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New Year, New Summer

There comes a point for everyone involved with camp when we finally stop wishing for it to still be last summer and begin looking forward to this summer. The beginning of the new year is the perfect time for this. The new year is a time of new beginnings for most people and, although that long list of resolutions most of us start out with in January has already been all but forgotten by the time the first spring blooms begin to peep out of the ground, there is always the promise of camp. January starts that final countdown toward summer. We’re finally in the year 2014, and it is only a matter of months before we arrive at the Summer of 2014.  And a fast six months it always is! We spend cold winter evenings watching our camp videos or reading our camp newsletters. We attend camp reunions and follow our camp Facebook pages. By spring we’ve ordered all of our new camp gear and are eagerly awaiting for it to arrive.  We start to set goals for the summer with our camp friends. Then we blink, and it’s May. It’s time to start packing! School ends and the countdown is down to days…days that seem to take longer than all of the months we’ve waited put together. But it comes, the new summer of the new year, faster than we ever thought it would a year ago.

Seven Summers

Most children step off the bus and get their first glance of summer camp as eager, excited, and slightly nervous seven or eight year olds. It’s their first time away from home and they’re not quite sure what to expect. Few register those first moments as the first of a seven year adventure. It’s just the first summer, after all. Even parents sometimes forget that summer camp isn’t just one summer and, in that regard, is much more than a campus. It is a place where children grow up, and it should be a place where campers are every bit as enthusiastic about stepping off the bus their seventh year as they are their first. It should be a place where they feel an integral part of something larger.

Relationships form early at camp. The friends campers make their first year are often their closest throughout their camp careers. The adrenaline filled first meeting is the beginning of several years in the making. But the accepting environment of camp that encourages children to try new things also facilitates the promise of new friendships each summer. What campers learn as they progress through summers is that at “their camp,” no two summers are quite the same.

There is always the element of the unexpected at camp. Anticipation throughout the winter to return to camp is driven by the mystery of how the next summer will be different than the last. The ability to envision the campus as pretty much the same way they left it (with maybe a few upgrades or improvements) eliminates the element of fear in change for children. The stability of the campus itself makes change something to which campers can look forward. Boating docks, dining halls and arts and crafts studios become favorite spots as the settings of memories from summer to summer. Although they are the same places they were the summer before, the memories campers associate with them make them slightly different.

That first exploratory summer, young campers are also able to observe and begin to anticipate the various rites that occur as they age. They look forward each summer to special trips and activities that are exclusive to their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh summer. In the end, summer camp isn’t a singular experience. It’s the sum total of many summers and a culmination of friends, activities, traditions and memories that builds from that first welcome on the first day of camp that first summer.

10 Camp Things for Which We’re Thankful All Year Long

The holidays are upon us and ‘tis the season to ponder those things for which we’re truly thankful. For those of us who are fortunate enough to eat, sleep and breathe camp 24/7, 365 days a year, it’s hard not to make an exclusive “Camp Laurel South” list. After all, camp is just as much a part of our lives in November as it is in June. So we figured we’d share some camp things for which we are thankful all year long.

1.)    Our campers. Each and every one of our campers brings something unique to camp that makes our camp family complete. Getting emails and phone calls about our campers’ accomplishments throughout the winter makes the memories we have of the summer that much more special, and makes us even more excited to see everyone the following year.

2.)    Our camp parents. We feel pretty lucky to have so many parents who as enthusiastic about camp as their children and who keep in touch throughout the winter, providing us with fun and interesting updates.

3.)    Our staff. Finding a staff of talented people who are willing to leave their first homes and make summer camp their second home for several weeks  each summer in order to literally live their jobs day and night is no easy feat. That we’re able to put together a staff each summer who is so vested in creating an amazing summer for all of our campers is truly a blessing.

4.)    Alumni. It’s always a special treat when our alumni share their favorite camp memories and reiterate how great their camp years were. The fact that so many of our alumni are still in touch and/or are active within our community says a lot to us about just how special camp is and motivates us to continue to strive to make camp a lifetime worth of memories.

5.)    A beautiful campus. That first drive into camp each summer is always so special. No matter how many times we’ve been there, that first glance of the bunks/cabins, the dining hall, the fields, the courts and the waterfront each summer is something we anticipate all year long.

6.)    Memories. Memories are what makes each summer different than the last. Even in the fall, we find ourselves asking each other, “Remember when…?” and laughing over our favorite camp moments throughout the year.

7.)    Camp Songs. We often find ourselves turning up the volume whenever a song that proved popular the summer before plays on the radio or humming the alma mater or a favorite dining room tune while we’re busy planning for next summer.

8.)    Camp friends. It’s so nice to have someone with whom we can remember those special moments from previous summers and with whom we can have a hearty laugh about those inside moments that only our camp friends can understand. It’s also nice to be able to re-experience camp through meetups through the winter and makes us even that much more excited about next summer.

9.)    The camp tradition. It sounds pretty obvious, but just the fact that we’re able to carry on such a beloved tradition is a privilege. Summer camps have been around for more than a hundred years and such an iconic part of our culture that movies and television shows have been made about summer camp and books have been written about it. Not to mention, without summer camp, we’re not quite sure what we’d be doing. We certainly can’t imagine doing anything else.

10.) The promise of next summer. We’ve said it a million times, but we start anticipating the next summer as soon as the buses pull away. That ten month wait each year seems like forever, but it proves to be just enough time to plan another summer that promises to be even better than the last. The anticipation drives us all year long as we plan and makes us thankful to be part of camp all year.

Evolving Camp Menus

If you’ve ever been to camp, you know that s’mores are best made over a campfire, and that a knish is the perfect side dish for a cookout or brisket meal. Campers who jump out of bed every morning and race to breakfast, hoping it’s an S Day, as well as those who can’t get enough of the pizza, know that camp food is as much a part of the camp experience as the activities. Like many other camp traditions, the menu constantly evolves to meet the current demands of campers.

One factor heavily influencing camp menus is the growing awareness of the need to develop healthy eating habits early in life. Camps are introducing new and healthier menu alternatives. Items such as Greek yogurt, hummus, guacamole and wraps are finding their way onto camp menus to combine with salad bars, longtime camp dining staples, to give campers and staff more nutritional options. Lite dressings are also appearing alongside regular ones and more fruit and vegetable choices are being offered. But the camp food revolution doesn’t begin and end at the salad bar.

Camps are increasingly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and are playing around with herb and spice combinations to enhance the taste of the food. This isn’t to say that some traditional camp favorites are disappearing off menus. Grilled cheese, pasta and chicken fingers are all still very much camp fare. Camps are just trying to make healthier versions of them by using fresher ingredients and fewer pre-packaged items.

Campers are very enthusiastic about the recent trends in camp food. Today’s campers have savvy palates and like that favorite foods that have traditionally not been available at camp are finding their way onto menus.

Meal times are important parts of camp each day. They are times for the camp to come together and dine as a family. They are times for singing, cheering and catching up.  Perhaps that why camp food is such a key part of camp.

10 Reasons Working as a Camp Counselor This Past Summer Was the Most Awesome Job Decision You Ever Made…

1.) Being able to put “Provided excellent care and fun for several hundred children” or “helped children improve athletic skills” on your resume is a pretty sweet bonus.

2.) Saying, “My friend who lives in Australia…” or “My friend who lives in Arizona…” sounds a lot cooler (and more worldly) than, “My friend who works two cubicles down from me…”  Not to mention, you’ll save a whole lot of money on accommodations the next time you travel!

3.) You’d take tutus over “business casual” as dress code any day.  Shorts and staff shirts meant you got some extra Zs in the morning, too, because you didn’t need an extra half hour to stand in front of your closet wondering what you should wear.

4.) Fetching snacks for your campers was so much more fun than fetching coffee for a boss–and your campers were more appreciative, too.

5.) You got paid to do lots of fun outdoor activities everyday.  Your friends had to request a day off to do fun outdoor activities.

6.) Your “office” had a much better view than your friends’ cubicles. Summer camp provided plenty of breathing room in the form of roomy campuses as workplaces.

7.) Every day brought new opportunities and challenges that, by the sounds of it, were much more gratifying than spending an entire summer filing and creating mail merges.

8.) Letting loose and acting silly was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  Your friends got verbal warnings for laughing too loudly in their offices.

9.) The amount of friends and connections you have through social media outlets multiplied exponentially.  Who knew summer camp would be such a great place to network?

10.) Laurel South was even more beautiful than it was in the video on the camp’s website that convinced you that you just had to work there–and the people some of the warmest you’ve ever met!

The Many Role Models of Summer Camp

There aren’t many places children can go to be surrounded by positive role models that provide them the opportunity to develop relationships on multiple levels.  For most kids, adult mentors are limited to parents, coaches and teachers. There’s one place, however, where children are surrounded by mentors on multiple levels 24/7: summer camp.  Most summer camps have very high staff to camper ratios, which means there is never a shortage of grownups from whom campers can seek guidance and leadership.  Of course, everyone knows that role models are important in the lives of children.  But we simply forget to take the time to consider that having different types of leadership examples is equally crucial, until we’re reminded of this by the campers themselves.

A senior camper at one of America’s Finest Summer Camps recently observed there are so many leaders at camp that you never feel like you have no one to go to when the need arises.  This is very true.  There are coaches to help children improve their skills and reach athletic goals.  There are counselors to provide guidance through daily activities.  There are Head Counselors and Campus Leaders to help out with the bigger, more complicated aspects of camp.  And there are Directors who make it their business to make sure everyone has fun and stays safe.  There is also the myriad of other staff who work in camp offices, kitchens and health centers.  Regardless of which role any of these people fulfill, they’re all working at summer camp for one reason: They have opted to dedicate their summers to making a positive impact on the lives of children, and the campers’ best interests are their first priority.  There aren’t many institutions that can make a similar claim.

As leaders and mentors, camp staff bring a passion to their jobs that anyone who makes a decision to dedicate themselves 24/7 to a job must have in order to be successful.  They voluntarily give up sleep, time with family and free-time in order to be a part of summer camp, and their dedication shows through their interaction with campers.  The relationship is symbiotic.  Campers understand that staff find as much value in the summer camp experience as they do, which develops into a mutual confidence and trust.

Social learning is the psychological concept that places value on the necessity of good role models in the lives of children, which is perhaps why camp is an ideal place for campers to get the most out of being surrounded by many prospective mentors.  Summer camp is somewhat of a microcosm of an ideal society.  It’s a self-contained arena in which people live alongside one another in an environment that is most harmonious when everyone supports the successes of those around them. The absence of everyday competitiveness gives campers the opportunity to take full advantage of the encouragement that comes from everyone around them, including leaders.

Use Social Media to Explore Summer Camps during the Off Season

We can hear the echoes of parents the world over now…’Start thinking about what?  Now?  We just finished filling out school paperwork!’  True.  Next summer is ten months away.  Trust us; we keep a countdown.  Newsflash:  summer camp enrollment is right around the corner.  In fact, for many camps, new camper enrollment is already underway.

Residential camp attendance is on the rise.  In fact, the American Camp Association reports a 21% increase in sleepaway camp enrollment over the past decade.  One would think this has summer camp directors all over the country jumping for joy—and it does.  But there is also a downside to the rising interest in summer camp.  As much as camp directors would like to offer an infinite amount of campers a place at their camps, facilities and programs have capacities, which means there are limitations to how many campers each camp can accommodate and still provide the best possible experience.  The solution for some camps is a waiting list.  Other camps simply stop taking inquiries after their open spots are filled.  For a lot of very popular premiere level summer camps, it means longer waiting lists for an already existing shortage of openings.  In other words, admission is competitive, and if you wait until the weather starts warming up to start thinking about registering for summer camp, you might find yourself in the cold.

Ideally, if you’re hoping to have a first time camper next summer, you’ve already short listed several camps that you think are the best fit for your child.  Maybe you’ve been avoiding making the final call because you prefer one camp while your child prefers another.  Maybe you’re just not sure your child is ready for sleepaway camp.  Maybe you still have a few questions before making it official.  Whatever the reason, now’s the time to pull out that short list and start narrowing down the candidates. Even if your child is looking forward to another summer of day camp, now is still a good time to start browsing the web and assembling a list of prospective camps.  Thanks to social media, you can follow camps throughout the year and get a feel for the camp’s community.  After all, you and your children are going to be a part of whichever one you choose for the next several years.  So it’s important to pick the one of which you think your family could feel most a part.

While reviewing social media outlets and the camp’s website, ask yourself:  How invested does the camp seem in its programs, facilities and families?  Who is the staff and how are they selected?  What is the camp’s policy about communication between campers and staff during the winter months?  These are very important questions that delve beyond the sparkling lake and impeccably manicured grounds shown on websites or camp videos.

Summer camps are more than the sum total of their promotional videos as well.  Use the opportunity to let social media help you get a better picture. You can easily determine parents’ as well campers’ attitudes toward a camp.  A strong online community that shows enthusiasm for camp throughout the year is a sure sign of happy camp families.

Once you start to consider the details of what will make you feel comfortable about sending your child off for several weeks or most of the summer, the easier it is to select a camp, and  the less likely you are to find yourselves on a waiting list because you quite literally missed your window of opportunity.

Coming Home (Parentheses)

Parents: prepare for your pantries to be emptied, your laundry rooms to be full, and your television remote controls to become affixed to your children’s hands.  The campers are coming home, and they’re riding a camp high.  They have a lot to tell you.  Get ready to hear a lot of stories about camp (over and over), be let in on a lot of inside jokes that you probably won’t understand because “it’s a camp thing” (laugh anyway), learn everything you could ever want to know and more about new friends (excellent excuse to look at camp photos again with your children), and listen to camp songs and cheers (they’ll likely want to teach them to you too).  Sometime around mid-September, you’ll probably start wagering with your spouse about whether your children will stop talking about this summer before next summer starts (not likely).

You’ll try to start conversations about things other than camp (you’re pretty sure you’ve seen an episode or two of Pretty Little Liars), but inevitably the conversation will come back to camp. (Remember the episode when Spencer realized that she’d been to summer camp with Hannah’s stepsister?  And speaking of camp…) But just when you’re starting to feel camped out, something will happen this fall that will make you remember why you love hearing about camp.  Registration for next summer will open.   You’ll remember that this is the point every year when still hearing about this summer even though it’s time to start thinking about next summer transforms into music to your ears, and the lyrics are your children’s way of telling you that they love camp (even though by that time they’ve said they love camp about a million times).  You’ll think about everything they’ve shared with you about camp, try (and fail) to count how many times they’ve used the word “camp” since they’ve returned home, and maybe even admire some of their arts & craft handiwork as you pat yourself on the back for deciding to give your children the gift of summer camp (then you’ll check the camp website for the Visiting Day 2014 date).

End of Summer

It’s hard to believe another summer at Camp Laurel South has nearly come and gone, but here we are. In just a few weeks, the camp season of 2013 will be a memory and school buses will once again be a regular sight around many neighborhoods. There is always a feeling around camp at the end of the summer that someone pushed a fast-forward button. Right about now, campers and staff begin reflecting on where the time has gone. But something happens in that reflection; they remember EVERYTHING they did over the summer.

Moments at camp happen so fast. The days are packed full of adventure. When campers and staff begin to inventory their summer memories, they’re often in awe of the amount of things they achieved in such a short period of time. In retrospect, the summer seems endless. There were the big adventures; trips, all camp events, campfires, shows, performances, leagues, Spirit Days. There were the daily activities; swimming, playing sports, arts and crafts, theater, nature, fishing, etc. Those are the memories that seem to make the summer go on forever. Then there were the moments and events that stick out as really special; being with friends, creating that special craft project, riding a zipline for the first time, hitting a bullseye in archery, making a foul shot in basketball, getting up on waterskis. Those are the memories that freeze time. They’re the ones that make the summer of 2013, “Summer 2013” in hearts and memories. Those are the moments behind teary goodbyes, repeated camp stories, and the countdown for next year. Memories are a great dessert after a filling summer, and like every great dessert, everyone wants more.

Healthy Competition

“Healthy Competition” is a term that is often used at summer camp.  While they also offer a wide selection of niche and hobby type activities, traditional summer camps focus heavily on sports.  The emphasis, however, is more about encouraging campers to be active and improve their skills.  This is not to say that campers do not participate in sports matches.  In fact, many camps not only facilitate game play through intra camp leagues, but inter camp leagues as well.  Thus, “healthy competition”, as it is used at camp, is an expression to describe contests with positive encouragement, regardless of the outcome, and not merely a synonym for “no competition.”

Po Bronson, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing believes that the camaraderie that results fromh healthy team competition encourages children to learn at a faster pace and alleviates the stress of learning a new skill or attempting to improve existing abilities on one’s own.  Another aspect of camp competition that makes it healthy competition is that it’s limited in scope and time.  It takes place only as long as camp lasts and does not extend beyond the camp environment.  This, according to Bronson, is a key element of “healthy competition, “In finite games, you compete and then you let it go, and you have rest and recuperation – that’s actually really important for kids,” said Bronson. “It’s the continuous sense of pressure that is unhealthy for them.”

The stress of not making a team or of underperforming is not a pervading force in camp athletics.  Says Bronson, “What kids do need to learn is losing is not that big a deal. They need to learn to lose and go ‘Oh, whatever,’ and move on and keep playing…You want to get them to turn up the work ethic in order to win.”  At camp, losing is not a big deal, because every summer is a new summer–new tryouts, new teams, and new possibilities.  The constant rearrangement of groups also helps campers shrug off losses.  Another day brings another activity and a new group with which to compete.  A loss in one activity does not translate to a closely monitored record that eventually defines a team and, sometimes, individuals.  The teams are constantly changing and so are the competitions.

The break between summers also makes growth measurable for campers.  When children constantly train and participate in a sport, it’s more difficultfor them to see themselves improving, even when they are.  The ten month gap from one summer to the next provides campers with the time and distance necessary for improvements to be noticeable.  The distinct parameters of camp that restrict it to a single season—summer—also remove the constant pressure of advancing skills as quickly as possible so as to always be able to perform at peak level.  Every summer is a new summer–new tryouts, new teams, and new possibilities.  As a result, campers tend to maintain a healthy attitude about camp sports, which makes them naturally receptive to the idea of genuinely healthy competition.  At camp, it’s not so much about winning and losing as setting goals and measuring one’s progress from summer to summer.

“What kids need more than anything is not to win or lose but a close race, a fair competition where everyone feels like they’ve got a fighting chance,” says Bronson.  “Where everyone feels like they have a fighting chance” is exactly what summer camp is, and why it’s an environment naturally conducive to healthy competition.

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