It’s hard to believe we’ve been at camp for over a week. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” and that couldn’t be more true in Casco, Maine. Our program days are filled with action. Basketball, Tennis, Climbing, Sailing, Lacrosse, Soccer, Crafts, Ceramics, Fitness, Gymnastics and more. Nights are filled with amazing evening activities and special events. Our 7th, 8th and 9th graders all returned form incredible overnight camping trips. We’ve had our first two S Days (in and out of camp) and they were phenomenal. The fun never stops, and it is always a beautiful day in the state of Maine!
It’s been an amazing start to another magical summer at Laurel South! Arrival Day couldn’t have been nicer as campers arrived from all over the country and world to rekindle existing friendship and plant the seeds for new ones. Friday was Moose Stomp Day. We chose our schedules for the summer, made s’mores at the Outpost, had individual and cabin pictures taken and enjoyed everyone’s company.
Our Opening Council Fire was incredible. Our “A” and “B” program days have been outstanding — you can feel the Laurel South Spirit from the Ballfields to the Waterfront to the Equestrian Center and our brand new Arts Center! Our 7th grade boys and girls had a blast in Camden. Our 9th graders are white water rafting on the Kennebec River and our 8th graders are camping at Acadia National Park. Our remaining campers are anticipating our first “S” day tomorrow. The action never stops in Casco, Maine!
Adventure, tradition, fun, and nature are all words that come to mind when one mentions “summer camp.” One word that doesn’t instantly come to mind, however, is “exploration.” Summer camp is an exercise in exploration.
There is, of course, literal exploration. Traditional summer camps are primarily located in rural areas, away from the city and suburban settings in which most campers live the remaining ten months of the year. The natural surroundings are the perfect environment for exploring nature and the outdoors.
There is the exploration of new things. Summer camp, by design, is conducive in trying the untried. Campers inevitably try something new at camp: new food, new activities, new ways of doing things. Some of the newness breeds ongoing new interest while some highlights the joys of routine and tradition.
The exploration of self, while slightly more esoteric is also an important aspect of summer camp. Campers learn how to be independent at summer camp. Sure, they’re surrounded by their friends, and camp is a largely social environment. Being away from parents for several weeks, however, helps children learn how to make decisions and gain confidence in themselves. From their newly gained independence, they begin to see and understand the value of individuality.
Exploration of culture and tradition is also a prevalent theme of summer camp. Summer camp is an amalgam of cultures. Many campers and staff come from all over the United States as well as the world. Exposure to people from geographic regions outside their own provides an open forum for exploring the subtle nuances that distinguish various cultures and their traditions.
Freedom of exploration is an important aspect of child development, and no place provides more of an open forum for exploration than summer camp.
Camps in Maine offer many sports team opportunities. From in-camp competitions to games against other camps, youngsters learn important lessons about working together, overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. That’s pretty obvious.
Less obvious is that throughout each camp season – every day, in many ways – those lessons are being reinforced far from the athletic fields.
A cabin represents the ultimate “team.” From the first day of camp to the last, groups of boys and girls form bonds, create friendships and share experiences that make each individual stronger – and, ultimately, help the “team” succeed.
Cabin-mates learn to share many things. They share space in their cabins. They share games, books, “stuff” from home.
They share stories and experiences. They share their hopes and dreams (and disappointments). They share their time.
They learn to put the best interests of the group above themselves. They learn to compromise. When it’s time for the group to do something they have advocated for, they learn to make the most of that opportunity.
They learn to move outside their comfort zone, trying things they’ve never done before. They learn to assess new situations, make quick decisions, and realize that actions have consequences. When things don’t go as expected, they take comfort in being surrounded by people who can help. Other times, they’re the ones providing assistance.
Campers learn to look ahead. There’s always something to plan for and be excited about. But there’s also the joy of looking back, reliving common experiences (many of which grow astonishingly, with each re-telling).
Over the course of a summer, boys and girls at camp learn what it means to live together. They learn the importance of trust, the power of common laughter, the exhilarating feeling of being part of a “team.”
And – though they don’t know it at the time – those lessons prepare them to be better siblings, roommates, co-workers and spouses, long after their summer camp “team” moves on.
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.
You’ve accepted the position and completed the paperwork. It’s official! You’re about to spend your first summer as a camp counselor. Naturally, a lot of people experience a few nerves in the days leading up to camp. After all, even when you’re a grown adult, leaving behind your family and friends to spend the summer in a strange place is a big deal, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time before. If you didn’t attend summer camp as a child, working at summer camp holds even more mystique because you’re not sure what to expect. If first time counselor nerves are haunting you, don’t be so quick to call up and accept that unpaid internship filing paperwork in a stuffy office all summer and, for goodness sake, don’t accept that job at the hot dog stand in the local park. Instead, follow these tips to kick your summer into gear now:
1.) Relax! You are NOT the only first time staff member coming to camp. If you know no one else going to camp or have never been to camp, that understandably may be a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around right now. But trust us! When you get to camp, you will be in good company. If you’re feeling a little bit lonely when you first arrive, don’t panic and automatically assume you’ve made a mistake. The majority of people who tend to be drawn to work at camp typically have laid back, easy going and open personalities with an extraverted bend toward making new friends. Chances are that after your camp’s staff orientation period, you’ll have several new friends for life and wonder why you ever even doubted coming to camp.
2.) Like your camp’s Facebook page and staff Facebook page if it has one. Social media has arrived and most summer camps are completely aware that the easiest and most effective way to communicate with their camp staff is through means such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. By liking your camp’s pages, you can make friends before camp, pick up a lot of useful tips, and even possibly connect with a rideshare if you’re looking for a way to get to camp. Most summer camps also now feature regular blogs. It’s a good idea to pop onto the camp webpage every now and then in the weeks leading up to camp to see what new blogs have been posted. Camps tend to post some blogs, such as this one, for which staff is the intended audience during the late spring and early summer.
3.) Don’t over or under pack. Packing lists are created by camp professionals who’ve spent enough summers at camp to know what you need to be comfortable for the summer. So read over the staff packing list, if your camp supplies one, when determining what to pack as well as what not to pack. Veteran staff members are also usually more than happy to field questions on staff Facebook pages, which makes them a good resource if you’re unsure about some items.
4.) Arrive with the right mindset; being a camp counselor really is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Camps tell prospective staff members this during the interview process…and they mean it. You are about to spend the summer working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you will love most moments of it. There will also be moments during which you will question how in the world you ended up working at a summer camp and why you thought it was a good idea. Two things are essential to moving forward when these moments happen, and they’re actually most effective if you prepare yourself with them before you even get to camp. First, arrive with the right attitude. Yes, you’re there to work. You’re there to work hard. You’re also going to have a lot of fun creating amazing moments for and with your campers. Second, know what helps you alleviate stress or frustration and come prepared to engage in it should the need arise.
5.) Be in the moment. Yes, we spend our lives being told how important it is to plan. But at camp, it’s very important to be in the moment and be present with the campers. It’s how you’ll best appreciate the camp counselor experience as well. Summer camp lasts only a few weeks each summer, and things tend to move very quickly. On the first day, you’ll be looking ahead at a whole summer and thinking the end seems like a long way off. But on the last day of camp you will wonder where it went. Don’t find yourself with regrets on that day by realizing that you didn’t take advantage of every moment.
As long as there has been summer camp, archery has been a part of it. Although the amount of available activities at summer camp has grown immensely since the early days of camp, archery still remains popular. It’s a classic outdoor sport that doesn’t require the stamina or athletic prowess of, say, soccer, but a good eye, good aim, and precision when firing. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in being able to see yourself move closer to achieving a goal. It’s not always apparent that your swim stroke has gotten better since the beginning of the summer, or that your baseball pitch has improved over the past couple of weeks. Although your counselors and friends may compliment you and tell you that you’re better than you used to be, there isn’t really anything tangible for you to immediately be able to tell for yourself. With archery, however, there is a target with a bull’s-eye on it. It’s not at all unusual for campers to begin the summer not even being able to hit the target and then, as the summer moves along, hit and then inch closer and closer to the bull’s-eye. The closer they get to that bull’s-eye, the more arrows campers want to shoot.
It seems like a small goal, and it is really. However, it’s still an exercise in goal setting. Hitting the bull’s-eye requires focus, and being focused requires you to survey your surroundings, determine where you need to aim, and then focus on the details as you attempt to hit your target. Being successful at archery requires this same effort from everyone. Campers have no advantage if they run faster, jump higher, or throw harder. Every camper enters the archery range on a level playing field with the same potential for hitting a bull’s-eye. Some get lucky, some work hard. Either way, archery promises a path to success for anyone who is willing to set a goal, take aim, and work hard. Perhaps that is why after decades of being a summer camp staple, archery remains one of the most popular activities.
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.
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.
– 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.
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!
A joke telling session in the cabin during a rainy morning, lying in the cabin during rest hour, or sitting by the waterfront and talking with friends as the sun goes down are what we call downtime at summer camp. Children need downtime to process learning experiences and recharge their creative juices, notes parenting expert Michael Grose. He believes downtime is an important life skill that every child should learn to enjoy and appreciate. Yes, sleepaway camps like to keep campers busy. After all, that’s what they come for. But camps also place emphasis on the value of the summer camp experience as a way to get out of the routine of everyday life, which is what makes summer camp the perfect place for children to learn downtime.
At home, it’s easy to get lost in the constant “go” routine to which so many children are accustomed. Many of them go straight from school to sports rehearsals or music lessons, sometimes both or several in one night. Then there is the inevitable stack of homework waiting when they finally get a few moments in the evening. They also see their parents constantly on the move. In such an environment, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that one should always be operating at full speed. At camp, however, the environment is decidedly one that is about slowing down and appreciating individual moments and accomplishments.
Camp is also contained. Campers have only a few weeks each summer to maximize their camp experience. They can’t look too far ahead without looking beyond camp, which no camper wants to do. That’s why campers like to take advantage of that brief rain shower, an hour of rest in the afternoon, or a few moments after dinner to enjoy the camp environment and bond with friends.
Says Grose, “Free, child-initiated play is the ultimate in relaxation. Fun games, games with few rules and games that kids control help them to unwind.” And learning to unwind is what camp is all about.