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Put on Swimsuits, Goggles, and Sunblock–It’s Time for a Swim!

Almost every camper will name the Camp Laurel South Waterfront as one of the best parts of camp.  Camp Laurel South is situated on a crystal-clear, spring-fed lake…measuring 9 miles around.  Yes – 9 miles!!

The Camp Laurel South Waterfront plays a crucial role during the summer, not only as a place for swimming, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, crew, fishing, bumper-tubing, and snorkeling,  but as a gathering place and perfect backdrop for special event and outdoor evening activities.  Learning to swim at camp is a rite of passage.   Perfecting swim skills provides a great foundation for building camp memories of sunny days spent at the waterfront.

Of course, there are the much acclaimed physical and mental benefits of learning to swim that we all know.  It’s a great low impact exercise suitable for almost everyone, which makes it an ideal part of a regular fitness regime.  It’s also not age-restrictive.  Rather, it’s an activity that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.  The fact that muscle strength is also greatly improved as a result of pushing oneself through the water goes without saying.

Swimming also improves coordination and emotional well being.   The relaxing atmosphere of a hard-bottom lake provides the perfect setting for children to let down their guard and enjoy the type of casual conversation that builds and strengthens friendships.  When combined with the sheer fun of the activity, it’s the perfect setting for building memories.

Camp waterfront locations are extremely active and full of almost endless possibilities for camper experiences.  Camp Laurel South has more than 60 boats:  Mastercrafts Pro Start 197 Championship Ski Boats, Hobie Cats, Sunfish, Lasers, Fishing Pontoon Boats, Canoes, Kayaks, and more! The waterfront staff is well-trained with certified lifeguards  who complete an extensive and rigorous training program prior to the start of camp.

Camps also incorporate their waterfront areas into their special event planning.  Water games and pirate-themed treasure hunts are just a couple of ways that water play is used creatively in camp programs.

Swimming at camp takes on a new level of excitement when included in camp activities, such as Spirit Days, that give campers the opportunity to use their swimming skills to rise to a challenge.  Camp Laurel South swimmers also compete in swim meets through inter-camp leagues.   Whether racing against other campers or a time clock, being able to apply their swimming instruction in an engaging way and seeing firsthand how they’ve improved has been a moment of pride for many a camper.

And don’t forget about the famous Maine Lakes Cup – a 14 camp sailing regatta hosted by the winning camp each summer.

So the next time your child regales you with tales of the waterfront at his or her summer camp, remember that it’s not just summer memories that they’re gaining from their swimming experiences, but lifelong skills.

Sparking Creativity Through Campfire

One of the most endearing and sacred parts of summer camp is the campfire.  More than just wood lit with a match, it’s an intimate part of the camping experience that goes far beyond simply sitting around a fire.  Each camp has a set of traditions uniquely connected to the campfire experience and, to campers, each tradition is significant, demanding reverence.  The campfire is the very place where many children recall the moment when their camp transformed from “a camp” to “their camp”, where fellow campers and counselors become family while singing songs, roasting s’mores, and engaging in campfire activities.  So intricate is the campfire to the summer camp experience that even former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has reflected on its importance in making him who he is:

“Simply consider the lessons I was taught by the campfire…every time the rich reward was the same as we simply sat and enjoyed our consuming creation. And, there was one aspect in particular that never failed to intrigue me, and that was the process of seeing the single small flame of the match spread to the kindling and then the twigs and then the smaller branches and finally the larger logs. It didn’t dawn on me until years later, but this was the perfect metaphor for the creative process…Years later, I found myself running a network television division and then a movie studio and now an entire entertainment company. But, much of the success I’ve achieved can be traced to the direct and metaphorical lessons I learned in building those campfires.”

To some, to assign such significance to fire may seem a bit of a stretch.  But to anyone who has attended camp, it’s not only believable but apt.  Beyond Eisner’s metaphor, the campfire is symbolic of camp, and represents the bonding between campers and nature.  Campfires instantly evoke feelings of togetherness and promote an atmosphere of being together in an intimate setting that is unique to the people who are present.  Many camps hold opening and closing campfires to welcome campers and immerse them in the camping experience and to help them say goodbye at the end of the summer.  At the beginning of the summer, the flames represent the birth of a new summer.  Opening campfires often include some sort of ritual that introduces an idea or process that can be re-visited throughout the summer, such as setting goals for the summer or some sort of introduction and bonding activity with camp “siblings”.  The meaning of the flames, however, transforms at the end of the summer. The burning of a closing campfire represents the end of the season.  It’s a way to give the summer a proper and respectful send off.  Campfires held throughout the summer supplement overnight camping trips and special events.

To say that the campfire breeds creativity is not only accurate, but understated.  The various representations and meanings that the actual fire itself takes on helps campers learn to look at the same thing from different angles, a crucial aspect of honing creative thought and learning to think “outside the box”, which is essential to developing good problem solving skills.  When considered from this perspective, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies crediting much of his success to his camp experiences, specifically to the campfire.  In fact, it provides insight about the significance of camp and how the lessons learned there can be carried throughout life.

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.

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

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?



Summer Camp: Rewind and Fast Forward

Moving from one year towards the next has me thinking about summer camp in the past and future. For over a century, summer camps in the United States have helped millions of American children develop and grow as well as start negotiating their worlds outside of immediate families and neighborhoods. At first, a small number of elite camps only served boys, and primarily Protestant boys at that — but by the time the prosperous years after World War II were in full swing, approximately one in six American children went to camp, usually for eight weeks at a time. Throughout the 20th century, camps changed to serve all children including varying camp lengths, welcoming girls, and opening their gates to all races.

As summer camps have become more inclusive, the world that children experience both in the United States and globally has also become very different. Many children have access to a much broader world through travel, moving images, or other technologies, but some things just haven’t changed. For instance, our pre-college age identities are still informed by interactions with peers and people connected to our individual worlds, directly translating to the people we make direct contact with. While community is still central to human development, many of our daily communities are no longer bound by neighborhood blocks tied to local shared institutions and celebrations. Our families and extended social circles filter across state, nation and even electronic borders.

SO, since children today live in this exciting world of shifting boundaries most months of the year, summer camp is the perfect environment to find time for nurturing our human need to create community. For the past century and through some necessary changes, the basic premise of summer camp has remained the same—camp is a designated, safe space dedicated to fostering and experiencing community life, personal development and skill-building. Each year as improvements are made to camp facilities and other choices, some things don’t change, like living in cabins or bunks, daily activities together, arts and crafts, hikes, water and land sports, singing camp songs and roasting marshmallows around campfires to name a few! Lessons learned at camp and friendships made there can provide the “glue” to help children become well-rounded adults in the future.

Past, present and future campers are all part of a lively and creative shared community where remembering a song, a person, an event, a skit, food or a poignant moment can instantly transport peers back to camp. So, what you would add to a time capsule to “capture” the timeless spirit of camp and why? We’d love to hear what alumni and present campers would include in an electronic time capsule, so get scanning or writing up those memories and lessons learned! If you’re not sure how to get started, ask questions in the comments below!

Emma

Thank to openDemocracy for the image.

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 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.

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

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