Camp Laurel South Blog

Camp: Future, Past and Present

Whether your Holiday Season has ended or is about to begin, summer camp season isn’t far away! In fact, on December 8th 2010, next year’s campers wore their camp shirts in numerous cities to mark the 200 Day Countdown To Summer. If you’ve never gone to camp, it may be difficult to understand what drives this passion for camp all year—but campers know that camp is contagious, FUN, and essential! The camp experience helps children develop into well-rounded adults in enormous and complex ways, and that’s really important—but having FUN and intense youthful experiences is how it all happens. That’s the brilliant combination of camp. The experience includes serious AND hilarious moments—often simultaneously! The whole experience is much like the two sides of a single coin, or the double-faced image of Janus, the Roman god who can see into the past and future at the same time—and the origin of the name for the first month—January.

The serious side of camp includes feeling part of a unique community, identity development and participating through the years to make irreplaceable memories. If you don’t understand why camp is such an important American institution, in 1998 Ira Glass and the This American Life radio program attempted to investigate the topic—#109 Notes on Camp. The program addresses why people who love camp say that non-camp people simply don’t understand what’s so amazing about camp and attempts to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between camp people and non-camp people!

It also highlights how fun, tradition, stories, community and being human are all part of identity development at camp. With his signature quirky style, Ira assembled more “truth is stranger than fiction tales,” where real campers tell stories of camp in days gone by and explain why the camp experience is so special. Hundreds of campers responded to his call for stories and the program shares a selection, so if you’re interested in history and interpreting American culture, you’ll find the reminiscences fascinating. Just remember that all camp experiences are not like the stories told—the point of the program is to illustrate the intensity of the experience! It ends with campers talking about becoming camp alumni and how their camp experiences won’t ever be forgotten.

As we all know, time passes and our camp years are limited by the fact that we’re only children once. It’s easy to feel briefly melancholy at year’s end as time waits for no one, but of course, December also means that the promise of a new year is around the corner! In January, we’d like to continue looking backwards and forwards while thinking about camp and we’d especially love to hear from camp alumni. What’s the funniest thing that happened to you at camp? How did camp contribute to your adult life? We’d like to hear about the memories you hold dear and close to your heart, or what you wish for campers next year? If you’re counting the days until camp starts, what are YOU planning?

For now, “Happy New Year” to everyone and let the countdown to Camp 2011 begin!

Emma

Thanks for the images quinn.anya and megawheel360.

The Road to Somewhere

Photo2You’ve probably heard of “Road to Nowhere.” The new documentary film’s theme is that today’s emphasis on tutoring, lessons and packed-to-the-gills days and nights may not produce perfect, healthy, high-achieving kids. The result could be unhealthy, disengaged, stressed-out youth.

Fortunately, the road to nowhere branches off to summer camp.

Camp is the antidote to – even the “anti” – modern kid’s world. For most of the year, today’s youngsters live regimented lives. They’re told what to study, and when. They take “lessons” – music, sports, art, dance – and then rush off to the next activity. There’s so much on their plates, it’s no wonder they multi-task like CEOs.

Then they go to camp.

Suddenly – the moment they say goodbye to their parents, meet their counselors and cabin mates, unpack and head somewhere cool and green – their world changes.

They slow down. They breathe deeply. They get in touch with their inner kid.

Camp is a different environment entirely. The communal living, extended “slumber party” and emphasis on living and working as a group allows kids to really get to know each other. It’s 24/7 of the great (and not-always-so-great) moments with a group of peers.

This immersion enables youngsters to really get to know each other. It allows boys and girls to develop compassion and understanding for their friends’ strengths and weaknesses.

Photo1And it lets kids live in an environment where taking safe risks is okay. There is truly nothing like a friendship that develops – and blossoms —at camp.

The adults are, for the most part, younger than the teachers (and parents!) children are so familiar with in school.

Camp is a place where kids are allowed – even encouraged – to take safe risks. They encounter new situations – games, activities, relationships – without old patterns or preconceptions to fall back on. They’re not always protected – but they are well cared for, and strongly loved.

In that challenging, supportive – and de-stressed – environment, they grow.

At camp, kids march boldly down the road to somewhere.

Dr. Bob
Psychologist, parent, former camper

Camp Counselor=Great preparation for the future!

What do camp counselors learn at camp that helps them later in life? The specific answers to that question are varied, but one thing remains constant—camp has a big impact on individual lives long after campers grow out of their camping and counselor years. Recently ReadyMade magazine featured Kelly Stoetzel in its regular series about awesome jobs. Kelly works for TED, a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading” and spends her days interacting with fascinating people from around the world who work to make things better. What was her first job? Camp counselor! And what does she list as her “Best Job”? Camp counselor!

Kelly learned that “being a camp counselor is all about leading a group of people into enthusiasm,” and that continues to be important in her job today. Just as campers and staff still gather each summer—sometimes for the first time and sometimes after waiting all year just to come back—Kelly went to camp! There, learning, personal growth, fun and friendship blossomed during intense times and life-long skills and ideas were forged. Camp operates as a microcosm of experiences that mirror real-life situations as everyone negotiates friendships and different personalities, tries new things and finds their unique role in the group. If you’ve been a camper or a counselor, you know what I’m talking about. You also know that facilitating fun and teamwork takes creativity and enthusiasm. (If you’re thinking about being a counselor, camp is an incredible way to learn skills and prepare for future jobs!)

One counselor puts it this way, “Many aspects of camp allowed counselors to forget life outside of camp and just live in the present focusing on how to facilitate fun in the moment. I don’t think you get to do that as frequently in other life experiences, or at least you are not encouraged to do it as frequently.” She goes on to state that these skills are important in any profession and that camp administrators also served as references for her later jobs. For this counselor, camp led to asking questions about larger social structures at work in the world which led to going to graduate school and a career as a professor!

Another famous camper, Disney’s Michael Eisner, credits his many happy years at camp for teaching him to be honest, loyal and “willing to help the other fellow.” He’s quoted as saying, “Working in business can be another canoe trip!” You can read more about the impact camp had on Eisner’s life and career in his book Camp where he shares his memories and multiple lessons learned. If you’re a social and outgoing person and drawn to the opportunity to lead with enthusiasm, camp counselor could be the summer job for you–check out the AFSC website for more information.

Do you already have “camp counselor” on your resume? How has that experience contributed to your life or career?

Thanks to kirvanvlandren for the photo.

Emma

Camp Counselor 101

Recently some camp counselors shared what they’ve learned on the job and I’d like to highlight two important concepts they talked about. Think of this as your basic introduction to camp counselor skills and also how important professional development is to your overall future:

1. Time management

High school students often focus on preparing for college by earning acceptable grades and participating in additional activities. While these strategies are essential to the process, students too often rely on parents/care givers for structure and reminders and fail to understand that managing time is one of the most important skill required for college success. Across the United States, students with ability and good intentions often struggle in college, just because they have not learned to schedule assignments, work, reading and most importantly the time they spend having fun or relaxing.

In contrast, one past camp counselor explains, “time management is crucial at camp,” and even if you are familiar with regimented schedules, “a camp counselor is responsible for keeping others in line with the daily schedule.” So the job requires not only learning to manage time personally, but also for large groups and that becomes a skill counselors develop. Camp counselors also “learn to be disciplinarians in strategic ways.” These skills are essential and applicable to keeping an undergraduate student motivated to complete assignments and participate in college activities. So, since professional experience at camp requires “all counselors to be responsible,” and to “learn to be accountable for personal actions as well as those of others,” camp counselors benefit in multiple ways.

Working as a camp counselor is also the perfect component to rounding out a year of personal and professional growth by managing the time between semesters! As students mature and move into the realm of adulthood, they often have to face the reality that they are not completely self sufficient.

2. Independence and freedom

Once a young adult goes to college, no matter how much they miss home or home cooking, they are changed forever! One past camp counselor puts it this way, “After my first undergraduate winter break back home I decided I didn’t want to return home for three months during summer. College gave me independence/freedom from parental supervision, and I wanted to continue the experience through summer employment.”

So, as you can see, being a camp counselor is a great fit for young adults who expect to do more than the minimum. Since campers often want to prolong their time at summer camp, they can also take it to the next level as counselors. After repeat summers a few even go on to fill additional camp staff positions before making their mark in other careers!

What’s your plan for personal growth next summer? Do you see “camp counselor” in your future?

Emma

Thanks for the image Michel Filion.

What’s happening at camp right now?

How would you describe the essential elements of a summer camp? Do the adventures of spending days with peers, learning new skills, trying new activities, bonfires and skits, great counselors— all the fun of the whole experience— first come to mind? These are definitely important elements of summer camp from a camper’s perspective, but there are a lot of other elements that have to be in place for a camp to be successful year after year. Have you ever wondered what it takes to set the scene and develop communities where good times can take place? I have.

The camp experience is part of the heritage and culture of the United States, and for generations, American families have sent their children to camp—about 10 million children last year alone! As you can guess, each camp has it’s own story and distinct cultural and physical environment, so each camp experience is unique.

The ACA is the professional organization that educates camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. The ACA also establishes guidelines for policies, procedures, and practices when running a camp. Each year, camp professionals gather for a national conference to discuss their work. Last year’s conference title alone, 20/20 Toolbox: Tomorrow’s Camps, Today’s Realities

The staff at Camp Laurel South works all year to make sure that facilities are maintained and prepared for when camp is in session. There are so many details to take care of— from making sure that buildings are cared for, to improving camp facilities, adding or updating equipment and ensuring that health and safety codes are met. Camp owners and managers also have to keep up with changing demographics and expectations from their clientele. So long before campers arrive, camp staff are learning about new practices, meeting up to date regulations, putting current ideas into practice and working towards providing the best of the best.

There are activities and events to plan, qualified counselors to recruit, ideas for even more fun than last year to implement and new campers to meet around the country.  As camper’s needs and tastes change over the years, camp staff are dedicated to making each year as special as the last–and while traditions are an important part of camp life there is lots of room for fresh programs too.

Here’s some of what’s happening at Camp Laurel South. . .and what’s new for 2011. First things first. After the addition of a ten court Tennis Complex in 2010, and new Dining Hall and Kitchen in 2009, all the sports fields have been lighted for 2011 so campers can play games (Soccer, Basketball, Football and more) after the sun goes down. Laurel South has also upgraded its watercraft fleet with two brand new Mastercraft Pro Star 197 Championship Tour Ski Boats and a brand new 16-Person San Pan Fishing Pontoon Boat. Guess what – we also underground irrigated all our lawns and fields so we’ll be Laurel South Green all summer long!

Emma

Thank you for the images Horia Varlan and whereareyousimon.

How to fire up your resume outside of class!

According to American Camp Association (ACA) CEO Peg Smith, approximately 1.2 million camp staff make summer camp happen each year. Camp counselors are a large group in that staggering number and many are also college students who not only earn money for school but also professional experience, resume-building skills and learn a lot about themselves!

Smith says that summer camp provides a unique learning experience for college students since “a camp job offers real life experiences and a hands-on education that simply cannot be found in a classroom.” If you’re looking for a way to earn money and also develop and grow as a person, summer camp is a place where children and adults come together to form a unique community. It’s a job that you can take seriously and share what you know—but also learn—from staff and campers.

Here are some benefits you can expect from the job:

  1. No research then writing arguments here! You’ll have to master real-life, problem-solving skills in the moment, like how to get your campers to clean up and go to activities on time.
  2. You’ll be a role model and surrogate parent for children who grow to love and respect you while you have a significant and positive influence in their lives.
  3. As you care for and encourage others, you’ll develop greater self-understanding. You’re moving into adulthood and it shows in the way you treat others and make choices for yourself!
  4. Professional development and training are required—no taking a back seat here. Hone your leadership and people skills.
  5. You’ve heard about “networking,” and this is where it starts—you’ll develop and expand a network of peer relations that can last a lifetime.

Do you want to know more? Find out about camp counselor opportunities at Laurel South and how you can combine earning money for college, professional and personal development and yes, a little camp fun!

Emma

Building Character at Summer Camp

As parents, we are always on the lookout for experiences that help our children learn new skills. We enroll them in music lessons, martial arts, sports, theatre, choir and, of course, summer camps. But we all know that the best programs (and the best educational experiences) are ones that go beyond the basics of teaching skills to help develop our children’s character. The basics of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — are all essential ingredients in summer camp experiences.

“Camp teaches values such as self-esteem, teamwork, and caring — areas where traditional schools sometimes cause more detriment than good. And camp allows everyone, not just the top student and the best athlete, to thrive and enjoy the process of learning,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA).

Everything we’ve written about on this blog so far — being ready for camp, unplugging from the digital world, traveling to camp, developing interpersonal communication skills, interacting with camp counselors, participating in camp traditions, and learning new sports and skills all contribute to building character.

When mom Martha realized that her son Jaden had come home with crucial life skills — taking care of himself and making good choices — she knew that camp had served a crucial role in his life.

“I felt like they were living a free life,” she says. The rules were there, just not stressful. This kind of independence creates the necessary space for the foundations of character to blossom. “I could not believe the person he had become – just a new person – totally confident in himself,” she says.

It’s no surprise, really. Camp activities, to be successful, require all the participants to have self-discipline and an unselfish sense of camaraderie. “There is just something about living with a group of boys,” mom Wendy says after sending her only son Justin to camp for the first time. Living communally in cabins and bunks requires teamwork, creativity and a willingness to work together.

The camp directors, staff and counselors deserve much of the credit for the character development Martha and Wendy saw in their sons after just a few weeks at camp. They work hard to develop programs that bring a diverse community together around common values and goals, and everyone benefits – campers, parents and staff, and the world they come back to each fall, bringing their good character with them. Camp is about educating the whole child and allowing them to flourish, so that we all as a society may do so.

Olivia, Guest Contributor

Everything I Learned Outside. . .

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv retells a moment in a restaurant when his son asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv had been telling his 10-year old about how he caught crawdads by stringing bits of liver across a creek. When asked to explain, the son replied, “Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down by the swamp.” At first, Louv thought Matthew was irritated and owns up to the fact that like other parents, he can romanticize his own childhood at the expense of his children’s current experience. But Matthew really felt that he had missed out on something, and Louv realized that his own childhood had been different.

If you’re in Louv’s age bracket, you may also recall a childhood filled with a kind of free, natural play that today seems like an antique artifact compared to current kid’s lives. Lives filled with mobile devices, instant messaging, screen time, digital games and fears of “things” outside. In his book, Louv explores “the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, as well as the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” He discusses the accumulating research that implies that secure children (and adults for that matter) must connect with nature to fully develop. This need for contact with the natural world is as imperative as good nutrition and adequate sleep. So, while multiple reasons give us less and less time to connect outdoors, more and more studies suggest that embracing nature is a human necessity.

The ways in which children understand and experience nature has changed beyond recognition for Americans born during the last two decades. While children today may be more aware of the global threats to our larger environment, they are much less aware of their immediate natural surroundings. As children, Louv and his peers may not have discussed global warming, or holes in the ozone layer, but they loved “their woods” and fields intimately and felt connected to the people and their location in the world. They identified specific bends and crooks in creeks and holes in backyards—explored the woods in solitude, lay in fields listening to the wind and marveled at clouds shape-shifting overhead.

Louv discovered that many people yearn for what they have missed living in de-natured environments and they are consciously making choices and decisions to ensure that they will not be “the last children in the woods.” Families and intergenerational groups are finding ways to better live with nature and each other. Summer camp, for example, is one marvelous way for youngsters to make long-lasting memories and deep connections in natural surroundings. With easy access to the great outdoors and opportunities to develop self-reliance within a nurturing community, today’s campers will remember fun-filled childhoods unplugged from urban life—and share their unique memories with future generations.

How can you make sure that you and your kids don’t miss out on the benefits of exploring outdoors? (For the record, I’ve been known to insist that my children at least squish mud between their toes and jump in puddles!)

Emma, Guest Contributor

I can do it myself!

While no actual human being develops in the precise sequence of a child development chart, new parents quickly learn that children do go through dramatic stages. Like other skills, becoming self-reliant takes time and can only develop through real time.

To begin with, parents often track all the “firsts” that a child achieves on a daily basis but as the list grows longer we come to expect changes. The way that most young children acquire language and skills is so rapid that later—even when parents are getting a little more sleep—it becomes difficult to remain excited about each previous new word or action! However, there is one stage that most parents don’t forget and that’s when a child starts declaring, “I can do it myself.” All of a sudden, totally dependent infants morph into adamant creatures with distinct needs and wants. This exasperating but essential stage is filled with cute moments when children seem to hover between babyhood and childhood. But it can also be a difficult time for some parents if they fear that their child may not need them any longer.

As children mature, they continue to develop and require more experiences where they can make independent choices without parents. If parents don’t allow children to make decisions and do things on their own, they won’t develop confidence or realize that they are not just extensions of their caregivers. It’s a tricky line that parents walk! Sometimes giving children room to spread their wings seems counter intuitive, but in order to grow into a self-reliant adult, children need to struggle without the offer of a quick fix. Even when parents can take care of things, the better choice is to support a child through the process of working through and solving problems. Long after a problem has been forgotten, a self-reliant child will remember hearing, “Wow! You amaze me! You really worked hard to figure that out.”

A child who is self-reliant can think for themselves, trusts their own judgment and feels in control of their life. This leads to becoming more active, independent and competent adults and citizens. The child also develops skills to draw on inner resources and use coping mechanisms even when they feel things are not easy. Sending a child to camp is a perfect way for a child to further develop self-reliance in a nurturing, safe and supportive environment. The whole camp experience is designed to illustrate to the camper that becoming a successful person takes personal strength as well as playing a role in a larger group–with the emphasis always on FUN. I can’t think of a more wonderful childhood experience for facilitating such important life skills!

Of course, the process of becoming self-reliant is not easy, but that’s where camp staff and counselors are there to help your child adjust and learn. If you wonder how to help your child develop self-reliance, remember that each child comes to conclusions for themselves, so the only way to experience camp is to be a camper. They are building on early determination to “do it themselves,” and those first fierce moments of independence are precious. Camp offers a full range of fun, adventure, and opportunities to experience emotions with different adults and in new, safe situations. By the end of summer camp, campers bring a lot of stuff home. There’ll be great crafts, stories to tell and some inevitable laundry to wash—but every camper in the world—also brings home a new understanding of themselves.

How did you learn self-reliance at summer camp and what strategies helped you support your independence? Which experiences do you think especially helped kids develop inner strengths? We look forward to your stories too!

Emma, Guest Contributor

Thanks for the image AmberStrocel.

Building Community At and Beyond Camp

I don’t know about you, but a good number of my current communities are one step away from reality — they only exist online. I have a Facebook community, which includes a good number of friends-of-friends that I’ve never met in person. I visit a set list of blogs every day and have a great time interacting with the authors and the other readers. While our definition of community might be expanding, I don’t think any of us have lost sight of the importance of a good, old-fashioned in-person community though.

According to the American Camp Association, parents have identified the development of social skills/living in community (such as making new friends, getting along with others, becoming more responsible, and learning group-living skills) as one of the main reasons they send their children to camp. The owners, directors and staff at summer camp all understand the power of community and structure these skills into their programs in several areas.

1. Communal Living

I am an only child, and as such, I always had my own room when I was a child, so living in a camp cabin for the first time was a huge learning experience. For the first time, I had to be part of a community of people who were sharing space, delegating work and working, communally, to make things work. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of doing my part and see how even the most menial job — mine was taking out the trash – contributed to the health of the community.

Cabinmates must also learn how to navigate the waters of communal decisionmaking. They must work through the inevitable issues and conflicts that come up in cabin living — and they must learn to adapt and get along when things don’t go their way. They learn to live by the will of the majority, while at the same time respecting the needs of others who represent the minority. Again, according to the ACA, “small group living also provides the necessary intimacy for individuals to achieve a sense of belonging, explore a variety of group roles, cooperate and form relationships with others, and have input into the group’s activities.”

2. Eating and Singing Together

In the past few years there has been a large ad campaign promoting family dinners. Sitting around the dinner table sharing stories, concerns and the high and low points of your day with family members — or fellow campers — creates intimate bonds between all of the participants. Most camps have family-style meals and singing traditional camp songs together is often a ritual. Songs are always a founding piece of any culture and at camp, at the end of session when everyone knows the camp songs, they too become community bonds that live through the years.

3. Connections that Last

Although sometimes I am annoyed with how much of my life occurs online, there’s no arguing that modern social networking has helped nurture the lifelong friendships developed at camp. Now, instead of waiting days or week from a letter from a camp pen pal, you can send a text message, IM, or just nudge them on Facebook. Many camps have Facebook groups, some devoted exclusively to alumni from certain years, so the 50-somethings reminiscing about camp in the 70s can be a subgroup of a larger online camp community.

No matter how much time passes, the camp community lives on and on and on, especially through our Facebook page.

How did you experience community at camp? How have you sustained it since? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Olivia, Guest Contributor

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