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I Return to Camp Because…

cover-photo-6 My older brother started going to camp when he was younger, and I remember picking him up at the end of each summer and being so excited to hear all about his experience. I was beyond excited when it was finally my turn to spend the summer at camp… I was ready to experience camp for myself!

I spent my first summer playing sports, swimming, waterskiing, hiking, climbing and making friends. But one summer was not enough. I made it very clear on the drive home that first summer that I HAD to go back next summer, and I would do whatever it took to get back there!

“Why do you want to go back?” my mom asked on the drive home. What a loaded question, I thought. Why wouldn’t I want to go back? I made so many new friends and tried so many new things!

I explained to her that first and foremost, I wanted to go back and see all of my friends. I got to camp and didn’t know anyone, and was a little timid about just walking up to a group of people and introducing myself. But lucky for me, my counselor swooped in and made me feel right at home. He introduced me to other campers who were also there for their first time, and right away we all clicked. Throughout the summer it became easier and easier to make new friends. The other campers in my cabin really became my close friends. We talked a lot, supported each other, and it was nice to be able to look around camp and find a smiling face waving at you to come sit by them. I felt included at camp, and when it was time to go, I was really sad to leave them. Thankfully, we shared phone numbers and email addresses and plan to keep in touch throughout the school year. I can’t wait to see them all again next summer!social-media-17

I also explained that even though my summer days were packed with fun and adventure, there are still so many things that I didn’t get to try that I really want to. I want to get back to camp to try archery and overnight camping. I want to dabble in some of the more “artsy” programs available at camp, like music production and culinary arts. I want to go back and re-do some of my favorite activities, like waterskiing and tennis. It’s amazing how you can wake up early and go to bed late, spend your entire day on the go, and still not do everything that camp has to offer!

And, as if those things weren’t enough, I told her that I want to go back to camp because it feels like I’m part of something. It’s that feeling of belonging to a team, where everyone looks out for everyone else, where you feel important and included, and where other people support and cheer for you. There is something different about my camp friends and school friends. My camp friends and I have been through something special together. We’ve participated in camp traditions; we have a special bond that other friends just don’t have. I feel like I’m part of something bigger when I’m at camp, and this is another reason why I really want to go back.

My little sister has started counting down the days until she can have her first camp experience, and I know that just like my brother and I, she will have many reasons to return to camp year after year!

Bringing Away Life Skills

LS Life Skills 4For most campers, when the summer of 2014 draws to a close, there is always next summer to which they can look forward. For the oldest campers, however, farewell this summer means farewell forever to their years as campers. Even though a significant number of former campers choose to return to summer camp as staff members later, the experiences they gained as campers are unique to those years. Although it is difficult to say goodbye at the conclusion of their final summer, it is also a time when older campers reflect upon their camp years and truly take inventory of what camp has meant to them and will continue to mean as they proceed in life.

Older campers come away from camp having attained life skills that give them a distinct advantageLS Skillsas they move through their high school years and college becomes a focus. There is, for instance, respect for tradition. College campuses, like resident camps, are built on traditions that help define them.  Former campers understand the importance of their role in these traditions by creating experiences that are both memorable and worthwhile.

Former campers know how to show spirit and to live in the moment as well. At camp, campers are sensitive to the fact that their time at camp each summer is limited and they embrace each minute. Having already learned to comprehend that their camp years are limited to a specific timeline in their lives, former campers arrive on college campuses already understanding that their college years are much the same.

LS Life Skills 2There is also an emphasis on total involvement at camp. Summer camp is about creating an environment in which campers feel encouraged to try new things and to push their level of comfort each summer. In the safety of a setting that emphasizes inclusion, campers learn to understand that diversity is key to success. It takes many types of people and talents coming together to make camp the beloved place that it is in the hearts of the campers. With such an understanding, campers tend to get to know and befriend individuals who they might not otherwise have taken the time to get to know in a setting that does not facilitate similar ideals.  Having been submerged in such a culture for several summers, campers are well equipped for the transition from home to college life after several summers at camp. They also tend to be somewhat open- minded when it comes to new things and experiences.

Older campers also come away from camp as leaders. Whether they have led fellow campers in an activity or helped mentor and lead younger campers in their later camp years, leadership is another quality that is rigorously promoted and embraced at sleepaway camp.

Campers also learn everyday life skills at sleepaway camp as they spend several weeks away fromLS Life Skills 3home each summer and make decisions for themselves. Making healthy eating decisions, for instance, is an important skill that children learn at camp. Campers also learn how to juggle multiple commitments at once, such as having a role in a camp show while simultaneously playing on a sports team. They co-habitate daily with several other campers and learn how to maximize their living space.

Clearly, those campers who will say goodbye to camp at the conclusion of the summer are bringing away far more than fun memories of a place where they spent their childhood summers. They’re bringing away experiences that translate into life far beyond camp.

 

5 Minutes at Camp

StopwatchWe focus a lot on how much happens at camp over the course of the summer, but the amount of activity that takes place in just 5 minutes on any given day is mind blowing to anyone who is not familiar with camp. Five minutes at summer camp is like a symphony: many individual components come together at the same time to create a single, enjoyable experience. In addition, each component is unique, yet critical, to the overall piece. In just five minutes at camp…

A soccer team may score a goal to win a championship game while play rehearsal takes place on the stage and, at the waterfront, swim instruction is happening. In arts & crafts, campers are busy putting the finishing touches on projects as a batter on the softball team steps onto first base and a volleyball is spiked over the net. A group of campers is learning how to sail on the lake as a group of paddle boarders make their way across the water. A camper does her first giant swing on the parallel bars in gymnastics just as another reaches the top of the climbing wall while yet another makes his way across the high ropes course. It’s a 3 on 3 tournament on the basketball courts and a group of campers are learning how to improve their tennis serve just as a camper finds the back of the net at lacrosse. A team captain just called a time out at roller hockey and the finishing touches are being put onto some hip hop choreography in dance. A group of mountain bikers pass a group of runners and two teams are facing off in flag football. It’s the bottom of the 9th on the baseball field and the game is tied while the final two players in an intense game of gaga face off as their fellow campers cheer them on. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies wafts from the cooking studios and campers in photography take nature shots as a small group of campers fishes nearby.

And it’s not just the action that takes place in any given five minutes at camp that creates the Conductorrhythm of summer, it’s the interaction. As all of these activities are happening, campers and staff members are talking, laughing, learning and cheering. In the same five minutes at camp, friendships are formed and new skills learned. Traditions begin and are repeated. Campers try something new for the first time as well as accomplish them for the first time after a summer of trying. In five minutes at camp, campers gain life skills by becoming more confident and more self-reliant.   In just five minutes at camp, memories are made. Like a conductor, memories bring all of those activities together to create the image of summer camp that campers replay for a lifetime.

 

The Close of Another Best Summer Ever

dsc_0001-2It seems that just yesterday the blog subject at hand was the anticipation of the campers’ arrival at camp. As usual, though, we blinked and now it’s August. Another summer is coming to a close over the next couple of weeks. This is the time of year when campers and staff alike begin reflecting over their summer. They mentally check off their bucket lists for this summer and already begin composing new ones for next summer. They begin making those final efforts to do those camp things they love most at least one more time. They take stock of those special moments—the ones that will forever define the summer of 2014. At the end of the day, there are always a million reasons why this summer was better than any other. Something was always bigger or better or even brand new. Your circle of friends has always grown just a little bit larger. You finally had the chance to go on that camp trip or participate in that camp activity to which you’ve been looking forward to for years. Even though the summer never seems long enough, it’s always mind-blowing to realize just how much was accomplished in such a short span of time. Perhaps it’s the sheer volume of activities that take place at sleepaway camp that makes every summer seem like the best summer ever.

When one weighs the summer as a whole, the good memories are prevalent and the word dsc_0002-3“amazing” comes to mind far more than the words “didn’t love it.” Upon considering everything that you accomplished, it’s impossible to be disappointed, even if you can’t check all your pre-summer goals off your list. At camp, especially at the end of the summer, it’s much easier to focus on everything you’ve done more than everything you’ve not.. The feeling of accomplishment is inevitably satisfying in a way that reminds you just why you come to camp anyway. There’s no other place in the world where you have the opportunity to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. Sure, you also come to relax, enjoy the rural setting, and spend time with your camp friends. But you also come with an agenda—specifically, a camp agenda of things that cannot be accomplished anywhere – or with anyone – else. These lists are often lengthy and filled with many more aspirations than can reasonably be achieved during a single summer. But the comforting thought that almost everyone brings home from camp is that there’s always next summer…and the promise of another best summer ever.

8 Things that Are Quintessentially Summer Camp

It’s hard to believe that another summer is almost half over. It seems like just yesterday that campers were arriving, excited for another summer. Time passes so quickly at summer camp that it’s sometimes impossible to not miss some things. But there are certain things that, no matter how busy, chaotic, or crazy things get at camp, remind us of camp and are a big part of what it’s all about.

  1. LS Quint 2      Campfires—Every camp’s campfire has a unique significance to it. Campfire traditions, songs, and activities vary from camp to camp but one theme is consistent from camp to camp: the campfire has a sacred relevance and, as such, is a very special event at camp. So special, in fact, that the campfire is symbolic of summer camp itself. The fire embodies camp life, and the smell of burning embers raises an immediate reminder of sylvanian settings in which camps are located.
  2.       S’mores—What’s a campfire without s’mores? Anyone and everyone who has ever been to camp craves the gooey delight of melted chocolate and marshmallows between two graham crackers. S’mores are so distinct to camp that biting into one instantly harkens memories of camp.
  3.       Sing Alongs—Sure, karaoke is a popular activity for get togethers. But there is nothing LS quint 5more harmonious than an entire camp—counselors too!—singing their camp’s favorite tunes together. Camp sing alongs are more than just time spent together singing songs, however. They’re a way of bringing everyone together to celebrate the place that has brought them all together.
  4.       Cabins—As the saying goes, ‘If only walls could talk…’ And, oh, the stories so many summer camp cabins could tell. Cabins are more than just places where campers and their counselors sleep at night. Cabins are facilities in which campers become families. They are also places in which the vast size of sleepaway camps shrink to an intimate setting in which friendships are nurtured and memories are made. Each cabin family is unique, with its own jokes, songs, traditions, etc.
  5.       Arts & Crafts—According to the American Camp Association, Arts & Crafts is one of the five most popular activities at camp, and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want to spend a portion of each day in an area stocked with beads, lanyard, glitter, paint, glue, markers, scissors, and just about any other craft supply one can dream up? The possibilities are endless in Arts & Crafts. The relaxing atmosphere gives campers opportunity to decompress and reflect while still being social. Arts & Crafts is an activity that allows campers to spend time with their friends.
  6. LS quint 4      Bugle Calls/Bells—There has to be some way to move campers through their program day at camp. Whether it’s bugles or bells, campers know instantly what each unique sound is telling them to do from waking up in the morning to turning out the lights at night, and everything in between.
  7.       Camp Shows—Those who are not familiar with camp may wonder what makes camp shows different from other types of shows. Anyone who has ever been involved in a production that goes from auditions to performance complete with full sets and makeup in a week or less knows that this is precisely what makes camp shows a camp entity all unto their own.
  8.       Crazy Wardrobe Choices—We mean C-R-A-Z-Y—as in more is definitely more when it comes to showing spirit or “dressing up” for a special camp occasions. In fact, camp is probably the only place at which one is complimented for arriving at a function wearing body paint and/or temporary tattoos, bright colors, a tutu, crazy sunglasses or hats, a wig (or two) and mismatched socks.








I Never Thought I Would…

img_2859A recent blog shared some of the most popular counselor ‘I never thought I would…’ thoughts. Counselors aren’t the only ones from whom this phrase is commonly heard as the introduction of wonder throughout the summer. It’s heard just as often from campers. Here are some of the most popular perspectives of camper exclamations that begin with, ‘I never thought I would…’

Learn to play the guitar

I’ve never played an instrument before in my life! But my camp’s guitar instructor is amazing. He really loves music and he knows how to teach us chords in a way that is really easy to remember. Sometimes I wish I could spend all day at guitar. But then I think of all of the other stuff that I would miss. Instead, I asked my parents if I can take guitar lessons when I get home in the last letter I wrote to them.

FINALLY get my back handspring!

I’ve been working on my back handspring at camp since last summer. This year, I finally got it! I started a couple of summers ago on the tumbling track with my cabin counselor, who was also a Gymnastics specialist. She knew one of my goals was to learn how to do a back handspring, so dsc_0148-2she worked with me on the tumbling track, which is a really long trampoline. By the end of the summer, I could do a back handspring pretty well on the tumbling track, but I couldn’t do one on the floor without being spotted. I don’t take gymnastics during the winter, so this summer, when our camp’s gymnastics coach asked me if I was ready to learn how to do a back handspring on the floor, I was nervous. We did a couple on the tumbling track, then he/she spotted me while I did them on a mat. By the end of my next gymnastics activity period, I was doing back handsprings on the floor—by MYSELF! The best part of all is the camp photographer got a picture of it. I can’t wait until my mom sees it!

Become friends with my cabin mates so quickly

This is my first summer at camp, and I was SO nervous because I didn’t know anyone. I met my new cabin mates as soon as I got off the bus. It felt like we already knew each other. We’re already BFFs. We do EVERYTHING together! Our counselors taught us how to make friendship bracelets. Then we all made one and traded them with each other.

Swim in a lake

img_4427Before coming to camp, I’d only swam in pools. I was super nervous about swimming in the lake, especially since we had to take a swim test in it. I was so scared to jump in the first time. Then my friends and counselors convinced me to get in. The lake at camp is really just like a giant swimming pool. It was especially fun to jump off the water trampoline while holding hands with my camp friends for the first time after passing my swim test.

Make my own pasta

I love spaghetti. When I found out we were making our own pasta in Cooking, I was SO excited! We had to roll the dough a lot, but it was so much fun to see how pasta is made. Fresh pasta is so much better than the pasta you get in a box. I’m going to ask my parents if I can make homemade pasta when I get home after camp.

Be in a show

I’ve always wanted to be in one of my school plays, but have never tried out because I didn’t know if I could get up in front of lots of people. After being in my camp show this summer, I’m totally going to try out for one of the school plays next year. Being in the camp show was so much fun! It was a lot of work. We had to practice a lot. But my counselors worked with me every day to help me memorize my lines. When it was finally time to perform my part in front of the whole camp, I was ready and so excited to get on stage and show everyone what I could do that I didn’t even think about being nervous!

Score a soccer goal

I’ve been trying and trying and trying to score a soccer goal ever since I made my club team at img_5627home. This year, I told my soccer instructors at camp that I wanted to be able to tell my club coach that I’d scored a goal when the fall season starts. They gave me lots of tips during our instructional periods. I got to play forward on my division’s team, and I scored the first goal of my first intercamp game!

Act so crazy on purpose

At school, I’m really conscious about how excited I get about things. I’m always wondering what my classmates will think. Camp is completely different! At camp, it’s so easy to just go crazy because all of my camp friends do too. I love being able to be myself without wondering what all of my friends are thinking.

Friendship Bracelets: A Storyboard of Summer

img_0004A chuckle-worthy camp confession recently spotted on Pinterest: “My wrists did not see sunlight all summer because of the bracelets.” Anyone who has ever attended or worked at a sleepaway camp is all too familiar with the “bracelet tan.” Of the thousands of camps across America, there is not an Arts & Crafts area that is not well stocked with beads, lanyard, skeins of embroidery floss, paracord, rubber bands and just about anything else that can be turned into a bracelet. Bracelets are BIG at camp. They’re not merely wearable art. They’re a symbol of friendship. Few campers or staff actually keep the bracelets they make for themselves. Instead they exchange them with friends and other special people at camp. Although people have been making friendship bracelets since ancient times, they have become a camp tradition. It’s fun to conjure memories of a special person with a glance at one’s wrist.

The act of making the bracelets is almost as pleasurable as the bracelets themselves. Friendship bracelets are also easy to make, and campers of all ages easily catch onto the various ways of braiding and weaving materials into fashionable designs. Friendship bracelets also appeal equally to both boys and girls. The fact that making bracelets takes very little concentration makes them the perfect social craft. It’s easy to interact with others while making bracelets at camp. Bracelet making is the perfect conversation opportunity and bonding activity.

The row of bracelets is not just camp fashion, it’s a storyboard of the summer that is unique toimg_0473 every individual at camp. It represents who they met during the summer and the special moments that have been committed to memory. One the best things about friendship bracelets is finding them tucked away long after the summer has ended, and having a moment to remember the summer and the people and stories behind each bracelet.

How to Have Fun at Summer Camp

Campers: June is finally here and you’re about to head off to camp for the summer. Whether this is your first summer or your seventh, it’s completely normal to be a whole lot excited and even a little bit nervous. This just HAS to be the best summer EVER…as in epic! But do you ever find yourself a little bit confused about how to make that happen? Here are a few ideas to help you out as you get ready for camp.

 Make new friends

Of course your old friends are amazing. That’s why they’re your friends. But new friends are pretty great too. Make it a point to say ‘hello’ to people and introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Talk to other campers to find out what you have in common besides camp. Show support for other campers at activities.

 Get involved in camp activities

There are so many awesome things to do at camp. Take advantage of the opportunity to get involved in them. Don’t just rely on favorites for your summer fun. Try some new things too. You’ll find that if you go to each activity—even those you don’t love—with a positive attitude and get involved, camp is even more fun.

 Show your camp spirit

Camps rely on their campers to create a fun, energetic environment by showing their camp spirit. There’s a reason you count down the months and days each year until it’s time for camp and why YOUR camp is the BEST camp. Don’t be shy about showing it at camp.

 Be your best self

Camp is the most fun for everyone when campers are positive, energetic, open and inclusive. There’s no need to make it like school where only certain types of people hang around together. If someone in your bunk or at your activity is shy, go out of your way to include them and take a leadership role in introducing them to others. If your friends try to say negative things about other people, change the subject or reply with a positive. Encourage others at activities, particularly those who struggle or who fear being made fun of. The more fun that everyone has together, the better camp is!

 Keep an open mind

Sometimes, things at summer camp don’t go quite how you expected. Think before you react. Don’t let one bad activity, conversation or even day ruin your whole summer. Remember, it’s just one thing out of thousands that happen over the summer. Rather than dwelling on that one thing, shake it off and move on. If you do, you probably won’t even remember it by the end of the summer.

Camp Trips

Campers love their camps.  They’re green, picturesque and they often feature facilities for just about any activity a kid can dream up. One thing campers also love, however, are camp trips. Camp trips are a lot like school field trips — only better.  Way better!  They’re a special time away from the daily routine. Campers get to board buses with their friends and go off on an adventure outside of the camp environment. Yes, playing by the camp waterfront with friends is a great way to spend a summer. But taking in a baseball game, visiting a local amusement park, or going bowling with them adds an extra element to the camp experience because it allows campers to do normal “friend things” with some very close friends who they often only get to see during the summer.

Rites of passage are a big part of camp and trips are among those rites. While all campers enjoy some of the same trip destinations throughout the summer, other places are reserved for campers of certain ages. In this respect, trips become a way for campers to mark time in their camp experience. An exclusive trip makes that specific summer unique because it’s the only summer a camper may go to a specific place.

Camp trips also help campers put their summer camp experience into perspective. Sure, they could do just about anything they do on a camp trip without having gone to camp, but doing them at camp makes them part of camp. And makes them very special.  And very fun! The memory of having done those things at camp makes these excursions even more special, which is likely why there is always a tinge of  excitement in the air on trip day.

Adventure Abound

The outdoors and adventure are both synonymous with camp, so it’s no wonder that some of the most popular activities at camp involve outdoor adventure. Summer camp outdoor adventure programs of today have transcended the traditional nature walk (although those still occasionally happen). Outdoor adventure at camp truly incorporates “adventure” into the activities. Campers have the opportunity to scale 50 foot walls or fly over camp on a zip line. They maneuver their way across high and low ropes courses. Using GPS trackers, they locate objects hidden throughout camp. On sunny days, they hike through the woods while enjoying waterfalls, mountain views and absorbing the scents of leaves, trees, and grass. They learn valuable outdoor living skills.

Adventure is defined as an “exciting or unusual activity.” Certainly, for most campers, there is very little that is mundane about standing at the top of a 25 foot platform preparing to take a leap of faith. For that matter, even the traditional hike through the woods is less than ordinary for the majority of children today. Campers frequently report feeling “refreshed” or “invigorated” following outdoor adventure activities. A study conducted by the Children & Nature Network suggests those aren’t just adjectives.

Children who spend time in close proximity to the outdoors tend to feel more energetic than children who spend large amounts of time indoors. They’re also less stressed and anxious. That’s because fresh air literally has a calming effect. Another study conducted by The National Recreation and Park Association concluded that, simply put, our brains need oxygen. Oxygen promotes a healthy psychology as well as helps children relax and even improves their immune systems. There is also data to suggest that exposure to the outdoors has a positive effect on attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. The study concurs with that conducted by the Children & Nature Network; there is a reason parks were built in urban areas to promote good health. They do just that.

Outdoor adventure activities at summer camp provide campers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors through exciting mediums that aren’t available to them at home. Although climbing walls and even zip lines are being constructed by many suburban recreational centers, a good number of them are indoors. Engaging in adventurous activities outdoors reaches beyond mental and physical health benefits. It helps campers develop an appreciation for the natural environment and a distinct awareness of what separates artificial environments from nature. Sure, several outdoor adventure activities can be recreated indoors, but the sights, sounds, and smells that campers learn to associate with them cannot.

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