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6 Things I Learned from Working at a Camp for Students with Special Needs

This past summer I had the opportunity to work at a camp for students with special needs. Though the goal of the summer camp was to get students more integrated into the community and teach them skills, I truly believe that they taught me way more than I taught them. Here are just a few things I learned from the most life-changing summer of my life.

1. Be a good friend (and not just to your good friends). One of the things I was blown away by when I first started working at camp was that the students were amazing friends to one another. There was NO exclusion or kids being left out. Everyone was friends with everyone. This doesn’t mean that certain students weren’t closer friends with other students, but the cliques and bullying that is usually common in middle and high school were avoided.

2. Appreciate the small things. I sometimes forget about the small blessings in my life. But, the students at camp reminded me all the time of how important it is to appreciate the small things. For example, one of my students had a love for water softeners and how much better they make our everyday lives. It was the cutest thing! Think about how much better all of our lives would be if we could appreciate things as simple as water softeners?

3. It’s never a bad time for a dance party. I participated in more dance parties this summer than I have in my whole life. Whether it was on the bus on the way to a field trip or in the bathroom, it always seemed like a good time to have a dance party. And trust me, it’s almost impossible to stay in a bad mood when you’re dancing.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you have a group of 20 or more kids together and are traveling to new places, it can get pretty hectic. At times, I would find myself getting really frustrated about something really little or silly. But as I found myself getting agitated while getting lost on the way to a trip or not being able to find a student’s lunch box, I would get a thumbs up or a smile and the irritation would go away (most of the time haha).

5. Laughter truly is the best medicine. I have learned that a good laugh can cure any bad day. Every day at camp was filled with laughter and smiles. Sometimes it was from a student saying something silly and other times it was from a fellow camp counselor joining in on the fun activities planned for the day. These summer days were filled with fun and LOTS of laughter. I have a note written on my phone of quotes with funny or cute things that kids said over the course of the summer that still make me laugh when I read them.

6. We should be looking at the -able not the label. Many of the students that I worked with had disabilities that would often be associated with limited emotional or intellectual functioning. Well guess what? I truly believe that some of them were more aware of how I was doing than some of my closest friends. This is not a diss on my friends, but a compliment to how socially aware some of these students were. One day in particular I had just received a diagnosis from the doctor that had me feeling extremely down. One of my students came up to me and said, “Emma I just wanted to let you know that you are beautiful and I love you.” What if we all did that when we noticed someone was down in the dumps?

I am so thankful for this past summer and the opportunity to work with these amazing kids! 

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