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Camp: Independence, Excitement, Fun…and Even Some Nerves

It’s that time of year.
Departure for camp draws ever closer.
Excitement builds in the household. And for a first-time camp parent, anxiety is normal.

It’s natural to worry about missing your child. Just remember, you’re not the first mom or dad to go through this experience. We’ve all said goodbye, choked back a tear and wondered, “What have I gotten myself into? What’s ahead?!”

This may be the first time your son or daughter isn’t around all the time. You won’t have a window into their life. You can’t wake them up in the morning, make breakfast, ask how the day went, tuck them into bed at night.

And that’s what the camp experience is all about!

It’s wonderful – and important – for your child to rely on other adults. To be in a controlled, worry-free environment where they are encouraged to take safe risks.

In fact, that’s the reason you decided to send your child to camp. You recognize the value of taking steps away from home, toward independence.

But that doesn’t make it any easier on you as a parent.

The first few days might feel strange. So here are a few things to keep in mind:

– Practice what you preach. As parents, we often tell our children that it’s okay to be nervous. We encourage them to try new things. The same goes for us. We need to embrace our anxiety, and give this new “the kids are away” idea a shot.

– Take time for yourself. Do things you always wanted to do, but never had long blocks of time for. Take a class. Learn a new sport. Check in with friends. Have a second “honeymoon” with your spouse.

– Seize the opportunity to experience the “empty nest” syndrome. Think what a breeze it will be years from now – when your child goes to college!

– Realize that your time apart will be valuable – to you and your child. A little healthy distance, for a little bit of time, will benefit everyone.

A tear after the last hug and wave at the bus and airport is normal. Even an angst-ridden first night at home while your “camper” is already fully immersed at camp is too be expected.

But remind yourself: Your child is thriving in an environment that is all their own! They are navigating the world of camp and making decisions away from Mom and Dad and being fueled with a new-found confidence. And of course, Visiting Day is just around the corner!

Bug Juice…Not Here!

The sugary drink made from mysterious powder – a fruit punch with no resemblance to real fruit – may be the only “food” generations of summer campers remember from their years in camp dining halls.

Today, parents from Camp Laurel and Laurel South are glad to hear that bug juice has gone the way of buggy whips.

Today too, campers are glad to drink water, 2% and skim milk, real lemonade and unsweetened iced tea. They also like having choices: fresh fruit, salad bars, homemade soups, grilled chicken. But they’re equally glad to see old standbys like chicken nuggets and make-your-own sundaes.

Kids today eat healthy. But they are still kids.

Menu planning at Camp Laurel and Laurel South is a constant balancing act. As children have grown more conscious of the right things to eat, we’ve evolved too. For example, we replaced canned peas with cut celery and carrot sticks (part of our popular veggie platters).

We offer barbecue chicken and fresh asparagus. Lemon chicken with brown rice. Turkey tacos with guacamole and corn chips. Baked chicken, matzo ball soup and knishes (Friday nights only!).

We’ve got multi-grain pancakes – most of the time. But we haven’t forgotten our “S Day breakfasts,” with chocolate chip and M&M pancakes.

There’s a 20-item salad bar, with 8 types of dressing. And a pasta bar. And a baked potato bar. And even a special smoothie bar for 2013!

Lewis (Camp Laurel) and Teddy (Laurel South) – our beloved chefs, whip up soups from scratch like corn and clam chowder, vegetable barley, chicken noodle, Italian lentil and cream of broccoli. But the sides of Saltines have been replaced with whole-grain crackers.

Canteen snacks are as anticipated as ever. We’ve added granola bars and healthy popcorn to the list.

Camp is still camp. If you sat with us for a meal, you’d be reminded in many ways of your own camp days and be impressed to find healthier options and variety.

But try as you might, you would not find one silver pitcher filled with bug juice.

The Backbone of The Laurel Camps…..Our Counselors

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner says that being a summer camp counselor was the most valuable job he ever had.

What a coincidence! Our counselors may be the most valuable part of the experience at Camp Laurel and Laurel South.

We’re very proud of our facilities and programs. We invest a lot of time, energy and resources into making them the best they can be.

But all that “stuff” means little without great people.

Counselors help create our camp community. They set the loving, caring tone that turns worries into wonder and strangers into life-long friends.

Counselors are parent figures, older siblings and role models, all rolled into one. They are problem-solvers, goal-setters and dream-makers – sometimes all at once.

Their creativity, empathy and passion provide the seeds for each child’s summer of growth.

With our counselors, we can do anything. We could drop them and our campers in a desert, or on a deserted island.

Everyone would have a great time.

Without our counselors, we’d be lost.

The Laurel Camps staff come from across the United States. They bring a broad range of experiences and expectations to Maine. Their diversity is one of their strengths – and ours.

Some are with us for a couple of years. They might move on to grad school, an internship or “real” job. When they do, they carry the very important “people skills” that attracted them to us originally, and that they’ve honed during their time at Laurel and Laurel South.

Other counselors make camping their career. They are “lifers.” They are coaches on the collegiate and high school level. They become educators – in elementary, middle or high school (even universities) – and return every summer. They mentor other counselors, as well as campers. That too is one of our staff’s strengths.

We say with pride that we provide children with a lifetime of skills, confidence, friendships and memories. As Michael Eisner knows, it does all that for counselors too.

We look forward to introducing you to our superb 2013 staff in the coming months.

Lobster – A Maine Tradition!

At the Laurel Camps, our mascots are moose.
But as everyone in Maine knows, lobsters are as much a part of the state experience as moose.

The first record of Maine lobsters dates to 1605. Back in the day, they were caught by hand. Four-foot lobsters were common. The record seems to be a 12-pounder. That’s a lot of meat.

But they were considered “paupers’ food” – unfit for most people to eat.

By the late 1700s, as tastes evolved, boats with open holding wells on deck allowed live lobsters to be shipped. The lobster market grew.
Maine’s industry got another boost in 1843, when the first cannery was built in Eastport. As demand grew, so did technology. Wooden pots and special boats helped lobstermen broaden their range. Soon, they were hauling catches in deep water, far from shore.

But demand outpaced lobsters’ ability to reproduce. Inevitably they became smaller, and more scarce. With 3,000 full-time lobstermen working Maine’s waters, worries about extinction increased.

Regulations helped. The number of traps a lobsterman could set was reduced from 1200 to 800. The number of licenses was strictly controlled. Small lobsters, and females with eggs, must be thrown back.

The effect has been dramatic. Lobsters are now plentiful. In fact, last summer prices plunged – to the detriment of hard-working, independent lobstermen.

While you will only find lobster at Camp Laurel and Laurel South at our annual, end-of-summer Steak and Lobster Banquet, it is plentiful throughout the “207” state at lobster pounds, supermarkets, restaurants – even gas stations – all year long.

Put on that bib, crack those shells, and enjoy!

Camp – A World of Good

New Year’s is one of the best times of year. In the middle of winter, amid cold and snow, we look ahead to the summer ­ and camp. In just a few months (it always sneaks up on us!) the days get longer, the weather gets warmer, and we in the camp world do something special: give children the gift of growth.

We’ll do it again this year. But this time we’re writing a New Year’s message in the very difficult days following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

When we heard the news, we reacted like everyone: with a combination of horror, dread, anger, and unspeakable sadness. The more we learned, the more intensely we felt those emotions. We think about Newtown every day, and will continue to do so for a long time to come. Our feelings mirrored those of every parent. When you hear news like that, you feel an instinctive urge to circle the wagons. You feel a primal need to protect children, watch over them even more vigilantly than before, shield them from every potential harm that lurks in our world. But as a camp director (and as a parent), we know we shouldn’’t do that.

We feel it would be the wrong choice to never let our children out of our sight. We can’t hover constantly, and control their every move. We can’t smother them with a love so strong that they never grow up.
Camp is a place where children can ­ and do ­ grow. It’s a place where they feel comfortable, secure, and loved. It’s a place kids need.

Every year in the United States, more than 11 million boys and girls attend more than 12,000 summer camps. In woods and cabins, on lakes and rivers, these children develop strong friendships. Mentored by young (and older) adults, they take safe risks. They learn about camaraderie. They learn about traditions. They learn about sports, arts and the outdoors. They learn about themselves. They learn about life. They learn how to live.

In the difficult days after Newtown, it is those things ­ the promise of every summer, but especially this one ­ that provides such bright light.

Jem and Debbie           Roger and Dagni
Camp Laurel                Laurel South

Maine Winter Sports

It’s easy to think, when you leave Maine at the end of the camp season, that nothing happens there the rest of the year. Waterskiing, sailing, lacrosse – it’s all over.

Yet the state is a year-round sports haven. And nothing says “Maine” more than winter sports.

There are nearly two dozen ski resorts in the Pine Tree State. Sugarloaf and Sunday River may be the best known, but there’s a mountain for every ability – with your choice of downhill, snowboarding or tubing – throughout Maine. Many high schools sponsor ski teams too, but not restricted to alpine skiing. X-Country is a staple at many schools! Pretty unique – lettering for 4 years on your HS X-Country Ski Team.

The big spectator sport is hockey. The University of Maine men’s team is a national powerhouse. But nearly every town has its own rink, so there are great hockey games everywhere from the coast to the Canadian border.

Ice fishing is big. Cutting a hole in the middle of a lake sounds like an acquired taste. But add a bunch of friends, amenities like a heated cabin, and competitive “ice fishing derbies” – a winter staple – and the result is a truly impressive way to spend a beautiful winter day.

Last year, Camden played host to the U.S. National Toboggan Championship. Two-, three- and four-person sleds raced down America’s only 400-foot wooden chute.

And in 2010, the World Biathlon Championships came to Presque Isle and Fort Kent. The competition – combining cross country skiing and rifle shooting – rivaled the 1965 Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship fight as one of the biggest sports events in Maine history. An estimated 120 million Europeans watched the televised races.

Maine also hosts a 100-mile sled dog race – one of the top such events this side of Alaska.

It’s easy to think that when the buses pulls away in August, the state goes to sleep.

But as any Mainer can tell you, winter sports are an important part of the fabric of the state!

The Colleges of Maine

Many campers fall in love with Maine, and vow to return later in life. They’d like to vacation – or maybe even move – there.

Others come back sooner. They go to college in Maine.

Nearly everyone knows Maine’s big three schools: Bates, Bowdoin and Colby. So familiar, they’re often said as one word: “BatesBowdoinColby.” Or abbreviated as just “BBC.”

They’re well respected for many good reasons.

Bates – hey, we’re doing this alphabetically – is the Lewiston school founded in 1855 by abolitionists. The oldest continually operating coed institution in New England, it was one of the first colleges in the country to make SATs optional for admission (way back in 1984).

Bowdoin – in Brunswick, 28 miles north of Portland – was founded in 1794. The alma mater of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Franklin Pierce, it was ranked 6th on the U.S. News and World Report list of top liberal arts colleges.

Colby, in Waterville, was founded in 1813. It’s renowned as the first all-male college in New England to accept women.

But there’s much more to Maine schools than just BBC.

The University of Maine, located in Orono on the Stillwater River, is the flagship of a highly regarded state university system.

Its six other campuses include Fort Kent. On the Canadian border, and celebrating the region’s Franco-Arcadian heritage, it focuses on the needs of rural communities.

The University of Maine at Machias – 200 miles northeast of Portland, on the coast — features a unique environmental liberal arts core.

The Presque Isle campus is not, as its name implies, on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s far north in Aroostook County (the largest county east of the Mississippi River), almost in New Brunswick, Canada. A Native Education Center addresses the needs of Native American students.

Then there’s the College of the Atlantic. Students on the rocky coast of Mount Desert Island – minutes away from Acadia National Park – focus on experiential learning on the schools’ research vessel, or at its Beech Hill Farm.

We always say that – in addition to having fun and growing as people – our campers learn a lot each summer.

A few years later they can learn even more, in a state they’ve grown to love.

Summer at a Glance: First Year Counselor Thoughts

Orientation
I had no idea what to expect! Old fashion Scout cabins? Canvass tents? Teepees? How rustic is this camp? The cabins are really cool though; they are definitely “campy”… but fun, clean spaces with lots of bunk beds, cubbies, and big open floors to hang out on. Surprisingly, all of my clothes fit in my cubby! Maybe I managed to follow the packing list, or maybe the cubbies are just the right size, but either way, unpacking is a success!

I also didn’t know what to expect with the food. Very happy to report there are tons of options including a full salad bar every day. I’ve made some healthier choices and learned to depend on other things for energy instead of coffee all day long. An apple at mid-morning Fruit Break gives you an extra boost until lunch!

Tomorrow we’ll be getting to know the campers in our cabins; their names, where they’re from, what they like to do, etc. This is getting me super excited to meet them! Although I’m really nervous they won’t like me as much as the returning counselors. Speaking of which, I was a little intimidated by the returning counselors at first… they already had a close group of friends and I didn’t feel like I’d fit in. Now it’s only day 3 and I already have a great group of friends and the returners are awesome. Everyone is really welcoming! It’s very cool how quickly friendships are formed here.

Week 1
When the campers arrived two days ago it was an amazing scene. They were so excited to see each other. I felt a little left out that I didn’t know the kids yet but it’s been awesome getting to know them.
Today one of our activities was waterskiing. The kids were amazing! Some of them got up on their skis for the first time – I couldn’t believe it! I felt like a proud parent watching them. I was screaming and cheering for my kids out on the water. What an awesome day!!

Week 2
Today was a big tennis tournament. We had three other camps visiting as we hosted more than 80 matches. It was great! We also watched the big musical performance last night. I’ve heard the kids practicing for the past two weeks. There are some really talented kids here! I loved watching their friends in the audience cheering them on. Really cool! I can’t wait to see what acts surface at the next Talent Show.
This afternoon was Carnival. It was a great day of rides, games, carnival food and fun. Everyone loved it. A perfect way to break up the week!

Week 3
At the beginning of the week my campers tried something new and awesome – ceramics! Most of them had never worked with clay before but they dove right in – and got pretty messy! They started with a pile of wet mush and by the end they had actual mugs! Some of my campers said they are going to give them to their parents…what thoughtful kids!
Spirit Days has begun! It broke a few days ago and I never could have imagined what this was going to be like! The whole camp is split up in two teams, and we compete in every kind of event imaginable. From baseball, basketball soccer, gaga… even dance, trivia, canoeing, and crazy jello-filled relays.
The campers take the competition very seriously! This has probably been my favorite day at camp!

Week 4
NOO!! I do not want to leave my home! How is it possible that a month ago I had never been here and did not know all of these amazing people?! The friends that I have made here are going to be friends that I have for the rest of my life…and it feels like I have known them for years. The experiences I’ve had are unforgettable. While it was a little scary in the beginning, every little bump in the road was worth it. Most importantly, my campers feel like my family. Every day for the past four weeks we have gone to sports and activities together, cleaned the cabin together, eaten all of our meals together, danced, shot hoops, hugged, fallen asleep next to each other, and had more fun than I could have imagined possible. If that’s not family then I don’t know what it is! I’m already counting down the days until next summer… I can’t wait to see how much they’ve grown in a year!
Jessica
First Year Counselor

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

From time to time here, we discuss the importance and values of camp for children and teens.
Today, we’ll highlight some of the many benefits for counselors.

Last spring, New York Times’ “Adventures in Parenting” blogger Dan Fleshler wrote about his daughter’s decision to spend another summer working at an overnight camp. She resisted “considerable pressure to join the throngs of anxious fellow collegians…who pad their resumes with summer internships in corporations, charities, law firms and other employers that, according to conventional wisdom, offer better preparation for the brutal economy than a summer camp.”
Dan thought that was true too.
He told her, “anyone can be a camp counselor.” He wanted her to be more than“just anyone.”
But, he admitted, he also agreed with his wife. She said their daughter would have “plenty of time for the so-called real world.”

More convincing was the young woman herself. She argued that fetching coffee in an office pales in comparison to days and nights spent “nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring.”
She described how, the previous summer, she’d helped a camper cope with a myriad of “real life” issues. She’d comforted children whose parents were separating, and aided others who were dealing with anxiety.
She taught waterskiing to campers, instilling confidence they will have the rest of their lives. “What’s more important than that?” she asked her father.
“I had no answer, because I couldn’t come up with anything more important,” he wrote.
Nor could he refute her argument that managing group projects, motivating individuals, setting goals, juggling tight schedules, and being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was “incomparable preparation” for the future.

Dan Fleshler’s daughter was lucky enough to work as a camp counselor. Less fortunate college students had to settle for internships.

Camp: Memories For A Lifetime

Duffles are unpacked. School is once again in full swing. Summer ­ and camp ­is far on the horizon.

But throughout the school year ­and for the rest of their lives ­campers will draw upon, and draw strength from, the positive experiences of the past summer.

Dr. Christopher Thurber describes some of the transformations we witness every summer at camp. A clinical psychologist, he notes that many children head to camp with “core fears.” These include being judged, looking “less than cool” and being alone.

Fearing judgment can come from many reasons: one’s background, body size or perceived lack of physical skills, for example.

At camp, the staff — and the environment they create — gives each camper a chance to show off his or her special talents and skills in an emotionally safe place. There’s nothing like positive judgment to make a child’s summer.

The fear of not being successful can cause some campers to shy away from trying new activities. That’s why it’s so important for staff members to lead by example and try new things. We call it “modeling,” and we emphasize it over and over among our staff AND campers. Modeling behavior can sometimes make one look goofy ­ but it sends the message that there’s nothing wrong with being silly, trying new things and taking safe risks.

Camp is a place where caring, committed, compassionate adults provide stability and warmth. It is this environment and community that gives children and teens the strength and confidence to say, “I am going to go for it. I can overcome this. I can do this.”

When campers return home each year, they talk about activities, friends and counselors. They remember fun and funny moments. They seldom verbalize the fears they’ve had, and how they’ve met them head on. But that is as much a part of any camp experience as swimming, cookouts or Spirit Days. And confronting these fears is what builds self-esteem, develops a greater sense of self, and allows our children to take safe risks and thrive far beyond the fishbowl of camp.

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