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After Camp: Keeping the Momentum Going

Sure the kids are home from camp and are settling back into their school routines.  Maybe they’re still a little bit camp sick, but it’s possible to keep the camp momentum going throughout the year.  Here are a few suggestions we thought we’d pass along.

  • Talk about camp with them.  Not only do children love talking about their camp experiences, but doing so helps them process the events of the summer.  In sharing their experiences, they’re able to gain perspective about camp.   If they haven’t already told you by now (and they probably have a hundred times over), ask them to tell you about their camp friends, their favorite activities, and favorite events.
  • Encourage them to keep in touch with their camp friends throughout the year.  Of course, summer camp draws campers from all over the globe, so play dates and get-togethers might not be realistic for everyone.  But in the age of email, Skype, and Facebook (for some older campers), maintaining contact is easier than ever.
  • Encourage children to read camp literature, such as newsletters, and to keep up with the blog on your camp’s website.  Parents should regularly read camp literature and blogs as well.  Not only will they be informed, but they can pass along useful or exciting information, such as news about new camp activities or facilities, to their children.
  • If your children just can’t stop singing those camp songs, encourage them to teach you one or two.  Then you can sing along with them…It’s fun.  Trust us.
  • Encourage your children to share anything exciting that happens to them throughout the year with the camp.  Summer camps love to know what their campers are up to over the winter and are thrilled to share in something special whether it be winning a spot on a traveling sports team, landing a role in the school play, or earning a place on the honor roll.  Many are also happy to pass this information onto other campers and their parents via a special section in their camp newsletter.
  • Make a big deal over any projects they brought home.  Whether it’s a scented candle, a leather purse, a clay vase, or a wooden birdhouse, chances are they put plenty of time and energy into creating something special to bring home to you.  So display it somewhere prominent, even if it does have to be “archived” each year to make room for the next summer’s treasures.
  • Show them that you got their camp letters.  Point out your favorite parts.  Tell them which were your favorites, maybe even keep the letters in an album from year to year.  Children are much more excited about writing home from camp when they really feel that their letters are being read.  Someday, a scrapbook of camp letters might even make a neat gift to give back to them.

With a little bit of help from you, your children can keep the camp momentum going all year long!

Making Global Connections

One thing that isn’t entirely evident to people who’ve only recently begun to familiarize themselves with the world of summer camp is the level of connection that it provides, not just to a regional network of people, but to those from different states and even countries.  The campers and staff members that make up America’s Finest Summer Camps come from all parts of the globe to bring together a multitude of cultures.  According to Fransec Pedro, analyst for the Center for Research and Information with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global awareness and effective communication across cultures are essential in today’s international economy.  Exposure to many different cultures provides campers and staff members with experiences throughout the summer that ultimately help them learn and integrate these skills into their lives.

The challenges that are sometimes involved in effective communication across cultures help campers at America’s Finest Summer Camps learn how to express themselves efficiently.  When exposed to multiple cultures, it’s not only important to use language resourcefully in order to express oneself but to be a good listener.  Understanding that people have various ways of thinking, express themselves differently, and that those differences sometimes affect our world view is no longer a novel skill but a requirement for success in today’s world. “Students need to graduate from high school not only workforce-ready and college-ready, but they also need to be globally competent,” says Alexis Menten, Assistant Director of the Asia Society.

Inevitably, there are sometimes mis-communications but such stumbles are part of a learning process that, like other skills, requires practice.  Connecting with people from all over the globe helps children understand that the world reaches beyond their immediate surroundings.  In the process, they learn to think internationally when building their social networks.  This often leads to opportunities that they may not have otherwise have had.  For many a summer camp staff member or camper, the process of learning how to connect begins and grows during their at camp.

Demographics are not the sole aspect of summer camp that makes it the ideal setting for “becoming global”, however.  The very structure of camp is surprisingly global.  As in the real world, the camp world expands outward from the individual.  Campers and counselors must learn to function as a bunk or cabin.  Then, as a bunk or cabin, they must figure out how to be part of a larger group of other bunks or cabins of campers the same age.  From there, they must all learn how to work with other campers of various ages to become what makes “camp” a unit, rather than hundreds of individuals.  Being part of the camp unit is what campers and staff members alike report as the most meaningful part of summer camp.

Camp Sick

The summer of 2011 is over, a new school year has started, everyone has finally unpacked their camp bags, and now the wait for the summer of 2012 begins.  Ten months isn’t really that long.  Every year we manage to wait it out.  But when it’s September and the fun times we had this past summer are still fresh in our minds, it seems like an eternity; and, inevitably, we all feel a little bit (or a lot!) camp sick.  We all know the feeling.  Some of us find ourselves singing camp songs or have the urge to tie-dye something…maybe even set our ring tones to the camp bell, or just sit around with camp friends re-living all of the memories from the summer.  Saying goodbye to another summer in our own way is a rite that we go through every fall.  We not only say goodbye to our camp friends, but our counselors, and upper campers.  But on the upside of goodbye is hello.  Hello to all of our new friends who will join us for the first time next summer.  Hello to the challenge and excitement of planning a new summer that’s even better than last.  Hello to good times that turn into new memories.  Hello to a new group of campers.  Hello to the new counselors and staff members who choose to make camp their summer home next year.  Hello, everyone. We can’t wait to see you in the summer of 2012!

Come Rain or Come Shine…

Do you ever wonder what happens at camp when it rains?  We assure you, it’s nothing like those scenes in movies that depict bummed out campers forced to spend entire days in their cabins or bunks .  Typically, it doesn’t rain all that often in the northeast during the summer and, whenever possible, activities proceed as planned.  We never let a few sprinkles get in the way of our regular activities.  But on those rare days when there is just no way around it, we’re ready!

When we wake up to a morning that makes outdoor activities unrealistic, we swing into action by implementing alternative programs.  Camp is just as fun and active when it’s a little bit wet outside as it is when the sun is shining.  By utilizing our indoor facilities, we’re able to keep the action going by combining our regular programs that are already completely or partially indoors, like gymnastics and arts and crafts, with special activities, like games, trivia contests, or sing-a-longs.  Sometimes, we simply move some of the things we normally do outside to an indoor location.  Ga-ga, basketball, and soccer, for instance, all adapt well to indoor locations.  By making just a few minor adjustments, we’re able to make sure that everyday at camp is full of good times and memories for our campers, not just those days when the sun shines.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Every day, we rely on a several teams of individuals to make camp happen.  Everyone knows about camp counselors, the people on the front lines, but not everyone is aware of the people who work behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly.  Running a summer camp really is more than showing up in June ready to welcome campers and have fun.  There are a myriad of staff members who perform the often thankless job of working “behind the scenes” at camp.  They are a very diverse group of individuals.  Some of them answer the phone when you call the camp.   Others schedule daily activities, arrange transportation, or cook the food.   Still, others take care of your children when they’re not feeling well, or look into your concerns about their daily lives at camp.

The fact of the matter is that summer camps require individuals of many interests and talents to operate successfully, and the measure of a good summer relies on the abilities and passions of these individuals.  They often work long hours, from sunrise until the wee hours of the morning simply because they love camp.  If you ask any one of them, they’ll tell you that they do what they do because, in the end, it contributes to a successful summer for campers and their parents.  They also might be a little coy in admitting that it’s just plain fun for them.

Furthermore, these people are so good at their jobs that we don’t even adequately know how to thank them.  They work with passion and without regard to anything but making sure our campers and their parents have the best possible experience at our camps.  It truly is a thankless job , in many ways, to work behind the scenes at an American summer camp.  But we are thankful!

The Importance of Being Creative

Arts and Crafts at summer camp is more than just stringing together a few beads to make a bracelet or gluing some spray painted macaroni to a cardboard picture frame.  It’s a program that gives campers the opportunity to explore their creative interests in several different types of art by offering a diverse array of age appropriate projects.  Of course there are the traditional projects that are just plain fun, like paper mache and tie-dying.  However, many summer camps also offer campers the opportunity to try things that are not only artistic but could be useful skills or even careers, such as metal work, jewelry making, calligraphy, cartooning, or soap and candle making.  Just like sports programs at camp, many campers have discovered a passion in their summer camp’s Arts and Crafts programs that they later pursued further.

Another way in which summer camp Arts & Crafts programs benefit campers is by providing a creative outlet for children who are being given fewer chances to explore the arts in their school programs.  Ashfaq Ishaq, PhD, argues that without being given the appropriate opportunity to explore their creative sides, children will not learn how to combine creativity with acquired knowledge to reach their full potential.   Art encourages spontaneity and exploration, two things that allow us, as people, to be innovative and prolific in our thinking.  Creativity also refines problem solving skills by helping us understand how to think “outside the box” when traditional solutions aren’t practical.  All three qualities are considered crucial to success in a child’s education as well as their adulthood careers.  Summer camp Arts & Crafts programs also give campers the opportunity to try some projects that might not be available in traditional school art programs, such as throwing clay on a pottery wheel.

For many campers, summer camp has become a way of maintaining tradition in environments that are ever changing.  Faced with a fast paced, changing world in the winter, children can still depend on summer as a way to fall back on activities and hobbies that may not be greatly valued in conventional schools anymore but are useful and bring satisfaction.  Arts and Crafts may be a dying art within American school systems.  But it’s thriving within American summer camps.

“Sports Camp” Isn’t Just a One Sport Term

It’s no secret that summer camps offer campers the opportunity to sample many different sports, but what may not be evident is why this may be preferable to sending children to a camp at which the focus is exclusively on one sport.  Dr. Jared Wood, a sports psychologist, believes children should be encouraged to try many different sports in order to find their favorites.  He warns that focusing on one sport too early in youth often “unnecessarily limits a child’s interest and skill development.”

Many child development experts recommend that children be given the opportunity to try out a sport before committing to it because it’s important for them to develop their self esteem prior to joining a team and engaging in intense training.  When children enter a sport with confidence, they’re more likely feel that they can do well and, therefore, strive to do well.  Many summer camp sports programs subscribe to this recommended combination of skill instruction and giving children the opportunity to use those new skills on the field or court.  Summer camps also emphasize skill development over winning or losing.  Campers learn sports skills in a supportive atmosphere and are taught by specialists who are proficient in their respective sports  Many summer camp sports programs are headed by college or high school coaches who lead counselors who played at the high school and college level.  This type of approach permits campers to try out various positions and get comfortable with the rules and general flow of a sport without feeling pressured to do well by overly zealous parents and coaches.

Another benefit of summer camp sports programs is that they offer a healthy mix of team and individual sports.  Child experts point out that some children prefer and perform at their best as part of a team while others are happier and better off playing individual sports.  By being able to simultaneously sample tennis and lacrosse, for instance, campers can get a feel for which one leaves them feeling the most motivated to further develop their skills while still being able to have a healthy appreciation for the other.

The variety offered at summer camp also gives campers the opportunity to try sports to which they may never have been exposed or would not otherwise have the opportunity to try.  Many a camper has tried a sport for the first time at summer camp and then gone on to play on a travel team, high school team, or even a college team.  Sports psychologist and author, Richard Ginsburg, Ph.D., suggests that children should be at least “12 or 13” before being encouraged to commit to one sport.  Dr.  Wood agrees, “It’s pretty clear that early specialization is much more likely to lead to burnout than it is to a scholarship or Olympic medal.”

So when you’re determining which type of summer camp is right for your child.  Consider the benefit of a summer camp that offers a diverse array of sports that will permit your child to sample a variety of choices.

A Special Place for Boys and Girls

For older campers, one of the most profound and lasting advantages of camp is the opportunity they have to focus on being boys and girls.  Many summer camps also strengthen the safety of the camp setting by offering exclusive programs that help teenage campers gain a better understanding about how to best grasp the transition from being girls to being women and from being boys to being men.  Such programs provide non threatening forums for teenage girls and boys to address sensitive issues and topics as well as help them prepare for their later teen years as they near college and adulthood.  These programs also have their own rites and traditions that serve as progress points for individuals as well as groups and as the basis for the point at which camp friends become a lifelong support network.

Many camps, even co-ed ones, also operate separate programs for boys and girls regardless of age.  They have their respective sides of camp, their respective program areas, and their respective activities.  However, they come together for meals and many evening camp activities.  Many believe this approach is a bit part of why children are afraid to relax and even be silly while at camp.  Being with children of the same gender frees them of stereotypes that may be placed on them elsewhere.  Spending exclusive time with other girls or boys creates a non threatening environment, particularly for adolescents and early teens already going through awkward changes as they begin to maneuver the sometimes tumultuous teen years.  Girls can get down and dirty in an intense game of flag football and boys don’t feel the need to look over their shoulders while bouncing around in the camp’s gymnastics area or putting together some choreographed moves in the dance studio because it’s all just a part of camp.

Sing, Sing a Song

There is something about singing that brings people together.  Perhaps that’s why singing (and music in general) is such an important part of camp.  The silly or sometimes sentimental words of a “camp song” can set a mood, evoke a feeling, and create atmosphere.  Music is a universal language that everyone understands.  Perhaps this is why so many American summer camps open and close their summers with sing-alongs.  Sing-alongs are fantastic ways to say both “we’re together again” and “until next time.”

Ask campers to name some of their most favorite moments of summer camp and, most assuredly, they’ll name more than one that involves singing in some way…that first exciting night of camp, campfires, zany and often spontaneous dining room rituals, fun times with fellow campers and counselors inside the bunk, and saying goodbye at the end of the summer.  More importantly, ask any current or former camper to sing his camp alma mater and he’ll do it as if it’s second nature.  The words of a camp’s alma mater are magical—a way to instantly transport one back to camp and those summers filled with fun and friends.

Many parents say that their children even sing camp songs constantly throughout the winter as a way of remembering their time at camp.  Some of them even admit that they can’t resist the temptation to join in.

Crazy Days and Whacky Nights

Parents, do you ever log onto your computer to check out the camp photos for the day, see your child painted in blue from head to toe or maybe wearing a crazy wig and big nerdy glasses and wonder, ‘What in the world?’  The answer probably has something to do with your summer camp’s special events and evening activities.  For fifty plus nights (and some days) summer camps entertain your children with some of the zaniest games and wackiest contests that they can come up with.  Why?  Because it’s fun to be painted in blue from head to toe…seriously.  Or at least it is when your cabin is performing a dance to the Smurfs theme in front of the entire camp and you’re Papa Smurf—or Smurfette.  And seeing images of your children and their counselors slipping, sliding, and splashing around in what appears to be multi-colored goo…it’s a camp thing…a really fun camp thing.  Eye patches are always fun.  So is spending a day pretending to be pirates and searching for buried treasure.   Becoming a secret agent and collecting clues to decode a message or pretending to be wild animals is also a great way to spend that occasional non-program day.  From trivia contests to talent contests and everything in between, some of the greatest moments of summer camp happen during the crazy days and wacky nights!

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