coming to Arcadia for a party and we were paired up with female counsellors to dance. The girls loved this and shouted out things like “she’s not the one for you!!”

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Considering we only had around 2 or 3 hours to rehears our parts I think the play went very well! We had our scripts in our hands but that’s a counsellor play tradition and the kids didn’t mind! As the play was towards the end of the summer we sung goodbye songs at the end and all the kids were crying their eyes out wailing because they knew they’d be leaving camp soon. For the oldest girls they knew they wouldn’t be coming back next year so it was especially emotional for them. The counsellors left the dram hut satisfied with the emotional rollercoaster we had taken the girls on.

Leveling Up.

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The last week of lessons at camp can be a stressful time for the campers. They have levels that they want to complete and only a few lessons left in which to get all the necessary work done. This can be especially stressful for the oldest girls whose last year it is at camp and their last chance.  At camp there are 4 levels to every activity. 1st and 2nd can each be achieved easily within half a summer so sometimes a girl will get both in a single summer. 3rd and 4th levels however are much harder to attain and will typically take a whole summer each. When a girl achieves her 4th level she’s a post graduate (PG) and PG’ing an activity is a pretty big deal as a girl may only ever PG around 2 activities. At swimming this summer there were 3 girls working on their 4th level. Throughout the summer I was working closely with two of these girls and took a large majority of their lessons.

It was really fun teaching these two girls as they were dead set on achieving their fourth level. You could make small technical adjustments to their stroke that made a huge difference and lesson by lesson their strokes became better and better which was so good to see. In the last week they were getting pretty stressed because we didn’t tell them how close they were to their level, even though we knew they would get their level, they didn’t. Because of this they became very stressed if they couldn’t do something we told them to do in a lesson. We didn’t tell them because we wanted them to come to every lesson possible in order to make their strokes the best they could be, but also so that it would be a big thing when we told them they’d PG’d.

On the last lesson of the summer I was teaching the to girls i was usually with and Shauni, the head of swimming, was taking the 3rd. Whilst we were teaching the other teachers wrote ‘Congratulations 4th Level’ in the sand on the beach. At the end of the lesson we took them out and then got them to look at the sand. Cue smiles, relief and crying. It was great to see these girls achieve their levels as I had worked with them pretty much all summer and they’d actually ended up being better than their level required. It was also a sad moment because it marked the end of teaching at camp and also meant the girls were to be leaving for home soon.

Kayaking And The Importance of Walmart

The trips department at camp regularly have trips going out that take advantage of the many lakes and mountains situated around camp.  These trips take small groups of usually 6 girls on either a hiking or canoeing trip that can range from a day trip to a 4 day trip for the older and more experienced campers. Counsellors who are not in the trips department can say that they would like to go on a trip and a week later they will most likely be on one. I did this and was selected for a canoeing day trip called Crescent Sebago which took in several rivers, lakes and a stop to make lunch.

On this trip there were to be 3 counsellors including myself as well as 6 girls. We travelled to another camp where a previous trip had finished and left canoes and kayaks in order to set off. We counsellors had a kayak each whilst there were 3 girls to a canoe. I took my underwater camera on this trip as I knew it would be scenic. The trip to the lunch spot took about 2 ½ hours and was great. We went through small rivers and across large lakes and it was a great day with no wind so it was very relaxing and a nice break from camp. Once at the spot the girls had to make a fire, prepare and cook dinner and I have to say it was bloody tasty and I had two portions. We then packed up the equipment and paddled on to our pickup destination. It took around 3 hours and on the way we found some swing ropes which we all had a go on and we also had to portage the canoes over a road to the other side of small dam. We paddled down a long narrow winding river to our pickup point and packed the canoes onto a truck and headed back to camp after a very enjoyable day trip.

When back at camp a group of counsellors and I took a trip to Walmart to stock up on supplies, and by supplies I mean pizza, alcohol and chocolate. I remember the first time we all went to Walmart at the beginning of summer; we were like kids in a candy shop. Walmart is our connection to civilisation, we can get cash out and buy pretty much anything we need as well as talk to people who are not from camp.  Every trip since has been fun; you leave with a list of things you need to get and you forget pretty much straight away because your distracted by the ridiculous things Walmart sells. My friend Marc and I became distracted by a football which we decided to throw about and rightfully got told off. As a result you need to constantly return to Walmart to buy what you forgot on your previous trip. It’s a vicious circle.