Summer Camp 1, 2, 3…

In most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, summer is swiftly approaching. In South Texas, it’s already here (hello 90°F weather… I feel your presence ☹ ). For me, summer can only mean one thing – Summer Camp! I haven’t written too extensively on the topic, but I think most people know by now that I work in informal education, marine/environmental/conservation to be specific. My current position is Summer Camp. I organize, develop programming for, prep and run the daily operations of our science-based camp.

This position is new – just coming up to a year – and is a tremendous undertaking. Throughout 10 weeks, we average about 850 kids total and I have a seasonal staff of 13 counselors. Previous to this position, I was an instructor – I taught programs. Needless to say, this year has been a huge learning curve! I have really grown as a program developer, mentor and in organization (at work at least. My home is full on pandemonium, don’t worry Mom. I’m still good old me!). I have plenty of room to continue learning and growing, but I have come a long way from where I started! Of course, there were many days of struggle… more often than not actually, and it definitely took its toll on me mentally and physically (more on that in a future post when I find the right words). All I’ll say for now is that I am a stronger, more confident person because of it.

In a few short hours, all of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve shed all year will culminate and *hopefully* pay off with a successful summer! Tomorrow morning, those 13 freshly minted counselors will arrive at 8 a.m. to begin a week of intensive training. Then, in a week from Monday… the kids arrive! I’m not sure if I’m more nervous or excited. It’s currently a potent mix of both!

As I stand of the precipice of impending chaos, I thought I would list a few of the biggest lessons and tips I have learned this year for planning. These tips can apply to more than just summer camp – I intend them to be helpful for any major undertakings (weddings, vacations, general education programs, etc.)

1. Start planning early! I thought I started early. I started developing content for camp in February. Not early enough for me. I should have started in December at the very least to be comfortable. This is the hardest lesson I’ve learned. When I first started this position, it would take me about a week to develop programming for one day (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), one grade level. Now, I can do a full week of programming for one grade level in about a week. But that is after many, many weeks of practice. If you’re just starting out, give yourself as much time as you can so you don’t become as overwhelmed and stressed out as I was. If you are trying to start up a brand-new program, it is not unreasonable to begin planning a full week ahead. So do yourself a favor – take the amount of time you think you need to plan, and double it!

2. Make lists of supplies and order/shop early. I learned this lesson a bit too late. The last couple of weeks I was still figuring out what supplies I needed for a few activities, and now I’m nail biting to see if the last bits will arrive in time.

3. Organize one section at a time. I started organizing supplies somewhat haphazardly. This is partly because I didn’t get all my supplies ordered early so I had to start by organizing what I had. This resulted in me running back and forth to all the classroom spaces multiple times a day/week. It would have been much simpler and easier had I been able to start and finish each room one at a time. I did get a ton of steps in though these past few weeks, so I guess that’s a silver lining 😉

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel – because (to quote yet another cliché), there’s nothing new under the sun. Do yourself a favor and do some research. See what others have done on similar projects. Don’t waste hours or days trying to create something from scratch if you can spend a little time online to get inspired from what you can find, tweak it and make it your own. I looked through previous programs in my work’s files, activity books on our office shelf, browsed online, and asked around. I tweaked what I liked to fit my purposes. Then, after I had the bulk of it done, I developed some creative, original programs that I was really excited for and sprinkled those into every grade. There is a HUGE wealth of information already out there. Don’t be afraid to utilize it!

5. Remember to ask for help or delegate. This is the biggie. If you take nothing else away from this post, at least take this message to heart. I am finally getting around to being able to do this regularly. When I began in my position, I had such an overwhelming desire to prove that I was worthy of the promotion that I insisted on doing EVERYTHING and doing it all BY MYSELF (hello impostor syndrome, you ugly albatross about the neck you). I was terrified that if I asked for help, my boss and coworkers would think I was weak, dumb or unable to handle my job. This resulted in a huge amount of unnecessary stress. Stress like I had never felt before. All consuming, eat away at you from the inside out type stress. All I thought about was work. All I did was work. I would be at the office for about 9 to 10 hours a day, then come home, keep working another few hours, and put in at least one full day on the weekends. It was exhausting, and it made me so depressed. I felt like I was drowning to be blunt. I got to a point where I physically and mentally could not do it all and had to start asking for help. Since then, I have made the effort to be better at asking others to help me. And in all honesty, my coworkers are happy to help. I didn’t have to fear being judged. So learn from my mistakes – don’t wait until an impending nervous breakdown forces your hand. If you need it – ask for help!

Well, those are the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year thus far. I hope they help! If you have other tips that you’ve learned from planning and organizing massive events that I didn’t list here, let me know!

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