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“Sunwise” at Camp

View ImageOne of the biggest challenges of summer camp is also one of its greatest aspects, spending lots of time in the sunny outdoors.  Indeed, time in the sun is an important aspect of maintaining good health.  The sun is a source of vitamin D, which has been linked to happiness.  However, over-exposure to the sun’s rays can be harmful, as nearly everyone knows.  So taking appropriate measures to reduce risks is essential.

Summer camp professionals are extremely aware that proper sun care goes beyond the frequent application of sunscreen.  Many of them are parents themselves whose first priority is the safety of their campers, and they work very hard to incorporate sun-care tips, such as those offered by Sunwise, an organization established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 to help those who work with children, into their daily routines.

Staff and campers are instructed to apply sunscreen frequently.  Almost all camps either supply sunscreen or require campers to bring it with them and encourage re-application between activities throughout the day.  Many camps place large containers of sunscreen throughout campus, so that it can be easily accessed and reapplied throughout the day.  The staff is required to insure that both themselves and their campers regularly use sunscreen.

Camps take measure to insure that children wear proper clothing.  Campers receive proper dress instructions daily.  Counselors supervise to make sure each child dresses appropriately for the day’s weather and activities.  Daily weather-appropriate instructions such as reminders about sunscreen application and instructions to drink plenty of water are also typically given during a camp’s morning announcements.

Camp programs naturally incorporate a mix of outdoor and indoor activities in order to balance the amount of time one spends in the sun with time in the shade.  While summer camp is about reconnecting with nature and a natural environment, campers also spend ample amount of time indoors so as not to be overexposed or at risk.

Extra precautionary measures are also taken when necessary.  With an increasing emphasis on helping campers develop lifelong healthy habits, camps are increasingly choosing to train their staffs in proper suncare.

Vitamin D intake is optimized through diet.  Camp menus are carefully planned to optimize nutritional value for campers.  Health and fitness have risen to the forefront of the camping industry in recent years.  Naturally rich in vitamin D foods such as milk, eggs, yogurt, and oatmeal daily are typically available daily at breakfast.  Other foods high in Vitamin D, such as tuna and mushrooms, are also offered on lunch and dinner salad bars.

Teaching children and the people who take care of them proper measures for protecting oneself against overexposure to the sun is a critical element in the promotion of good health that many camps now embrace.  It not only helps protect children at camp but could help them for life.  A study by the American Camp Association established that habits formed at summer camp are continued by more than 60% of campers once they return home.

For more information about proper suncare, you can visit the Sunwise website at www.epa.gov/sunwise/index.html.

Childhood Obesity Part II: Balancing Nutrition and a Healthy Lifestyle

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed the benefits of physical activity at camp.  There are underlying advantages to this that directly relate to nutritional habits.  Research shows that that the more time children spend doing passive activities such as watching television, sitting at a computer, or playing video games, the more likely they are to overeat.  The reason for this is simple.  A sedentary lifestyle leads to boredom.  Nutritionists assert that lack of activity mars a child’s ability to determine the difference between boredom and hunger.  Unfortunately, according to dietician Jennifer Thomas, the increased amount of free time and lack of structure that often comes with summer break makes children particularly vulnerable to tedium and excessive food consumption.  Says Thomas, “A child can pick up 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a summer, so it’s important to recognize the difference between boredom and hunger.”

Concern about the obesity crisis has sprung to the forefront of the camping industry.  Cedric Bryant, Ph.D. and Chief Scientist for The American Council on Excercise, was a keynote speaker at the 2011 American Camp Association’s (ACA) National Conference, attended by thousands of camp professionals.  In his address, Dr. Bryant discussed the growing issue of obesity and praised the ability of summer camp  to transform poor habits through exercise.  Most traditional summer camps offer children a healthy mix of hobbies and athletics.   Camp staff members encourage campers to participate in everything that’s offered to them, even that which they might not necessarily do or try at home.

There is also something to be said for the fact that many summer camp activities, including dining, are scheduled into a child’s day and carried out in a group setting.  Access to food is limited throughout campus, and eating is typically not permitted in bunks.  Quite simply, obtaining food at camp is not as easy as walking into the pantry or opening the refrigerator on a whim for lack of something better to do.  New research has established many benefits to family meals.  One potentially underrated advantage is that dining as a unit may keep consumption in check by limiting what nutritionists call the “eating area”, the combination of time and space in which eating occurs.  “This strategy can help determine if they [children] are really hungry or just bored,” says Thomas.  Meals at summer camp are held at specific times in a designated place—usually a dining or mess hall—and campers dine together, often with their bunkmates.  Counselors supervise, insuring that everyone receives food and reporting any changes in a camper’s eating patterns.

The four day 2011 ACA conference also featured  seminars that addressed issues such as how to  work together to improve the overall health and nutrition of campers, understanding the relationship between nutrition and wellness and using that knowledge to help campers be high achievers through healthy bodies and minds, and adding healthy options to dining room menus, particularly for those campers who require special diets.

Indeed, though many camps are constantly striving to improve in these areas, the notions  introduced in these seminars are not new.  Meals served by most summer camps are carefully planned and balanced in accordance with USDA recommendations.  Many camps also encourage their campers to make healthy choices at mealtimes by providing several fruit options in the morning and salad bars at lunch and dinner.  Vegetarian alternatives are typically available and, increasingly, more attention is being given to rising nutritional challenges such as diabetic or gluten free diets.
All of this is enough to make summer camp worth considering as a combatant to the type of lackadaisical lifestyle that leads to poor eating habits and, possibly, obesity.

The History of Camp

Bus to CampIn today’s hyper-fast, multi-tasking world, one of the great attractions of camp is tradition. Each camp passes down its own stories and lore. Campers appreciate that they’re enjoying some of the same activities, in the same way, as campers before them have done for generations.

But few people realize just how much history the camp industry embodies.

The Gunnery CampThe first camp – called the Gunnery – was founded in 1861 in Washington, Connecticut. That’s right — camping is as old as the Civil War, and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Early campers enjoyed boating, fishing and trapping. It’s pretty impressive that two of those activities survive at camps, a century and a half later.

An 1876 camp was created to take “weakly boys” into the woods. We wouldn’t use those terms today – but camps still serve all kinds of children, in all kinds of ways. And we’re still in the woods.

Dinning Hall - Camp AgawamThe first YMCA camp was Dudley, in 1885. It’s still around – the longest continually operating camp in the United States. Scores of other camps date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With over 100 camps – some dating back 100 years, welcoming scores of camping “generations” – Maine has long been one of camping’s most popular states.

Boasting crystal-clear lakes, pine forests, mountains and (don’t worry) moose, Maine is (like camping itself), “easy to get to, but very difficult to leave.”

Camping boomed nationally in the 1950s and 60s – along with much of post-war America. In 1948 the American Camping Association adopted Standards – the basis for ACA camp accreditation. There are currently 300 Standards for health, safety and programs. They’re recognized by courts and government regulators – a seal of approval for any camp to which parents entrust their most precious possessions.

Waterfront

The ACA was a pioneer in anti-discrimination resolutions. The first was adopted in 1950. Since then, the industry has continued to emphasize youth development. Camp directors constantly study research in areas like child and adolescent development, and risk prevention. They understand that positive experiences, strong relationships, challenging opportunities and solid personal values are vital to helping young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults.

Sailing

Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail might not have used terms like those 150 years ago, when they founded The Gunnery Camp. But they intuitively understood the many benefits that camping provided. All of us in this important industry proudly honor the traditions of the past.

My colleagues and I will not be here 150 years from now to carry them on.

But we’re confident our successors – and our camps – will.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey
Guest Blogger and former Maine camper and counselor

*Historical photos courtesy of the American Camp Association – www.acacamps.org

Summer Camp: Curbing Childhood Obesity

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that nearly 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese, it has become imperative that we, as parents, make as much effort to set our children up for success in establishing proper food habits, just as we would in other areas of their lives.  Three primary causes consistently cited for childhood obesity are lack of physical activity, an unbalanced diet and overeating.  An often overlooked benefit to summer camp is the significant impact it has in curbing childhood obesity by promoting an active lifestyle and healthy eating practices.  In this multi-part series, we will examine the efforts being made by summer camps to battle poor diet and exercise.

Part I.  Physical Activity
Beyond traditional summer camp sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, roller hockey and gymnastics, many camps are increasingly focusing on the development of extensive programs for such popular fitness activities as spin, running, weights, zumba, yoga and the martial arts.  The instant popularity of these programs suggests that children have a natural interest in exercise and will engage in it of their own accord in the absence of many of the daily distractions that promote a more lethargic lifestyle but are not readily available at summer camp, such as computers, video game systems and television.  The ability to participate in fitness programs as a form of fun also encourages campers to approach such activities with an open mind rather than as something forced on them and that is only done out of necessity.  

Some camps are also experimenting with nutrition programs that marry cooking activities with fitness. Such programs teach campers how to plan healthy meals and snacks and then prepare them.  Cooking programs are among the most popular at summer camp.  To merge them with nutrition is a clever way to demonstrate the importance of using discretion in choosing what we eat and consuming it in moderation.  In the past, the idea of “diet,” as in depriving oneself of necessary nutrients, has been cited as a contributing factor in the growth of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting.

For those who question the lasting effects of fitness and nutritional habits adapted at summer camp, statistics indicate that they won’t be going away anytime soon.  According to the American Camp Association, more than half of children who pursue a new interest at camp will continue pursuing that interest once they return home.

Up next, part II.  An Unbalanced Diet

Feeling Groovy at Camp–Now and Then!

When I think about “camp songs,” I immediately think about singing around campfires, but each year at camp also has a distinct popular music soundtrack. Recently, campers weighed in on Twitter about the tunes that remind them of past summers and that got me thinking about what the United States and camp was like in the 1960s and 1970s.

Hadley Hury remembers You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (1969) and Music Man and the Counselors’ Show from 1970. That’s also when Charlie Ziff was theater director, Hadley was assistant director and Jay Newman had the job of radio director for The Fantastiks. 1969 was the year that campers watched the moonwalk on television in the theater and there was lots of talk about some “big thing going on in some little town called Woodstock!”

Bobby Brickman says he has vivid memories that revolve around people who played lead roles in productions of Brigadoon in 1961, Carousel in 1963, and Bye Bye Birdie in 1963. It’s clear that for a very long time, camp has been the place to put creativity and passion into great performances!

Barbara Gough adds that when she hears the captivating bass line of Reach Out of the Darkness by Friend and Lover, she’s immediately transported back to 1968. Friend and Lover was a one hit wonder and their song ranked in the Top Ten during 1968, when Barbara says campers “danced to this playing on the jukebox in the Canteen all summer long!” The song embraced social change with lyrics like “I think it’s so groovy now/That people are finally getting together. . .Reach out in the darkness. . .And you may find a friend.”

Back then, while campers made friends and memories, things in the United States as a whole were not so peaceful. When students in California held a Selective Service sit-in, 3,000 of them were arrested and housed in the San Francisco 49ers’ old football stadium. A promo man got a sound truck and started broadcasting Reach Out of the Darkness towards the students. That’s what started the song’s rise up the charts—and why campers miles away listened to the hit that summer!

The historical events of those times grounded the more multicultural and open society we have today, but during the 1960s, many people felt uncertain as to what the future held. In 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Reach Out in the Darkness rocketed up the charts and like other big hits that year, captured the country’s changing mood. Songs that also ranked in 1968 include the Rascals’, People Got to Be Free,Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, The Beatles’ Hey Jude, James Brown’s Say It Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud ,and versions of I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye.

Summer camp is always a microcosm of our world-at-large, where campers practice and learn skills for negotiating the world, where assumptions can be challenged, and where diverse people find ways to celebrate community and appreciate each other. One great thing about camp is that for a few weeks, the world grows a little smaller and everyone listens to the same soundtrack. In a fast-paced and interconnected world, camp “sounds” like the perfect place for connecting with others and as Hadley says, every summer adds up to “good times for campers and staff.” It’s often only later that campers realize how much the experience has shaped them and the way they see the world–much like how hit songs can illuminate the past in retrospect. The music (and fashions) may change through the years, but the core camp experience never goes out of date.

We’d love to hear about how your time at camp contributed to your understanding about others as well as what you’re looking forward to most this summer!

Thanks for the image Cre8iveDoodles ~*~ New Beginnings!

What Do We Really Do All Year…

For camp directors, July and August are hectic, exciting, fun-filled and challenging months.

So what do we do the rest of the year? The question should be: What don’t we do? Camp directors work as hard in the “off-season” as they do during actual camp sessions. Some of it is visible to campers, parents and staff members – but much of it no one ever sees.

The old days – when camp directing was a summer job for teachers – are long gone. Camps today run 24/7/365. I know I speak for my fellow camp directors when I say: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here are just a few tasks that demand our attention, beginning the moment the last bus pulls out of the parking lot.

Roger and DagniClosing down camp. Equipment must be put away, docks pulled in, cabins and kitchens cleaned. Winterization begins in August.

Construction begins on new projects we, and many camps, do each year. There are buildings to be built, courts to be resurfaced, roofs to be re-shingled…the list is endless. This is exciting stuff: planning, building and getting new facilities, cabins and program areas ready for the following summer! Returning campers and staff love “being in the know,” and hearing what’s new and improved for the coming season.

Camper recruiting and retention. Working with families is a fun process. We arrange meetings, talk by phone and email, get together – and we do it more than once. Camp/family relationships are very important, and ongoing. You may be surprised to learn that this winter, we’re already talking with families about their 2012 plans.

Camping conferences. These are where we learn about everything from insurance regulations and ADHD research to cool new foods and safe new beds. We meet our colleagues, share ideas, and get re-energized about the upcoming summer. 

Leadership meetings. Like many camps, our full leadership staff gets together during the year. We review the past season, prepare for the next, and constantly take stock of who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Program planning. We spend 10 months getting ready for a 2-month special event. From scheduling trips to making sure the daily routine does not become a rut, we plan every detail. Longer-term planning includes major building projects.

Meals. The food service calendar is incredibly complex. From the first dinner in late May for 25 people through late June when 550 campers and counselors suddenly need three meals aTri-State Camp Conference day, snacks, canteen, OD snacks, cookouts and more… the food service staff is crucial. Training the staff, planning menus and getting meal counts right takes a ton of off-season “prep work.”

Everything else. Here are a few of the thousands of items: making a laundry plan. Writing and sending out newsletters. Reserving buses. Distributing DVDs. Revising our staff handbooks and training sessions. Renewing all necessary certifications. Updating technology. Tracking medical mailings. Writing blogs.

Our goal as camp directors is to control as much as we can when campers and staff are home – so that when they’re at camp we can devote as much time, energy and care to them as we can.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a phone call to answer. An email to respond to. And a potentially great new counselor waiting to be interviewed.

Roger Christian
Director, Laurel South

A Summer Full of Adventure

Few people think of finding a summer job while bundled in scarves, coats, and gloves as they attempt to maneuver roadways and college campuses after the latest snowfall.  However, whether 2011 is the first time you’re considering a summer camp position or you’re a seasoned veteran, February is exactly the time to start the process of securing summer employment, if you haven’t already done so.  Many camps attend campus recruiting fairs in order to assemble the perfect staff.  So why should you attend one of these fairs or complete an online application now?  To begin with, a camp job is definitely fun, but also a lot of work…so be prepared! Where else can you get paid to play all day while building valuable job skills? Whether you work in a specific area and focus on a sport, activity or hobby you love or you work as a counselor who travels from activity to activity with campers, your day is full of exciting challenges and a probably even a few surprises, both of which will develop your problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiation skills.

If you like working with children and aspire to a career in a field such as education, sports training, psychology or sociology, then you already have another reason to work at a camp.  Camp is an excellent place to gain valuable experience and is impressive on a resume.  Although camp seems lighthearted–and it is in many ways–working at camp requires a lot of responsibility, flexibility, and adaptability, all of which are very valuable characteristics sought by employers.   Each day guarantees new challenges, many of them unexpected.  Summer camp is often organized chaos.  Yes, there is always a plan in place, but the unexpected is also inevitable.  While this may seem scary the first couple days, it also brings an excitement and satisfaction that delivering pizzas or serving food (or even working at an investment bank)  never could.  Working at camp also requires a lot of communication and interpersonal interaction, two more transferrable skills that are highly valued by employers.  At camp, you must effectively co-exist with your campers, co-counselors, and other staff members to be successful.   You will also be able to tell future employers that you worked with people from all over the world and from many different socio-economic backgrounds.  That you’ve overcome cultural, language, and social obstacles with others tells recruiters that diversity is not something you fear, but rather embrace.

Working at summer camp can also be very healthy for your bank account.  You won’t become Donald Trump spending your summers at camp. However; camps provide housing and food in addition to a salary. It’s possible to live virtually expense-free for a couple of months.  Many summer camp counselors take home all or most of their salaries at the end of the summer.

Finally, you will form lifelong friendships at camp.  You may arrive alone and nervous in June, but you will leave in August with literally hundreds of friends from all over the world.  Two months may not seem like a long time, but when one lives and works in close proximity with co-workers, it’s more than sufficient to form bonds that ordinarily would take years.  There are always  tears on the last day of camp, not only when saying goodbye to your campers, who will have secured a special place in your heart forever, but to co-workers—the ones you know you will see again as well as the ones you know you will not.  Regardless, the world will seem like a much smaller place to you.

Though it may seem early to begin planning such a special adventure with so many possibilities, building a successful camp staff not only requires individuals who possess all of the qualities previously mentioned, it requires finding the right mix of personalities and talents.  Such an endeavor, of course, takes time.  Camp recruiters review literally thousands of applications each year and speak with hundreds of candidates to find those who are the best fit for their camp’s atmosphere, philosophy, and program.  Starting your job search while the ground is still white and the tree branches still bare provides you with the advantage of a larger pool of positions from which to choose.  By April, most camps have nearly completed their hiring and only difficult to fill or highly specialized roles remain.

So, after a winter of wading through piles of snow, are you ready for a summer full of adventure?



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.

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