Camp Laurel South Blog

The Hard Part of Working at Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons Kids Can’t Stop Talking about Camp

Raise your hand if this happened to you this year—as it does every year right about now. Just when you thought you’ve finally—FINALLY—heard the last of the camp stories, it arrived. Maybe it was the camp video, the camp newsletter…even an invitation to a camp reunion. Whatever it was, it was about camp, reminding you that we’re halfway to another summer, and now you’re hearing that waterskiing or baseball story for, oh, about the 27th time. And raise your hand if you ever find yourself questioning how a few weeks each summer can have such a profound impact on your children that they’re still talking about it in the dead of winter as if it was just a couple of weeks ago. Not that you mind. You’re very happy that your investment in summer camp has been a good one. But you still wonder. Well, here are a few things to consider.

1.)    At summer camp, campers get to spend all day, every day with their friends. Before you argue that they get that at school too, consider this: At summer camp, campers not only spend all day with their friends, they get the opportunity to interact with them. When you think about it, interaction with friends at school is primarily limited to hallway conversations between classes, recess (for younger children), and lunchtime. Sure, they may steal a few exchanges during class at the risk of detention, but for the most part, talking while teachers present lessons (which comprise the bulk of the school day) is generally discouraged. In juxtaposition, summer camp is more like a sleepover that lasts several weeks, and everyday campers get to do something special with their friends. Beat that on the fun-o-meter!

2.)    Children can be themselves at camp. Not that there aren’t rules to follow at summer camp, too. But the rules tend to be the kind that promote being at ease. They are considerably more relaxed than those imposed at school, and even those pertaining to appropriate conduct in social situations are somewhat lax in comparison to those they have to follow the other ten months of the year. Most restaurants (or their patrons) probably aren’t too excited when children start singing or cheering in the middle of their meal, for example. Most summer camps encourage it.

3.)    Children get to be independent at summer camp. Not that your children don’t love and adore you, but they like doing things on their own too. Children take a lot of pride in accomplishing something they tried for the first time at camp on their own (with the support of their fellow campers, counselors, and a host of other camp staff as well, of course…but in their minds, it was all them, and that’s okay).  It gives them a sense of pride to know that they don’t need Mom and Dad to do everything.

4.)    Camp is a youthful environment. Camp is an environment dedicated to youth. Even staff members are young at heart. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but think about the “real” world from a child’s perspective. It’s basically a place where they are constantly put in check by grown-ups and reminded about all of the things they can’t do until they are grown-ups. Camp, in contrast, is a place all about pleasing kids and where they are constantly reminded of why it is so sweet to be a kid.

5.)    Children observe time differently at summer camp. Really! They do. When the school year begins, so does a countdown that children measure in “months still to go.” It’s a slow moving countdown of which children consistently consider themselves on the back end. There is always still time. When summer camp begins, a countdown also begins. But this countdown is measured in “weeks that have already passed.” Children place themselves on the front end of the camp countdown. In other words, they know that their time at summer camp is limited. From the second they arrive, they set out to make each and every minute count, which increases the intensity of the experience. That’s why those seemingly mundane ‘It’s a camp thing’ or ‘You had to have been there’ stories you hear over and over are so revered by your children. They were actually living so vividly in the moment they experienced them that the moment sticks with them. Not many children share quite the same enthusiasm about, let’s say, their last math exam, for example.

So when the next camp reminder arrives in your mailbox or your inbox and the stories start again, just remember that, for campers, an arrival of anything from camp is like receiving a postcard from Neverland.

Looking through Camp Photos…Again.

Admit it. During the summer, you just scroll through the camp photos looking for any part of your child—a pose with friends, a smiling face, an arm, a shoe, a finger—anything that you can bookmark and study intensely to see what information you can garner using every technique you’ve ever learned from Law & Order. But have you ever gone back through the photos months after camp ends and just browsed at large, not just at your children, but at camp at large? If you haven’t, you should.

Camp photos aren’t just random shots caught by the camp photographer as he or she casually passed by. They tell a story. The story of camp and how the summer unfolds. The camp photographer is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest working people at camp. In fact, the work is so difficult, that many camps employ more than one, plus a videographer or two. Camp photographers are some of the first people out of bed each morning and some of the last to go to bed each night. Daily, they are charged with capturing the spirit of camp in pictures. If that sounds easy, try making around several hundred acres to capture about twenty activities happening simultaneously. On top of that, you’re taxed with trying to capture images of each and every camper each day. It’s a task. But a valuable one. Because, at the end of the summer, what a camp photographer leaves behind are images of the best moments at camp.

If you look back through the camp photos, you see friends enjoying time together in arts & crafts, sports teams in action, candid shots of campers living in the moment of whatever activity in which they are participating, being reflective, or just taking it all in. You also see moments of true surprise, awe, joy, and even disappointment. You can literally relive the summer by looking through the camp photos. If you want to know what your child is up to, scroll for the photos of our child. But if you want to know what is happening at camp, take the time to look through the camp photos…again.

The Laurel Camps’ Melting Pot

Walking around the Laurel Camps on a typical day, you may not notice the vast geographic diversity of Camp Laurel and Laurel South.

We welcome campers from all over the United States and overseas. In 2013, The Laurel Camps welcomed campers across 16 countries, 5 continents and 42 out of the 50 states in the U.S. (Yes… 42!!)

Not only do we have campers from every US region, there’s vast diversity within each region. Take the Empire State of New York: we have campers from 34 different towns and cities. And from the sunshine state of Florida, campers hail from as far south as Key Biscayne all the way up the interstate to Gainesville! The northeast often leads the charge in terms of critical mass, but we also welcome campers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas and Ohio – to name just a few.

And what about staff? In 2013, our staff represented 43 of the 50 states. Not a bad representation!

Our geographic mix impacts the camp experience in so many ways.

We’re a break from “the neighborhood” and any prior stigmas. It’s a community where you can explore new interests and make new friends with less preconceived notions of who you are “supposed to be.”

Our campers and staff have a chance to learn the necessary skills to successfully get along with others from different cultures.

And of course, Laurel’s vast geographic diversity allows our campers and staff to make lifelong connections with friends across the world.

Camp provides so many different life skills; independence, problem solving, self-confidence – the list goes on and on. Let’s add encountering and embracing diversity to that list.

New Year, New Summer

There comes a point for everyone involved with camp when we finally stop wishing for it to still be last summer and begin looking forward to this summer. The beginning of the new year is the perfect time for this. The new year is a time of new beginnings for most people and, although that long list of resolutions most of us start out with in January has already been all but forgotten by the time the first spring blooms begin to peep out of the ground, there is always the promise of camp. January starts that final countdown toward summer. We’re finally in the year 2014, and it is only a matter of months before we arrive at the Summer of 2014.  And a fast six months it always is! We spend cold winter evenings watching our camp videos or reading our camp newsletters. We attend camp reunions and follow our camp Facebook pages. By spring we’ve ordered all of our new camp gear and are eagerly awaiting for it to arrive.  We start to set goals for the summer with our camp friends. Then we blink, and it’s May. It’s time to start packing! School ends and the countdown is down to days…days that seem to take longer than all of the months we’ve waited put together. But it comes, the new summer of the new year, faster than we ever thought it would a year ago.

Seven Summers

Most children step off the bus and get their first glance of summer camp as eager, excited, and slightly nervous seven or eight year olds. It’s their first time away from home and they’re not quite sure what to expect. Few register those first moments as the first of a seven year adventure. It’s just the first summer, after all. Even parents sometimes forget that summer camp isn’t just one summer and, in that regard, is much more than a campus. It is a place where children grow up, and it should be a place where campers are every bit as enthusiastic about stepping off the bus their seventh year as they are their first. It should be a place where they feel an integral part of something larger.

Relationships form early at camp. The friends campers make their first year are often their closest throughout their camp careers. The adrenaline filled first meeting is the beginning of several years in the making. But the accepting environment of camp that encourages children to try new things also facilitates the promise of new friendships each summer. What campers learn as they progress through summers is that at “their camp,” no two summers are quite the same.

There is always the element of the unexpected at camp. Anticipation throughout the winter to return to camp is driven by the mystery of how the next summer will be different than the last. The ability to envision the campus as pretty much the same way they left it (with maybe a few upgrades or improvements) eliminates the element of fear in change for children. The stability of the campus itself makes change something to which campers can look forward. Boating docks, dining halls and arts and crafts studios become favorite spots as the settings of memories from summer to summer. Although they are the same places they were the summer before, the memories campers associate with them make them slightly different.

That first exploratory summer, young campers are also able to observe and begin to anticipate the various rites that occur as they age. They look forward each summer to special trips and activities that are exclusive to their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh summer. In the end, summer camp isn’t a singular experience. It’s the sum total of many summers and a culmination of friends, activities, traditions and memories that builds from that first welcome on the first day of camp that first summer.

Benefits of STEM Related Summer Camp Programs

Stem is a popular buzzword—or, more appropriately, acronym–circulating among educational circles, but it might not be a term one might expect to hear within summer camp circles. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, four subject areas to which educators are increasingly striving to give students additional exposure, and summer camps are hopping on the bandwagon. According to the American Camp Association, STEM related activities have been among the most popular additions to summer camp programs over the past five years and for good reason. Summer camp provides campers with an alternative venue to learn in ways that are fun. Classrooms are replaced with the outdoors or facilities designed exclusively for individual programs and class size is vastly reduced allowing campers to be able to take a more intricate, hands on approach to exploring STEM areas through related camp activities. According to the New York Daily News, the average class size in New York, an area in which summer camp is particularly popular, is 25 students. In some schools, class sizes exceed 30 students. STEM related camp programs such as Nature, Rocketry and Radio, are often capped at fewer  than a dozen campers per activity period.  STEM related programs increasingly prove to be among the most popular with campers. So why are children flocking to educational niche programs? There are likely several reasons.

First, summer camp provides an informal, laid back setting. There is no homework. There is no syllabus. There are no lectures. There are no deadlines. There are no exams. It’s completely a ‘participate to the level of your comfort’ environment. All campers are encouraged to try camp STEM related programs at least once during the summer, but some find a new interest or passion and return several times. The ‘participate as you wish’ approach also allows campers to choose how to focus their interests. Counselors, often college majors or professionals in the area that they lead, are facilitators. They are there to encourage and assist campers in channeling their efforts into particular aspect of a STEM related activity if they so desire.

Second, the whole point of summer camp is for campers to have fun. So it goes without saying that camp activities are designed to emphasize fun, even those related to subject areas in which students are traditionally less than enthusiastic during the school year. In that regard, educational niche programs at sleepaway camp aren’t intended to compete with or replace the learning that takes place during the school year, but to enhance it.

Third, there is a healthy mixture of activity. Unlike a school setting in which students move through subjects throughout the day typically in a lecture setting, at least half of the day at a traditional summer camp is spent outside where campers take part in sports and water activities. Many camps also incorporate a designated time to rest into their programming day in order to give campers and staff the opportunity to recharge. So those program activities that could be perceived as educational are mixed in with healthy doses of physical activity and relaxation.  This allows campers proper time and space to both process the activities in which they take part throughout the day and to approach future activities with a fresh mind.

Although traditional summer camp STEM related programs are not intended to replace those offered in schools, they may ultimately be equally attributable to inspiring future scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians by encouraging campers to explore these subjects in ways and to a level that they might not get to do during the school year. Some campers may carry a newfound interest in these subject areas home and take on a new enthusiasm at school, making summer camp STEM related programs an invaluable addition to their program lineup.

Like Father, Like Son

In 1977, Ron Scott, the former director of Camp Laurel, visited then potential camper Greg Racz’s father’s office. His mission: to talk about Camp Laurel. “A number of friends from Ethical Culture school already went there,” Greg recalls. It was an easy sell.

That summer, Greg made his first camp friend: Jem Sollinger. As the weeks – then years – passed, Greg grew to appreciate everything about Laurel; his fellow campers, the staff and the beauty of Maine. “Coming from New York City, being outdoors was great and I loved being able to play so much tennis.” As Jem recalls, no one was more consistent on the court than Greg, “He got everything back!”

More than 30 years later, “Laurel has only gotten prettier,” Greg says. He has a good way of knowing: His son, Daniel, is now a Laurel camper too. It seemed like “déjà vu all over again” in the early fall of 2012 when Jem visited Greg’s office to discuss Laurel for the next generation of Racz’s.

“Jem has done a phenomenal job,” Greg says of his longtime friend, now the camp director. “He’s got a great group of counselors.”

“Holly is still there with her husband, Warren,” Greg recalls, referencing 35-year Laurel veterans, Holly and Warren Williams. Amazingly, in 1980, Warren was Greg and Jem’s counselor in the Falcons.

Greg adds, “The waterfront is still drop-dead gorgeous and the many ping pong tables are a welcome addition,” speaking to another one of his passions!

Daniel’s route to camp was similar to his father’s. Daniel’s friends – at the same Ethical Culture school – also go to Laurel. Of course, he’d also heard about Laurel “100 times” from his dad, Greg. Getting off the bus, the first person Daniel saw was Jem. Some things never change.

Daniel’s favorite parts of camp are the sports facilities. “The Fieldhouse (a new addition since his father’s day) is great. It’s so big, with lots of space.”

Does he talk to his dad about the old days? “Yes,” Daniel says. “He likes to talk.”

Daniel’s younger brother Joshua may follow in his brother and father’s footsteps. He loved the water-slide on Visiting Day and Daniel would love to have his younger brother at camp with him, “It would be a lot of fun having a family member there.” That would make Greg doubly happy. “Visiting Day was too short,” he says. “It’s great to get a second chance at Laurel” – even if its just for a day.

And what about the second generation of campers from Laurel South. Founded in 1993, we expect the first influx of alumni campers over the next couple of years. “We can’t wait for the first alumni campers” says Laurel South director Roger Christian. “Family – isn’t  that what camp is all about?” At the Laurel Camps…it definitely is.

10 Camp Things for Which We’re Thankful All Year Long

The holidays are upon us and ‘tis the season to ponder those things for which we’re truly thankful. For those of us who are fortunate enough to eat, sleep and breathe camp 24/7, 365 days a year, it’s hard not to make an exclusive “Camp Laurel South” list. After all, camp is just as much a part of our lives in November as it is in June. So we figured we’d share some camp things for which we are thankful all year long.

1.)    Our campers. Each and every one of our campers brings something unique to camp that makes our camp family complete. Getting emails and phone calls about our campers’ accomplishments throughout the winter makes the memories we have of the summer that much more special, and makes us even more excited to see everyone the following year.

2.)    Our camp parents. We feel pretty lucky to have so many parents who as enthusiastic about camp as their children and who keep in touch throughout the winter, providing us with fun and interesting updates.

3.)    Our staff. Finding a staff of talented people who are willing to leave their first homes and make summer camp their second home for several weeks  each summer in order to literally live their jobs day and night is no easy feat. That we’re able to put together a staff each summer who is so vested in creating an amazing summer for all of our campers is truly a blessing.

4.)    Alumni. It’s always a special treat when our alumni share their favorite camp memories and reiterate how great their camp years were. The fact that so many of our alumni are still in touch and/or are active within our community says a lot to us about just how special camp is and motivates us to continue to strive to make camp a lifetime worth of memories.

5.)    A beautiful campus. That first drive into camp each summer is always so special. No matter how many times we’ve been there, that first glance of the bunks/cabins, the dining hall, the fields, the courts and the waterfront each summer is something we anticipate all year long.

6.)    Memories. Memories are what makes each summer different than the last. Even in the fall, we find ourselves asking each other, “Remember when…?” and laughing over our favorite camp moments throughout the year.

7.)    Camp Songs. We often find ourselves turning up the volume whenever a song that proved popular the summer before plays on the radio or humming the alma mater or a favorite dining room tune while we’re busy planning for next summer.

8.)    Camp friends. It’s so nice to have someone with whom we can remember those special moments from previous summers and with whom we can have a hearty laugh about those inside moments that only our camp friends can understand. It’s also nice to be able to re-experience camp through meetups through the winter and makes us even that much more excited about next summer.

9.)    The camp tradition. It sounds pretty obvious, but just the fact that we’re able to carry on such a beloved tradition is a privilege. Summer camps have been around for more than a hundred years and such an iconic part of our culture that movies and television shows have been made about summer camp and books have been written about it. Not to mention, without summer camp, we’re not quite sure what we’d be doing. We certainly can’t imagine doing anything else.

10.) The promise of next summer. We’ve said it a million times, but we start anticipating the next summer as soon as the buses pull away. That ten month wait each year seems like forever, but it proves to be just enough time to plan another summer that promises to be even better than the last. The anticipation drives us all year long as we plan and makes us thankful to be part of camp all year.

Sleepaway Camp: The Ultimate English Language Experience

There is a multi-cultural aspect to summer camp that is a great benefit to campers who attend summer camps in America. While standardized test scores dictate students’ admission into certain high schools, learning programs, and universities, summer camp is an esteemed diversion. That a student ventured to America and invested in an American tradition so revered as summer camp provides international campers an opportunity to advance English skills and immerse in American culture that is almost un-rivaled. The big picture in those countries in which learning is the gold ticket is to take in “all things English.” To experience summer camp is to give a student an advantage beyond any of his or her classmates. Four hours per week in school could never equate to those of several weeks spent at a summer camp experiencing traditions that are quintessentially American while forming friendships that last a lifetime. English is a language that is as much about experience as linguistics. It’s a complicated mix of culture with as many exceptions to rules as there are rules. The best way to understand English is quite literally to experience it. At camp, children can make friends, participate in activities and become a part of traditions that are more than camp: They live English. For those children seeking to become truly fluent in English and gain an advantage over their fellow students, summer camp is an essential investment.

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