A Day in the Life of an Activity Specialist at Summer Camp 

This is an honest overview of a typical day for an activity specialist working at an overnight summer camp in America. (Note that different camps will vary in activities and experience).
Summer camp trek in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, USA

Trek in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico, USA – Photo by Anderson Schmig on Unsplash


What does an activity specialist do?

Specialists run the recreational sessions for the campers, teaching their favourite sport, hobby or creative activity. Depending on the type of camp, there could be over 100 activities on offer, so there will be plenty of opportunity to teach your top skill. I worked as a Fitness Instructor in a predominantly sports-based camp for boys and girls aged 8-15 years.
As a leader in an activity, you need to be skilled in that area and confident to run a class. You also need to be responsible and alert around children and young teenagers, possess bags of energy and enthusiasm, and really be prepared to get involved.
Most days you’ll have around 5 hourly sessions, where you coach campers to improve their skills, or have a go at new things and generally have a lot of fun. There will be many memorable and rewarding moments: perhaps you taught a kid to ride a bike, or overcome their fear in the pool, or create a clay pot. Or you encouraged children to interact and notice them flourish and grow in confidence.  Or maybe the children tell you they love your sessions and keep coming back for more.
Children learning to paint at summer camp

Photo by Yan Krukauh on Pexels


Typical timetable for a specialist at summer camp

7:45am Wake up
You’ll be woken by the sound of the reveille call (usually a bugle or bell). You will unfortunately have to accept how awful this is over the summer. It is very ‘Parent Trap’, if you have seen the film.
8:15am Morning assembly
Gather for an overview of the day, including any special shoutouts, birthdays or important announcements. You may find it funny to notice over the summer, how an increasing number of people turn up in their pyjamas, as getting up and dressed becomes more difficult the more tired you become!
8:30 – 9:15am Breakfast
This was usually split into age groups, between junior and senior camp. Be prepared for lots of noise including singing, and not the best camp food. I came home sick to death of bacon and eggs. 
9:30 – 10:25am Activity 1*
10:30 – 11:25am Activity 2
11:30 – 12:25pm Activity 3
12:30 – 1:30pm Lunch
Lots more noise!
1:30 – 2:30pm Rest hour
2:30 – 3:25pm Activity 4
3:30 – 4:25pm Activity 5
4:30 – 5:25pm Activity 6

*Not all activities 1-6 will go ahead, because you are given 1-2 periods off per day, and often some activities are cancelled if that age group is away on a trip, or if there aren’t enough children to come to your activity. The children can decide in the morning which of the 4-5 activities they want to attend throughout the day, so you get an understanding about the numbers. If your activity gets cancelled, it creates space to grab a coffee from a nearby café, go for a swim, get involved in an activity, or catch up on some much-needed sleep.
5:30 – 6:00pm Gather for evening assembly
This is time for any announcements, sometimes related to the upcoming evening activity, and to hear about any groups of kids that went on trips. 
6:00 – 6:30pm Dinner
The most noise of the day – prepare for kids to be singing, on tables and chairs!
6:30 – 7:30pm Campers’ free time
7:30 – 9:30pm Campers’ evening activity
This might include a bonfire, an evening game such as Capture the Flag which is great fun, a movie night or spa night hosted by each age unit.
9:30 – 12:30pm Counsellors’ free time, unless you have a duty, otherwise known as ‘OD’.
This is where you have to essentially babysit with another counsellor in a cabin, to make sure all the children are in bed and asleep on time. It can be tiring, and you are often scheduled OD for 1-2 nights per week; but it is a great way to get to know another counsellor, as well as children in the unit you are looking after. 
12:30pm Everyone in
Trust me, you are going to want to go to sleep as soon as you can! I highly recommend packing an eye mask in your suitcase to help you doze off as soon as possible. 

Find out more:

Summer Camp USA: Considerations Before Applying
If you’re thinking of working in an American summer camp, read this honest account from a first-timer, including everything you need to know before applying, & what to expect when you get there.