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Camp Pets

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.

Be Better

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.

Media Break

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.

 

A College Case for Camp

One of the most understated advantages of summer camps is how much they do to help prepare older campers for life after the summer.  Increasingly, sleepaway camps are taking an interest in providing older campers with valuable experiences that will help them through the college application process and later in life. Leadership programs, college visits and community service are just a few of the offerings for older campers, and statistics show that there is a college case for them.

There is a rising trend of college admissions foregoing standardized test scores in favor of applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences. An article on www.education.com reveals that colleges are realizing high standardized test scores are not necessarily indicative of good students. Rather, those students who demonstrate well-rounded backgrounds with involvement in a variety of activities, such as summer camp, generally make good students because they learn valuable skills through these activities. Beyond the activities themselves, however, colleges are considering the value of them by examining how applicants engaged in them. In other words, colleges considering activities in lieu of test scores aren’t just placing heavy weight on applicant involvement in activities such as summer camp, they’re placing considerable weight on what applicants did while involved. This creates prime opportunity for summer camps to step up and showcase just how much campers benefit from returning each summer, and many camps are answering the challenge.

Campers attend summer camp for several years—sometimes as many as eight. The summer camp environment is the perfect place for them to engage in fun activities with friends that teach skills that college admissions teams find valuable. Through special activities and opportunities to lead younger campers, teenage campers learn to be effective leaders. Some camps also offer extended counselor training programs that provide high school campers with the opportunity to take on staff roles at camp. Often, these types of programs are the first work experience for campers eager to take on leadership roles at the beloved summer home where they grew up.

Beyond counselor training programs, or sometimes in place of them, a handful of camps also offer highly customized programs in which campers learn how to communicate effectively and support each other. Such programs teach inclusion and help older campers develop a resistance to falling prey to common teenage stumbling blocks such as gossip, bullying and negative peer pressure. Camps often work with professional psychologists, life coaches, and even nutritionists to maximize the benefits of these programs. These professionals are frequently featured guests who engage campers in special activities that demonstrate life lessons in fun and engaging ways.

There is also a trend in camps taking on the task of taking campers on tours of a variety of college campuses. Many camps in the New England area are within proximity to some of the most esteemed institutions of higher learning in the nation, and they arrange formal tours so that their older campers can actually get a glimpse of college life. Moreover, college tours prompt students to begin considering the qualities for which they are looking in a college, such as size, geographic location, and extra-curricular offerings by seeing firsthand how these factors affect the college experience.

Community service programs are also a rising trend in camping, surprisingly, often by camper request. Campers grow up in camp learning to be a member of a community. They develop such a respect for that community and everything it has contributed to their lives that they want to give back. They see the value in passing on the rites and traditions with which they grew up to others. While some community service programs stay within the camp campuses, others reach well beyond camp and extend into the local or even national community. Camps openly support charities and plan special events dedicated to those causes, which means that campers are learning from an early age the value of community involvement.

Parents wondering if summer camp is still as beneficial to their children as teenagers compared to when they were younger need only look at college admission trends. Chances are that camp could be that all important deciding application factor and the skills teenage campers bring away from their final few summers at camp may well be much more valuable than you thought.

The Other Camp Staff

Summer camp employment is synonymous with “camp counselor” in most people’s minds. But, there are a lot of “non-counselor” positions at camp. If you’re interested in working at summer camp but don’t really think the role of camp counselor would be best for you, consider one of these alternatives:

Program/Activity Head: Are you or have you ever been a professional or college level athlete or coach? If so, and you’re interested in working at summer camp, then the Program/Activity Head role might be a perfect fit for you. Program/Activity Heads oversee a sport or activity at camp. They typically have a staff of counselors who are also active in the sport or activity to assist with instruction and coaching. Program/Activity Heads plan daily activities, oversee instruction and assign campers to teams for intra and inter camp league play. There are also a handful of Program/Activity Head roles at camp for those who are not athletic but have some sort of niche expertise in areas like arts & crafts, music, dance, theater, cooking, science and communications.

Programming Staff: If you have a knack for scheduling, consider applying to work as part of a camp programming team. The camp programming staff is responsible for the daily camper and staff schedules. When creating schedules, they must keep in mind things like facility availability, staffing ratios and camper frequencies.

Special Events Staff: The special events staff at summer camp are responsible for all events that take place outside of the regular daily special. This is typically all evening activities and special days as well as (on that rare occasion) a rainy day. It helps if you have some sort of technical knowledge, such as connecting laptops to video screens, rigging microphones and operating (sometimes complicated) sound systems. But not everything you do as a special events staff member is hi-tech. You can also be charged with setting up a scavenger hunt, gathering and placing materials for game night, baking night or a host of other things. The imagination is the limit. If you love having fun, event planning and are detail oriented, special events might be the area of camp for you.

Photography/Videography: Camp photographer and videographer roles are highly specialized and extremely critical roles at camp. Every day, camp photographers take hundreds of photographs of daily activities and film many of the activities as well. If you’re a professional in either of these areas and are interested in working at summer camp, chances are there is a camp looking for you.

Camp Nurse: Summer camps maintain health centers and employ licensed nurses to dispense medication, clean up those inevitable scratches and cuts, and treat campers and staff who become ill during the summer. For those rare, more severe injuries that occur, nurses also may be asked to accompany campers or staff to local hospitals or doctors’ offices.

Office Staff: If you prefer behind the scenes desk work and answering phone calls, then consider applying for a camp office position. Typically, office staff answer phone calls, sort mail, greet visitors, manage camper phone calls, prepare documents or mailings, and complete other administrative tasks.

Maintenance Staff: If you’re a handyman (or woman) who’s good with a hammer, loves landscaping and cleaning, and prefers being outdoors to inside, consider applying to work as a member of the maintenance team. Camp maintenance staff stay busy all summer long maintaining summer camp campuses, and no two days as a camp maintenance staff member are alike.

Kitchen Staff: Working in the camp kitchen is perfect for those who thrive in restaurant environments. If you’re a chef, caterer or member of a restaurant staff- or aspire to be one – then working in a summer camp kitchen is a fun alternative to restaurant work.

If any of these camp roles interest you, camps are hiring now. Many of the people who work in these roles return year after year because they are a great way to integrate personal interests and specialized expertise with the fun and adventure of working at summer camp. Apply now and you just may find yourself returning year after year too.

Digital Detox

Dani Ackerman, our friend from Elmwood Day Camp, wrote this great blog that we thought was worth sharing. Take a look:

Do you ever feel addicted to your phone or find that your whole day is spent staring at a screen? I certainly do! I recently returned from CampMinder Camp (a conference focused on camp technology) in Boulder, Colorado. At this conference, I attended a great session called “Digital Detox,” run by Levi Felix. In this session, it was stressed that this “addiction” to technology is not necessarily bad nor should we feel guilty about it. We should simply find time to “disconnect to reconnect.” He highlighted several strategies that offer us an opportunity to reclaim our “me time” and offer us more time to connect with others. Here are a few of my favorites….

  • Eat at least 1 meal a day without a device: Use this time for yourself or to be fully present with others.
  • Use the phone FIRST to contact people: There is a more personal connection when speaking with someone on the phone instead of texting or e-mailing.
  • Schedule mini breaks throughout the day or mini “digital detoxes” where you are not connected to your phone, television, radio, etc.
  • Give your eyes a break and follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes look at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Set a technology curfew: Turn off your phone and television 60 – 90 minutes before bed. You will likely get better sleep as a result.
  • Avoid multi-tasking: No one is as good at multi-tasking as they think. Instead of multi-tasking, create a schedule for yourself each day.
  • Disable push notifications on your phone that are not critical: This will help eliminate unneeded digital distractions.
  • Create tech-free walls/areas in your home: There should be certain places in your home where technology is not used (like the bathroom, for example).

One of the things I enjoy most about camp is that I can digitally detox. I can be fully present in each moment of camp because I am not distracted by the many different forms of technology. At Elmwood, there is a no cell phone policy, we avoid using e-mail during the summer and we do not have any activities that involve video games or computers. No one is walking around camp bumping into each other because they are staring at their cell phones. (which often happens to me when walking around NYC). Everyone is fully present in the moment. I admit that separating from my phone during the day is always a bit of a challenge at first, but it feels great to be fully engaged in camp and building relationships with campers and staff all day long. I can be completely plugged into all the wonderful things that are happening… and then it is always fun looking at my phone at the end of the day (absence does make the heart grow fonder after all).

Popular Sports at Camp

There is a decided difference between popular school sports and popular camp sports. Most schools throughout the nation focus on key sports like football, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. At summer camps, campers have much more exposure to non-traditional sports that receive decidedly less promotion through school but prove rather popular at camp, in spite of—or perhaps because of —the fact that they are not widely promoted in school environments.

Tennis is a sport to which most children are exposed for only a few weeks of physical education class each year. At camp, however, it’s one of the most popular and beloved activities. Campers have the opportunity to play several hours of tennis each week on quality courts and even participate in intra and inter camp league play. Furthermore, the instruction is excellent. Many summer camp tennis directors are former tennis pros who have played at the elite level in premiere tennis competitions.

Lacrosse, although popular in New England and other pockets of the Eastern United States, is not widely played in many regions of the country. Yet, it’s one of the most popular camp sports. Many summer camps offer extensive and ever growing (by popular demand) lacrosse programs. Most camp lacrosse specialists play at the college level and many lacrosse heads coach at the college level.  Campers who hail from geographic regions in which lacrosse is still an underdog sport have the opportunity to receive valuable, quality instruction that surpasses anything available where they live. In fact, many of these campers play lacrosse for the first time while at summer camp and discover a new favorite sport.

For children who love water, boating is another popular camp activity to which most campers receive little to no exposure during the school year. Camp waterfronts are a crucial part of camps, and campers spend a lot of time in or on the water at camp. To sweeten the pot, summer camps make various types of boats available so that campers can try their hand at canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and even stand-up paddle boarding. Waterskiing is another popular water sport on which many camps place a particular focus. Campers have the opportunity to waterski throughout the summer, and some of the most enthusiastic camper responses every summer are those of campers who get up on water skis for the first time.

Animal loving campers adore camp equestrian programs. Campers who live in urban environments and have minimal exposure to animals throughout most of the year enjoy learning to care for and ride horses. The experience is doubly beneficial when the fact that equestrian programs are virtually non-existent at the majority of schools is taken into consideration.

Campers race to suit up for roller hockey. It’s an action packed and fast paced sport that is fun to play and a key activity in many camp programs. Not only do a lot of campers embrace an otherwise unfamiliar sport in roller hockey, they learn how to skate as well!

Archery. Most schools don’t offer archery, even as part of a physical education program. But it’s a regular part of camp, and pretty much every camper who takes aim at the bulls-eye throughout the summer will tell you that it’s a fun one.

Golf. Yep, many camps offer golf instruction as well. Campers love to relax while driving balls and working on their strokes. They also like that golf is a sport in which it is relatively easy to measure one’s level of improvement throughout the summer.

Gaga is practically synonymous with camp. It’s serious business there, and it can get intense. Gaga is  practically unheard of outside of the camp realm. Still, ask virtually any summer camper to list their top five favorite activities at camp, and chances are that gaga will appear somewhere on that list.

Many a camper engages in what will become a favorite sport at camp for the first time. Perhaps it’s because some sports are a rare treat that, if it wasn’t for sleepaway camp, campers know they would never get to experience and, therefore, are eager to embrace. It can also be that campers find the newness of such sports refreshing in respect to the typical repertoire of school sports. Either way, summer camp is an excellent way for campers to receive exposure to and quality instruction in sports that may not be so popular at school but prove very popular at camp.

The Importance of Evening Activities at Camp

The typical image of evenings at summer camp involves campers sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows and singing songs. While campfires are an essential part of the camp experience and some camps enjoy campfires nightly or weekly —  they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to after dinner activities. While some nights, particularly those following busier than usual days, are “chill” nights at camp during which campers watch a movie, enjoy a camp show or, yes, sit around that infamous campfire, on most nights when the sun goes down at camp, the action heats up and things get crazy—sometimes really crazy—and maybe even a little goofy.

Whether it’s a dance, an evening of games or a scavenger hunt, it’s important to dress for the occasion and costumes are often encouraged. Acceptable attire often includes tutus, crazy hats or wigs, temporary tattoos and face or body paint. When competition is involved, dressing in team colors is also a must. Friends or even entire cabins often try to mirror each other with matching outfits, and showing team spirit typically becomes a competition within a competition. Clever cheers (often involving inside camp jokes), singing, and loud encouragement provide the soundtrack to a night of activities designed to help everyone let loose, be themselves, and, most importantly, have fun. So what is the point of so much silliness after a full day of activities? It’s simple. Play. Play has long been touted by child psychologists as crucial to social and cognitive development. At camp, however, the kind of play that happens during evening activities takes on a much bigger role as an avenue for inspiring campers and staff alike to embrace camp values and put them into action.

At least one of these three key words consistently appears in camp mottos: “tradition”, “family”, “friends.” All three are emphasized during evening activities at camp. Whether it’s to win a competition or a race, playful evening activities are a fun way for campers to come together as a family to achieve a common goal. More importantly, individual age divisions often spend time together during evening activities. During the day, campers go in many different directions, depending on their interests and program schedules. In the evenings, however, they come back together as a group. In the midst of lighthearted moments, friendships are born and strengthened.

Sleepaway camp traditions don’t begin and end with campfires and sing-alongs. They are evident—or sometimes born—in even the wackiest moments of evening activities. Those activities become perennial favorites to which campers look forward all year. They spend time during the winter contemplating ways in which they can enhance tradition and future memories by building upon previous experiences of those activities. They communicate with each other, brainstorm ideas and even make plans. In short, through play, campers take ownership of their camp experience as well as their camp traditions. In doing so, they embrace camp values.

The Hard Part of Working at Camp

A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what’s the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.

First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to saying goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.

Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.

Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.

Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make it through the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.

There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.

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