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Camp: A Safe Place to be Silly

DSC_0087  Campers donning big, silly hats and oversized costumes can be found dancing and singing their hearts out on stage at Laurel South. You can see campers giggling in groups, and others transforming into super heroes and villains as their imaginations run wild. Of course, staff members get in on the action too, letting their inner-child emerge by singing, dancing and playing along with the campers. Campers and counselors feel safe at camp; safe to be silly, safe to use their imaginations and safe to just “let go.” They learn right away that camp is a judgment-free space, where they can be themselves and act like a kid. In a world where kids are exposed to adult themes in their TV shows, music and social media, it can be easy for them to lose the silly, magical, goofy part of themselves, in fear of looking “uncool” to their peers. Not at camp, though.

Laurel South encourages campers to be silly in a variety of ways. Programmed “free time” allows campers to explore and socialize with their friends in a way that is supervised, but not highly structured. This gives campers time to use their imaginations. Some campers like to put on skits or host a cabin comedy club. They are encouraged to do and say the silly, kid-like things that come so naturally to them.

IMG_0721During structured activities, kids are supported when they speak their minds, share their opinions and engage in discussions. They are taught to listen to and respect each other, which gives children the green light to do and say silly things without fear of embarrassment or ridicule. By exploring this side, kids develop a sense of humor. A good sense of humor helps children be spontaneous, to see different sides of a situation, enjoy the playful parts of life and not take themselves too seriously. These character traits are extremely helpful for kids who have a lot of stress and responsibility in school, sports and life back in the real world. A good sense of humor also increases their self-esteem, which is always a bonus!

DSC_0084Counselors are counselors because they like kids, and they enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of children. They are fun, relatable and great at being silly. They know they are role models for the campers, so they make it a point to set a good example. When counselors can sing, dance and act silly, campers catch on quickly and begin to feel safe to do the same. They are also a good example of knowing a “time and place” to be silly. They model how to calm themselves down when it is time to be serious, and teach campers how to differentiate between a place where it’s okay to be silly (free time) and a time when being calm and focused is more productive (quiet time in the cabins).

Children are expected to be focused and serious for a large portion of their day in the “real world,” so it is important to foster their childlike wonder and silliness whenever possible. At Laurel South, kids can feel safe to show off their silly side.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Packing…

May means a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some it’s Memorial Day and the official beginning of summer.  For others, it marks the end of another school year.  For summer camp parents, it means it’s time to start thinking about packing.  For first time parents, the task can seem absolutely overwhelming.   How much sunscreen and shampoo do I pack?  Do they really need shinguards?  How many t-shirts are enough?  For seasoned camp parents, packing is a science based on experience.  The art is in packing just enough but not too much or too little…and knowing which items the children have sneaked into their bags to take out and which ones to let go.  Packing properly takes time…and patience.

Camps provide rather comprehensive packing lists.  These should not be disregarded.  They’re compiled by professionals with years of camping experience who have excellent knowledge of what children’s bags need to contain in order for them to arrive prepared for a successful summer at camp.  Also keep in mind when packing that living space is somewhat limited at camp.  Your child will not have his or her own room at summer camp.  He or she will live together with several other campers as well as a couple of counselors. This means that there is not a whole lot of room for “extras” and labeling clothes is important as mix-ups are otherwise bound to happen.  If laundry is your primary concern, rest assured that camp laundry is done at least once per week.  Your child’s counselors and other camp staff will see to it that your child has clean clothes.

Summer camp values also often downplay appearance.  The emphasis of summer camp is on fun, friendship, and safety.  Before the end of the summer, your child will likely get wet, slimed, painted, generally messy, and a host of other cool things that tend to make children laugh and adults cringe.  So keep the really good stuff at home and send clothes that neither you nor they will miss too much if they have to be “retired” at the end of the summer.

It’s important for both new and seasoned camp parents to pay as much attention to the items your child’s camp asks not to bring as those items it asks to bring.  There is a reason your camp requests that certain items not be brought onto campus, whether it’s to help facilitate a specific environment, protect those with allergies, or to avoid other issues not conducive to the spirit of summer camp.  Packing “do not bring” items risks them being lost or confiscated until the end of the summer.  This ultimately causes undo stress on your children.  Alleviating stress that results from the idea of having to leave a beloved item such as a cell phone or notepad at home is typically accomplished by reiterating to children about what they will have at camp as opposed to what they won’t.

By following your camp’s advice and being proactive rather than reactive, packing for camp can be a fun countdown to camp rather than a reactive chore.

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.

Summers and Camp Belong in Maine…And So Do You!

Camp Laurel South is a proud member of the Maine Camp Experience. We think Summers and Camp Belong in Maine…And So Do You! Enter to win a Maine Vacation by visiting the Maine Camp Experience website…just follow this link: www.mainecampexperience.com/visit.

Why Maine…

Lakes…Pine Forests…Even Moose
There’s a reason people talk about Maine in such reverential tones. The state has 2,200 lakes. Warm, inviting, crystal clear bodies of water that make most other lakes look like swimming holes. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of pine forests.

Temperate days and comfortable nights, where you feel you can touch the sky. And more miles of beautiful coastline than California. Even mountains — Mt. Katahdin is one of the highest peaks in New England. It’s the perfect setting for summer, one that can’t be matched anywhere.

Tradition
As Forbes noted, there’s something unique about summer camps in Maine. From our acres of prime waterfront to our unspoiled wilderness, Maine has been the only destination of choice for thousands of camp families, with friendships that stretch from generation to generation.

Our summer camps feature the finest facilities, the most sought-after staff and the most unique range of off-site trips. And with more than 100 Maine camps, there’s something to suit everyone.

Geographical Diversity
The lure of Maine extends way beyond the Northeast. Our campers come from throughout the U.S., some from all over the world. (More than 20,000 campers live in 30 states, and several countries!)

Your children will learn to stretch their boundaries and experience life through the eyes of someone whose life is not a mirror image of their own.

Easy To Get Here…Hard To Leave
Maine is a lot closer than you think. An easy drive or flight from most places in the Northeast– about the same distance as a winter ski trip. A great vacation for the entire family.

Whether you’re looking for the famed seaside resorts of Bar Harbor and Camden or a lodge on one of our pristine lakes, Maine has something for everyone — especially kids! Come and visit our Maine Camps and you’ll never want to leave.

Childhood Obesity Part II: Balancing Nutrition and a Healthy Lifestyle

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed the benefits of physical activity at camp.  There are underlying advantages to this that directly relate to nutritional habits.  Research shows that that the more time children spend doing passive activities such as watching television, sitting at a computer, or playing video games, the more likely they are to overeat.  The reason for this is simple.  A sedentary lifestyle leads to boredom.  Nutritionists assert that lack of activity mars a child’s ability to determine the difference between boredom and hunger.  Unfortunately, according to dietician Jennifer Thomas, the increased amount of free time and lack of structure that often comes with summer break makes children particularly vulnerable to tedium and excessive food consumption.  Says Thomas, “A child can pick up 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a summer, so it’s important to recognize the difference between boredom and hunger.”

Concern about the obesity crisis has sprung to the forefront of the camping industry.  Cedric Bryant, Ph.D. and Chief Scientist for The American Council on Excercise, was a keynote speaker at the 2011 American Camp Association’s (ACA) National Conference, attended by thousands of camp professionals.  In his address, Dr. Bryant discussed the growing issue of obesity and praised the ability of summer camp  to transform poor habits through exercise.  Most traditional summer camps offer children a healthy mix of hobbies and athletics.   Camp staff members encourage campers to participate in everything that’s offered to them, even that which they might not necessarily do or try at home.

There is also something to be said for the fact that many summer camp activities, including dining, are scheduled into a child’s day and carried out in a group setting.  Access to food is limited throughout campus, and eating is typically not permitted in bunks.  Quite simply, obtaining food at camp is not as easy as walking into the pantry or opening the refrigerator on a whim for lack of something better to do.  New research has established many benefits to family meals.  One potentially underrated advantage is that dining as a unit may keep consumption in check by limiting what nutritionists call the “eating area”, the combination of time and space in which eating occurs.  “This strategy can help determine if they [children] are really hungry or just bored,” says Thomas.  Meals at summer camp are held at specific times in a designated place—usually a dining or mess hall—and campers dine together, often with their bunkmates.  Counselors supervise, insuring that everyone receives food and reporting any changes in a camper’s eating patterns.

The four day 2011 ACA conference also featured  seminars that addressed issues such as how to  work together to improve the overall health and nutrition of campers, understanding the relationship between nutrition and wellness and using that knowledge to help campers be high achievers through healthy bodies and minds, and adding healthy options to dining room menus, particularly for those campers who require special diets.

Indeed, though many camps are constantly striving to improve in these areas, the notions  introduced in these seminars are not new.  Meals served by most summer camps are carefully planned and balanced in accordance with USDA recommendations.  Many camps also encourage their campers to make healthy choices at mealtimes by providing several fruit options in the morning and salad bars at lunch and dinner.  Vegetarian alternatives are typically available and, increasingly, more attention is being given to rising nutritional challenges such as diabetic or gluten free diets.
All of this is enough to make summer camp worth considering as a combatant to the type of lackadaisical lifestyle that leads to poor eating habits and, possibly, obesity.

I can do it myself!

While no actual human being develops in the precise sequence of a child development chart, new parents quickly learn that children do go through dramatic stages. Like other skills, becoming self-reliant takes time and can only develop through real time.

To begin with, parents often track all the “firsts” that a child achieves on a daily basis but as the list grows longer we come to expect changes. The way that most young children acquire language and skills is so rapid that later—even when parents are getting a little more sleep—it becomes difficult to remain excited about each previous new word or action! However, there is one stage that most parents don’t forget and that’s when a child starts declaring, “I can do it myself.” All of a sudden, totally dependent infants morph into adamant creatures with distinct needs and wants. This exasperating but essential stage is filled with cute moments when children seem to hover between babyhood and childhood. But it can also be a difficult time for some parents if they fear that their child may not need them any longer.

As children mature, they continue to develop and require more experiences where they can make independent choices without parents. If parents don’t allow children to make decisions and do things on their own, they won’t develop confidence or realize that they are not just extensions of their caregivers. It’s a tricky line that parents walk! Sometimes giving children room to spread their wings seems counter intuitive, but in order to grow into a self-reliant adult, children need to struggle without the offer of a quick fix. Even when parents can take care of things, the better choice is to support a child through the process of working through and solving problems. Long after a problem has been forgotten, a self-reliant child will remember hearing, “Wow! You amaze me! You really worked hard to figure that out.”

A child who is self-reliant can think for themselves, trusts their own judgment and feels in control of their life. This leads to becoming more active, independent and competent adults and citizens. The child also develops skills to draw on inner resources and use coping mechanisms even when they feel things are not easy. Sending a child to camp is a perfect way for a child to further develop self-reliance in a nurturing, safe and supportive environment. The whole camp experience is designed to illustrate to the camper that becoming a successful person takes personal strength as well as playing a role in a larger group–with the emphasis always on FUN. I can’t think of a more wonderful childhood experience for facilitating such important life skills!

Of course, the process of becoming self-reliant is not easy, but that’s where camp staff and counselors are there to help your child adjust and learn. If you wonder how to help your child develop self-reliance, remember that each child comes to conclusions for themselves, so the only way to experience camp is to be a camper. They are building on early determination to “do it themselves,” and those first fierce moments of independence are precious. Camp offers a full range of fun, adventure, and opportunities to experience emotions with different adults and in new, safe situations. By the end of summer camp, campers bring a lot of stuff home. There’ll be great crafts, stories to tell and some inevitable laundry to wash—but every camper in the world—also brings home a new understanding of themselves.

How did you learn self-reliance at summer camp and what strategies helped you support your independence? Which experiences do you think especially helped kids develop inner strengths? We look forward to your stories too!

Emma, Guest Contributor

Thanks for the image AmberStrocel.

The Heart of Camp/Caring for Kids: Staff and Counselors

In an earlier post, we discussed one of the primary concerns parents have about summer camp – will my child be safe? This week, we wanted to talk about the people who care for our kids at camp and keep them safe; how they are chosen and trained to do their jobs. When you’re putting the care of your children into other people’s hands, it’s important to have confidence in their caretakers. At Laurel South, not only does every person who works at camp have to love working with kids, they all also have to be good at it and have the skills to be a success.

Building a good staff begins with selecting the right personnel. We focus year round on finding, recruiting, and selecting the best qualified counselors to live and work with the children. Most of our head counselors, group leaders, campus leaders and department heads have been with their camps at least five years, and some have returned every summer for 20 years! All are professionally-trained educators and coaches who have proven their ability to instruct a particular activity. The counselors, who have the most direct contact with your camper, have all completed at least their first year of college (with many further on), and go through a rigorous interview and selection process, and reference and background checks. We recruit counselors from over 100 different colleges around the country and many fine universities throughout the world. Just over half of the counselors return from year to year, with many only ending their counseling careers when they graduate college and move on to real-world schedules (no more free summers!)

Of course, selecting the right people is only the beginning of the process of creating a successful staff. The counselors must also be trained and oriented to the camp’s particular processes, schedules and procedures. To do so, all staff must complete a week-long Orientation. We are especially lucky to have large groups of former campers who return to be counselors. They know the camp traditions and songs, and, more importantly, they remember what camp looks like from the point of view of the campers. At Orientation, they can share their experiences with new staff members and serve as ambassadors for our particular mission and traditions.

The seven-day day Orientation is filled with training in individual responsibilities, working with the campers, and of course, health, safety, and emergency procedures. Such intensive training ensures that counselors aren’t just up to speed with the programs but also child development and the best techniques for working with kids in the cabins. We bring in outside speakers to provide info on contemporary issues for schools and homes as well as advanced skills for working with other people’s children and those responsibilities.We also meet with counselors and go over each individual child’s information and specific issues that might arise over the course of the summer. By the time the campers arrive, the counselors have a great understanding of every child in their care, gleaned from information from the director’s meetings with parents, the camper’s profile information forms, and past years’ knowledge of returning campers. Even the group and campus leaders know the children well, since they are mostly veterans who watch the children grow over time. Orientation is fun, and the trainers work hard to create a feeling of unity and team amongst the staff.

Beyond the formal week long Orientation, over half of the individual activity instructors (waterfront, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc.) come to camp early, with key staff and counselors often training three weeks prior to Orientation. Counselors who are responsible for specific program areas are also trained to write lesson plans and taught how to execute a fun and instructional activity period. Each attends an entire training day devoted to teaching kids their particular activities and making it fun. Finally, every camp staff member is well-trained in general safety procedures and first aid, with additional courses and certifications dependent on counselor responsibilities.

All this training and teamwork that begins in Orientation quickly spills over into a great summer for the kids. But the seven days of Orientation before camp starts is just the beginning. Camp staff attend weekly meetings and trainings, and everyone receives ongoing support from their supervisors on a daily basis. Without a well-trained staff, no camp can have a successful season. The right people – people who love children and are good at working with them – create the foundation for a terrific summer of experiences and memories for the most important people on campus, your children.

Olivia

Thanks for the image JacobEnos.

If I could go back to camp. . .

If you’re a summer camp alum, and you had some extra wishes lying around, would you use one to go back to camp? If you could go back today, what would you do? We asked and you answered, on Facebook and on Twitter. Here’s some of what your fellow camp alums had to say. We challenged them to finish this sentence:

If I could go back to Camp Laurel South, I would:

…not even know where to start… or what to do with myself!

…stay.

…ask for chicken patties.

…veg out on the docks with my feet in the water and watch the sunset with my favorite LS friends!

…challenge Agawam to a staff basketball game at Rest Hour and Win!

…sit in Sail Chair and soak it all in.

…ask for “chick p” for lunch, but only with chipotle mayo!

…I would probably start screaming CITS CITS CITS!

…never want to leave again!

What would you do if you could go back to camp today? Use the comments section to let us know!

Olivia

Kid Tales — Stories of Camp

Summer Camp is a time of firsts. The first time you try to catch a ball with a lacrosse stick (and realize you can!). The first time you get on on water-skis. The first time you serve an ace in tennis. The first time you get up on stage in front of hundreds of kids your age. The first time you scale the climbing tower…trot with your very own horse…..Now that camp has ended for the summer and everyone is getting ready for the school year, we thought we’d share some tales from camp. What have the kids taken home with them to last the next 9 months, until camp starts again?

Many families are surprised at the sheer amount of first-time experiences their kids have at summer camp. When Justin, a 12 year old who attended camp this year, was asked to list things he did for the first time at camp, he had quite the list. “I learned how to play guitar, archery, and golf,” he said. During our conversation, it also came out that he also learned new baseball skills and got to play tennis. He also experienced the camp evening programs for the first time, which he raved about as being “fun and creative.” Justin’s going to be talking to a lot of people about camp when he goes back to school. And what is he going to tell them? “I made a lot of new friends and tried a lot of new things. I had the best time!”

My own summer camp experiences – way back in the 80s – were largely defined by a feeling of the summer camp community breaking apart at the end of the summer. We would often promise to write letters we never sent or make long distance calls our parents wouldn’t pay for, but when summer was over, camp was tucked firmly behind us for another year.

With today’s technology, however, the summer camp community can stay together all year, even when they return to the home cities, states and countries. Camp Laurel South has an active Facebook community where current campers, families and alumni can connect, share stories and keep up to date with the staff and the current session. In these early days of October, much of the chatter is about how much everyone misses camp and wishes they were back on the lake, riding the horses, singing in the dining hall, etc.

For those who’ve connected to Laurel South through Facebook and other new social networks (Twitter anyone?) the camp experience doesn’t end with teary good-byes in August. So when will we meet again?

Olivia

Life, Unplugged

I don’t know about you, but my kids are constantly plugged into something, whether they are texting their friends (does anyone talk anymore?), bopping along to Lady Gaga’s latest, updating their Facebook status, researching a school project online and creating a multi-media presentation, or playing games on my iPhone while I desperately try to finish a conversation at the vet’s office.

Some days I can win a battle or two (no texting at dinner!) but the war is ongoing. And honestly, I’m not the best example. That iPhone I mentioned is never far from reach, and right now I’m surfing online, listening to my own brand of pop music, answering text messages as they come in and writing this blog.

Don’t you wish there was a place where we could all live life unplugged? We adults may not be so lucky; but for our kids, that place is summer camp.

Knowing that someone out there is cultivating a culture of back-to-basics, low-tech life is an irresistible draw for me as a parent. My husband and I love the outdoors and frequently take our kids on short camping trips, but these offer only a short break from the world of “screen time”. Monday morning comes and before the sleeping bags air out, we’re all rushing to see what awaits us in our email inboxes.

As a mom, I worry about the long-term effects of all of these tech ways of communicating. I’m not alone. Several studies have suggested that kids who spend too much time plugged in lose some skills for interpersonal interaction. Let’s fight back.

At camp, social interaction is done the old fashioned way – face-to-face. Campers and counselors alike leave their cell phones at home and get back to a simpler life, when there is an art to conversation. If you were a camper, think back to your best memories. All of mine involve revolve around interpersonal interactions you just can’t get through an email: telling stories around a camp fire; sharing hushed secrets late into the night; telling the worst jokes you ever heard; huddling together to decide the best capture-the-flag strategy.

Friendship doesn’t need a high-tech interface. Don’t think your kids will get with the program? In a recent Seventeen article, teen girls shared their favorite summer camp memories.  Guess what? Not one involves a cell phone!

Thanks to Pink_Sherbert_Photography and eron_gpsfs for the photos!

Olivia, Guest Blogger

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