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Experts Agree: Camp is Cool

Summer is over – which means camp directors can catch up on our summer reading.

In the past few months, the media has been filled with stories examining the camp experience. A variety of writers extol it, from several intriguing angles.

Reviewing Michael Thompson’s new book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, Time Magazine’s Bonnie Rochman said the author focused on the magic of camp after realizing “it’s where most kids first battle homesickness only to emerge triumphantly independent.” But it’s not only children who benefit: the Time story is titled “Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents.” Camp lets parents realize that their children are growing up; that they can be independent, and survive away from home. And, of course, time apart from their kids is important for parents’ own relationships and fulfillment.

Talya Minsberg picked up on that theme in her piece for the New York Times’ “Motherlode” parenting blog. Youngsters grow and explore at camp, she says, “despite their parents’ worry.”

Minsberg should know. A former camp counselor herself, her piece is a paean to “the in-jokes, goofy rituals and the cherished memories” of a camp-filled summer.

She called camp “magical…a place removed from the stresses and distractions of the real world, where staff members and campers alike discover a new kind of independence and responsibility. Camp is a place of positive transformation – where you…clean up your dishes and make your bed with no complaints, and meet undoubtedly the coolest people in the world: your 19-year-old counselors.”

Writing lovingly for Slate, John Dickerson also nailed the camp experience — with a twist in his article, “My Daughter Went Away to Camp and Changed.” A former camper who returned to pick up his daughter 36 years later, he noted that camp hasn’t changed. However – happily – she had.

In her father’s absence, she’d grown up. She’d explored, taken risks, tried new identities. “We are not invited” to camp, Dickerson said. That’s “a paper-cut echo of the truth at the heart of parenting: You’re doing it best when you’re teaching them to leave you.”

Camp is a perfect way for parents to teach children to leave them. It’s also a perfect way for parents to teach themselves how to let go, and take their own steps toward independence. Independence, that is, from their kids. That doesn’t mean they love their children any less. In fact, it means they love them more.

The young people these writers love are back at home now. They’re glad to be there. Their parents are happy to have them. But odds are good that they can’t wait for next summer to arrive.

10 Reasons Working as a Camp Counselor This Past Summer Was the Most Awesome Job Decision You Ever Made…

1.) Being able to put “Provided excellent care and fun for several hundred children” or “helped children improve athletic skills” on your resume is a pretty sweet bonus.

2.) Saying, “My friend who lives in Australia…” or “My friend who lives in Arizona…” sounds a lot cooler (and more worldly) than, “My friend who works two cubicles down from me…”  Not to mention, you’ll save a whole lot of money on accommodations the next time you travel!

3.) You’d take tutus over “business casual” as dress code any day.  Shorts and staff shirts meant you got some extra Zs in the morning, too, because you didn’t need an extra half hour to stand in front of your closet wondering what you should wear.

4.) Fetching snacks for your campers was so much more fun than fetching coffee for a boss–and your campers were more appreciative, too.

5.) You got paid to do lots of fun outdoor activities everyday.  Your friends had to request a day off to do fun outdoor activities.

6.) Your “office” had a much better view than your friends’ cubicles. Summer camp provided plenty of breathing room in the form of roomy campuses as workplaces.

7.) Every day brought new opportunities and challenges that, by the sounds of it, were much more gratifying than spending an entire summer filing and creating mail merges.

8.) Letting loose and acting silly was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  Your friends got verbal warnings for laughing too loudly in their offices.

9.) The amount of friends and connections you have through social media outlets multiplied exponentially.  Who knew summer camp would be such a great place to network?

10.) Laurel South was even more beautiful than it was in the video on the camp’s website that convinced you that you just had to work there–and the people some of the warmest you’ve ever met!

The Many Role Models of Summer Camp

There aren’t many places children can go to be surrounded by positive role models that provide them the opportunity to develop relationships on multiple levels.  For most kids, adult mentors are limited to parents, coaches and teachers. There’s one place, however, where children are surrounded by mentors on multiple levels 24/7: summer camp.  Most summer camps have very high staff to camper ratios, which means there is never a shortage of grownups from whom campers can seek guidance and leadership.  Of course, everyone knows that role models are important in the lives of children.  But we simply forget to take the time to consider that having different types of leadership examples is equally crucial, until we’re reminded of this by the campers themselves.

A senior camper at one of America’s Finest Summer Camps recently observed there are so many leaders at camp that you never feel like you have no one to go to when the need arises.  This is very true.  There are coaches to help children improve their skills and reach athletic goals.  There are counselors to provide guidance through daily activities.  There are Head Counselors and Campus Leaders to help out with the bigger, more complicated aspects of camp.  And there are Directors who make it their business to make sure everyone has fun and stays safe.  There is also the myriad of other staff who work in camp offices, kitchens and health centers.  Regardless of which role any of these people fulfill, they’re all working at summer camp for one reason: They have opted to dedicate their summers to making a positive impact on the lives of children, and the campers’ best interests are their first priority.  There aren’t many institutions that can make a similar claim.

As leaders and mentors, camp staff bring a passion to their jobs that anyone who makes a decision to dedicate themselves 24/7 to a job must have in order to be successful.  They voluntarily give up sleep, time with family and free-time in order to be a part of summer camp, and their dedication shows through their interaction with campers.  The relationship is symbiotic.  Campers understand that staff find as much value in the summer camp experience as they do, which develops into a mutual confidence and trust.

Social learning is the psychological concept that places value on the necessity of good role models in the lives of children, which is perhaps why camp is an ideal place for campers to get the most out of being surrounded by many prospective mentors.  Summer camp is somewhat of a microcosm of an ideal society.  It’s a self-contained arena in which people live alongside one another in an environment that is most harmonious when everyone supports the successes of those around them. The absence of everyday competitiveness gives campers the opportunity to take full advantage of the encouragement that comes from everyone around them, including leaders.

Closing Up

When the last buses depart, marking the final day of camp, an eerie feeling sets in.

The staff is still there. But all the campers whose laughter and energy made the cabins, lake and woods such a wonderful home for the summer are gone.

Things are quiet for about three minutes. Then everyone starts to move. There is work to be done.

A lot of work.

Docks are pulled out of the water. Master Crafts, Sunfish, Hobies, canoes, paddleboards, life jackets and lifeguard stands are stored.

Every piece of equipment is inventoried.

Every climbing wall hold is removed.

Every guitar, microphone and piano is moved gently to “warm” storage for the year

Mattresses are counted and an order for “fresh” ones for the summer of 2014 is placed.

Ping pong tables, basketballs, lacrosse sticks, soccer balls — if it’s equipment that was used during the summer, it’s stowed away.

Then the staff gathers for lunch. The dining hall seems the same – but the decibel level is lower.

A lot lower.

Then it’s back to work. Everyone pitches in. An entire summer’s worth of gear must be accounted for, checked, and put away.

Finally, the day is done. Staff members get checked out – and receive a staff gift.

Goodbyes are said. Contact information is exchanged. By nightfall, nearly everyone is gone.

Soon, camp will be left to two full-time caretakers. They will start the process of meeting with contactors, electricians, painters, plumbers and carpenters to begin the new construction we do every year at The Laurel Camps.

Then a crew comes in to deep clean every cabin, bathroom, bed, cubby and shower.

And in the “winter office” – though it’s still August – planning has already begun for next year.

And we can hardly wait!!

Use Social Media to Explore Summer Camps during the Off Season

We can hear the echoes of parents the world over now…’Start thinking about what?  Now?  We just finished filling out school paperwork!’  True.  Next summer is ten months away.  Trust us; we keep a countdown.  Newsflash:  summer camp enrollment is right around the corner.  In fact, for many camps, new camper enrollment is already underway.

Residential camp attendance is on the rise.  In fact, the American Camp Association reports a 21% increase in sleepaway camp enrollment over the past decade.  One would think this has summer camp directors all over the country jumping for joy—and it does.  But there is also a downside to the rising interest in summer camp.  As much as camp directors would like to offer an infinite amount of campers a place at their camps, facilities and programs have capacities, which means there are limitations to how many campers each camp can accommodate and still provide the best possible experience.  The solution for some camps is a waiting list.  Other camps simply stop taking inquiries after their open spots are filled.  For a lot of very popular premiere level summer camps, it means longer waiting lists for an already existing shortage of openings.  In other words, admission is competitive, and if you wait until the weather starts warming up to start thinking about registering for summer camp, you might find yourself in the cold.

Ideally, if you’re hoping to have a first time camper next summer, you’ve already short listed several camps that you think are the best fit for your child.  Maybe you’ve been avoiding making the final call because you prefer one camp while your child prefers another.  Maybe you’re just not sure your child is ready for sleepaway camp.  Maybe you still have a few questions before making it official.  Whatever the reason, now’s the time to pull out that short list and start narrowing down the candidates. Even if your child is looking forward to another summer of day camp, now is still a good time to start browsing the web and assembling a list of prospective camps.  Thanks to social media, you can follow camps throughout the year and get a feel for the camp’s community.  After all, you and your children are going to be a part of whichever one you choose for the next several years.  So it’s important to pick the one of which you think your family could feel most a part.

While reviewing social media outlets and the camp’s website, ask yourself:  How invested does the camp seem in its programs, facilities and families?  Who is the staff and how are they selected?  What is the camp’s policy about communication between campers and staff during the winter months?  These are very important questions that delve beyond the sparkling lake and impeccably manicured grounds shown on websites or camp videos.

Summer camps are more than the sum total of their promotional videos as well.  Use the opportunity to let social media help you get a better picture. You can easily determine parents’ as well campers’ attitudes toward a camp.  A strong online community that shows enthusiasm for camp throughout the year is a sure sign of happy camp families.

Once you start to consider the details of what will make you feel comfortable about sending your child off for several weeks or most of the summer, the easier it is to select a camp, and  the less likely you are to find yourselves on a waiting list because you quite literally missed your window of opportunity.

Coming Home (Parentheses)

Parents: prepare for your pantries to be emptied, your laundry rooms to be full, and your television remote controls to become affixed to your children’s hands.  The campers are coming home, and they’re riding a camp high.  They have a lot to tell you.  Get ready to hear a lot of stories about camp (over and over), be let in on a lot of inside jokes that you probably won’t understand because “it’s a camp thing” (laugh anyway), learn everything you could ever want to know and more about new friends (excellent excuse to look at camp photos again with your children), and listen to camp songs and cheers (they’ll likely want to teach them to you too).  Sometime around mid-September, you’ll probably start wagering with your spouse about whether your children will stop talking about this summer before next summer starts (not likely).

You’ll try to start conversations about things other than camp (you’re pretty sure you’ve seen an episode or two of Pretty Little Liars), but inevitably the conversation will come back to camp. (Remember the episode when Spencer realized that she’d been to summer camp with Hannah’s stepsister?  And speaking of camp…) But just when you’re starting to feel camped out, something will happen this fall that will make you remember why you love hearing about camp.  Registration for next summer will open.   You’ll remember that this is the point every year when still hearing about this summer even though it’s time to start thinking about next summer transforms into music to your ears, and the lyrics are your children’s way of telling you that they love camp (even though by that time they’ve said they love camp about a million times).  You’ll think about everything they’ve shared with you about camp, try (and fail) to count how many times they’ve used the word “camp” since they’ve returned home, and maybe even admire some of their arts & craft handiwork as you pat yourself on the back for deciding to give your children the gift of summer camp (then you’ll check the camp website for the Visiting Day 2014 date).

Summer…It’s Almost Over…

I can’t believe the summer is almost over. Everybody says it goes by quick, so I should enjoy every minute of it. That’s really true most of the time at camp. Camp has flown by. I cant believe its almost over. At camp, there’s always something different coming up. Sometimes I know what it is, and sometimes it’s a surprise. I guess it’s good to not always know everything in advance.


We had a lot of intercamps this year. It’s a lot different than playing on a team at home, where it’s the same people all the time, and everybody is talking about wins and losses. We always have different teams for intercamps. It’s much better to win, but if we lose nobody yells.

It was pretty cool that we did a lot of different sports all summer. Baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, gymnastics, fitness and probably more that I
can’t remember. We had a gaga competition too.
They definitely don’t have teams for that at home.

I tried stuff I never tried before. Some of them were a little scary at first, but I saw other people doing them, and the counselors were really good about teaching new things. I never knew how much fun rock climbing could be. And there were other kids who had never gone mountain biking or done gymnastics or waterskied or were kind of scared of swimming. Probably everybody I know tried at least one new thing this summer.

I also didn’t know if I would be any good in the play and dance show. I guess I was pretty good. People laughed and clapped at the right times, so that was fun.
Okay, I can’t forget the trips. Different people went to the Rangeley Lakes, state parks like Camden and Baxter, and even Acadia National Park. I would definitely like the job of the person who goes to all those places and figures out which is the best one for each group. I didn’t know much about Maine before camp, but it’s an amazing state.

Ummm… we had campfires. We learned about camp traditions. And we had great food! I thought I would be homesick, but I wasn’t. Well, once. But I don’t even remember why now.

School is starting in less than a month! Only 10 months until camp starts again! Yay!

Home Stretch…

We’re in the home stretch now, but we’re still having an amazing time at Laurel South! Yesterday was our final “S” Day of the session, and what an incredible time we had at Funtown. The rides, the food, the fun and the friendships will not soon be forgotten.

We’re so excited for our theater night tonight. Our younger campers did such an amazing job with The Lion King, and we are psyched for tonight’s performance of Hairspray. What incredible talented campers we have!!!

Tomorrow will be our final program day of the session. We’re so sad that its coming to an end, but we look forward, with great anticipation, to our Steak and Lobster Banquet tomorrow night, our final Social and Closing Ceremony Council Fire. Stay tuned…

Moosebowl and More…

There may be less than a week left in the Laurel South 2013 summer, but the fun hasn’t slowed a bit. The 8th Graders had a fabulous time on their trip to North Conway! Today, Roger and Dagni took all 90 members of the Five Year Club to town for a movie morning! Tonight is the 3rd Annual Moosebowl and the Rattlesnakes and Black Bears are set for action. This is truly an all camp affair, as we have our traditional tailgate cookout dinner, the singing of the National Anthem, tee shirt slingshots, half time dance shows and sooooo much more.

The good times just keep on rolling at Laurel South!!!

End of Summer

It’s hard to believe another summer at Camp Laurel South has nearly come and gone, but here we are. In just a few weeks, the camp season of 2013 will be a memory and school buses will once again be a regular sight around many neighborhoods. There is always a feeling around camp at the end of the summer that someone pushed a fast-forward button. Right about now, campers and staff begin reflecting on where the time has gone. But something happens in that reflection; they remember EVERYTHING they did over the summer.

Moments at camp happen so fast. The days are packed full of adventure. When campers and staff begin to inventory their summer memories, they’re often in awe of the amount of things they achieved in such a short period of time. In retrospect, the summer seems endless. There were the big adventures; trips, all camp events, campfires, shows, performances, leagues, Spirit Days. There were the daily activities; swimming, playing sports, arts and crafts, theater, nature, fishing, etc. Those are the memories that seem to make the summer go on forever. Then there were the moments and events that stick out as really special; being with friends, creating that special craft project, riding a zipline for the first time, hitting a bullseye in archery, making a foul shot in basketball, getting up on waterskis. Those are the memories that freeze time. They’re the ones that make the summer of 2013, “Summer 2013” in hearts and memories. Those are the moments behind teary goodbyes, repeated camp stories, and the countdown for next year. Memories are a great dessert after a filling summer, and like every great dessert, everyone wants more.

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