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Learning the Value of Tradition at Camp

The holidays are around the corner.  During that time of year, the word “tradition” gets thrown around a lot.  But how many people actually understand what tradition is really?  Perhaps it’s the emphasis on forward thinking and constantly in-motion global community that has caused many to confuse “tradition” with “routine.”  They’ve both become something that we do on a regular basis in order to establish or maintain a consistency or pattern in our behavior.  So what really distinguishes “tradition” from “routine”?

First, routine is something that one person does but might not necessarily have in common with others.  Most people brush their teeth at some point in time in the morning.  Few people do it at exactly the same time.  Some shower first.  Others eat breakfast.  Eventually, everyone brushes their teeth but the experience is, for all intents and purposes, individual.  There is no shared significance.

Tradition, on the other hand, is by definition community oriented.  It’s a shared custom, belief, or activity with a common understanding of the reason for its practice.  Many of us eat turkey at Thanksgiving because we symbolically associate it with that first meal between the pilgrims and native Americans.  It’s a tradition.

Second, routine, unlike tradition, is not necessarily multi-generational or even long-term.  It’s something done for a specified length of time.  While we maintain some routines for all or much of our lives, others are short term.  If one gets the flu, for instance, one might temporarily take up a routine of antibiotics.  But once the flu subsides, so does that routine.

On the other hand, tradition is something that is a common bond between multiple generations.  It’s an acknowledgment that an event or action was significant to someone tied to our past, and the observance of traditions our way of paying tribute to that event or action as well demonstrating our understanding of it.

Finally, routine is task oriented.  We take up routine in order to accomplish a goal.  There is an intended result in routine.  Tradition, however, is an observance.  Routine is a way of moving forward, whereas tradition pays tribute to the importance of the past.

By now, you’re surely asking yourself what any of this has to do with summer camp. Simply this: in a culture that places a significant amount of importance on the establishment of routine, the value of tradition is increasingly less understood and appreciated.  Summer camps, however, are grounded in tradition.  They’re  a place where campers and staff members alike get refresher courses in the power of tradition.  Whether it’s at a campfire, a sing along, or an activity specific to the camp, there are literally hundreds of opportunities every summer for those at a summer camp to bond through tradition.  Many former summer campers and staff members actually name “tradition” as one of their highlights of summer camp.  So if tradition has become an element of holidays past, consider giving your children a future opportunity to enjoy tradition at summer camp in 2013.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Packing…

May means a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some it’s Memorial Day and the official beginning of summer.  For others, it marks the end of another school year.  For summer camp parents, it means it’s time to start thinking about packing.  For first time parents, the task can seem absolutely overwhelming.   How much sunscreen and shampoo do I pack?  Do they really need shinguards?  How many t-shirts are enough?  For seasoned camp parents, packing is a science based on experience.  The art is in packing just enough but not too much or too little…and knowing which items the children have sneaked into their bags to take out and which ones to let go.  Packing properly takes time…and patience.

Camps provide rather comprehensive packing lists.  These should not be disregarded.  They’re compiled by professionals with years of camping experience who have excellent knowledge of what children’s bags need to contain in order for them to arrive prepared for a successful summer at camp.  Also keep in mind when packing that living space is somewhat limited at camp.  Your child will not have his or her own room at summer camp.  He or she will live together with several other campers as well as a couple of counselors. This means that there is not a whole lot of room for “extras” and labeling clothes is important as mix-ups are otherwise bound to happen.  If laundry is your primary concern, rest assured that camp laundry is done at least once per week.  Your child’s counselors and other camp staff will see to it that your child has clean clothes.

Summer camp values also often downplay appearance.  The emphasis of summer camp is on fun, friendship, and safety.  Before the end of the summer, your child will likely get wet, slimed, painted, generally messy, and a host of other cool things that tend to make children laugh and adults cringe.  So keep the really good stuff at home and send clothes that neither you nor they will miss too much if they have to be “retired” at the end of the summer.

It’s important for both new and seasoned camp parents to pay as much attention to the items your child’s camp asks not to bring as those items it asks to bring.  There is a reason your camp requests that certain items not be brought onto campus, whether it’s to help facilitate a specific environment, protect those with allergies, or to avoid other issues not conducive to the spirit of summer camp.  Packing “do not bring” items risks them being lost or confiscated until the end of the summer.  This ultimately causes undo stress on your children.  Alleviating stress that results from the idea of having to leave a beloved item such as a cell phone or notepad at home is typically accomplished by reiterating to children about what they will have at camp as opposed to what they won’t.

By following your camp’s advice and being proactive rather than reactive, packing for camp can be a fun countdown to camp rather than a reactive chore.

A Network of Lifetime Friends

One of the most touted benefits of working at a summer camp is the network one may build even within the parameters of a single summer.  Unlike many work environments, which tend to draw locals with a telescoped set of talents, summer camp attracts staff from virtually all over the world who possess an array of abilities.  A successful summer at camp requires the expertise of athletes and artists alike.  Because summer camps are 24/7 communities, staff members tend to form very close bonds within the two months that they reside at camp each summer.  Camp breeds a sense of family, which is precisely why, for a good many staff members, goodbye at the end of the summer is seldom goodbye forever.  Thanks to a little help from social media outlets such as Facebook, it’s possible to stay in touch with summer camp friends no matter where on earth they live.  Whether it’s couch surfing while traveling, hunting for a job, needing a little bit of advice or support, or sharing an inside joke, camp friends are there.  Working at summer camp is more than just a summer experience.  It’s a way to form a global network of friends for life.

Re-asserting “Team” in Team Sports

Whether your family lives in a large city or a small town, there is likely not a shortage of organized sports  for children. Increasingly, the emphasis of team sports is less about what it means to be a member of a team and more about being the MVP of a winning team.   As a result, child athletes are often caught between sparring parents on one sideline and anxious, screaming coaches on the other.  Overly zealous parents and coaches seldom stop to consider that children often absorb their parents’ feelings and may project the resulting tension through their play.  The immense pressure to be a star who constantly wins is often why many children become burnt-out in the competitive sports environment and choose to take a break or even quit altogether.  Says Fred Engh, author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, “If all the focus is on winning, kids may be scared to fail and make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and it’s how one improves.”  One of the most undervalued benefits of team sports at traditional American summer camps is the environment that allows children to make mistakes without fear of backlash from the sidelines and to process those mistakes in a way that they can turn them into learning experiences.

Setting up children for success requires a welcoming environment in which they can feel comfortable being themselves.    Those who tend to be self-conscious are particularly challenged by situations in which tension runs high.  The spirit of camp is one of instruction, fun and safety more than competition.  It’s about making children feel like a valuable part of a unit that utilizes everyone’s talents in a way that is beneficial.  In short, the traditional summer camp environment is a team environment.   At camp, children have the encouragement of their counselors and fellow campers when playing sports.  A child making a layup shot on the basketball court for the first time is cheered just as much as someone scoring a winning three pointer.

Perhaps the relaxed positive reinforcement they receive while learning to play sports at camp is why so many children (as many as 60%) feel compelled to continue being active in an activity they tried for the first time at camp.

Camp Senses

The unseasonably warm and pleasant weather seems to be bringing on summer faster.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are back, and the days are sunny. It’s hard not to take advantage of the opportunity to prematurely engage in all of one’s favorite summer activities a little bit.  The other day, my sisters and I caved.  We decided to rally my niece, go to the park and, yes, even though three of the four us fully qualify as grownups, play on the playground.  I’m convinced that no matter how old one gets, no one ever gets tired of swings.  It turns out that we weren’t the only ones with such an idea.  The place was packed, children and adults everywhere.  The park had even opened up the boating dock, something that they usually don’t do until Memorial Day Weekend.  People were out on the lake in rowboats and paddle boats.  They were picnicking.  They rode by on bicycles, skates and skateboards.  The comforting familiar smell of campfire from the nearby campground even permeated the air.   It was as if 2012 had transposed May and March.  My niece and I managed to score the last two remaining swings while my sisters preoccupied themselves on the monkey bars.

My niece and I have this game we play.  We see who can swing the highest.  The little boy between us apparently thought our game looked fun because he joined in.  As we slowed down for a bit after tiring ourselves out, he started a conversation.  I think he actually wanted to talk to my niece but decided I’d make a good mediator—at least in the beginning.   His name was Hunter.  What is her name?  Angelica.  How old is she?  She is six.  Same as me, he said.  What grade in she in?  First.  Same as me, he said again.  He jabbered on.  His dad had told him that if he was good they might rent a paddle boat later.  Maybe Angelica could come on the paddle boat with him.  He wished the concession stand was open so he could get ice cream.  Earlier in the day he’d gone to his swimming lesson at the JCC.  Then his mom signed him up for camp there this summer. I perked up.  Every now and then, chance throws a writer a bone and you have to grab it and run with it. Camp, huh? Do you stay overnight at this camp?  No, I’m not old enough.  I didn’t tell him that I already knew this.  The minimum age for most overnight camps is seven.  Is this your first time at the camp?  Yes, my sister went last year.  She said it’s really fun.  What do you think will be the most fun?  Ummm…I don’t know.  I don’t really know what we do there.  I bet you swim there.  Yeah, I think we do.  I worked at a camp.  You did?  Yep.  Only everyone stayed overnight at my camp.  His eyes grew.  They did? Yep.  I think I would like to do that someday.  Was it fun?  Yep.  What was it like there?  I looked around at the bicycles and the boats.  I took in the smell of campfire in the air and listened to the sound of all of the children playing and laughing.  It’s a lot like this.  I think I would like that, he said.  Hunter had no idea that he made my day and helped me out a lot by literally handing me material for a camp blog.  I hope he has fun at the JCC camp this year…and that he makes it to overnight camp someday.  If you haven’t thought about sending your children to camp, take a trip to your local park on a nice spring day.  Your senses just may help the decision become clear.

Looking at a Summer Camp but Can’t Come to Us? We’ll Come to You!

Starting about now and over the next couple of months, it seems that advertisements for summer camp fairs are everywhere you look.  Though many families begin researching summer camp in late fall or early winter (or some early as early as the summer before), as soon as the snow starts to melt, they realize how close summer really is and that it’s time to make a decision.  Camp fairs are one way to visit with many camp representatives or directors in one area.  However, schedule conflicts or distance sometimes make attending camp fairs impossible.  That’s why some camps will come to you!  Home visits are typically as simple as expressing interest in a camp and requesting a home visit.  The camp will work with you to arrange a time for a camp representative, usually a director, to come to your home when he or she is in your area, talk to you about the camp, and address any questions or concerns you may have about the camp specifically or just about camp in general.  Afterward, together you can decide with the director or representative whether your child would be a good fit for the camp.  Camp directors enjoy home visits because it’s a great way for them to get to know prospective campers and their families in an environment in which they are comfortable.

Because the individual who comes to your house is typically a director, home visits are not only an ideal alternative to camp fairs but they are also a great way to get know the individual at the helm. For international families or those who live outside of areas in which camps offer home visits, Skype visits are a terrific alternative.  A Skype visit is the same basic concept as a home visit, except instead of an in person face to face chat, a visit is conducted via Skype.  If you’re interested in a home visit, please contact those camps in which you’re interested to find out when a representative will be in your area.  Because it’s the perfect chance to learn about the camp in a relaxed environment, it’s a good idea to do some homework before your home visit and know which questions you’d like to ask. Other than that, however, after you’ve arranged your home or Skype visit, there’s nothing further for you to do except for the doorbell to ring or the call to come through.  It really is as convenient as that!

Who Works at Summer Camp?

Spring is just around the corner and summer will be here before you know it, which makes now the time to start thinking about how you’re going to spend your summer.  If you’re a college student, you could toil away as a server or cook at the local pizza joint or operate rides or peddle souvenirs at the local amusement or sports park.  Interning in an office may even be an option you’re considering.  And we all know the internships at Wall Street banks are now fewer and far between. But if you want summer employment that promises a summer full of fun and adventure while also helping you develop valuable lifelong skills that employers view favorably, consider working at summer camp.  Just because your college days are behind you doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role at summer camp for you too, particularly if you are a teacher or high school or college athletics coach looking for a great way to supplement your income.  In fact, the ages and backgrounds of the people who make up the typical summer camp staff are about as diverse as summer camps themselves.

If you don’t think being a counselor is really your thing or you’re pretty sure you’ve aged out of that option, don’t sweat it.  There are a multitude of positions besides counselors that summer camps must fill each summer.  For starters, camps have offices and offices require personnel to run them.  If answering the phone and administrative tasks are more to your liking, perhaps working in a summer camp office might be the ideal option for you.  Additionally, camps need people to help with daily scheduling as well as planning and executing special activities during the evenings and on special days.

If you like the idea of spending time with children but are an athlete or hobbyist who would rather focus on your passion, summer camps hire specialists to teach skills in specific sports and hobbies to campers.  If your passion is photography or videography, as the camp photographer responsible for capturing the fun every day, your role is one of the most integral at camp. In fact, if you can think of an activity, there is probably a staffing need for it at camp, and sometimes some of the hardest positions to fill are ones most people just don’t think of when they think of summer camp, such as creative writing, cooking, robotics, eco science, skateboarding, or magic.

Although most hospitality positions such as food service, maintenance, and housekeeping are usually filled with international applicants, some camps hire domestic applicants as well, particularly for supervisory roles in these areas.  If you are an international student who would love to earn some money by working in the U.S. before or after traveling, one of these summer camp roles may be the perfect option for you…as well as a lot of fun and a chance to make a lot of new friends from around the world!

Camps also have a need to fill key roles that require more foundational knowledge and experience.  Aside from campers, camps also need division heads or campus leaders, people who lead a specific age group and supervise all of the counselors within that group.  Although many camps fill all or most of their head roles from within, using individuals who have several years of successful camp experience because they require a more intricate knowledge of summer camp, occasionally they will search outside of camp, typically for teachers or other professionals who work with children. Camps also hire program or activity heads, usually college coaches and current or former professionals in their area of expertise, such as soccer, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, etc.  However, since almost all activities require people to run them, those with interest and expertise in hobby or arts related programs can often find a summer home at camp in areas such as arts and crafts, dance, theater, etc. Those who manage offices, act as campus administrators, or arrange transportation are typically individuals with some type of related work experience as well.  Most camps also employ camp moms or parent liaisons during the summer.  These are individuals, often mothers themselves, who monitor the well being of younger campers to insure they are eating properly, staying well groomed, and having a fantastic summer.

So who works at camp?  Chances are someone like you! If you’d like a summer job in which you can work among a diverse group of people from all over the world, make lifetime friends, be challenged everyday, and have the time of your life, apply now to one of America’s Finest Summer Camps!

Dance at Camp

A lot is made of sports at summer camp, but most summer camps also offer many programs in the arts.  Dance is one such program that is becoming increasingly popular among both boys and girls.  Like the many sports available to try, summer camp dance programs give campers the opportunity to experiment with several different dance styles.  Aside from the traditional jazz, instruction is often available in contemporary, modern, hip hop, and ballet.  In addition to offering instruction in multiple styles of dance, many camps also form competitive dance teams that, like sports teams, travel to other camps to compete in dance competitions throughout the summer.  Even if campers aren’t quite ready to audition for So You Think You Can Dance, being a member of a camp dance team is still well within reach.  Typically, because summer camp staff work hard to make their camps a safe environment for children to feel encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, more emphasis is placed on interest than ability.  Many camps create teams for beginners as well as the more experienced.  Summer camp dance teams are also the reason many campers find their camp dance programs a great way to pursue a non sports related interest yet still be competitive.

Another reason that summer camp dance programs have become so popular is that they provide an outlet to still be physically active in a creative environment. Summer camp is about letting go and not being afraid to act a little bit silly.  Dance provides the same disciplinary and physical training as traditional sports yet also gives campers the opportunity to express themselves and sometimes even be a tad goofy through artistic choreography.  Dance instruction is often provided by trained dance instructors or college students who compete on their university dance team or are pursuing a career in the field of dance.  The availability of instruction in popular forms of dance such as hip hop has also driven the popularity of dance.

Dance is also versatile. Even though not every camper has a desire to be competitive in dance, campers enjoy learning new moves in dance class and then using them to choreograph bunk or cabin dance numbers for camp shows or talent contests.  They also like showing off their moves on the dance floor during camp dances. Having the opportunity to practice new dance moves in an open, accepting environment such as summer camp gives campers the confidence to continue learning, practicing, and trying what they’ve learned at home.

Camp is a Summer Home for Nutrition Too!

Much has been made recently about the meals that our children consume in places such as school cafeterias and summer camps.  A general sentiment that these types of establishments place cost and convenience over nutrition and well being seems to be developing.  In the world of summer camp, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, so dedicated are some summer camps to providing meals and snacks that combat bad eating habits that we’ve decided to dedicate an entire series of blogs to summer camp menus.  In this first blog, we’ll introduce you to the basic concept of camp nutrition and menu compilation.  In future blogs, we’ll discuss special diet, snacks, and the strategy behind the compilation of camp menus.

Most reputable camps offer a deliberate, carefully planned menu to campers and staff alike.  Many camps employ the assistance of nutritionists when planning menus and select food based on the heightened physical activity of campers during the summer.  All of America’s Finest Summer Camps, for instance, offer extensive yogurt and fruit bars at breakfast as well as salad bars at lunch and dinner.  At breakfast, several different kinds of yogurt are available as well as fruit such as oranges and bananas.  Hard boiled eggs, bagels, and cheese are also typically available.  For those with lactose intolerance, lactose free as well as soy milk are often on hand.  At lunch and dinner, salad bars offer everything from basic staples like tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, olives, cucumbers, and carrots to more progressive offerings like garbanzo beans, tuna, and marinated vegetable combinations, along with several dressings from which to complete the dish.  Almost all camps offer vegetarian selections at mealtimes.

Increasingly, special diets are being taken into consideration as well.  With many camp leaders and directors themselves learning to live with gluten allergies and diabetes, camp leaders have looked inward when planning menus and are becoming increasingly sensitive to special diet needs.  More and more, menu options are being added with these considerations in mind.

Planning camp menus is a special challenge for camp directors.  With so many campers and staff dining at each meal, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.  However, there are other considerations when planning menus.  Children are very active at camp—often considerably more active than they are at home.   Physical activity begins in the morning and often continues into the evening.  Many camp menus have been criticized for being heavy in carbohydrates.  However, there is a nutritional basis in this.  Diets heavy in carbohydrates are recommended for children who engage in heavy physical activity, as carbohydrates convert to sugar very quickly and help replenish energy.  While it’s true that many camp foods are high in carbohydrates, it’s also important to consider that such a diet at camp is also responsibly balanced by ample servings of fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

Food allergies are also a prevalent consideration when planning camp menus.  Nut allergies are the most common, although there are many others.  Since food allergies tend to reveal themselves through various levels of sensitivity, it’s not only important to consider what campers and staff might consume when planning menus, but with whom and what they might come into contact during the course of a summer camp meal.

The preparation of food, particularly food that is fried, is another key target of critics.  The fact is that even though many camps offer such traditionally “fried” fare as hamburgers, french fries, and cheese sticks, many of these foods, when prepared at camp, are not fried.  Hamburgers are often grilled while fries and cheese sticks are typically baked to minimize the use of fatty oils.

In case you have ever suspected that your child’s nutrition takes a back seat to fun at summer camp, we hope this brief introduction has helped put your mind at ease.  And if you’re still not convinced, we invite you to continue visiting this blog as we continue our series about camp menus.

Are You One in a Million?

According to the American Camp Association (ACA), nearly 1.2 million people take on the adventure of working at camp each summer.  They come from all over the world and all walks of life.  Some of them are former campers while others have never experienced summer camp at all.  Their educations are as diverse as their backgrounds and many of them choose summer camp over a traditional internship because of the unique, well-rounded work experience it provides.   Whether the winter weather already has you thinking about what you’ll be doing this summer or you’re just browsing summer employment opportunities, it’s worth asking yourself, “Am I  one in a million?” :

  • Summer camp staff come from all over the world.  Increasingly, as summer camps recognize their unique position to promote a global community in a fun, relaxed environment, they are recruiting staff from near and far.   The ACA reports that within the last decade “there has been an increase in the use of international staff to expose campers to different cultures.”  If you live outside of the U.S. and you’ve been wanting to travel to the USA, summer camp is a great way to earn some cash while getting to intimately experience life here.  If you’re an American and a trip abroad just isn’t quite in the budget, you need go no further than a residential summer camp to make new friends from all over the world—and pad your bank account while doing it!
  • If you think that being a former camper is a pre-requisite to being a great camp counselor, think again.  Many camp staff members who return to camp year after year never even set foot on a summer camp campus prior to working at one.  Like many of their colleagues, that one step was all it took.  They were won over and continue to return each season.
  • Summer camp employment isn’t just for education majors and coaches.  Increasingly, those with majors in the social sciences, sciences, math, engineering, and even medicine and nursing are finding a summer home at camp as an alternative to the traditional internship.  Summer camp provides many unique experiences that one can gain nowhere else, such as a 24/7 commitment and the opportunity to simultaneously work with children and adults in a close-knit family type community.  Summer camp also develops a diverse range of core skills valued by employers today.  As a camp staff member, one must make split second decisions, be an efficient negotiator, use creativity to sell ideas and concepts, resolve conflict, solve problems, be an effective leader, know how to prioritize, be extremely flexible, accept change, and be awesome when it comes to multi-tasking.  If it sounds like a big order, it is.  But almost all who take on the challenge report that it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding experiences upon which they’ve ever embarked.
  • If you are an education major or a coach, have you thought of summer camp as an opportunity to build experience working with children ages 7-15?  Working at summer camp develops many of the same skills that are often used in the classroom or on the field.  Many educational institutions view summer camp experience as some of the  most valuable on a potential educator’s resume.
  • How many traditional internships pay you AND provide you with room and board?  In addition to a stipend for the summer, almost all residential summer camp positions offer room and board as part of their employment packages.  What this means to you is that, potentially, everything you earn throughout the summer goes straight into your pocket…or your bank account, as the case may be.  Even if you allow yourself a bit to splurge on sightseeing around the local area (many of America’s finest summer camps are located in some of the most beautiful parts of the country), it’s still possible to take home a substantial amount of cash at the end of the summer.  This is particularly appealing when one considers how much rent and food can add up to over a summer.

If you’re looking for the summer job to beat all summer jobs, summer camp may definitely be your cup of tea.  At summer camp, everyday will be a new adventure that takes you both indoors and out from sunrise to sunset.  There are no cubicles, no computers (aside from computers available for staff to use on their free time), and no time clocks.  And…there are beautiful surroundings, a camp full of campers who depend on you, a slew of challenges you never knew you’d face (and enjoy), and a circle of lifetime friends waiting to meet you.  If you’re one in a million, what are you waiting for?  If you are a college or university student, check your college’s upcoming career fair lineups.  Many summer camps travel to universities to recruit this time of year.  It may be possible to meet the first member of your future camp family in person.  If your college days are behind you or there are no summer camps scheduled to visit your university, you can apply directly through Camp Laurel South’s web page.  

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