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Summer Camp: The Perfect Holiday Gift

The holiday season is at hand and so many of us find ourselves searching for that perfect present for the children in our lives.  Sure there are Kindles, iPads, and Wiis, but we’re looking for the gift that will last far beyond fads and trends…the one that lasts long after the decorations have been taken down.  Have you thought about contributing to a summer at camp?  Not only is it a unique gift that gives back, it’s the gift the children in your life can enjoy months after the holiday season has ended.  Summer camp allows them to make new friends, to become part of a summer family, and to cherish memories that will last a lifetime.  It’s also the gift that will help them learn how to understand ritual, routine, and being part of something bigger than themselves.  Countless people of note have attributed the role of summer camp as an integral part of the people they ultimately became.  Denzel Washington credits his acting career to a summer camp experience.  Michael Eisner gives summer camp credit for shaping a large portion of his identity.

Sitting around a campfire, eating s’mores, participating in special events at camp, being part of a cabin , making that special project in arts and crafts, learning a backhand in tennis, and scoring that homerun are the significant moments that build children’s lives.  It’s also the gift that children cherish for a lifetime.  Friends made at camp are friends for life and many present and former campers count their camp friends as some of their closest and most dear.   The memories and experiences from summer camp reach far beyond the scope of, ‘What gifts did I get that year?’  They reach into the realm of: ‘That’s what helped shape my life.’  President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama saw the value in sending their daughter Malia to summer camp last year.  Former President George W. Bush is also a summer camp alum.  Long after children have moved past smart pads and video game systems, they will remember their experiences at summer camp.  So this year, when you’re thinking of what to give the special children in your life, consider the gift of summer camp.

” Peaceful Easy Feeling…”

If you’re a child of the ‘70s you may recall the Eagles’ line from “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – the one about “a billion stars all around.”

It’s hard today to see stars. Between ambient light and air pollution, the night sky is no longer the marvel it once was.

In the 21st century, most kids don’t get a chance to see a billion stars all around. And their connection to nature is not much better during the day.

Between schoolwork, extracurricular activities and countless other demands, they’ve got little time to themselves. What free time they do have is often spent inside, in front of computer screens and video games. Not in the great outdoors.

Among the many unheralded benefits of camp, there’s this one. It’s a rare chance for children to encounter nature in its relatively wild state. Not in a city park, or a suburban lawn – but away from crowds, in hills, forests and fields, on rivers and lakes.

Human beings are hard-wired to need nature,” notes a recent documentary, “Play Again.” The film warns of the “consequences of a childhood removed from nature.”

Camp is one place where youngsters meet nature on its own terms. Hiking, fishing, boating, just running in a field of grass, boys and girls experience nature in all its peace, simplicity and glory.

Kids watch animals unfettered by cages. (And in Maine, they may be lucky enough to spot a moose.) They discover the wonderful smell of flowers, woods and fields. They feel rain, sun, and the cool breeze of an autumn evening.

And one night, they look up in the Maine sky. There – as if by magic – they see a billion stars, all around.

We at Camp are Thankful for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

It’s a Camp Thing

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

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

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

Free Play

The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses it. Hundreds of research projects over several decades affirm it. There’s even a scholarly journal devoted to it.

“It” is free play. Experts cite free play as essential to helping children develop.

Free play may be little noticed. Yet it’s a crucial part of the summer camp experience.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls free play “unstructured activity that allows youngsters to use their imagination.” In addition to healthy brain development, the benefits of free play include:
• Using creativity to develop imagination, dexterity and other strengths
• Encouraging children to interact
• Helping kids conquer fears and build confidence
• Teaching youngsters to work in groups, learn to share and resolve conflicts
• Helping children practice decision-making skills.
Many forces – the growth of organized sports and other activities, changes in family structures, reduced recess and physical education time – have made free play an endangered species.
Except at camp.

We make sure to schedule unscheduled time. If that sounds like an oxymoron, it’s not.

“Downtime” allows campers to be creative. Some play jacks on the floor of the cabin; others strum guitars, make bracelets, trade stickers, play ping-pong, chess or wiffle ball.
Campers may organize their own games. Pick-up soccer or basketball is far different from organized games.

Kids choose their own teams, modify the rules, even call their own fouls. “Sandlot” sports are almost a lost art. At camp, they’re very much alive.

Free play can be fleeting, or turn into a tradition. Some involves large groups; some is best done in twos and threes.

Free play can produce surprising leaders – and showcase otherwise hidden talents.

Free play is many things. It’s important, creative and unstructured.

Most of all: It’s fun.

Make Your Camp Counselor Experience an Effective Tool in Your Job Search

So you’ve spent a summer—or maybe the better part of your college career—working as a summer camp counselor.  You’re nearing graduation and you’re starting to pull together your resume for finding a job in the “real world”.  You’ve been wondering, ‘How do I adequately articulate my summer camp experience?’  You’re worried that it will sound trivial to hiring managers, but you know that what you gained from your camp experiences are some of the most valuable skills you’ve learned.  You’ve learned the art of communication, having worked with people all over the world and children ranging in age from seven to fifteen.  You’ve learned the importance of discretion; your campers didn’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  You’ve learned how to negotiate, mediate, and maintain a positive morale, having coached your campers through swim tests, disagreements, activities, stage fright, and just about a million other things.  You’ve learned time management skills.  How many other job applicants can motivate twelve campers to move across campus from soccer to woodworking in five minutes or less, consistently coax them out of bed at 7am, and convince them that it’s time for lights out after an exciting evening of activities? You’ve learned how to use creativity to solve problems and are MacGyver with a few jars of paint, construction paper, a little bit of fabric, some scissors, and maybe a little glitter…add feathers and beads to that mix and you can practically re-invent the wheel.  In fact, you’ve learned so many things as a summer camp counselor that you’re not even sure how you’re going to fit it all onto one 8 ½” X 11” sheet of paper, nevermind about your other job experience. So how do you convey the importance your summer camp job experience has had on your life in a way that hiring managers will see the value in it, too?

First, as sentimental as those experiences were for you, a hiring manager isn’t looking for the screenplay to the next The Blind Side.  They’re looking for prospective employees who can efficiently yet effectively and specifically communicate their skills and abilities in a very concise manner.  This means keep it relevant and as action packed as most of those days at summer camp were.  Convey how active your summer camp job was through the verbs that you choose.

Second, without being too broad, make your resume sing of how well rounded your skill set is because of your summer camp counselor experience.  Employers love diversity.  A resume that sings of it will be sure to get a hiring manager’s attention.

Third, do your homework.  Job hunting is not a one size fits all endeavor.  You need to know and understand not only what you are looking for, but what the company to which you are applying is looking for as well.  If there is a particular quality you feel you possess because of your summer camp counselor experience that makes you a good fit for a position or a company, highlight that one quality in your cover letter.  Explain specifically how you feel your summer job experience and knowledge will translate into the new role.    Having experience is one thing.  Demonstrating that you understand how that experience can be integrated into others speaks volumes.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to remind prospective employers, either in your cover letter or at the interview, that being a camp counselor is a 24/7 job.  Employers are attracted to people who aren’t afraid to throw themselves heart and soul into their work.  What’s more heart and soul than being on duty 24/7?

Finally, be prepared.  Be prepared to tell a hiring manager at an interview EXACTLY why you feel your summer camp experience gives you the edge over other applicants.  When asked, don’t go into a lengthy mumble that basically amounts to a rehash of your summer(s).  Show the hiring manager that you’ve thought long and hard about how your summer camp work experience is relevant to your future and that you understand specifically how to extract your experiences and apply them to other areas of your life.  Most importantly, give examples, give examples, give examples!

Now is the Time to Start Choosing a Summer Camp

The leaves are falling off the trees and the weather is starting to cool down, but it’s not too early to start thinking about sending your children to summer camp next summer.  There is certainly no shortage of American summer camps and finding the right one for your children is essential to their success there.  There’s a lot to think about, which makes now a great time to start thinking about what you want in a camp.

Traditional summer camps are a great way to introduce children to summer camp because they offer a broad and well-rounded experience.  Children still trying to find their niche in a sport or hobby find great success at these camps because they’re given opportunities throughout the summer to take part in many different types of activities.

The length of the summer camp you choose is also important.  Most overnight camps accept campers from the age of seven.  When considering camps, it’s key to consider your family’s lifestyle, your children’s other activities and commitments, and even your children themselves.  Session camps are gaining popularity because families whose schedules or budgets don’t permit them to consider a full summer at camp can still take advantage of the benefits of the traditional summer camp experience.   Camp Laurel South offers two four week sessions during the summer.

Consider how far away from home you want your child to travel as well.  Some parents prefer to send their children to a summer camp within a few hours of home while others view summer camp as a way to introduce a global perspective to their children and send them abroad to attend summer camp.  This is particularly becoming a trend in Europe, where European parents are deciding that they’d like their children to experience traditional American summer camps.  However, increasingly, parents from all over the world are making this decision as well.  Many American parents find the amazing reputations, beautiful campuses, and the breathtaking scenery of Maine idyllic and send their children from as far away as California, Florida, and many other states.

The structure of a camp’s program should be given careful consideration as well.  As they grow older, most campers like to make decisions about their daily activities at camp, and Camp Laurel South gives them the opportunity to do so.  However, we’ve found that  younger campers, especially those new to summer camp, prefer a more structured program with all or most of the decisions about their daily activities made for them.

Once you have decided what type of camp, length, location, and program are right for your child, you will likely find your search narrowed to a manageable number of camps.  At that point, it’s important to start learning about the camps that fit your criteria.  Since you are reading this blog, you’ve found out website and are on the right track.  We also invite you to check out our Facebook page, and sign up to follow our Twitter feed.  By doing this now, you will give yourself plenty of time to watch, read, and listen.  If you are unfamiliar with camp, you will be pleasantly surprised at how active our summer camp community remains throughout the winter.  In fact, many camp families will tell you that camp never really ends for them—and that’s a good thing.

Create a Camp Atmosphere All Year Long

Just because your children are no longer at camp doesn’t mean you can’t create a camp atmosphere in your home.  There are several things you can do to keep the camp spirit alive all year long.

This doesn’t have to be a radical flip of the switch that completely eliminates conveniences and luxuries from your lives.  In fact, such an act is probably not very realistic for many families.  But taking small steps to reduce your children’s reliance on things such as television, video games, and cell phones is a great way to remind them that don’t need them as much as they think they do.  Designate a day or two each week in which you won’t turn on the television or play video games.  Have a family game night instead.  Board games and card games are a great, light-hearted way to bring the entire family together for a few hours.  Turn off cell phones during meal times, before a designated time in the morning, and after a designated time in the evening.  Yes, with the invention of smart phones, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on these convenient little gadgets, but you may be surprised at just how much you enjoy the peace and quiet of a few hours without them each day…and, your family will also likely remember just how much they appreciate having a conversation with someone who is not looking at their cell phone or texting the entire time.

Keep supplies for creative bursts.  Arts & Crafts, Eco Science, and Nature don’t have to be activities restricted to the camp setting.  In fact, many of the projects that your children do at camp can quite easily be done at home, and they’re a great way to fill an afternoon or evening on which you’ve decided to have a break from television and video games.  There are books readily available that walk you step-by-step through such popular camp projects as tie-dying, candle making, beading, shrinky dinks, Mentos geysers, goo, and many more.  YouTube also has a host of videos that demonstrate kid friendly home science and nature experiments.  Keeping a closet or a chest of standard supplies for these types of projects will prevent you from having to make a shopping trip every time the kids want to have some summer camp style fun.

Have a “campfire”.  You might not have a backyard big enough (and there may be some local ordinances against this, even if you do), but consider having a backyard fire.  A patio fire pit, if you have one, is actually ideal.  An operable indoor fireplace works, too.  Make s’mores, tell stories, share memories.  This makes for a great evening to invite friends over because, as every camper will tell you, the more the merrier at a campfire.  If you live in an area in which weather permits, actually taking a weekend camping trip is always fun, too.

Start a garden (if you have a yard) or cook with your children once a week.  Gardening and cooking programs are popular at camp. Even if you don’t have the space in your yard, herb gardens are easy to maintain and can be grown indoors.  Besides being enjoyable and fun, cooking is a valuable life skill for children to learn.  Let your children look up healthy recipes, talk about nutrition with them, and, most importantly, let them do the work in the kitchen.

Have regular family “out of the house” trips.  At camp, children regularly take “out of camp” trips to places such as local sporting events, the movies, or bowling… They look forward to these trips as a special treat and time to create some very special memories with their camp friends.  Why not make special memories like these as a family?

By making just a few (fun) adjustments, your entire family can enjoy the spirit of camp throughout the year, and it just might make those ten months of waiting a little more bearable for the kids!

AUTUMN in MAINE

You might think that when camp shuts down in August, the rest of Maine does too.

Our cabins and courts may be quiet now. But throughout the state, things are really heating up.

Of course, fall in Maine means foliage. Maples and oaks blaze in a spectacular display of red, orange and yellow leaves. From Acadia National Park and rocky coastal villages to forested mountain passes, you have to look hard to find a spot that’s not breathtakingly beautiful.

Orchards buzz with activity. Anything apple related – like apple picking and cider pressing — is fun for entire families (and very healthful!).

Farmers’ markets and roadside stands are not just for summer either.
There’s plenty of great-tasting produce to be found, all through fall.

Many Maine towns sponsor agricultural fairs, food and wine celebrations – even corn mazes – every autumn.

Fall in Maine is prime antiquing and fly fishing time. Bird watching too: Migrating hawks, warblers and shore birds fill the skies.

Even lobsters get into the act. Autumn is peak season for Maine lobster – the largest harvest production takes place now. (This is also the time for molting, so soft shell aficionados: You’re in luck!)

The weather sparkles. The colors are incredible.
Sure, camp is quiet. But – as is so often the case – there’s far more to Maine than meets the eye.

Summer Camp: Defining Routine and Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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