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The “Special” Experience of Summer Camp

Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.”  Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout.  “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps.  To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another.  However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others.  For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor.  Sure the basic ingredients are the same.  Most pizza pies even look similar.  But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another.  It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home.  Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child.  The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.

In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time.  They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers.  They’ll bond with favorite counselors.  They’ll try at least one activity for the first time.  They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents.  As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.”  Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp.  So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.

 

One of the Most Memorable Summer Camp Activities

One of the biggest parts of the summer at most traditional  summer camps and nearly as big of a tradition as the concept of summer camp is the color war.  For several days, campers and staff members parade around camp in their team colors.  Body paint, capes, mismatched socks, colored hair spray, pom-poms, and tutus are the en vogue accessories, and enthusiastic demonstrations of team pride via spirited cheers are infectious.

Although an emphasis on friendly competition geared toward giving campers an opportunity to put their camp skills to the test while exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship has prompted many camps to change the name to such things as Challenges, Tribals, College Days, and Olympics, the concept remains the same: Campers are placed onto teams and, for several days, engage in a host of activities designed to re-cap the summer—a sort of “best of” replay.

Whatever the name, the competition is often full of traditions regarded as sacred by campers and staff alike.  The beginning of the games is invariably a surprise to campers and much of the staff with the reveal being is a closely guarded secret about which there is quite a bit of discussion and speculation in the days leading up to it.  The breakout is unquestionably, one of the biggest events of the summer and always on everyone’s list of favorite moments from the summer.  Counselors are included in the action as team leaders and coaches.

The end of the competition often involves some sort of bonding activity designed to bring the teams back together as one camp family to finish out the summer because, in the end, the emphasis of a color on color contest is not whether one is on a winning team when all is said and done, but that each and every camper has had the opportunity to demonstrate what he or she has learned over the summer and, thus, gain an understanding of how each person brings something different and valuable to the camp family.  Such a focus makes these types of camp activities a valuable lesson in diversity and teamwork.  Everyone has a unique role on the team that directly affects the team’s overall performance.  For anyone—camper or staff—who has ever been a part of camps, it’s the part of the summer that is undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

Learning the Value of Tradition at Camp

The holidays are around the corner.  During that time of year, the word “tradition” gets thrown around a lot.  But how many people actually understand what tradition is really?  Perhaps it’s the emphasis on forward thinking and constantly in-motion global community that has caused many to confuse “tradition” with “routine.”  They’ve both become something that we do on a regular basis in order to establish or maintain a consistency or pattern in our behavior.  So what really distinguishes “tradition” from “routine”?

First, routine is something that one person does but might not necessarily have in common with others.  Most people brush their teeth at some point in time in the morning.  Few people do it at exactly the same time.  Some shower first.  Others eat breakfast.  Eventually, everyone brushes their teeth but the experience is, for all intents and purposes, individual.  There is no shared significance.

Tradition, on the other hand, is by definition community oriented.  It’s a shared custom, belief, or activity with a common understanding of the reason for its practice.  Many of us eat turkey at Thanksgiving because we symbolically associate it with that first meal between the pilgrims and native Americans.  It’s a tradition.

Second, routine, unlike tradition, is not necessarily multi-generational or even long-term.  It’s something done for a specified length of time.  While we maintain some routines for all or much of our lives, others are short term.  If one gets the flu, for instance, one might temporarily take up a routine of antibiotics.  But once the flu subsides, so does that routine.

On the other hand, tradition is something that is a common bond between multiple generations.  It’s an acknowledgment that an event or action was significant to someone tied to our past, and the observance of traditions our way of paying tribute to that event or action as well demonstrating our understanding of it.

Finally, routine is task oriented.  We take up routine in order to accomplish a goal.  There is an intended result in routine.  Tradition, however, is an observance.  Routine is a way of moving forward, whereas tradition pays tribute to the importance of the past.

By now, you’re surely asking yourself what any of this has to do with summer camp. Simply this: in a culture that places a significant amount of importance on the establishment of routine, the value of tradition is increasingly less understood and appreciated.  Summer camps, however, are grounded in tradition.  They’re  a place where campers and staff members alike get refresher courses in the power of tradition.  Whether it’s at a campfire, a sing along, or an activity specific to the camp, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every summer for those at a summer camp to bond through tradition.  Many former summer campers and staff members actually name “tradition” as one of their highlights of summer camp.  So if tradition has become an element of holidays past, consider giving your children a future opportunity to enjoy tradition at summer camp in 2013.

We at Camp are Thankful for…

Every year around this time we pause to reflect on those aspects of our lives about which we are most thankful.  To celebrate this turkey day, we thought we’d share what makes us most thankful for summer camp:

Our camp families: Without our campers, there would be no summer camp.  We’re thankful you value your summer camp experiences so much that you return every summer, and that you continue to build and carry on the traditions that make America’s Finest Summer Camps so special.

Our camp family: The unique family we are all a part of each summer.  The bonds that campers and staff create truly do last a lifetime.  We love every moment of the summer when we are laughing, playing, singing, and sharing together.

Camp Memories: Every year we bring home new memories that motivate us to make the next summer even more special than the previous.  Talking with our families and camp friends about our summers and sharing in each others’ unique experiences while at summer camp are some of our favorite times during the winter months.  They help us get over our “camp sickness” and carry us through those months between summers.  Speaking of camp friends…

Camp Friends: Every camper knows that camp friends are friends for life. Our camp friends share some very special memories that one can only get at summer camp.  Our camp friends are also great at helping us get through those ten months that we’re not at camp by reminding us of just how special summer camp is, whether it’s through the distance that makes seeing each other at camp every summer so special or the closeness of having a camp pal who  “gets it”.

Amazing Staff Members from all over the Globe: Summer Camps are only as good as their staff, and we’re thankful that we have some of the most amazing staff anywhere in the world.  Each summer, you come from all over the world and commit yourselves 24/7 to insuring our campers have a safe, amazing summer.  We know it’s hard work, and we are grateful that so many of you find the experience so gratifying that you return year after year.

The Breathtaking Scenery of Maine and Northeast Pennsylvania: We love where our camps are located almost as much as we love our camps.  The beautiful woodlands of Maine, the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania, hiking paths, the lakes that are such a big part of our camp experiences and traditions, and the wildlife all make the perfect backdrops for our amazing campuses.

The Beautiful Campuses that are our Summer Homes: Just like the houses we live in the other ten months of the year, each of our summer homes has its own energy, homey feeling, and special places for gathering, playing or contemplating. We’re proud that ours are some of the most awesome facilities in camping and look forward to continuing to build and improve them each summer.  We know our campers eagerly await opening day when they finally get to see how camp has changed since the previous summer and what new additions might be waiting for them.

Our Year-Round Staff: Yes, even summer camp requires a staff to work year-round.  After each summer, they go back to their offices and immediately begin planning the next, thinking about what new programs we might add or how we might make existing ones better.  They begin traveling, recruiting new staff members.  They create newsletters, Tweets, and blogs.  They answer the phones when you call.  They plan the menus.  In short, they tirelessly build each amazing summer day by day.

Being a Part of Such an Iconic American Tradition:  All over the world, American summer camps are an icon of Americana.  They’re unique to America and so many have found them inspirational that there have been movies and television shows that feature them, as well as books and songs written about them.  We are also grateful that many of our international friends are beginning to see the value in the American summer camp experience and, increasingly, are joining us from all corners of the globe.

We hope this holiday season that we’ve inspired you to contemplate what it is about camp that you’re most thankful for and how it has enriched your life.  We encourage you to share those thoughts with us.  We’d love to hear them!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

It’s a Camp Thing

If you have children who attend sleepaway camp, work at a sleepaway camp, or know anyone who attends or works at a sleepaway camp, chances are that you’ve heard this at least once in your life: “It’s a camp thing.”  For those of you wondering what that means, here’s an exclusive look inside the world of sleepaway camp and exactly what constitutes “a camp thing”.

We’ll begin with a definition.  “A camp thing” is an experience or tradition that is unique to summer camp.  It’s also actually “camp things” rather than a singular “thing”, since there are a host of experiences exclusive to the summer camp environment.  For instance, have you taken part in a competition, spread over several days, that divides the entire camp into two teams and requires contestants to do such things as cover their heads with shaving cream so that a teammate can attempt to make cheese curls stick to it, dress in team gear that includes crazy garb such as tutus, mismatched socks, and face paint, or passed buckets of water down a line in a race to see who will fill their container first?  Nope?  Do you know why?  It’s “a camp thing”.  Ever sat alongside several hundred other people around a campfire while you watch friends and staff members perform crazy acts, sing songs or participate in games?  Nope?  Yeah…it’s another “camp thing”.

In case it’s not obvious, “camp things” happen every day at camp, from that first moment when you get off the bus and see your camp friends and your new counselors holding your cabin signs for the first time to the last when you’re saying ‘goodbye until next summer.’  Camp things are being part of a league sports team, whether it wins or loses, going on a special trip out of camp to get ice cream, performing rituals and eating s’mores around a campfire, sitting with your friends at cookouts, taking part in the traditions that are unique to each and every summer camp, and understanding the feeling of being part of a camp family.  Camp things are having sleepovers with your cabin or having a venue in which you and your camp friends can pretend to be a rock band, DJs, or magicians.  Camp things are that special inside joke that your friends  share all summer, end-of-the-summer trips out of camp, sing-a-longs when you’re arm-in-arm with your camp friends.  And hugging some of your best friends while singing your camp alma mater and watching candles burn or fireworks explode, knowing that you might not see them again until next summer, is definitely the most precious of “camp things”.  If only everyone could experience “a camp thing”…

Summer Camp: Defining Routine and Ritual

Routines.  Everyone has them.  For some, they encompass everything that takes place from the time we wake in the morning until we go to bed at night.  For others, they come in short bursts throughout the day, such as at mealtimes or bedtime.  However, establishing routines as daily parts of our lives is important, especially for children.  Childcare experts agree that establishing regular routines for children is essential for healthy development.  The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning reports that “Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.”

It’s no secret that summer camps provide loose routines that allow room for healthy creative development through structured daily programs and schedules that maintain consistent meal, activity, and bedtimes.  Maintaining a routine throughout the summer is also valuable in easing the transition from summer to fall and back into summer again.  However, one special aspect of summer camp that is often overlooked is that it helps children learn to understand the difference between routine and ritual—what makes one necessity and the other tradition.

Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., Syracuse University, defines routine as something that “involves a momentary time commitment so that once the act is completed, there is little, if any, afterthought.”  However, she defines ritual as “symbolic communication” that has “continuity in meaning across generations.”  Rituals take place within the home family setting.  However, for children, it’s not always clear how to tell the difference between what is done simply to be done and what is  done because it’s significant to their heritage.  This is where the summer camp ritual takes on a special significance.  Even executives such as Michael Eisner have publicly recalled the important role that summer camp rituals have played in their lives.

Summer camp often draws a distinct line between routine and ritual.  Campers understand, for instance, that cleaning their bunks or cabins everyday is part of a routine.  That following an activities schedule is part of routine.  That hearing TAPS in the evening to signal bedtime is a part of routine.  They, too, understand that campfires, however regular, are rituals.  They are more than just a fire that they gather around to eat s’mores.  Campfires have meaning that goes far beyond the fire itself.  The same can be said about opening night shows, closing, and fireworks.  Campers understand that these are not just routines done merely to achieve a goal.  They’re rituals that make their summer camp the place that it is and them a part of it.

By being able to tell the difference, children are able to accept routine as something that needs to be done and prevent rituals from simply becoming routine by understanding the value in them.  Dr. Fiese says that children will often revisit memories of rituals in order to “recapture some of the positive.” experience.”  This perhaps explains why so many camp rituals remain sacred to campers far passed their camping years.  Some of America’s Finest Summer Camps’ rituals hold special significance for campers and staff members.  At Camp Laurel South, Coves are definitely a tradition and time honored ritual:

“Coves” are an important and exciting Camp Laurel South tradition.  Each day begins with a Morning Cove at a campus “Cove site.” Each group meets at their own Campus Cove location, where the Campus Leader reviews information for the day:  special activities, upcoming inter-camp games and tournaments, birthdays, cove-calls, cheers, sports scores, and many other special announcements. Each Campus Leader has his or her own style and flair which makes each morning Cove unique and fun. Cove is always a special time for the campers and staff and a great way to kick-off the camp day.

Every night…just before dinner…the entire Laurel South family gathers for Evening Cove, led by our director, Roger.  Evening Cove takes place at the Main Cove area, just above the magnificent shoreline of Crescent Lake.  Evening Cove has been taking place at this very site since the first campers came to Laurel South decades ago. Once we hear the words: “What a beautiful day in the state of Maine!,” the tone has been set.  Campuses may have a cheer to present…a birthday may be celebrated…Inter-camp results and special achievements or accomplishments are recognized…Evening programs are reviewed…special accolades are shared…Whether in the morning or evening, Cove is a coming-together, a celebration and recognition of how lucky we are to be at Laurel south in the beautiful state of Maine!!!

Crazy Days and Whacky Nights

Parents, do you ever log onto your computer to check out the camp photos for the day, see your child painted in blue from head to toe or maybe wearing a crazy wig and big nerdy glasses and wonder, ‘What in the world?’  The answer probably has something to do with your summer camp’s special events and evening activities.  For fifty plus nights (and some days) summer camps entertain your children with some of the zaniest games and wackiest contests that they can come up with.  Why?  Because it’s fun to be painted in blue from head to toe…seriously.  Or at least it is when your cabin is performing a dance to the Smurfs theme in front of the entire camp and you’re Papa Smurf—or Smurfette.  And seeing images of your children and their counselors slipping, sliding, and splashing around in what appears to be multi-colored goo…it’s a camp thing…a really fun camp thing.  Eye patches are always fun.  So is spending a day pretending to be pirates and searching for buried treasure.   Becoming a secret agent and collecting clues to decode a message or pretending to be wild animals is also a great way to spend that occasional non-program day.  From trivia contests to talent contests and everything in between, some of the greatest moments of summer camp happen during the crazy days and wacky nights!

Summers and Camp Belong in Maine…And So Do You!

Camp Laurel South is a proud member of the Maine Camp Experience. We think Summers and Camp Belong in Maine…And So Do You! Enter to win a Maine Vacation by visiting the Maine Camp Experience website…just follow this link: www.mainecampexperience.com/visit.

Why Maine…

Lakes…Pine Forests…Even Moose
There’s a reason people talk about Maine in such reverential tones. The state has 2,200 lakes. Warm, inviting, crystal clear bodies of water that make most other lakes look like swimming holes. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of pine forests.

Temperate days and comfortable nights, where you feel you can touch the sky. And more miles of beautiful coastline than California. Even mountains — Mt. Katahdin is one of the highest peaks in New England. It’s the perfect setting for summer, one that can’t be matched anywhere.

Tradition
As Forbes noted, there’s something unique about summer camps in Maine. From our acres of prime waterfront to our unspoiled wilderness, Maine has been the only destination of choice for thousands of camp families, with friendships that stretch from generation to generation.

Our summer camps feature the finest facilities, the most sought-after staff and the most unique range of off-site trips. And with more than 100 Maine camps, there’s something to suit everyone.

Geographical Diversity
The lure of Maine extends way beyond the Northeast. Our campers come from throughout the U.S., some from all over the world. (More than 20,000 campers live in 30 states, and several countries!)

Your children will learn to stretch their boundaries and experience life through the eyes of someone whose life is not a mirror image of their own.

Easy To Get Here…Hard To Leave
Maine is a lot closer than you think. An easy drive or flight from most places in the Northeast– about the same distance as a winter ski trip. A great vacation for the entire family.

Whether you’re looking for the famed seaside resorts of Bar Harbor and Camden or a lodge on one of our pristine lakes, Maine has something for everyone — especially kids! Come and visit our Maine Camps and you’ll never want to leave.

The Pine Tree State

Maine Camp Experience - GirlsSummer camps got their start in Maine. A century later, they’re still going strong. The Pine Tree State now boasts 100 premier institutions – including The Laurel Camps (Laurel and Laurel South.)

We’re proud to call Maine home. We’re just as proud to utilize the resources of the entire state and to give hundreds of campers an experience unequaled anywhere else.

At The Laurel Camps there’s more than enough room for an exciting depth and breadth of activities. Sports ranging from baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse to volleyball, tennis and archery.  Equestrian.  Swimming, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing and waterskiing on crystal-clear lakes.

Maine Camp Experience - BoysSummers in Maine are never too hot. And the nights are cool (and starry) enough for age-old traditions like campfires and s’mores.

But for campers and staff at Laurel and Laurel South, all of Maine is our playground. We hike tall mountains like Katahdin. We head into the pine forests for ropes courses, rappelling and mountain biking. We explore the coast and ocean-side sites like Acadia National Park, Ogunquit and Bar Harbor.

Campers come to Maine from across the country. Whether they’ve been here in the winter to ski, or have never experienced the wonders of the state, they quickly realize it’s an amazing, magnificent place – vast yet intimate, wild yet welcoming.

Parents love it too – particularly if they plan a day or three in the trendy city of Portland, with a side trip to Kennebunkport, Camden or (of course) Freeport to visit L.L. Bean!

It’s all part of the Maine camp experience – discovering new things, no matter what your age. And you never know…you may be lucky enough to spot a Moose.

Roger and Dagni
Camp Laurel South

Sparking Creativity Through Campfire

One of the most endearing and sacred parts of summer camp is the campfire.  More than just wood lit with a match, it’s an intimate part of the camping experience that goes far beyond simply sitting around a fire.  Each camp has a set of traditions uniquely connected to the campfire experience and, to campers, each tradition is significant, demanding reverence.  The campfire is the very place where many children recall the moment when their camp transformed from “a camp” to “their camp”, where fellow campers and counselors become family while singing songs, roasting s’mores, and engaging in campfire activities.  So intricate is the campfire to the summer camp experience that even former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has reflected on its importance in making him who he is:

“Simply consider the lessons I was taught by the campfire…every time the rich reward was the same as we simply sat and enjoyed our consuming creation. And, there was one aspect in particular that never failed to intrigue me, and that was the process of seeing the single small flame of the match spread to the kindling and then the twigs and then the smaller branches and finally the larger logs. It didn’t dawn on me until years later, but this was the perfect metaphor for the creative process…Years later, I found myself running a network television division and then a movie studio and now an entire entertainment company. But, much of the success I’ve achieved can be traced to the direct and metaphorical lessons I learned in building those campfires.”

To some, to assign such significance to fire may seem a bit of a stretch.  But to anyone who has attended camp, it’s not only believable but apt.  Beyond Eisner’s metaphor, the campfire is symbolic of camp, and represents the bonding between campers and nature.  Campfires instantly evoke feelings of togetherness and promote an atmosphere of being together in an intimate setting that is unique to the people who are present.  Many camps hold opening and closing campfires to welcome campers and immerse them in the camping experience and to help them say goodbye at the end of the summer.  At the beginning of the summer, the flames represent the birth of a new summer.  Opening campfires often include some sort of ritual that introduces an idea or process that can be re-visited throughout the summer, such as setting goals for the summer or some sort of introduction and bonding activity with camp “siblings”.  The meaning of the flames, however, transforms at the end of the summer. The burning of a closing campfire represents the end of the season.  It’s a way to give the summer a proper and respectful send off.  Campfires held throughout the summer supplement overnight camping trips and special events.

To say that the campfire breeds creativity is not only accurate, but understated.  The various representations and meanings that the actual fire itself takes on helps campers learn to look at the same thing from different angles, a crucial aspect of honing creative thought and learning to think “outside the box”, which is essential to developing good problem solving skills.  When considered from this perspective, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies crediting much of his success to his camp experiences, specifically to the campfire.  In fact, it provides insight about the significance of camp and how the lessons learned there can be carried throughout life.

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