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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 Efficacy of Downtime at Summer Camp

A joke telling session in the cabin during a rainy morning, lying in the cabin during rest hour, or sitting by the waterfront and talking with friends as the sun goes down are what we call downtime at summer camp. Children need downtime to process learning experiences and recharge their creative juices, notes parenting expert Michael Grose. He believes downtime is an important life skill that every child should learn to enjoy and appreciate. Yes, sleepaway camps like to keep campers busy. After all, that’s what they come for. But camps also place emphasis on the value of the summer camp experience as a way to get out of the routine of everyday life, which is what makes summer camp the perfect place for children to learn downtime.

At home, it’s easy to get lost in the constant “go” routine to which so many children are accustomed. Many of them go straight from school to sports rehearsals or music lessons, sometimes both or several in one night. Then there is the inevitable stack of homework waiting when they finally get a few moments in the evening. They also see their parents constantly on the move. In such an environment, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that one should always be operating at full speed. At camp, however, the environment is decidedly one that is about slowing down and appreciating individual moments and accomplishments.

Camp is also contained. Campers have only a few weeks each summer to maximize their camp experience. They can’t look too far ahead without looking beyond camp, which no camper wants to do. That’s why campers like to take advantage of that brief rain shower, an hour of rest in the afternoon, or a few moments after dinner to enjoy the camp environment and bond with friends.

Says Grose, “Free, child-initiated play is the ultimate in relaxation. Fun games, games with few rules and games that kids control help them to unwind.” And learning to unwind is what camp is all about.

One of the Most Memorable Summer Camp Activities

One of the biggest parts of the summer at most traditional  summer camps and nearly as big of a tradition as the concept of summer camp is the color war.  For several days, campers and staff members parade around camp in their team colors.  Body paint, capes, mismatched socks, colored hair spray, pom-poms, and tutus are the en vogue accessories, and enthusiastic demonstrations of team pride via spirited cheers are infectious.

Although an emphasis on friendly competition geared toward giving campers an opportunity to put their camp skills to the test while exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship has prompted many camps to change the name to such things as Challenges, Tribals, College Days, and Olympics, the concept remains the same: Campers are placed onto teams and, for several days, engage in a host of activities designed to re-cap the summer—a sort of “best of” replay.

Whatever the name, the competition is often full of traditions regarded as sacred by campers and staff alike.  The beginning of the games is invariably a surprise to campers and much of the staff with the reveal being is a closely guarded secret about which there is quite a bit of discussion and speculation in the days leading up to it.  The breakout is unquestionably, one of the biggest events of the summer and always on everyone’s list of favorite moments from the summer.  Counselors are included in the action as team leaders and coaches.

The end of the competition often involves some sort of bonding activity designed to bring the teams back together as one camp family to finish out the summer because, in the end, the emphasis of a color on color contest is not whether one is on a winning team when all is said and done, but that each and every camper has had the opportunity to demonstrate what he or she has learned over the summer and, thus, gain an understanding of how each person brings something different and valuable to the camp family.  Such a focus makes these types of camp activities a valuable lesson in diversity and teamwork.  Everyone has a unique role on the team that directly affects the team’s overall performance.  For anyone—camper or staff—who has ever been a part of camps, it’s the part of the summer that is undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

The Subtle Pleasures of Summer Camp

Have you noticed subtle pleasant but odd changes since your children returned from summer camp?  Have you peeked into your son’s room and noticed that he made his bed?  Were you tempted to take your daughter’s temperature the other night because she volunteered to clean up her room?  Maybe they just seem calmer or are better about sticking to routines about which you went hoarse more than once preaching to them before you put them on that bus or plane headed to their favorite summer zip code.  Perhaps they’re better about saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ or spend less time all out at war with each other over little things like the remote control and whether they’re going to watch The Voice or Modern Family.  Did they really mature that much at summer camp?

Not that you’re complaining.  It’s a nice, unexpected bonus.  When you initially enrolled them for camp, you were thinking it would be good for them to spend their summer working on arts and crafts projects, learning how to sail, going swimming, doing the silly things that kids do at camp, and playing sports instead of using up your entire cell phone data plan during twelve hour texting marathons or playing the Kinect so much that you can no longer tell whether you’re watching a video game or an actual television program.  You thought, ‘Maybe they’ll even make a few new friends.’  But, oddly, it’s the smaller things they seem to be bringing away from their summer camp experiences that you find yourself enjoying the most.

Sure, you read all about the benefits of sending children to summer camp before you decided to send them.  But you didn’t allow yourself to actually have expectations that your children would come home friendlier, more dutiful, more flexible, able to manage their time better, and generally happier–in short, more mature. Those are the special changes that you enjoy seeing and that make summer camp that much more valuable your eyes.

Summer Camp Helps Children Maintain Routine

Summer camp is a lot of fun.  One need only ask any camper on virtually any summer camp campus to confirm that notion.  Children love the activities and the relatively relaxed environment of sleepaway camp.  However, there is something else that summer camp children crave, although they might not know it:  structure.  Dr. Laura Markham asserts that routine helps children develop self-discipline, cooperation, change tolerance, and responsibility.

To an outsider, summer camps may seem like little more than organized chaos.  However, most summer camps operate around set daily schedules that move children from activity to activity at specific times throughout the day.  Although the daily activities may change, the times and length of the periods do not.  Meals are also held at set times.  The use of bugle calls, bells, music, or announcements assist campers in transitioning from one part of their day to another, which, according to Markham, helps eliminate power struggles by setting parameters and giving children a recognizable sign for knowing when it’s time to bring one activity to a close and move onto another without being told.

A daily routine also helps at night.  Research shows that children who have a structured schedule sleep better at night.  Routine also lessens anxiety and improves behavioral issues.  Children feel less anxiety when they understand what is expected of them and can confidently anticipate what will happen next.  Summer camp is built on traditions that happen from year-to-year.  Many camps are also divided into age groups that serve as steps through the camp experience from the first year of camp to the final.  From their first day at camp, there are certain rites and privileges related to sleepaway camp traditions specific to each age group to which campers can look forward as they get older.  That children can see from the beginning that summer camp is a progressive process also helps them to understand the concept of patience when working toward a goal.

Because of the benefits provided by the structure of summer camp, many parents are increasingly seeing the advantages of time spent at summer camp.  As a result, summer camp is experiencing a revival of sorts as a summer staple.  More than eleven million people attended camp last year, according to the American Camp Association.  If you’re trying to think of a way to add value to your children’s summer, consider sending them to summer camp.

Choose Your Own Adventure at Summer Camp

There is a new trend sneaking into summer camps.  An increasing number of sleepaway camps are foregoing the traditional pre-determined summer camp schedule in favor of giving campers complete control over their summer camp experience.  This approach to summer camp has become  a particularly popular approach to the summer camp experience at session camps, which tend to attract a less traditional family of campers than seven week camps.  And the appeal is mutual.

Allowing campers to customize their experience gives them the opportunity to experience a traditional summer camp while enjoying many of the same benefits that they might enjoy by attending a specialized camp.  It’s truly a best of both worlds scenario, and the response has been overwhelming.

There is certainly no shortage of children who want to experience summer camp.  The conflict seems to arise from increasingly busy summer schedules and the pressure placed on children to be great at—well—everything.  Despite our inclination as adults to want them to be everything we are and more, along with everything we are not, children need time and space to be…children.  Enter the session sleepaway camp, an environment catered to letting them be themselves while improving their skills in those activities they love while giving them ample opportunity to try out new ones in shorter, more realistic segments for the busy family.

In addition to having freedom over their activity choices, the independence children gain while at summer camp is also a great way of letting them try out their wings. For many children, camp is their first experience away from their parents.  It’s the first time they’re choosing their own clothes, deciding what to eat, determining which activities to try, and learning how to be part of a social network without the assistance of mom and dad.  For those children not quite ready for the full summer experience, a session camp is the perfect way to give camp a test drive.
So if you’ve hesitated to enroll your children in summer camp because you’re afraid it’s too much structure, or if you’ve been thinking you would like them to learn how to be a little bit more independent, consider a session summer camp.  It just may be the perfect fit.

Camp: A Different Set of Expectations

Okay, admit it.  You’ve found yourself spending a considerable amount of time admiring that candle your daughter gave you on her camp’s Visiting Day or those wooden bookends your son brought home.  Part of you wonders how come you never got to make stuff that cool when you were a kid while another part of you is mystified by how the arts and crafts staff of your child’s summer camp was able to draw out the Picasso in your little ones.    After all, you can barely get them to focus long enough to make a poster for their science projects.  What is it about camp that seems to facilitate children’s creativity?

Sure it’s woodsy and remote, even quaint–the perfect place for children to feel free to be themselves.  They certainly do a lot of things at camp that they don’t get to do at home.  And you did spend the entire summer looking at photos of your daughter posing in a rainbow colored tutu—Did she ever take that thing off?—and of your son covered in face paint knowing full well that neither of them would EVER dress like that at home.  And was that your son dressed as a dog singing on stage?  Singing?  Him?  Really?  And last night he just told you, by the way, that he is trying out for the school play this year because the camp play was really fun.  He would never ever—even if someone had double dog dared him—have auditioned for a play before camp.  What changed?  The Expectations.

There are a lot of reasons children find themselves exploring more creative avenues at summer camp, but one really big one is that the expectations are different.  Children learn to respond to expectations.  Moreover, they learn to respond to the expectations of individuals.  They understand that their parents have expectations as do their teachers, siblings, friends, coaches, so on and so forth.  Whether  we’re comfortable admitting it or not, a lot of the expectations in that ten month world campers know as “winter” in some way promote conformity.  Expectations placed on children at home, in school, etc. emphasize the importance of following rules and established guidelines.  Of course, camp expectations do this, too, but the emphasis at camp is not to find one’s place in that larger whole by blending in but by standing out.  Camp is a place in which children are encouraged to try new things in a quest to find their passion.

Sure you’re thinking of those photos of your daughter holding up her latest tie-dye creation for the camp photographer’s camera—those ones in ewhich she was covered to her elbows in dye—and you’re thinking that’s you wouldn’t really classify tie-dye as a “passion.”  Maybe not.  But it could be the beginning of one, the spark that leads to an interest in art or the arts, or even just the memory of trying something new that turned out to be fun that lends courage to trying other new things.  The expectations in the “world” of camp is that campers will explore it.  Perhaps this is why it’s no surprise that many well known figures attended summer camp and attribute it to being the place where they found long-term direction.  Sure, learning how to plunk out folk songs on a guitar is a long way from the philharmonic and being part of the chorus in the camp play is certainly not Broadway, but the idea is the same and, for many campers, it’s the start of building enough self confidence to stand out.

Dance at Camp

A lot is made of sports at summer camp, but most summer camps also offer many programs in the arts.  Dance is one such program that is becoming increasingly popular among both boys and girls.  Like the many sports available to try, summer camp dance programs give campers the opportunity to experiment with several different dance styles.  Aside from the traditional jazz, instruction is often available in contemporary, modern, hip hop, and ballet.  In addition to offering instruction in multiple styles of dance, many camps also form competitive dance teams that, like sports teams, travel to other camps to compete in dance competitions throughout the summer.  Even if campers aren’t quite ready to audition for So You Think You Can Dance, being a member of a camp dance team is still well within reach.  Typically, because summer camp staff work hard to make their camps a safe environment for children to feel encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, more emphasis is placed on interest than ability.  Many camps create teams for beginners as well as the more experienced.  Summer camp dance teams are also the reason many campers find their camp dance programs a great way to pursue a non sports related interest yet still be competitive.

Another reason that summer camp dance programs have become so popular is that they provide an outlet to still be physically active in a creative environment. Summer camp is about letting go and not being afraid to act a little bit silly.  Dance provides the same disciplinary and physical training as traditional sports yet also gives campers the opportunity to express themselves and sometimes even be a tad goofy through artistic choreography.  Dance instruction is often provided by trained dance instructors or college students who compete on their university dance team or are pursuing a career in the field of dance.  The availability of instruction in popular forms of dance such as hip hop has also driven the popularity of dance.

Dance is also versatile. Even though not every camper has a desire to be competitive in dance, campers enjoy learning new moves in dance class and then using them to choreograph bunk or cabin dance numbers for camp shows or talent contests.  They also like showing off their moves on the dance floor during camp dances. Having the opportunity to practice new dance moves in an open, accepting environment such as summer camp gives campers the confidence to continue learning, practicing, and trying what they’ve learned at home.

The Fun Doesn’t Stop after 5pm!

It’s January.  The kids just returned to school after their winter break, from which you’re still exhausted.  You’re already thinking about summer.  Entertaining them for two weeks was hard enough, let alone two months!  Maybe it’s time to start thinking about summer camp.  Yes, it’s January.  Yes, this is the time of the year when most of us start monitoring the morning radio and news reports for school closings and delays.  But summer is closer than you might think and now is the ideal time to start choosing a camp.

Summer camps come in many sizes and lengths from around one hundred campers all the way up to several hundred and sessions that last a from a few weeks up to seven.  There is truly a summer camp for every preference and budget.  No matter what type of summer camp you prefer, they all have one thing in common:  the fun doesn’t stop after 5pm!

Summer camp doesn’t just occupy your children during those summer hours when they’d otherwise be at school.  It’s a place that entertains them well into the evening hours as well.  In fact some of the best times at camp happen after dinner.  Sure there is plenty for campers to do during the day; play sports, pursue a hobby, swim, boat, play games, make new friends.  But the evening is when some of the deepest bonding moments of the summer take place.  After dinner at summer camp, children don’t retire to the living room sofa to watch television or flip on the Wii.  There are no cell phones in which to engage themselves for hours playing Angry Birds.  At camp, campers may find themselves taking part in a sing along, acting in a camp show, playing crazy games, or watching a magician or hypnotist.  It could be drum circle night or there may even be a campfire with s’mores in store.  Maybe it’s a swim or a dance party…or both!  It could be a sleepover or a night making special treats or craft projects.  Maybe it’s just a night to chill with the bunk cabin  No matter what the activity, it’s fun and two words that are NEVER heard at camp: “I’m bored!”

Much of the support for summer camp revolves around the skills children develop during daytime programming activities.  The value in summer camp evening activities is often underrated.  However, a great deal of planning intended to extend camp spirit and tradition into evenings.  Camps employ entire teams of people whose sole responsibility is to plan and execute evening activities and special events that enhance the overall camp experience.  While having fun at their evening activities, campers also continue to learn how to shine as an individual, to be part of a team, and to develop their creativity in ways that benefit them as well as others.  At the same time, some of the most prevalent and pervading summer camp memories are made at evening activities.

An investment in summer camp is not just an investment in keeping children occupied during their summer days.  It’s a 24/7 investment that also includes evening entertainment that further develops the skills that are honed during the daytime.  So now and during their next break from school, when your children proclaim, “We’re bored,” think about summer camp.

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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