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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!!!

After Camp: Keeping the Momentum Going

Sure the kids are home from camp and are settling back into their school routines.  Maybe they’re still a little bit camp sick, but it’s possible to keep the camp momentum going throughout the year.  Here are a few suggestions we thought we’d pass along.

  • Talk about camp with them.  Not only do children love talking about their camp experiences, but doing so helps them process the events of the summer.  In sharing their experiences, they’re able to gain perspective about camp.   If they haven’t already told you by now (and they probably have a hundred times over), ask them to tell you about their camp friends, their favorite activities, and favorite events.
  • Encourage them to keep in touch with their camp friends throughout the year.  Of course, summer camp draws campers from all over the globe, so play dates and get-togethers might not be realistic for everyone.  But in the age of email, Skype, and Facebook (for some older campers), maintaining contact is easier than ever.
  • Encourage children to read camp literature, such as newsletters, and to keep up with the blog on your camp’s website.  Parents should regularly read camp literature and blogs as well.  Not only will they be informed, but they can pass along useful or exciting information, such as news about new camp activities or facilities, to their children.
  • If your children just can’t stop singing those camp songs, encourage them to teach you one or two.  Then you can sing along with them…It’s fun.  Trust us.
  • Encourage your children to share anything exciting that happens to them throughout the year with the camp.  Summer camps love to know what their campers are up to over the winter and are thrilled to share in something special whether it be winning a spot on a traveling sports team, landing a role in the school play, or earning a place on the honor roll.  Many are also happy to pass this information onto other campers and their parents via a special section in their camp newsletter.
  • Make a big deal over any projects they brought home.  Whether it’s a scented candle, a leather purse, a clay vase, or a wooden birdhouse, chances are they put plenty of time and energy into creating something special to bring home to you.  So display it somewhere prominent, even if it does have to be “archived” each year to make room for the next summer’s treasures.
  • Show them that you got their camp letters.  Point out your favorite parts.  Tell them which were your favorites, maybe even keep the letters in an album from year to year.  Children are much more excited about writing home from camp when they really feel that their letters are being read.  Someday, a scrapbook of camp letters might even make a neat gift to give back to them.

With a little bit of help from you, your children can keep the camp momentum going all year long!

Making Global Connections

One thing that isn’t entirely evident to people who’ve only recently begun to familiarize themselves with the world of summer camp is the level of connection that it provides, not just to a regional network of people, but to those from different states and even countries.  The campers and staff members that make up America’s Finest Summer Camps come from all parts of the globe to bring together a multitude of cultures.  According to Fransec Pedro, analyst for the Center for Research and Information with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global awareness and effective communication across cultures are essential in today’s international economy.  Exposure to many different cultures provides campers and staff members with experiences throughout the summer that ultimately help them learn and integrate these skills into their lives.

The challenges that are sometimes involved in effective communication across cultures help campers at America’s Finest Summer Camps learn how to express themselves efficiently.  When exposed to multiple cultures, it’s not only important to use language resourcefully in order to express oneself but to be a good listener.  Understanding that people have various ways of thinking, express themselves differently, and that those differences sometimes affect our world view is no longer a novel skill but a requirement for success in today’s world. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent,” says Alexis Menten, Assistant Director of the Asia Society.

Inevitably, there are sometimes mis-communications but such stumbles are part of a learning process that, like other skills, requires practice.  Connecting with people from all over the globe helps children understand that the world reaches beyond their immediate surroundings.  In the process, they learn to think internationally when building their social networks.  This often leads to opportunities that they may not have otherwise have had.  For many a summer camp staff member or camper, the process of learning how to connect begins and grows during their at camp.

Demographics are not the sole aspect of summer camp that makes it the ideal setting for “becoming global”, however.  The very structure of camp is surprisingly global.  As in the real world, the camp world expands outward from the individual.  Campers and counselors must learn to function as a bunk or cabin.  Then, as a bunk or cabin, they must figure out how to be part of a larger group of other bunks or cabins of campers the same age.  From there, they must all learn how to work with other campers of various ages to become what makes “camp” a unit, rather than hundreds of individuals.  Being part of the camp unit is what campers and staff members alike report as the most meaningful part of summer camp.

Camp is…Friends, Skills and Fun

The clothes have been washed (and washed again). The sleeping bag has been aired out. The stories have been told – many of them, anyway.

Right now, camp takes a back seat to the new school year. It’s a little early to think about next year. But now – with a little distance – is the perfect time to figure out how successful your son or daughter’s summer camp experience was and ask a lot of questions.

Does your child talk about friends and counselors? That’s a sure sign of a great summer. Peers and young adults have an enormous influence on a camp environment – and on each other.

What skills did your child gain, develop or improve? Is he hitting a tennis ball with a little more power than just a few months ago? Did she ask you to go swimming every day until school began? Has your son shown a new interest in drama?Does your daughter now want to write for the school newspaper?

Can you see new confidence in your child? Does she walk taller? Did he tackle tasks he once shied away from? One mother said, “I almost didn’t recognize my son after camp. It wasn’t that he grew – although he did. It was just the way he carried himself. The change in just a few weeks was incredible.”

Can you sense a spirit of independence? Whether spending a summer away from home for the first time, or having to figure things out without Mom and Dad’s help, youngsters enjoy a level of independence at camp that’s tough to attain at home. Kids still need their parents, of course – but the feel good knowing they can handle certain situations on their own.

Do they make better choices? The camp day is filled with decisions. If you detect a new (and improved) level of decision-making, camp may be part of the reason.

Does your child put things away on his own now? Nah. He did at camp – but old habits die hard.

Camp Sick

The summer of 2011 is over, a new school year has started, everyone has finally unpacked their camp bags, and now the wait for the summer of 2012 begins.  Ten months isn’t really that long.  Every year we manage to wait it out.  But when it’s September and the fun times we had this past summer are still fresh in our minds, it seems like an eternity; and, inevitably, we all feel a little bit (or a lot!) camp sick.  We all know the feeling.  Some of us find ourselves singing camp songs or have the urge to tie-dye something…maybe even set our ring tones to the camp bell, or just sit around with camp friends re-living all of the memories from the summer.  Saying goodbye to another summer in our own way is a rite that we go through every fall.  We not only say goodbye to our camp friends, but our counselors, and upper campers.  But on the upside of goodbye is hello.  Hello to all of our new friends who will join us for the first time next summer.  Hello to the challenge and excitement of planning a new summer that’s even better than last.  Hello to good times that turn into new memories.  Hello to a new group of campers.  Hello to the new counselors and staff members who choose to make camp their summer home next year.  Hello, everyone. We can’t wait to see you in the summer of 2012!

Come Rain or Come Shine…

Do you ever wonder what happens at camp when it rains?  We assure you, it’s nothing like those scenes in movies that depict bummed out campers forced to spend entire days in their cabins or bunks .  Typically, it doesn’t rain all that often in the northeast during the summer and, whenever possible, activities proceed as planned.  We never let a few sprinkles get in the way of our regular activities.  But on those rare days when there is just no way around it, we’re ready!

When we wake up to a morning that makes outdoor activities unrealistic, we swing into action by implementing alternative programs.  Camp is just as fun and active when it’s a little bit wet outside as it is when the sun is shining.  By utilizing our indoor facilities, we’re able to keep the action going by combining our regular programs that are already completely or partially indoors, like gymnastics and arts and crafts, with special activities, like games, trivia contests, or sing-a-longs.  Sometimes, we simply move some of the things we normally do outside to an indoor location.  Ga-ga, basketball, and soccer, for instance, all adapt well to indoor locations.  By making just a few minor adjustments, we’re able to make sure that everyday at camp is full of good times and memories for our campers, not just those days when the sun shines.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Every day, we rely on a several teams of individuals to make camp happen.  Everyone knows about camp counselors, the people on the front lines, but not everyone is aware of the people who work behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.  Running a summer camp really is more than showing up in June ready to welcome campers and have fun.  There are a myriad of staff members who perform the often thankless job of working “behind the scenes” at camp.  They are a very diverse group of individuals.  Some of them answer the phone when you call the camp.   Others schedule daily activities, arrange transportation, or cook the food.   Still, others take care of your children when they’re not feeling well, or look into your concerns about their daily lives at camp.

The fact of the matter is that summer camps require individuals of many interests and talents to operate successfully, and the measure of a good summer relies on the abilities and passions of these individuals.  They often work long hours, from sunrise until the wee hours of the morning simply because they love camp.  If you ask any one of them, they’ll tell you that they do what they do because, in the end, it contributes to a successful summer for campers and their parents.  They also might be a little coy in admitting that it’s just plain fun for them.

Furthermore, these people are so good at their jobs that we don’t even adequately know how to thank them.  They work with passion and without regard to anything but making sure our campers and their parents have the best possible experience at our camps.  It truly is a thankless job , in many ways, to work behind the scenes at an American summer camp.  But we are thankful!

The Importance of Being Creative

Arts and Crafts at summer camp is more than just stringing together a few beads to make a bracelet or gluing some spray painted macaroni to a cardboard picture frame.  It’s a program that gives campers the opportunity to explore their creative interests in several different types of art by offering a diverse array of age appropriate projects.  Of course there are the traditional projects that are just plain fun, like paper mache and tie-dying.  However, many summer camps also offer campers the opportunity to try things that are not only artistic but could be useful skills or even careers, such as metal work, jewelry making, calligraphy, cartooning, or soap and candle making.  Just like sports programs at camp, many campers have discovered a passion in their summer camp’s Arts and Crafts programs that they later pursued further.

Another way in which summer camp Arts & Crafts programs benefit campers is by providing a creative outlet for children who are being given fewer chances to explore the arts in their school programs.  Ashfaq Ishaq, PhD, argues that without being given the appropriate opportunity to explore their creative sides, children will not learn how to combine creativity with acquired knowledge to reach their full potential.   Art encourages spontaneity and exploration, two things that allow us, as people, to be innovative and prolific in our thinking.  Creativity also refines problem solving skills by helping us understand how to think “outside the box” when traditional solutions aren’t practical.  All three qualities are considered crucial to success in a child’s education as well as their adulthood careers.  Summer camp Arts & Crafts programs also give campers the opportunity to try some projects that might not be available in traditional school art programs, such as throwing clay on a pottery wheel.

For many campers, summer camp has become a way of maintaining tradition in environments that are ever changing.  Faced with a fast paced, changing world in the winter, children can still depend on summer as a way to fall back on activities and hobbies that may not be greatly valued in conventional schools anymore but are useful and bring satisfaction.  Arts and Crafts may be a dying art within American school systems.  But it’s thriving within American summer camps.

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