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Past the Post Camp Lull

It’s here.  The lull.  The point at which the reality has set in that summer is over but next summer isn’t quite real enough.  By now, most of us have shared our favorite memories of camp at least a half dozen times with anyone who will listen  and we’ve actually started to settle into our fall habits, even if we still catch ourselves humming camp songs in that off moment while riding in the car or doing homework.  There is a peacefulness about this time of year, though, because it’s the point at which we really begin to grasp the summer couple of months, reflect on them, and embrace the memories of them.  Believe us!  We’re not joking when we say that for those of us at camp, the summer passes with lightning speed.  Blink more than once and miss it speed, in fact.

It’s hard to really take it all in in the moment.  But one of the best things about camp is that it is something that can be savored.  Henry David Thoreau wrote, “But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you.”  And he was right.  Camp is as much a mindset as it is a place.  For the next ten months, things will regularly happen that will remind us of something that happened at camp.  Whether it was a heart to heart with a counselor, a favorite activity, or even just the adventurous spirit that comes with discovering something new, each summer at camp is full of about a million opportunities to learn just a little bit more about life, some of them impossible to realize until well after the original moment has passed but each of them capable of taking campers and staff back to that “place.”

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.

Camp: A Different Set of Expectations

Okay, admit it.  You’ve found yourself spending a considerable amount of time admiring that candle your daughter gave you on her camp’s Visiting Day or those wooden bookends your son brought home.  Part of you wonders how come you never got to make stuff that cool when you were a kid while another part of you is mystified by how the arts and crafts staff of your child’s summer camp was able to draw out the Picasso in your little ones.    After all, you can barely get them to focus long enough to make a poster for their science projects.  What is it about camp that seems to facilitate children’s creativity?

Sure it’s woodsy and remote, even quaint–the perfect place for children to feel free to be themselves.  They certainly do a lot of things at camp that they don’t get to do at home.  And you did spend the entire summer looking at photos of your daughter posing in a rainbow colored tutu—Did she ever take that thing off?—and of your son covered in face paint knowing full well that neither of them would EVER dress like that at home.  And was that your son dressed as a dog singing on stage?  Singing?  Him?  Really?  And last night he just told you, by the way, that he is trying out for the school play this year because the camp play was really fun.  He would never ever—even if someone had double dog dared him—have auditioned for a play before camp.  What changed?  The Expectations.

There are a lot of reasons children find themselves exploring more creative avenues at summer camp, but one really big one is that the expectations are different.  Children learn to respond to expectations.  Moreover, they learn to respond to the expectations of individuals.  They understand that their parents have expectations as do their teachers, siblings, friends, coaches, so on and so forth.  Whether  we’re comfortable admitting it or not, a lot of the expectations in that ten month world campers know as “winter” in some way promote conformity.  Expectations placed on children at home, in school, etc. emphasize the importance of following rules and established guidelines.  Of course, camp expectations do this, too, but the emphasis at camp is not to find one’s place in that larger whole by blending in but by standing out.  Camp is a place in which children are encouraged to try new things in a quest to find their passion.

Sure you’re thinking of those photos of your daughter holding up her latest tie-dye creation for the camp photographer’s camera—those ones in ewhich she was covered to her elbows in dye—and you’re thinking that’s you wouldn’t really classify tie-dye as a “passion.”  Maybe not.  But it could be the beginning of one, the spark that leads to an interest in art or the arts, or even just the memory of trying something new that turned out to be fun that lends courage to trying other new things.  The expectations in the “world” of camp is that campers will explore it.  Perhaps this is why it’s no surprise that many well known figures attended summer camp and attribute it to being the place where they found long-term direction.  Sure, learning how to plunk out folk songs on a guitar is a long way from the philharmonic and being part of the chorus in the camp play is certainly not Broadway, but the idea is the same and, for many campers, it’s the start of building enough self confidence to stand out.

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.

The Fun Doesn’t Stop after 5pm!

It’s January.  The kids just returned to school after their winter break, from which you’re still exhausted.  You’re already thinking about summer.  Entertaining them for two weeks was hard enough, let alone two months!  Maybe it’s time to start thinking about summer camp.  Yes, it’s January.  Yes, this is the time of the year when most of us start monitoring the morning radio and news reports for school closings and delays.  But summer is closer than you might think and now is the ideal time to start choosing a camp.

Summer camps come in many sizes and lengths from around one hundred campers all the way up to several hundred and sessions that last a from a few weeks up to seven.  There is truly a summer camp for every preference and budget.  No matter what type of summer camp you prefer, they all have one thing in common:  the fun doesn’t stop after 5pm!

Summer camp doesn’t just occupy your children during those summer hours when they’d otherwise be at school.  It’s a place that entertains them well into the evening hours as well.  In fact some of the best times at camp happen after dinner.  Sure there is plenty for campers to do during the day; play sports, pursue a hobby, swim, boat, play games, make new friends.  But the evening is when some of the deepest bonding moments of the summer take place.  After dinner at summer camp, children don’t retire to the living room sofa to watch television or flip on the Wii.  There are no cell phones in which to engage themselves for hours playing Angry Birds.  At camp, campers may find themselves taking part in a sing along, acting in a camp show, playing crazy games, or watching a magician or hypnotist.  It could be drum circle night or there may even be a campfire with s’mores in store.  Maybe it’s a swim or a dance party…or both!  It could be a sleepover or a night making special treats or craft projects.  Maybe it’s just a night to chill with the bunk cabin  No matter what the activity, it’s fun and two words that are NEVER heard at camp: “I’m bored!”

Much of the support for summer camp revolves around the skills children develop during daytime programming activities.  The value in summer camp evening activities is often underrated.  However, a great deal of planning intended to extend camp spirit and tradition into evenings.  Camps employ entire teams of people whose sole responsibility is to plan and execute evening activities and special events that enhance the overall camp experience.  While having fun at their evening activities, campers also continue to learn how to shine as an individual, to be part of a team, and to develop their creativity in ways that benefit them as well as others.  At the same time, some of the most prevalent and pervading summer camp memories are made at evening activities.

An investment in summer camp is not just an investment in keeping children occupied during their summer days.  It’s a 24/7 investment that also includes evening entertainment that further develops the skills that are honed during the daytime.  So now and during their next break from school, when your children proclaim, “We’re bored,” think about summer camp.

Summer Camp: The Perfect Holiday Gift

The holiday season is at hand and so many of us find ourselves searching for that perfect present for the children in our lives.  Sure there are Kindles, iPads, and Wiis, but we’re looking for the gift that will last far beyond fads and trends…the one that lasts long after the decorations have been taken down.  Have you thought about contributing to a summer at camp?  Not only is it a unique gift that gives back, it’s the gift the children in your life can enjoy months after the holiday season has ended.  Summer camp allows them to make new friends, to become part of a summer family, and to cherish memories that will last a lifetime.  It’s also the gift that will help them learn how to understand ritual, routine, and being part of something bigger than themselves.  Countless people of note have attributed the role of summer camp as an integral part of the people they ultimately became.  Denzel Washington credits his acting career to a summer camp experience.  Michael Eisner gives summer camp credit for shaping a large portion of his identity.

Sitting around a campfire, eating s’mores, participating in special events at camp, being part of a cabin , making that special project in arts and crafts, learning a backhand in tennis, and scoring that homerun are the significant moments that build children’s lives.  It’s also the gift that children cherish for a lifetime.  Friends made at camp are friends for life and many present and former campers count their camp friends as some of their closest and most dear.   The memories and experiences from summer camp reach far beyond the scope of, ‘What gifts did I get that year?’  They reach into the realm of: ‘That’s what helped shape my life.’  President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama saw the value in sending their daughter Malia to summer camp last year.  Former President George W. Bush is also a summer camp alum.  Long after children have moved past smart pads and video game systems, they will remember their experiences at summer camp.  So this year, when you’re thinking of what to give the special children in your life, consider the gift of summer camp.

Summer Camp: Defining Routine and Ritual

Routines.  Everyone has them.  For some, they encompass everything that takes place from the time we wake in the morning until we go to bed at night.  For others, they come in short bursts throughout the day, such as at mealtimes or bedtime.  However, establishing routines as daily parts of our lives is important, especially for children.  Childcare experts agree that establishing regular routines for children is essential for healthy development.  The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning reports that “Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.”

It’s no secret that summer camps provide loose routines that allow room for healthy creative development through structured daily programs and schedules that maintain consistent meal, activity, and bedtimes.  Maintaining a routine throughout the summer is also valuable in easing the transition from summer to fall and back into summer again.  However, one special aspect of summer camp that is often overlooked is that it helps children learn to understand the difference between routine and ritual—what makes one necessity and the other tradition.

Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., Syracuse University, defines routine as something that “involves a momentary time commitment so that once the act is completed, there is little, if any, afterthought.”  However, she defines ritual as “symbolic communication” that has “continuity in meaning across generations.”  Rituals take place within the home family setting.  However, for children, it’s not always clear how to tell the difference between what is done simply to be done and what is  done because it’s significant to their heritage.  This is where the summer camp ritual takes on a special significance.  Even executives such as Michael Eisner have publicly recalled the important role that summer camp rituals have played in their lives.

Summer camp often draws a distinct line between routine and ritual.  Campers understand, for instance, that cleaning their bunks or cabins everyday is part of a routine.  That following an activities schedule is part of routine.  That hearing TAPS in the evening to signal bedtime is a part of routine.  They, too, understand that campfires, however regular, are rituals.  They are more than just a fire that they gather around to eat s’mores.  Campfires have meaning that goes far beyond the fire itself.  The same can be said about opening night shows, closing, and fireworks.  Campers understand that these are not just routines done merely to achieve a goal.  They’re rituals that make their summer camp the place that it is and them a part of it.

By being able to tell the difference, children are able to accept routine as something that needs to be done and prevent rituals from simply becoming routine by understanding the value in them.  Dr. Fiese says that children will often revisit memories of rituals in order to “recapture some of the positive.” experience.”  This perhaps explains why so many camp rituals remain sacred to campers far passed their camping years.  Some of America’s Finest Summer Camps’ rituals hold special significance for campers and staff members.  At Camp Laurel South, Coves are definitely a tradition and time honored ritual:

“Coves” are an important and exciting Camp Laurel South tradition.  Each day begins with a Morning Cove at a campus “Cove site.” Each group meets at their own Campus Cove location, where the Campus Leader reviews information for the day:  special activities, upcoming inter-camp games and tournaments, birthdays, cove-calls, cheers, sports scores, and many other special announcements. Each Campus Leader has his or her own style and flair which makes each morning Cove unique and fun. Cove is always a special time for the campers and staff and a great way to kick-off the camp day.

Every night…just before dinner…the entire Laurel South family gathers for Evening Cove, led by our director, Roger.  Evening Cove takes place at the Main Cove area, just above the magnificent shoreline of Crescent Lake.  Evening Cove has been taking place at this very site since the first campers came to Laurel South decades ago. Once we hear the words: “What a beautiful day in the state of Maine!,” the tone has been set.  Campuses may have a cheer to present…a birthday may be celebrated…Inter-camp results and special achievements or accomplishments are recognized…Evening programs are reviewed…special accolades are shared…Whether in the morning or evening, Cove is a coming-together, a celebration and recognition of how lucky we are to be at Laurel south in the beautiful state of Maine!!!

Making Global Connections

One thing that isn’t entirely evident to people who’ve only recently begun to familiarize themselves with the world of summer camp is the level of connection that it provides, not just to a regional network of people, but to those from different states and even countries.  The campers and staff members that make up America’s Finest Summer Camps come from all parts of the globe to bring together a multitude of cultures.  According to Fransec Pedro, analyst for the Center for Research and Information with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global awareness and effective communication across cultures are essential in today’s international economy.  Exposure to many different cultures provides campers and staff members with experiences throughout the summer that ultimately help them learn and integrate these skills into their lives.

The challenges that are sometimes involved in effective communication across cultures help campers at America’s Finest Summer Camps learn how to express themselves efficiently.  When exposed to multiple cultures, it’s not only important to use language resourcefully in order to express oneself but to be a good listener.  Understanding that people have various ways of thinking, express themselves differently, and that those differences sometimes affect our world view is no longer a novel skill but a requirement for success in today’s world. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent,” says Alexis Menten, Assistant Director of the Asia Society.

Inevitably, there are sometimes mis-communications but such stumbles are part of a learning process that, like other skills, requires practice.  Connecting with people from all over the globe helps children understand that the world reaches beyond their immediate surroundings.  In the process, they learn to think internationally when building their social networks.  This often leads to opportunities that they may not have otherwise have had.  For many a summer camp staff member or camper, the process of learning how to connect begins and grows during their at camp.

Demographics are not the sole aspect of summer camp that makes it the ideal setting for “becoming global”, however.  The very structure of camp is surprisingly global.  As in the real world, the camp world expands outward from the individual.  Campers and counselors must learn to function as a bunk or cabin.  Then, as a bunk or cabin, they must figure out how to be part of a larger group of other bunks or cabins of campers the same age.  From there, they must all learn how to work with other campers of various ages to become what makes “camp” a unit, rather than hundreds of individuals.  Being part of the camp unit is what campers and staff members alike report as the most meaningful part of summer camp.

“Sports Camp” Isn’t Just a One Sport Term

It’s no secret that summer camps offer campers the opportunity to sample many different sports, but what may not be evident is why this may be preferable to sending children to a camp at which the focus is exclusively on one sport.  Dr. Jared Wood, a sports psychologist, believes children should be encouraged to try many different sports in order to find their favorites.  He warns that focusing on one sport too early in youth often “unnecessarily limits a child’s interest and skill development.”

Many child development experts recommend that children be given the opportunity to try out a sport before committing to it because it’s important for them to develop their self esteem prior to joining a team and engaging in intense training.  When children enter a sport with confidence, they’re more likely feel that they can do well and, therefore, strive to do well.  Many summer camp sports programs subscribe to this recommended combination of skill instruction and giving children the opportunity to use those new skills on the field or court.  Summer camps also emphasize skill development over winning or losing.  Campers learn sports skills in a supportive atmosphere and are taught by specialists who are proficient in their respective sports  Many summer camp sports programs are headed by college or high school coaches who lead counselors who played at the high school and college level.  This type of approach permits campers to try out various positions and get comfortable with the rules and general flow of a sport without feeling pressured to do well by overly zealous parents and coaches.

Another benefit of summer camp sports programs is that they offer a healthy mix of team and individual sports.  Child experts point out that some children prefer and perform at their best as part of a team while others are happier and better off playing individual sports.  By being able to simultaneously sample tennis and lacrosse, for instance, campers can get a feel for which one leaves them feeling the most motivated to further develop their skills while still being able to have a healthy appreciation for the other.

The variety offered at summer camp also gives campers the opportunity to try sports to which they may never have been exposed or would not otherwise have the opportunity to try.  Many a camper has tried a sport for the first time at summer camp and then gone on to play on a travel team, high school team, or even a college team.  Sports psychologist and author, Richard Ginsburg, Ph.D., suggests that children should be at least “12 or 13” before being encouraged to commit to one sport.  Dr.  Wood agrees, “It’s pretty clear that early specialization is much more likely to lead to burnout than it is to a scholarship or Olympic medal.”

So when you’re determining which type of summer camp is right for your child.  Consider the benefit of a summer camp that offers a diverse array of sports that will permit your child to sample a variety of choices.

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