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Sunset at Camp

Camp provides the perfect backdrop to a sunset. Watching the sun dip below the tree line and catch the reflection of the water before finally disappearing into the horizon as the campus slowly lights up isn’t just a classic picturesque image of camp, it’s symbolic. It signals a shift in the camp day. The daily activities have ended and now it’s time for the evening to begin.

Sunset at camp signifies dinner. Dinner is an important activity at summer camp. It’s a time for everyone to come together and tell stories about their day as they share a meal as the daylight slowly transitions into a star filled night.

With the sunset also comes campfires. Each camp has its own unique campfire traditions. But the one thing they all have in common is that campfires happen after the sun goes down. Whether it’s entertaining each other, singing songs or eating s’mores, sitting around a campfire at night helps everyone tune into the environment around them and take in the magic of summer camp. The sounds of campus become more amplified. The smells become more distinct.

Campers and staff alike also know when they see the sun begin to set that it’s almost time for evening activities. Evening activities are some of the most action-packed and anticipated moments at camp. Sometimes the entire camp participates in evening activities together while at others separate activities are held for different age groups.

It’s so easy to not even notice the sunset during the ten months when one is not at summer camp. But at camp, sunset is something that just can’t be missed. Not only is it an important part of the camp day, it’s nice to take notice of such a beautiful transition and to understand that taking notice of it is a special part of camp.

The Importance of Evening Activities at Camp

The typical image of evenings at summer camp involves campers sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows and singing songs. While campfires are an essential part of the camp experience and some camps enjoy campfires nightly or weekly —  they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to after dinner activities. While some nights, particularly those following busier than usual days, are “chill” nights at camp during which campers watch a movie, enjoy a camp show or, yes, sit around that infamous campfire, on most nights when the sun goes down at camp, the action heats up and things get crazy—sometimes really crazy—and maybe even a little goofy.

Whether it’s a dance, an evening of games or a scavenger hunt, it’s important to dress for the occasion and costumes are often encouraged. Acceptable attire often includes tutus, crazy hats or wigs, temporary tattoos and face or body paint. When competition is involved, dressing in team colors is also a must. Friends or even entire cabins often try to mirror each other with matching outfits, and showing team spirit typically becomes a competition within a competition. Clever cheers (often involving inside camp jokes), singing, and loud encouragement provide the soundtrack to a night of activities designed to help everyone let loose, be themselves, and, most importantly, have fun. So what is the point of so much silliness after a full day of activities? It’s simple. Play. Play has long been touted by child psychologists as crucial to social and cognitive development. At camp, however, the kind of play that happens during evening activities takes on a much bigger role as an avenue for inspiring campers and staff alike to embrace camp values and put them into action.

At least one of these three key words consistently appears in camp mottos: “tradition”, “family”, “friends.” All three are emphasized during evening activities at camp. Whether it’s to win a competition or a race, playful evening activities are a fun way for campers to come together as a family to achieve a common goal. More importantly, individual age divisions often spend time together during evening activities. During the day, campers go in many different directions, depending on their interests and program schedules. In the evenings, however, they come back together as a group. In the midst of lighthearted moments, friendships are born and strengthened.

Sleepaway camp traditions don’t begin and end with campfires and sing-alongs. They are evident—or sometimes born—in even the wackiest moments of evening activities. Those activities become perennial favorites to which campers look forward all year. They spend time during the winter contemplating ways in which they can enhance tradition and future memories by building upon previous experiences of those activities. They communicate with each other, brainstorm ideas and even make plans. In short, through play, campers take ownership of their camp experience as well as their camp traditions. In doing so, they embrace camp values.

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.

While You’re Waiting until June…

So, the summer of 2014 is still a L-O-N-G 8 months away. But here are a few things to keep you warm during the colder months of the year…

1.)    Opening Day. Is there any better feeling than that moment the bus pulls up to camp, you step off and are immediately tackled by a herd of camp friends who have waited all year to see you?

2.)    Campfires. Every camp has its own version. In fact, your camp’s campfire is a big part of what makes it your camp. You’re sure of two things: A) Your camp’s campfire is the best B) S’mores taste best when made at your camp’s campfire.

3.)    Sing-alongs. It’s amazing how much singing silly songs arm-in-arm with your camp friends during the summer makes you feel. Admit it. You find yourself singing to yourself throughout the winter. Your school friends catch you. You want to explain. ‘It’s a camp thing,’ you say. You immediately send a Vine to all of your camp friends of you singing – and doing motions to –your favorite camp songs.

4.)    Arts & Crafts. Seriously, you can tie-dye at home too…really.

5.)    The official camp video, yearbook, or seasonal newsletter. It should be showing up in your mailbox anytime now. Host a party. Reminisce about this past summer. Know that next summer will be here before you know it. Set goals now. Next summer will be epic.

6.)   Camp Shows. Thespians and camp go hand-in-hand. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the biggest names in Hollywood are summer camp alumni.

7.)    Boats. Camp has lots of boats. Ski boats, sailboats, hobie cats, kayaks, canoes…Whichever is your choice, one fact hails true: some of the best moments of the summer happen on the water.

8.)    Trips. Are the movies at home ever as good as it is when you’re enjoying it with your camp friends? What about a roller coasters? Didn’t think so.

9.)    Camp food. Admit it. You live for S Day Breakfasts.

10.)  Cabin mates. When you come home with something exciting to share during the winter, who do you share it with?

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).

Elasticity

Elasticity is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality of being adaptable.” By definition, elasticity is not merely a description of successful campers and staff, but a description of summer camp itself. Summer camps have existed for over a century and are generally considered a piece of Americana.   With well over 12,000 summer camps across the United States (and a collective enrollment in the tens of millions), however, summer camp is anything but a thing of the past. It’s a strong “tradition” that continues to attract families from all over the world.

One might be tempted to ask what quality of summer camp enables it to continue to thrive. Undoubtedly, that quality its elasticity. While summer camps are rooted in tradition, they’re also in tune with the contemporary needs of children. Summer camp was originally a place where parents sent their children to escape from the health hazards posed by the increasing industrialization of cities. Now, it’s a place where children are sent to escape the automation of society. Camp is no longer merely a place to reconnect with nature but with each other as well. Summer camps have expanded their activities to reflect this evolution. In addition to sports, camps offer activities such as outdoor adventure, which include rope and obstacle courses designed for team building.

Summer camps have also tapped into the rising de-emphasis of the arts in public schools and embraced programs that encourage campers to explore their creative sides. In addition to traditional arts & crafts, many camps now provide campers with options in cooking, music, magic, and even circus arts. The generous availability of these programs attracts families who want their children to have the opportunity to explore their artistic sides.

In demonstrating a clear understanding of how campers benefit from attending camp, summer camps have been able to adapt by translating the voids created by advancements in society into meaningful and timeless activities.

The Value of Summer Camp to Teenagers

From the rituals they lead to open camp on the first night until the moment they say teary farewells to their final summers, summer camp plays as significant a role in older campers’ lives as they play in carrying on its traditions.  There are a lot of camp articles that sing the praises of summer camp for young children, but few focus on the value of the camp experience for young teens.  By the time many campers reach their teens, they already have several camp summers behind them.  For them, it’s not really about newness anymore, but reliability and tradition: who is at camp, what is at camp, camp rites to which they’ve looked forward since they were young.  In a period of child’s life that can be a roller coaster full of ups and downs that come at full speed, summer camp is oasis of stability.  It’s solid ground, a safe place where teenagers go to be themselves and to let loose of the stress and strain that are inextricably part of the teenage years.

At summer camp, teenagers can still be young while getting a taste of what it means to be grown up.  They connect with a small group of people with whom they’ve shared experiences since they were very young and with whom they continue to share experiences.  They not only share experiences, they share memories that only a select group of others shares.  Both give older campers a distinct sense of belonging.  Regardless of who or what they are to their school peers the other ten months of the year, camp is a circle of inclusion that often extends far beyond the camp years.  Older campers also benefit from privileges that come from being older.  They’re tapped to lead camp activities, given leadership roles on teams of younger campers, and charged with being examples in honoring camp traditions.  In short, older campers “train” younger campers how to be good campers.  For many of them, being a role model and a mentor is one of the best aspects of camp.  The pride in having played a role in a younger camper’s life is what brings many former campers back to camp in their adult years to work as counselors.

Beyond rituals and traditions, there is also the encouragement that many older campers get from staff members in pursuing college and career goals, be it allowing them to sample career life through Apprentice type tasks, giving them the opportunity to write an essay for the camp blog,  giving them a camera and letting them take photos for the camp website, helping them write a college essay or work through a summer reading assignment, or just talking to them about what life as a teacher or a coach is like.  By the time campers reach their teenage years, they’ve learned to appreciate what staff members bring to the table and are eager to learn and listen.  Ask any former camper to name a camp staff member who had a special impact on their lives, and within seconds they’ll share the story of a beloved counselor or staff member who taught them something about life that they still practice today.

Although many bonds form when campers are young, some of the most special form when they’re older.  Sometimes something as simple as a team building exercise helps teenage campers realize that they have more in common with a fellow camper than they thought they did.  At an age when it’s all too easy to feel isolated, being able everyday to realize life as a valuable part of a whole translates into some of the most special memories of a camp career.

Camp is more than just a summer away from home hanging with friends.  It’s a learning experience, and some of the most valuable lessons are learned in the midst of teenage fun at summer camp.

Going to Camp with Your Siblings

They may fight like cats and dogs at home, but attending camp together is special for siblings. Parents may be surprised to learn that at camp, they don’t accuse each of being the one to lose the television remote. Instead, they wave and smile when they pass each other on campus. They don’t fight about taking up each other’s space in the car either. Instead, they make special meeting places to talk about camp—everything they’ve done, new things they’ve tried, new friends they’ve made, and how their sports teams are doing how they got a bullsyeye in archery or are going to be singing a song in the show. Siblings don’t taunt each other when they do something silly at camp. They cheer for them. And, parents, you may be surprised to learn that siblings don’t pretend that each other has an infectious disease that prevents them from ever touching at camp. They readily hug.

As you can see, summer camp may as well be Hogwarts for its ability to transform sibling rivalry into a special relationship. Camp is a distinct set of memories they share apart from their parents. Those camp experiences will always be just theirs, which creates a bond that helps them grow as brothers and sisters as well as individuals. It’s an opportunity that many children who do not attend sleepaway camp don’t get to experience until adulthood. By being able to share a special set of traditions and values, siblings are able to appreciate their relationships at a much earlier age. The thrill of seeing each other experience camp firsts and pass camp milestones also helps them learn to appreciate each other as individuals.

And, let’s face it, we know that seeing your children smiling together in a camp photo after hitting the refresh button a thousand times each day makes it all worthwhile for you. Those smiles are why you put them on the bus or plane each year. They’re why you post the photos to your on Facebook pages and pass them around, accumulating likes. You love hearing them asking each if they remember a certain time at camp or singing the same songs and doing the same cheers. In that respect, being able to send your children to summer camp together is special for you too.

Everything I Need to Know…

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

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

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

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

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