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Exploration at Summer Camp

Adventure, tradition, fun, and nature are all words that come to mind when one mentions “summer camp.”  One word that doesn’t instantly come to mind, however, is “exploration.” Summer camp is an exercise in exploration.

There is, of course, literal exploration.  Traditional summer camps are primarily located in rural areas, away from the city and suburban settings in which most campers live the remaining ten months of the year.  The natural surroundings are the perfect environment for exploring nature and the outdoors.

There is the exploration of new things.  Summer camp, by design, is conducive in trying the untried.  Campers inevitably try something new at camp: new food, new activities, new ways of doing things.  Some of the newness breeds ongoing new interest while some highlights the joys of routine and tradition.

The exploration of self, while slightly more esoteric is also an important aspect of summer camp.  Campers learn how to be independent at summer camp.  Sure, they’re surrounded by their friends, and camp is a largely social environment.  Being away from parents for several weeks, however, helps children learn how to make decisions and gain confidence in themselves.  From their newly gained independence, they begin to see and understand the value of individuality.

Exploration of culture and tradition is also a prevalent theme of summer camp.  Summer camp is an amalgam of cultures.  Many campers and staff come from all over the United States as well as the world.  Exposure to people from geographic regions outside their own provides an open forum for exploring the subtle nuances that distinguish various cultures and their traditions.

Freedom of exploration is an important aspect of child development, and no place provides more of an open forum for exploration than summer camp.

The “Special” Experience of Summer Camp

Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.”  Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout.  “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps.  To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another.  However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others.  For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor.  Sure the basic ingredients are the same.  Most pizza pies even look similar.  But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another.  It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home.  Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child.  The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.

In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time.  They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers.  They’ll bond with favorite counselors.  They’ll try at least one activity for the first time.  They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents.  As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.”  Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp.  So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.

 

Eye on the Bullseye

As long as there has been summer camp, archery has been a part of it.  Although the amount of available activities at summer camp has grown immensely since the early days of camp, archery still remains popular.  It’s a classic outdoor sport that doesn’t require the stamina or athletic prowess of, say, soccer, but a good eye, good aim, and precision when firing.   There is a certain amount of satisfaction in being able to see yourself move closer to achieving a goal.  It’s not always apparent that your swim stroke has gotten better since the beginning of the summer, or that your baseball pitch has improved over the past couple of weeks.  Although your counselors and friends may compliment you and tell you that you’re better than you used to be, there isn’t really anything tangible for you to immediately be able to tell for yourself.  With archery, however, there is a target with a bull’s-eye on it.  It’s not at all unusual for campers to begin the summer not even being able to hit the target and then, as the summer moves along, hit and then inch closer and closer to the bull’s-eye.  The closer they get to that bull’s-eye, the more arrows campers want to shoot.

It seems like a small goal, and it is really.  However, it’s still an exercise in goal setting.  Hitting the bull’s-eye requires focus, and being focused requires you to survey your surroundings, determine where you need to aim, and then focus on the details as you attempt to hit your target.  Being successful at archery requires this same effort from everyone.  Campers have no advantage if they run faster, jump higher, or throw harder.  Every camper enters the archery range on a level playing field with the same potential for hitting a bull’s-eye.  Some get lucky, some work hard.  Either way, archery promises a path to success for anyone who is willing to set a goal, take aim, and work hard.  Perhaps that is why after decades of being a summer camp staple, archery remains one of the most popular activities.

20 Really Awesome Things You Can Do in One Summer at Camp Laurel South That You (Probably ) Can’t Do in One Summer at Home

1.) Go Tubing

2.) Ride a Zipline

3.) Paint Yourself a Different Color

4.) Throw a Clay Pot on a Wheel

5.) Take Part in a Bucket Brigade

6.) Learn a Balance Beam Routine

7.) Sing at Campfire

8.) Jump in One of These

9.) Perform a Musical Number

10.) Perform in a Musical

11.) Have a Sleepover Every Night with Your Friends

12.) Slide on a Really Huge Slip and Slide

13.) Learn a New Sport

14.) Play Roller Hockey

15.) …And Ride a Horse

16.) …And Go Tubing

17.) Learn to Waterski

18.) Climb a Wall

19.) Build a Rocket

20.) Play Gaga

 

 

 

Everything I Need to Know…

Robert Fulghum wrote a great poem entitled “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.”  Since so many campers and staff members often speak of all of the valuable things they learn at camp, we thought we’d do a tribute to Fulghum’s original poem, as well as to all present and former campers and staff members, with our own camp take on the classic…

Everything I Need to Know in Life…I didn’t learn in a classroom or in a book.  I learned it at summer camp.  I learned….

  • I can make good decisions for myself
  • Living with other people requires compromise.
  • Learning to say ‘I’m sorry”
  • Making my bed every day
  • Clean up my own mess
  • Don’t overpack!
  • Don’t take things that are not yours.
  • Write letters. People still love getting mail.
  • Trying new things is fun, even if they don’t turn out to be something you’d want to do everyday.
  • Sometimes being able to laugh at yourself is the best medicine.
  • Everyone should take the time to act silly —even grownups.
  • It’s okay not to be the best at something as long as you try really hard.
  • Just because you don’t succeed the first time, that doesn’t mean you should give up.
  • It’s not so hard to smile and say ‘hi’ to someone you don’t know.
  • New friends are great!  Old friends are the best!
  • Traditions tie us to others forever, no matter where we are in the world or how much time has passed.
  • You have the power to choose whether you have a good day or a bad day.  And even if your day doesn’t get off to such a great start, it doesn’t have to end that way.
  • No one wins all of the time.  It’s what you take away from the game that matters.
  • Having a routine is a really good way to stay organized.
  • Words CAN be just as powerful as sticks and stones, so think about what you say to someone else before you say it.
  • Judging people by what they look like or what they wear won’t get you very far in life, and you might miss out on some great friendships because of it.
  • Cheering for others is just as fun as being cheered on.
  • Every great thing comes to an end.  But the memories of it last a lifetime.

The world would be an awesome place if everyone went to summer camp!

Learning to Lose at Camp

Whether it’s a school spelling bee or a soccer game, as parents we want to see our children win not just to experience the joy of seeing them excel but because we know that they want to win.  Being raised in a competitive culture naturally makes us all want to be number one.  Children equate being number one with being the best.  However, as grownups we know that it’s impossible to win all of the time and that winning doesn’t necessarily mean being the best so much as being the best on that particular day.  The idea that losing, in reality, is closer to not winning in that it’s possible to “lose” yet gain something valuable from a contest or competition is one of the most difficult concepts for children to embrace.  Camp is a place where not only is this point driven home daily, but it’s a lesson learned at camp in a fun, constructive environment.

The pressure of anxious parents and coaches on the sidelines of sports competitions combined with the knowledge that school performance affects everything from what kind of classes they can take, extracurricular activities in which they can participate, and what colleges they will be  attend place a great deal of emphasis on children’s performance.  The ability for children to be able to process that good can come from not winning is clouded because the end goal is the emphasis.  The underlying message that children sometimes inadvertently receive as a result is that they will be valued or loved less if they lose.  Camp, on the other hand, emphasizes process and embraces novice.  One of the primary messages conveyed to campers is that winning is a great thing at camp, but it’s not everything.   Improving skills, finding activities one really loves, having fun and making friends are valuable attributes at camp.  In such an environment, winning
takes on less prominence.  Children are less likely to feel less valuable as campers for losing.

Camp leaders and staff work very hard throughout the summer to make sure this atmosphere is maintained. Children are encouraged for performance, accomplishment, and attitude regardless of being winners or losers in a contest.  Many special camp  games or competitions are also structured in a way that encourages children to work together in order to win and provide excellent opportunities for those children who may not be excellent athletes or extreme intellectuals to have their moments to shine.

Learning how to “not win” at camp makes it much easier for children to put “not winning” at home into proper perspective!

Play

We recently listened to a man who has spent many, many years studying the effects of play on humans. While it sounds a lot like our job as camp directors, he’s got the Ph.D. so we thought to give him our attention. We are glad we did.

Dr. Stuart Brown said several fascinating things about Play:

  • It overrides what is sometimes fixed in our natures – it brings individuals together in ways which allow them to expand their knowledge of others and the world around them.
  • If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.
  • People who have not played with their hands (fixing and building) do not solve problems as well.
  • The basis of human trust is established through play signals. We begin to lose those signals as we age.

When you look at camp through the prism of these statements on play, you encounter a big ‘duh!’ moment. Watching our campers play together shows you how the common act of laughing together, or playing gaga, or chase, or different table games allows the kids to spread their wings and learn.

While we have a good bit of unstructured play at camp, there is also a great deal of play within teams such as soccer, basketball, baseball, dance teams, and more.  Campers build trust with their teammates, learn from mistakes, and are taught to keep a great attitude throughout their time at camp.

In woodshop, robotics, and ceramics, we give kids a great opportunity to explore with their hands and make, fix, and tear apart things they don’t normally at home. These experiences lead to wonderful outcomes both over the short and the long term.

Thankfully, Dr. Brown reminds us that we, as humans, are designed to play throughout our lifetimes. We couldn’t agree more. And, since play signals help build trust, we hire camp counselors who show the right mix of maturity and experience while keeping playfulness close to the surface.

We are excited to remain a place where play leads to several much needed outcomes: relationship formation, the development of confidence and independence, and a community in which campers know they are accepted. Whether through our traditions, choice based program, evening activities or during free time, our campers laugh and learn while playing!

The Subtle Pleasures of Summer Camp

Have you noticed subtle pleasant but odd changes since your children returned from summer camp?  Have you peeked into your son’s room and noticed that he made his bed?  Were you tempted to take your daughter’s temperature the other night because she volunteered to clean up her room?  Maybe they just seem calmer or are better about sticking to routines about which you went hoarse more than once preaching to them before you put them on that bus or plane headed to their favorite summer zip code.  Perhaps they’re better about saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ or spend less time all out at war with each other over little things like the remote control and whether they’re going to watch The Voice or Modern Family.  Did they really mature that much at summer camp?

Not that you’re complaining.  It’s a nice, unexpected bonus.  When you initially enrolled them for camp, you were thinking it would be good for them to spend their summer working on arts and crafts projects, learning how to sail, going swimming, doing the silly things that kids do at camp, and playing sports instead of using up your entire cell phone data plan during twelve hour texting marathons or playing the Kinect so much that you can no longer tell whether you’re watching a video game or an actual television program.  You thought, ‘Maybe they’ll even make a few new friends.’  But, oddly, it’s the smaller things they seem to be bringing away from their summer camp experiences that you find yourself enjoying the most.

Sure, you read all about the benefits of sending children to summer camp before you decided to send them.  But you didn’t allow yourself to actually have expectations that your children would come home friendlier, more dutiful, more flexible, able to manage their time better, and generally happier–in short, more mature. Those are the special changes that you enjoy seeing and that make summer camp that much more valuable your eyes.

Ask Me More about Camp

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar…
Your child comes to you and says, for what seems like the billionth time, “Ask me more about camp.” It’s now December and you’ve heard some of the stories so many times that you can actually recite them along with her.  You wonder what odd but amusing little story your little one has managed to scour from the back of her mind that somehow involves the solitary five minutes of summer camp about which you haven’t yet heard.  While you’re doing this, your child only grows more impatient, “Go ahead.  Ask me,” this time becoming so excited that she hops up and down a couple of times and appears to be choreographing her own little “ask me more about camp” dance, which somewhat tops the bemusement of the time she sang for you to ask.

You can’t resist her enthusiasm because you think it’s great to see her this excited about anything other than the latest episode of iCarly, so you cave and wait for her mile-a-minute relay of some cute story about that time she held hands with six friends and they all jumped off the water trampoline and made a really big splash, which was really funny because it made so many waves that it almost tipped over a paddleboarder nearby…No, really it was SO funny!  Or the time they went on the nature walk, and it started raining, and they were trying to hurry back to camp, but they slipped in the mud…THAT was the funniest! You’re still trying to get the stains out of the shirt she was wearing that day, but you get an image in your head, having seen the photographs of your child and her friends covered in mud the camp posted on its website, and knew from the ear-to-ear grin that she was obviously having the time of her life, and you have to chuckle because, yes, it’s funny.

Your child starts a new story about a soccer game and how her friend had really wanted to score a goal all summer at camp but really wasn’t that good at soccer, so she blocked another player so the friend could try to score. And you realize that even though you might get asked to quiz her about camp a few hundred more times before the line turns into “I can’t wait to go back!” you don’t mind because you realize that hearing about little moments like this is nice. Not only did your child just have the time of her life, her enthusiasm in sharing her experiences with you adds great value to your decision to send her to camp because not only is she having fun but she’s learning valuable life lessons.

The Decision to Return to Summer Camp

Deciding to return to summer camp is a big decision that many families are already making.  Sure, it’s difficult to think about summer camp when the temperatures begin to plunge and the holidays are just around the corner.  However, it’s actually the perfect time to decide about returning to camp. The camp season is far enough removed that campers have had time to reflect on their summer.  Parents, also, likely have adequate feedback by now to be able to evaluate the value of sleepaway camp as registrations begin opening to returning campers and, in fact, at some camps, registration is almost complete. Beyond memories and adventures, there are many factors to consider, particularly as campers get older and new options begin to present themselves.  Here are some to think about:

Each summer is a new and unique experience highlighted by changes from year to year: the introduction of new activities as well as the tweaking of existing ones, fresh staff faces, new facilities or remodeled ones to accommodate new programs or expand popular ones.  Camp is truly never the exact same experience twice!

Aside from the physical changes to the camp program, campus, and staff, as children journey through their camp years, they look forward to age-specific traditions each year.  Some of them are relatively small, such as sitting at a special place during meals or a later wake-up in the mornings.  Others are fairly monumental–the trips get bigger and longer, the leadership roles become more significant, and the impact of the traditions themselves grows.

Bonds strengthen over time.  It’s always touching to hear returning campers talk about meeting their best friend at camp or share stories about their favorite counselors.  There is the intimacy of the bunk or cabin environment as well.  As children move through camp with their friends, they become very close.  Fresh opportunities also present themselves each summer for campers to make new friends while trying different things.

When one considers how much change happens at camp each summer, it’s easy to see that by not returning–even for a summer–campers miss out on something big!  The primary goal of sleepaway camps is to make sure campers are safe and have fun.  Their staffs work tirelessly during the winters and dedicate long hours during the summer to make each summer better than the last, which means that probably the most important thing to contemplate when deciding whether to return to camp is that next summer could be a camper’s best summer ever!

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