Not Your Mom and Dad’s Arts and Crafts

April 24th, 2014

Summer camp arts and crafts programs often conjure images of beading lanyards and tie dying. Indeed, crafts are still a large part of camp, but art is becoming equally as important. That is to say that camps are investing more in open ended mediums that encourage campers to use their creativity to create works of their volition as opposed to pre-determined projects of summer camps past.

The difference between art and crafts may not be immediately clear to those who envision a room at summer camp that houses a seemingly unlimited supply of paintbrushes, glitter, paint, markers, glue, construction paper, and beads.  There is a marked difference, however. A recent article featured in Early Childhood News, M.A. and creative arts instructor Anna Reyer outlines the distinctions between art and crafts. Primarily art is open ended creations that evolve from a variety of supplies and minimal guidance. Crafts are pre-scripted projects assembled using specific supplies and guidelines with a finished product that is the same or similar for everyone.  There is something to be said for both the “arts” and the “crafts” of arts and crafts.

Crafts are fun, and many a camper sings the praises of the relaxation and satisfaction derived from a few minutes of down time in which they are given a set of materials and a set of instructions and are left to their own devices. It is an opportunity to be social and engage in casual conversation with other campers and counselors. There is also a sense of satisfaction with the end product, a three-dimensional completed object that the camper created from a group of raw materials.

Then there is art, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly obvious to camp owners and directors. Art projects provide campers with a period of time during the day in which very little, if anything, has been planned for them. It is their time to create as they choose. Whether it is painting or creating a piece of jewelry, it is a sanctioned part of the day that is limited only by their imaginations. Camp in general is a creative space. Through art, it is also an imaginative space. It’s a space in which children are free to unwind and mentally process their feelings. Art is the perfect opportunity for campers to recharge and turn around a day that has been less than perfect.  In that regard, similar things could be said about camp music, theater, and dance programs.

With the importance placed on creativity, fun, and happiness at summer camp, it is natural that summer camps invest big in arts and crafts programs. A memorable summer is more than just the glory of scoring a winning goal or swimming in the lake. Those times in which campers are left to their creative devices and are free to interact or not interact as they please provide crucial balance to the rest of the summer camp experience.

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It’s Not Too Late…

April 19th, 2014

Are you experiencing it yet? The ‘Oh no, summer is almost here and I still don’t have a summer job yet!’ panic?

Maybe you visited a job fair a couple of months ago, met a camp recruiter, and briefly thought about working at summer camp. It certainly sounded like fun, and it would definitely be different than any other summer job you’ve ever had. But you decided to put off the decision. Oh, how time flies when you’re taking exams and busy planning spring break.

Now, you’re just a little over a month from packing up your dorm room and wondering where you’re going to go. There is home, of course. But if you’ve been hoping for something slightly more exciting this summer, consider revisiting the idea of working at summer camp. It’s not too late.

While it’s true that many camps are filling those final empty positions, if you have a unique or unusual talent, that just might work in your favor. Most of the positions camps are currently filling are those that are hardest to fill, meaning that they require some sort of specialized knowledge that not a lot of people have. What kind of specialized knowledge? Think creatively. Are you good in the kitchen? Maybe you are Shaun White on a skateboard, a Zumba enthusiast, know how to fire a kiln, operate a band saw, sew or build rockets. These are just a few of the specialty hobby or niche programs for which camps sometimes have difficulty finding just the right person. Before assuming that there is no place for you on a summer camp staff, do a little bit of research. You never know when a camp may be looking for someone just like you.

This isn’t to say that if you’re not particularly gifted in anything special that there is no place for you. Sometimes staff members who have signed on for the summer score that last minute dream internship or have to withdraw for personal reasons, leaving camps with positions to fill that require common skills. The point is that although openings are dwindling fast, it’s not too late.

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Countdowns and Stuff

April 17th, 2014

For the millions of youth who call summer camp home each summer, excitement begins to grow exponentially just after spring break each year. Not only is the end of another school year just around the corner, but the beginning of another camp season is oh so close that campers can practically smell the campfires. A variety of countdowns help them keep track of just how many sleeps are left until they’re back in their bunks or cabins and reunited with camp friends. Oh, of course there are the literal countdowns of exactly how many days, minutes, and hours are left that are featured on many summer camp apps and websites. But kids tend to be a bit more creative than website designers when it comes to countdowns and pre-camp rituals.

Parents may be a bit mystified, for example, when they’re handed a pillowcase, blanket, towel, etc. that campers have conveniently kept out of the laundry basket for the past several months because it “smells like camp.” For campers, this is just the release of one summer as part of the final preparation stages for the next. For parents, it’s a good reason not to send the good pillowcases to camp.

The amount of times the word camp finds its words into a conversation—and sometimes even a single sentence—steadily starts to rise again.  Maybe there is just something about seeing green, or maybe it’s the warmer days. Whatever the motivating factor, after a graduating dipping off during the coldest winter months, with the arrival of spring comes the re-integration of camp lingo into everyday speech. Parents need not become frustrated, children are usually happy to translate until someone gets around to writing that all important Camp Dictionary for Parents Who Want to Know What Their Campers Are Saying.

Some campers measure the time left until camp by the amount of episodes remaining before the season finale of their favorite television shows and then the number of weeknights they have to endure with nothing on television but reruns to watch until camp starts. Still, others prefer the exam approach and countdown their time until camp by the number of tests remaining in the school year. (Note: Some counselors use both of these approaches as well.)

Clever Apple users countdown with SIRI and hold daily conversations with her about camp. Others like to plan ahead even further into the summer by making out their Visiting Day snack lists, just in case they get too busy to do so after they get to camp. Countdowns are rarely a matter of just plain counting down when it comes to camp. Like camp itself, they’re full of ritual and meaning.

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5 Things for Camp Staff to Begin Thinking about in the Spring

April 3rd, 2014

Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:

1.)    Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.

2.)    Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.

3.)    Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.

4.)    Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.

5.)    Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.

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Yes, You Can

March 27th, 2014

“No” is a word that children hear a lot. No talking in the classroom. No running in the hallways. No playing ball in the house. No to anything that gets clothes dirty. No. No. No. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that “yes” is one of the many reasons that children so eagerly anticipate camp each summer. Of course safety is always a factor, and children also have parameters at camp for that reason. However, those parameters extend much further at summer camp than they do at home and school. At summer camp, campers are encouraged to climb walls, zip down ropes, run, get dirty and play ball. Even when they express doubt in themselves, they are encouraged with, “Yes, you can.” There is no pressure to be the best at something or to even be good at it, simply to try it. With such encouragement, many campers venture into previously unexplored territory and discover that they can, in fact, do things they previously thought they couldn’t.

The benefits of such encouragement extend beyond the development of courage to try new things. Children become more open to possibilities. They develop the skills to venture out of their comfort zone and examine situations from different angles. A refined sense of creativity helps them attack tasks that previously seemed difficult or even impossible. They learn to comprehend the importance of trying, particularly when the time and place is right. With such perspective, “no” and “yes” become words less associated with ability and more associated with restraint. If they’re talking in the classroom, they can’t understand what the teacher is saying. School is not an environment that makes running in the hallways safe. Things tend to break when they play ball in the house. The clothes they wear when they’re not at camp are just a little nicer than the ones they tend to wear at camp. In contrast, camp is a safe environment for them to talk, laugh, run, play, climb and get messy in ways that are productive. In short, it’s an environment with less restraint in mind. Once children are able to understand the symbiotic relationship between “yes” and “no,” they are better able to accept “no” for what it actually means: It’s not in your best interest.

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5 Things for Camp Parents to begin Thinking about in the Spring

March 22nd, 2014

March is here, which means spring is just around the corner. More importantly, summer is only a few months away, which means it’s time to begin checking off that annual camp preparation list. No doubt, the idea that it’s time to begin thinking about summer is a welcome respite for many following a winter that regularly included terms such as “polar vortex.” So whether you’re preparing your children for their first summer at camp, or are still thawing out after a frigid winter, here are five things to think about as the snow begins to melt, temperatures begin to rise and vegetation blooms:

1.) Order camp clothes. Some camps feature catalogues and websites that cater to supply lists and sell logo merchandise. Although most camps do not require parents to order supplies and clothing from these catalogues, a few items are never a bad idea, particularly for children who intend to be part of sports teams. Also, camps sometimes require children to wear a specific colored logo shirt on certain occasions, such as out of camp trips. These clothing catalogs are the best resources for these items.

2.) Start talking about camp. For returning campers, chances are that they’ve never completely stopped talking about it. It’s good, however, to begin preparing first time campers a few months ahead of camp so that they are not completely overwhelmed when departure time for camp actually arrives. For all campers – returning or not – it’s good to set some goals for the summer. Some parents find that their children are a step ahead of them when it comes to goal setting, while other campers need a bit of assistance with organizing their thoughts and prioritizing. Either way, it’s good to begin a dialogue now so that you and your children have time to think about expectations for the summer.

3.) Begin stockpiling. Some parents actually pull out camp duffles and begin packing in the early spring while others just clear off a shelf in a closet and begin picking up basic supplies such as sunscreen, shampoo, and socks whenever they are out shopping. Gradually building a stockpile prevents that last minute scramble that inevitably ends in a phone call either from or to the camp about forgotten items.

4.) Schedule pre-camp checkups. This is particularly crucial if your child’s pediatrician tends to be one that is perpetually booked and scheduling appointments a month or two into the future. Camps are safety focused, and it’s is very important that they understand each and every camper’s medical needs and limitations. For liability reasons, they also need medical and insurance information prior to being able to permit campers to participate in certain activities, such as out of camp trips. Also, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor about any medications that will be necessary for the summer.

5.) Complete paperwork. Camps mail or make necessary forms available online to parents around this time of year. The forms may include information about trips, interests, goals, children’s personalities, etc. Although the purpose of the paperwork may not always be clear, camps put a lot of thought and consideration into the information they request parents to provide, and that information is crucial to facilitating a successful summer for campers. Since this task can seem daunting in the midst of those last minute preparations just before camp, it’s a good idea to set aside a block of time early in the spring to complete forms.

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Camp Pets

March 13th, 2014

Experts unanimously agree that there are benefits to pet ownership for children. In addition to teaching them responsibility, pets also entertain children, keep them active, alleviate stress and teach them about life. For some families, however, busy lifestyles make pet ownership impractical and even unrealistic. Enter another little known benefit of summer camp: summer pets. Many camp nature, exploration, and eco-science programs include an animal or two. Some camps even have extensive equestrian programs with camp-owned or leased horses and ponies. Because of allergies, camps tend to shy away from common household pets such as cats and dogs. Rather, animals with naturally reserved demeanors that are easy to handle like reptiles, rabbits, turtles and guinea pigs are preferable when it comes to camp pets. As a result, even campers who have pets at home get the opportunity to handle, care for and observe – to their comfort level – animals they may not frequently encounter. Those campers who do not have pets at home get to experience the joy of pet ownership and all of the benefits of it while those campers who do have pets at home tend to miss them less when their camp has animals. Camp pets sometimes double as mascots and campers come to view them as part of their camp. Best of all, everyone at summer camp, regardless of whether they have pets at home or not, has the opportunity to have a pet for at least a few weeks each year.

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Maine Lighthouses

March 11th, 2014

Maine is famous for many things: Lobster, Blueberries, Summer Camps… the list goes on and on. But, what’s more beautiful than the 60-plus Lighthouses that span the state?

Check out this fantastic slideshow that Yankee Magazine put together: Maine Lighthouses | 15 Stunning Photographs

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Be Better

March 8th, 2014

The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.

Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better whileothers actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.

Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp,  they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.

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Media Break

February 27th, 2014

Do you ever find yourself wishing your children would put their phones away for one day? If so, then consider an opportunity for them to put their phones (and all other forms of media) away for several weeks. One of the primary goals of summer camp is to encourage children to be active while interacting with each other and the environment. In order to facilitate this, most camps have strict restrictions regarding the use of technology. Neither campers nor staff are permitted to have phones, laptops, television, video games, or anything capable of accessing the web. If you think you can hear your children groaning already, think again. Most campers actually report that they enjoy the media break camp provides.

With conditions such as social media anxiety and Facebook fatigue on the rise, it’s no wonder that campers value a break. Not only is it a nice reminder that there is more to life than Twitter or Instagram, time spent with friends at camp reiterates the value of interpersonal communication. Body language speaks volumes. LOL is never quite the same as the sound of a friend’s laughter, and ROFL never has quite the same effect as actually seeing someone so doubled over with laughter that they’re rolling on the floor. The former are strictly exchanges. The latter are experiences, and it’s experience that makes memories. Virtually no one ever mentions that time that “so and so” texted “such and such.” But they do recall that time by the Waterfront…or in the bunk or cabin or…in the Dining Hall, for several years after it happens. Those are the types of memories over which campers exchange fond tears on the last night of their last summer at camp and, in many instances, the post camp reunions to come.

Seeing and hearing real time reactions also keeps children in touch with acceptable behavior when it comes to communication. By seeing firsthand how people respond to them, children are able to gauge when they’ve gone to extremes that may be hurtful to others. Likewise, they are also able to take note of those conversational approaches that receive positive responses from camp friends as well as those that even help them make new friends. In other words, campers don’t miss their social media because it is replaced with time with each other. Children are less likely to bully each other or express thoughts or ideas they may later regret. In short, people are a much better deterrent to unacceptable behavior than a monitor or phone screen. There is much more immediacy and accountability.

The media break that camp provides helps children put social media into perspective as well. They come to understand that social media is just an interim form of communication rather than the exclusive form. Yes, it’s a fun way to keep in touch with friends, including those camp friends who live far distances and are rarely seen away from camp, but it’s also not the sum total of life. Rather, it’s a fun tool for engaging with others when it’s not possible to see them in person, and its importance should not be overvalued.

Most importantly, what children learn during their media break at camp is that they can live without it. Not only is it possible to live without it, life can be enjoyable while doing so. Chances are, those who have been to summer camp think twice before declaring that they could never live without their phone or other media devices, because they know otherwise. And they also know that sometimes the fun of communication is the creativity with which they must go about it in interpersonal situations.

 

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