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Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation has been amazing and the weather has been spectacular. With counselors now assigned to cabins, we are focused on learning all about our wonderful campers, learning the Laurel South culture, readying the cabins and program areas and bonding as a cohesive unit. Camp looks great. In fact, the only thing that could make it look better is the faces of 400 campers arriving this Thursday!!! We can’t wait to see you!

It’s Almost Here…

Look at the horizon. What do you see? Camp!Sailing

The big day is near. Soon, your child leaves home for a summer of fun, excitement and growth.

Scary, isn’t it?

Sure. New experiences usually are. But we’ve got some ideas to help.

Talk with your child. And we mean “talk honestly.” It’s great to chirp about the wonderful days ahead. But be sure to acknowledge that fears and worries are okay.  They’re normal.. Let your son or daughter know that everyone – even you! – gets nervous before doing something different. Remind your child that directors, campus leaders, counselors and staff members know about nerves – and they’ll be there to talk, day or night.

Campus TimeDon’t say, “And if you get homesick, you can come home!” Though reassuring, it sends the wrong message. It focuses on the negative – and undermines the idea that you’ve selected that camp because you trust the directors and counselors so much. Emphasize instead that while homesickness is normal, it goes away – and everyone at camp will help make it disappear. (It’s also a good idea to not say too much how much you’ll miss your child – or how badly everyone will feel that they’re not at the annual 4th of July fireworks or family reunion.)

Prepare together. Read the packing list with your child. Go shopping with him or her. Your child will pick out items he or she really likes – while at the same time sharing a quiet, unhurried conversation about camp.

ArcheryReinforce camp policies on things like cell phones. You may want to give your child a phone to call home “just in case” — but that’s the wrong “call.” For one thing, it contradicts what you’re saying about the counselors’ and directors’ ability to help. For another, it encourages “bending the rules.” For a third, it shifts your child’s focus from having fun and making new friends, to sneaking off and being alone.

Don’t let your own anxieties affect your child. As a parent, you may feel trepidation too. You’ll miss your child – and fear you’ll miss out on his or her growth. That’s natural. But don’t burden your kid with those thoughts. Tell your spouse and friends instead!

TennisCamp is a time of independence. Of spreading wings. Of making new friends, forming strong bonds and creating vivid memories in a non-family, out-of-school environment. The days leading up to camp may be anxious – for campers and their parents. But the rewards will be well worth a week or two of very normal nerves.

We can’t wait to see your son or daughter at camp!!!

The Pine Tree State

Maine Camp Experience - GirlsSummer camps got their start in Maine. A century later, they’re still going strong. The Pine Tree State now boasts 100 premier institutions – including The Laurel Camps (Laurel and Laurel South.)

We’re proud to call Maine home. We’re just as proud to utilize the resources of the entire state and to give hundreds of campers an experience unequaled anywhere else.

At The Laurel Camps there’s more than enough room for an exciting depth and breadth of activities. Sports ranging from baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse to volleyball, tennis and archery.  Equestrian.  Swimming, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing and waterskiing on crystal-clear lakes.

Maine Camp Experience - BoysSummers in Maine are never too hot. And the nights are cool (and starry) enough for age-old traditions like campfires and s’mores.

But for campers and staff at Laurel and Laurel South, all of Maine is our playground. We hike tall mountains like Katahdin. We head into the pine forests for ropes courses, rappelling and mountain biking. We explore the coast and ocean-side sites like Acadia National Park, Ogunquit and Bar Harbor.

Campers come to Maine from across the country. Whether they’ve been here in the winter to ski, or have never experienced the wonders of the state, they quickly realize it’s an amazing, magnificent place – vast yet intimate, wild yet welcoming.

Parents love it too – particularly if they plan a day or three in the trendy city of Portland, with a side trip to Kennebunkport, Camden or (of course) Freeport to visit L.L. Bean!

It’s all part of the Maine camp experience – discovering new things, no matter what your age. And you never know…you may be lucky enough to spot a Moose.

Roger and Dagni
Camp Laurel South

Camp Adventure Programs Help Campers Soar High

Anyone would feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment after scaling a forty foot wall and then whizzing down a zip line or perhaps, while attached to a harness of course, taking a giant leap of faith off a perch with a great view.   But when the person is under the age of sixteen,  the feeling is unmatched.  This is the sense of elation that camp adventure programs bring to campers every summer.  Adventure is one of the most popular  programs at camp.   But what’s the point of all that climbing, jumping, and zipping around you ask?

For starters, high and low ropes courses have been used for some time now as team building event, probably the most commonly known reason for their usage.  In the case of a high ropes course, which is often at least thirty feet above ground and is sometimes as high as fifty, courage is one of the first words that comes to mind.  Quite simply put, it takes a lot of courage to shimmy up a ladder or patiently work your way trial and error up a climbing wall and then attempt to maneuver across  beams or rope of miniscule width with the ground looming below, even if one is safely secured to a harness and cables and spotted by trained professionals.  Trust is really what high ropes courses are all about.  A high ropes course challenges campers’ comfort levels and forces them to put trust in their fellow campers and camp staff, who also share in the inevitable sense of pride after successfully finishing a challenge.

Low ropes courses, on the other hand, encourage team building.  They feature such elements as webbed rope nets, trust falls and activities that challenge participants to get their entire team between platforms by building a bridge, or to move from wide cables to narrow ones.  More specifically, at camp, low ropes provide a great way for campers to bond with one another and encourage cabins to work together as a unit.

Nature programs  also often compliment outdoor programs by helping campers reconnect with nature and understand the importance of preserving the environment.  Fishing is another part of many outdoor adventure programs.  While fishing is a perfect relaxing social opportunity, it’s also a great way of increasing children’s patience level.

So it’s no wonder that these outdoor adventure programs are not popular merely for the lofty challenges that they provide, but  for the thrill and sense of pride campers feel for having had the courage to accept and achieve them.

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.

Feeling Groovy at Camp–Now and Then!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the image Cre8iveDoodles ~*~ New Beginnings!

What Do We Really Do All Year…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Christian
Director, Laurel South

A Summer Full of Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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



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