About Dan

Dan Weir is the Director of Camping Services at Frost Valley YMCA, a host on the CampHacker Podcast, sports a beard, online way too much. He writes about summer camp and youth development.  He tweets (look below!) at @danlovescamp.

Dan Weir also writes at Unplug at Camp!


Dan Weir's Linkedin profile.




Powered by Squarespace

What age group should I work with?

Almost every day during the hiring season, I am asked the same question. “I was thinking about applying for camp, but I am not sure what age I should work with. Any suggestions?”  

I often reply by explaining how campers break into three main developmental age groups and require different talents.

- I find for younger children (7-9 year olds) you need a great deal of patience. A camp counselor might find themselves repeating instructions or requests a few times.  It is completely worth it though for the moments where everything clicks with them.
- I find for tweens (10-12 year olds) you need to be ready for a wide variety of behaviors from kids.  A child can act really mature one minute and then result to using bad behavior for attention a moment later.  A camp counselor’s demeanor has to be the consistency in the camper’s life.
- I find for teenagers (13 and up) you need to have a good sense of empathy. A camp counselor needs to know the right time to joke around and the right time to be serious.  Sarcasm, while often used for bonding between teenagers and staff, can be extremely damaging when used at the wrong time.

To clarify, I’m not saying those are the only qualities a counselor needs to have.  I’m trying to point out how those qualities are necessary for working with that developmental age group.

I’ve worked with people that are strong with all three age groups.  I’ve also learned new tricks and techniques from people that were only great with one age group.   It is important to remember that working with children should be the same as working with adults.  As long as you practice values like caring, respect, and honesty (you can tell that I’ve been YMCA brainwashed) with your campers, you will be successful.

image from The Library of Virginia


5 questions you should ask your camp director

Recently, I was featured on the Our Kids blog talking about 5 questions you should ask a camp director about their camp counselors.   Our Kids Media is dedicated to providing information about education and summer camps to families.

Please go here to check out the article: http://www.ourkids.net/blog/index.php/series-5-questions-follow-up/


Featured in an article titled "Amped for Camp" in the NY Post in June '08 

From http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/item_4RUXND1CcYg2QO5DddKq9K


Last Updated: 12:08 AM, June 21, 2008
Posted: 12:08 AM, June 21, 2008

FOR some parents, it's the most wonderful time of the year - when kids with trunks full of newly name-tagged togs set off for sleep-away camp.

Color war, talent shows, campfires . . . and hazing, homesickness and mystery meat. All that and more are recounted in "Camp Camp," Roger Bennett and Jules Shell's fun new, photo-heavy book, tellingly subtitled, "Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies."

"Camp really is a place of so many firsts, where many people come of age, all at the same time," Bennett tells The Post. "It's a petri dish of achievement, accomplishment and experimentation."

It's also a challenge, especially for first-time campers - and the parents who send them. Below, some tips from the pros.


"The secret of camp is that everybody is homesick, no matter how often they've been away," says Bennett, a former counselor.

And while it's hard to ignore a child's pleas, don't rush out to retrieve him, says Frost Valley YMCA's Dan Weir.

"A good parent will say, 'I'll come get you,' and that's a way to be supportive and be there for your child, but that leaves a little bit of a window of self-doubt for the child to wiggle into," the camp director says.

"[But] a great parent will say, 'This isn't a punishment, we really want you to give this a good try. If you don't want to go back next year, you don't have to.' This really sets the child up to succeed, since all the child might need is a few days of getting acclimated."

Way before your child gets on the bus, talk about camp as the vacation it is - one filled with fun and freedom.

Just make sure you don't cry when you say goodbye. If you do tend to get misty, wear sunglasses!


Kids love presents - especially when they're far from home.

Just don't send them candy.

"Food allergies are such a big deal," says Weir of the YMCA. "We want to make sure every child is able to come to camp."

Don't even think of smuggling in brownies in a hollowed-out Harry Potter book. Camp staffers have gotten pretty savvy to subterfuge. Nor should you send valuables, such as iPods, which can go missing in a hurry.

Instead, send gifts an entire bunk can love, like card and board games, Frisbees, mini- water guns and Mad Libs, the kinds of things that Weir says "build camaraderie and the friendships they're trying to make at camp."

And don't overdo the e-mail. Multiple messages per day will make a child feel as if he or she is needed at home - or abandoning the folks - and may only fuel homesickness, not foil it.


Getting your kid to get over the idea of having to bed down with a bevy of bunkmates - and share showers and sink space - is easier than it sounds.

"Children love sleepovers, and if they view camp as a group sleepover that lasts a whole summer, they'll generally embrace the idea," says Susan Inglese of camping resource site funcampstuff.com. After all, how often does a child get to have a dozen pals over for a sleepover that lasts for weeks, without pesky parents around?

"It's all how you pitch it to a child," Weir adds. " 'You'll never have any privacy,' is the worst thing you can say to a child, but saying that their new bunkmates are a second family . . . is a great way to set up kids' expectations."

Don't worry about the food, either. It probably won't be as good as their usual sushi in the city, but they won't starve. In fact, Weir says, counselors - who aren't much older than the campers - are often instrumental at introducing them to new foods.

You may want to tip them (or at least thank them) later.



The two things I look for when hiring summer camp staff

Happy and want to work with kids.

1) Happy means what it is.  Working at a summer camp means living at a summer camp. The days are extremely long.  Since you are living with children, you are even technically working while you sleep.  A positive attitude is a key factor in succeeding in this exhausting environment.  You have to get up every morning, love who you are, where you are, and what you are going to do that day.  This leads to:

2) You have to want to work with kids.  I can’t stress how important it is to have this passion.   In an interview, I can tell within three questions if you truly enjoy being around children. I can tell right away if you are only applying if because you’ve heard it is fun, you want to stay out of your parents’ house, or you want to work in the United States.  Campers are waiting all year to be at camp with you.  I hire people who are waiting all year for summer camp to begin.

If being a positive role model at a place where you can truly influence a child (or teen) doesn’t excite you, find another “summer” job.  The responsibilities for working at a camp go well beyond the summer.


Why camp directors are frustrated with social media

The most reoccuring conversation I have with camp directors in regards to technology are their frustrations with it constantly evolving.  Directors feel once they get a grip on a website (Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, and now Twitter), their campers and staff are onto the next craze. 

I feel like I'm crushing their dreams of being on top of every aspect of the web when I explain how this will always be an issue for them.  The camp directors that view this as a frustration need to accept that this is one of the principles behind the success of web 2.0- youth always want to be on/in/part of the next cool thing. 

Blogs have been around for years with websites livejournal.com in the 90s. Social networks like Friendster and Myspace were popular for years before camps started using them.  Now a MySpace profile is a staple for any band trying to succeed. Facebook should have hit its tipping point by now, but they allowing 3rd parties to create applications.  With new games like FarmVille and countless surveys, Facebook has allowed for the site to be constantly reinvented. Camps are starting to realize the power behind twitter, but most haven't figured out to use it.  Google Wave is the newest site to make some tech challenged directors scream "no more!" while they take comfort that most users can't figure out how to use it.

The important thing for camp directors to remember is that websites will come and go.  The bare minimum a director should do is visit the site to see what people are saying about their camp.   It is neglectful to not look their camp up because it's "too challenging" or "takes too much time."  Camp directors need to practice what they preach to their campers afraid to try a game or taste a new food, let your guard down and try something new. There are tons of resources available.  Books, articles, professionals that can be hired with glowing references.  The best resource though is their campers and staff-  the ones who wrote about their camp in the first place.