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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.

Exploration at Summer Camp

Adventure, tradition, fun, and nature are all words that come to mind when one mentions “summer camp.”  One word that doesn’t instantly come to mind, however, is “exploration.” Summer camp is an exercise in exploration.

There is, of course, literal exploration.  Traditional summer camps are primarily located in rural areas, away from the city and suburban settings in which most campers live the remaining ten months of the year.  The natural surroundings are the perfect environment for exploring nature and the outdoors.

There is the exploration of new things.  Summer camp, by design, is conducive in trying the untried.  Campers inevitably try something new at camp: new food, new activities, new ways of doing things.  Some of the newness breeds ongoing new interest while some highlights the joys of routine and tradition.

The exploration of self, while slightly more esoteric is also an important aspect of summer camp.  Campers learn how to be independent at summer camp.  Sure, they’re surrounded by their friends, and camp is a largely social environment.  Being away from parents for several weeks, however, helps children learn how to make decisions and gain confidence in themselves.  From their newly gained independence, they begin to see and understand the value of individuality.

Exploration of culture and tradition is also a prevalent theme of summer camp.  Summer camp is an amalgam of cultures.  Many campers and staff come from all over the United States as well as the world.  Exposure to people from geographic regions outside their own provides an open forum for exploring the subtle nuances that distinguish various cultures and their traditions.

Freedom of exploration is an important aspect of child development, and no place provides more of an open forum for exploration than summer camp.

The “Special” Experience of Summer Camp

Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.”  Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout.  “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps.  To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another.  However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others.  For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor.  Sure the basic ingredients are the same.  Most pizza pies even look similar.  But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another.  It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home.  Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child.  The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.

In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time.  They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers.  They’ll bond with favorite counselors.  They’ll try at least one activity for the first time.  They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents.  As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.”  Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp.  So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.

 

Camp Senses

The unseasonably warm and pleasant weather seems to be bringing on summer faster.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are back, and the days are sunny. It’s hard not to take advantage of the opportunity to prematurely engage in all of one’s favorite summer activities a little bit.  The other day, my sisters and I caved.  We decided to rally my niece, go to the park and, yes, even though three of the four us fully qualify as grownups, play on the playground.  I’m convinced that no matter how old one gets, no one ever gets tired of swings.  It turns out that we weren’t the only ones with such an idea.  The place was packed, children and adults everywhere.  The park had even opened up the boating dock, something that they usually don’t do until Memorial Day Weekend.  People were out on the lake in rowboats and paddle boats.  They were picnicking.  They rode by on bicycles, skates and skateboards.  The comforting familiar smell of campfire from the nearby campground even permeated the air.   It was as if 2012 had transposed May and March.  My niece and I managed to score the last two remaining swings while my sisters preoccupied themselves on the monkey bars.

My niece and I have this game we play.  We see who can swing the highest.  The little boy between us apparently thought our game looked fun because he joined in.  As we slowed down for a bit after tiring ourselves out, he started a conversation.  I think he actually wanted to talk to my niece but decided I’d make a good mediator—at least in the beginning.   His name was Hunter.  What is her name?  Angelica.  How old is she?  She is six.  Same as me, he said.  What grade in she in?  First.  Same as me, he said again.  He jabbered on.  His dad had told him that if he was good they might rent a paddle boat later.  Maybe Angelica could come on the paddle boat with him.  He wished the concession stand was open so he could get ice cream.  Earlier in the day he’d gone to his swimming lesson at the JCC.  Then his mom signed him up for camp there this summer. I perked up.  Every now and then, chance throws a writer a bone and you have to grab it and run with it. Camp, huh? Do you stay overnight at this camp?  No, I’m not old enough.  I didn’t tell him that I already knew this.  The minimum age for most overnight camps is seven.  Is this your first time at the camp?  Yes, my sister went last year.  She said it’s really fun.  What do you think will be the most fun?  Ummm…I don’t know.  I don’t really know what we do there.  I bet you swim there.  Yeah, I think we do.  I worked at a camp.  You did?  Yep.  Only everyone stayed overnight at my camp.  His eyes grew.  They did? Yep.  I think I would like to do that someday.  Was it fun?  Yep.  What was it like there?  I looked around at the bicycles and the boats.  I took in the smell of campfire in the air and listened to the sound of all of the children playing and laughing.  It’s a lot like this.  I think I would like that, he said.  Hunter had no idea that he made my day and helped me out a lot by literally handing me material for a camp blog.  I hope he has fun at the JCC camp this year…and that he makes it to overnight camp someday.  If you haven’t thought about sending your children to camp, take a trip to your local park on a nice spring day.  Your senses just may help the decision become clear.

Looking at a Summer Camp but Can’t Come to Us? We’ll Come to You!

Starting about now and over the next couple of months, it seems that advertisements for summer camp fairs are everywhere you look.  Though many families begin researching summer camp in late fall or early winter (or some early as early as the summer before), as soon as the snow starts to melt, they realize how close summer really is and that it’s time to make a decision.  Camp fairs are one way to visit with many camp representatives or directors in one area.  However, schedule conflicts or distance sometimes make attending camp fairs impossible.  That’s why some camps will come to you!  Home visits are typically as simple as expressing interest in a camp and requesting a home visit.  The camp will work with you to arrange a time for a camp representative, usually a director, to come to your home when he or she is in your area, talk to you about the camp, and address any questions or concerns you may have about the camp specifically or just about camp in general.  Afterward, together you can decide with the director or representative whether your child would be a good fit for the camp.  Camp directors enjoy home visits because it’s a great way for them to get to know prospective campers and their families in an environment in which they are comfortable.

Because the individual who comes to your house is typically a director, home visits are not only an ideal alternative to camp fairs but they are also a great way to get know the individual at the helm. For international families or those who live outside of areas in which camps offer home visits, Skype visits are a terrific alternative.  A Skype visit is the same basic concept as a home visit, except instead of an in person face to face chat, a visit is conducted via Skype.  If you’re interested in a home visit, please contact those camps in which you’re interested to find out when a representative will be in your area.  Because it’s the perfect chance to learn about the camp in a relaxed environment, it’s a good idea to do some homework before your home visit and know which questions you’d like to ask. Other than that, however, after you’ve arranged your home or Skype visit, there’s nothing further for you to do except for the doorbell to ring or the call to come through.  It really is as convenient as that!

Now is the Time to Start Choosing a Summer Camp

The leaves are falling off the trees and the weather is starting to cool down, but it’s not too early to start thinking about sending your children to summer camp next summer.  There is certainly no shortage of American summer camps and finding the right one for your children is essential to their success there.  There’s a lot to think about, which makes now a great time to start thinking about what you want in a camp.

Traditional summer camps are a great way to introduce children to summer camp because they offer a broad and well-rounded experience.  Children still trying to find their niche in a sport or hobby find great success at these camps because they’re given opportunities throughout the summer to take part in many different types of activities.

The length of the summer camp you choose is also important.  Most overnight camps accept campers from the age of seven.  When considering camps, it’s key to consider your family’s lifestyle, your children’s other activities and commitments, and even your children themselves.  Session camps are gaining popularity because families whose schedules or budgets don’t permit them to consider a full summer at camp can still take advantage of the benefits of the traditional summer camp experience.   Camp Laurel South offers two four week sessions during the summer.

Consider how far away from home you want your child to travel as well.  Some parents prefer to send their children to a summer camp within a few hours of home while others view summer camp as a way to introduce a global perspective to their children and send them abroad to attend summer camp.  This is particularly becoming a trend in Europe, where European parents are deciding that they’d like their children to experience traditional American summer camps.  However, increasingly, parents from all over the world are making this decision as well.  Many American parents find the amazing reputations, beautiful campuses, and the breathtaking scenery of Maine idyllic and send their children from as far away as California, Florida, and many other states.

The structure of a camp’s program should be given careful consideration as well.  As they grow older, most campers like to make decisions about their daily activities at camp, and Camp Laurel South gives them the opportunity to do so.  However, we’ve found that  younger campers, especially those new to summer camp, prefer a more structured program with all or most of the decisions about their daily activities made for them.

Once you have decided what type of camp, length, location, and program are right for your child, you will likely find your search narrowed to a manageable number of camps.  At that point, it’s important to start learning about the camps that fit your criteria.  Since you are reading this blog, you’ve found out website and are on the right track.  We also invite you to check out our Facebook page, and sign up to follow our Twitter feed.  By doing this now, you will give yourself plenty of time to watch, read, and listen.  If you are unfamiliar with camp, you will be pleasantly surprised at how active our summer camp community remains throughout the winter.  In fact, many camp families will tell you that camp never really ends for them—and that’s a good thing.

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