Understanding the Camper
Who are they?

What will the campers be like? What does it mean to you? How do you use your understanding of them so you can be an effective camp counselor? 


Ages 7 to 8 

What are they like? 

  • Strong attachment to home and family environment. 
  • Very dependent upon adults for meeting physical and emotional needs. 
  • Need patient understanding and close supervision. 
  • Have short interest span. 
  • Aware mainly of self and own desires. 
  • Prefer highly imaginative make-believe play. 
  • Like to explore their expanding world. 
  • Desire repetition of enjoyable experiences. 
  • Easily upset by change in routines or environment. 
  • Need and seek the approval of adults because they are not yet confident enough to set their own standards. 
  • Boys and girls readily play together. 
  • Peer opinion becomes very important. 
  • Small motor skills are not developed. 
  • Do not always recognize right and wrong. 


Meaning to Counselor 

  • Beginning to move away from dependence on parents and the counselor may become someone very important in their eyes. 
  • They respond affectionately to counselors who look after their needs, who show an interest in them, and who are fair and capable of humor and imagination. 
  • Mastering physical skills is important to self-concept. Activities need to be ACTIVE! Provide opportunities for them to practice their skills, but use activities or projects that can be completed successfully and quickly. A variety of several activities will be needed within the class period.
  • They think in concrete terms. If they have never seen it, heard it, felt it, tasted it, or smelled it, they have a hard time thinking of it.
    SHOW and TELL rather than giving verbal instructions. 
  • Play or make believe is one way they increase their ability to imagine what other people think and feel. 
  • Structure, rules and rituals are important to them.
  • It is very hard for children this age to lose.
  • Cooperative games and activities are especially enjoyable. Minimize or avoid awarding competitive ribbons at this age. 
  • They are more interested in the process (what, why, how) than in the end product.
  • Encourage them to keep their valuable items in a safe, covered space. A camper may take an item (i.e. money) off of another camper’s bed and say “finders keepers, losers weepers.” 


Ages 9 to 11
What are they like? 

  • They are anything but still and quiet. They have no fear. 
  • They do not like to stay confined and do one thing for a long period of time. 
  • Some are still concrete thinkers; others are beginning to think logically and symbolically, beginning to understand abstract ideas. 
  • They have a desire for acceptance from their own age group. Have a need for close friendships with their playmates. 
  • They have strong identification with their own sex and age group. 
  • Growing desire for better performance in skills. They look to counselors for approval and follow rules primarily out of respect for the counselor. 
  • Have a strong need to feel accepted and worthwhile. 
  • Enjoy being mischievous and daring. 


Meaning to Counselor 

  • Activities should encourage physical involvement. However, guide them to appropriate and safe activities 
  • Hands-on involvement with objects is very helpful. Will pay more attention if they are seeing and doing things. 
  • As they consider an idea, they think it is either right or wrong, great or disgusting, fun or boring. There is very little middle ground. 
  • This is the age of the “joiners.” They like to be in organized groups of others similar to themselves. 
  • Small group work is best done in same-sex groups. 
  • Encouragement from the counselor can have remarkable results. They want to know how much they have improved and what they should do to be better next time. 
  • Comparison with the success of others is difficult for them—it erodes their self-confidence. 
  • They respond enthusiastically to counselors who can understand and guide their tremendous energy and mischievousness; tend to idolize the counselor if they measure up to this task 


Ages 12 to 14 

What are they like? 

  • Uneven and rapid physical growth. Girls usually develop sooner than boys. Bones develop faster than muscles and internal organs. 
  • Beginning to develop independence by growing away from family ties and influence. However, they still want reassurance of counselor supervision and attention to daily needs. 
  • Make selective friendships. Have two or three best friends. Younger ones prefer friends of own sex. 
  • Close friendships begin to develop. 
  • Puberty approaches and emotions begin a roller coaster ride. 
  • Enjoy practical jokes. Display mannerisms of giggling, squirming and horseplay. 


Meaning to Counselor 

  • Campers may be self-conscious or very modest about their changing bodies. Some are developing quickly and others not at all; either way, they are uncomfortable. 
  • Bigger campers cannot be expected to act older than smaller ones of the same age. 
  • Their bodies are changing every day, so they don’t even know themselves anymore. 
  • Like to argue, but will compromise. Will test the rule to see how far it “bends.” Will put up an argument where they feel it is traditionally expected—dining hall clean up, lights out, etc. Ready-made decisions from adults often are rejected. 
  • “Buddies” want to bunk together, eat together and dress alike. 
  • Intensity of emotions and feelings can sometimes be extreme. Best friends can become worst enemies in less than a minute. They can be wickedly cruel, with words and actions, to each other. 
  • They enjoy corny jokes in the cabin and at the campfire. Counselors often are a favorite target. Horseplay can easily go from play to a situation where a camper feels unsafe or out-of-control.


Ages 15-18

What are they like?

  • Want independence and don’t mind responsibility.
  • They are able to specialize in selected skills and interests and are beginning to think about their future, including college and career plans and may have changing ambitions.
  • They may also want to earn money to enable this independence and to take on responsibility.
  • They seek prestige and inclusion in the perceived power group.
  • Though they occasionally revert to childish behavior, they need to be treated as young adults.
  • They are very critical of themselves and tend to cover their own weaknesses with similar weaknesses of the group.
  • They are also encountering conflicts between idealism and materialism.


Meaning to Counselor 

  • Nurture the camper’s desire to take responsibility and support the effort. 
  • Prepare small projects for those who have a desire to express their abilities and give them tasks to complete. 
  • Acknowledge and share their accomplishments by describing the value in the task they completed. 
  • Indulge them in critical examination of the value and purpose in life and ask them to tell you their world view on life.
  • Maintain a good level of discussion about the various opinions and direct them towards comprehension of the subject matter.
  • If the matter is complex, bring it forth to the forum so others can contribute and share in the discussion.
  • Discuss the options of possibly becoming a counselor or leader of some capacity in future camps and programs.
  • Impress upon the campers that integrity and consistency in good behavior is the key to success in any effort.
  • Evaluate the conflicts of materialism and idealism and help the campers understand how to manage between them.