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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.

Going to Camp with Your Siblings

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

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

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

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.

The Decision to Return to Summer Camp

Deciding to return to summer camp is a big decision that many families are already making.  Sure, it’s difficult to think about summer camp when the temperatures begin to plunge and the holidays are just around the corner.  However, it’s actually the perfect time to decide about returning to camp. The camp season is far enough removed that campers have had time to reflect on their summer.  Parents, also, likely have adequate feedback by now to be able to evaluate the value of sleepaway camp as registrations begin opening to returning campers and, in fact, at some camps, registration is almost complete. Beyond memories and adventures, there are many factors to consider, particularly as campers get older and new options begin to present themselves.  Here are some to think about:

Each summer is a new and unique experience highlighted by changes from year to year: the introduction of new activities as well as the tweaking of existing ones, fresh staff faces, new facilities or remodeled ones to accommodate new programs or expand popular ones.  Camp is truly never the exact same experience twice!

Aside from the physical changes to the camp program, campus, and staff, as children journey through their camp years, they look forward to age-specific traditions each year.  Some of them are relatively small, such as sitting at a special place during meals or a later wake-up in the mornings.  Others are fairly monumental–the trips get bigger and longer, the leadership roles become more significant, and the impact of the traditions themselves grows.

Bonds strengthen over time.  It’s always touching to hear returning campers talk about meeting their best friend at camp or share stories about their favorite counselors.  There is the intimacy of the bunk or cabin environment as well.  As children move through camp with their friends, they become very close.  Fresh opportunities also present themselves each summer for campers to make new friends while trying different things.

When one considers how much change happens at camp each summer, it’s easy to see that by not returning–even for a summer–campers miss out on something big!  The primary goal of sleepaway camps is to make sure campers are safe and have fun.  Their staffs work tirelessly during the winters and dedicate long hours during the summer to make each summer better than the last, which means that probably the most important thing to contemplate when deciding whether to return to camp is that next summer could be a camper’s best summer ever!

Summer Camp: The Perfect Holiday Gift

The holiday season is at hand and so many of us find ourselves searching for that perfect present for the children in our lives.  Sure there are Kindles, iPads, and Wiis, but we’re looking for the gift that will last far beyond fads and trends…the one that lasts long after the decorations have been taken down.  Have you thought about contributing to a summer at camp?  Not only is it a unique gift that gives back, it’s the gift the children in your life can enjoy months after the holiday season has ended.  Summer camp allows them to make new friends, to become part of a summer family, and to cherish memories that will last a lifetime.  It’s also the gift that will help them learn how to understand ritual, routine, and being part of something bigger than themselves.  Countless people of note have attributed the role of summer camp as an integral part of the people they ultimately became.  Denzel Washington credits his acting career to a summer camp experience.  Michael Eisner gives summer camp credit for shaping a large portion of his identity.

Sitting around a campfire, eating s’mores, participating in special events at camp, being part of a cabin , making that special project in arts and crafts, learning a backhand in tennis, and scoring that homerun are the significant moments that build children’s lives.  It’s also the gift that children cherish for a lifetime.  Friends made at camp are friends for life and many present and former campers count their camp friends as some of their closest and most dear.   The memories and experiences from summer camp reach far beyond the scope of, ‘What gifts did I get that year?’  They reach into the realm of: ‘That’s what helped shape my life.’  President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama saw the value in sending their daughter Malia to summer camp last year.  Former President George W. Bush is also a summer camp alum.  Long after children have moved past smart pads and video game systems, they will remember their experiences at summer camp.  So this year, when you’re thinking of what to give the special children in your life, consider the gift of summer camp.

We at Camp are Thankful for…

Every year around this time we pause to reflect on those aspects of our lives about which we are most thankful.  To celebrate this turkey day, we thought we’d share what makes us most thankful for summer camp:

Our camp families: Without our campers, there would be no summer camp.  We’re thankful you value your summer camp experiences so much that you return every summer, and that you continue to build and carry on the traditions that make America’s Finest Summer Camps so special.

Our camp family: The unique family we are all a part of each summer.  The bonds that campers and staff create truly do last a lifetime.  We love every moment of the summer when we are laughing, playing, singing, and sharing together.

Camp Memories: Every year we bring home new memories that motivate us to make the next summer even more special than the previous.  Talking with our families and camp friends about our summers and sharing in each others’ unique experiences while at summer camp are some of our favorite times during the winter months.  They help us get over our “camp sickness” and carry us through those months between summers.  Speaking of camp friends…

Camp Friends: Every camper knows that camp friends are friends for life. Our camp friends share some very special memories that one can only get at summer camp.  Our camp friends are also great at helping us get through those ten months that we’re not at camp by reminding us of just how special summer camp is, whether it’s through the distance that makes seeing each other at camp every summer so special or the closeness of having a camp pal who  “gets it”.

Amazing Staff Members from all over the Globe: Summer Camps are only as good as their staff, and we’re thankful that we have some of the most amazing staff anywhere in the world.  Each summer, you come from all over the world and commit yourselves 24/7 to insuring our campers have a safe, amazing summer.  We know it’s hard work, and we are grateful that so many of you find the experience so gratifying that you return year after year.

The Breathtaking Scenery of Maine and Northeast Pennsylvania: We love where our camps are located almost as much as we love our camps.  The beautiful woodlands of Maine, the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania, hiking paths, the lakes that are such a big part of our camp experiences and traditions, and the wildlife all make the perfect backdrops for our amazing campuses.

The Beautiful Campuses that are our Summer Homes: Just like the houses we live in the other ten months of the year, each of our summer homes has its own energy, homey feeling, and special places for gathering, playing or contemplating. We’re proud that ours are some of the most awesome facilities in camping and look forward to continuing to build and improve them each summer.  We know our campers eagerly await opening day when they finally get to see how camp has changed since the previous summer and what new additions might be waiting for them.

Our Year-Round Staff: Yes, even summer camp requires a staff to work year-round.  After each summer, they go back to their offices and immediately begin planning the next, thinking about what new programs we might add or how we might make existing ones better.  They begin traveling, recruiting new staff members.  They create newsletters, Tweets, and blogs.  They answer the phones when you call.  They plan the menus.  In short, they tirelessly build each amazing summer day by day.

Being a Part of Such an Iconic American Tradition:  All over the world, American summer camps are an icon of Americana.  They’re unique to America and so many have found them inspirational that there have been movies and television shows that feature them, as well as books and songs written about them.  We are also grateful that many of our international friends are beginning to see the value in the American summer camp experience and, increasingly, are joining us from all corners of the globe.

We hope this holiday season that we’ve inspired you to contemplate what it is about camp that you’re most thankful for and how it has enriched your life.  We encourage you to share those thoughts with us.  We’d love to hear them!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

It’s a Camp Thing

If you have children who attend sleepaway camp, work at a sleepaway camp, or know anyone who attends or works at a sleepaway camp, chances are that you’ve heard this at least once in your life: “It’s a camp thing.”  For those of you wondering what that means, here’s an exclusive look inside the world of sleepaway camp and exactly what constitutes “a camp thing”.

We’ll begin with a definition.  “A camp thing” is an experience or tradition that is unique to summer camp.  It’s also actually “camp things” rather than a singular “thing”, since there are a host of experiences exclusive to the summer camp environment.  For instance, have you taken part in a competition, spread over several days, that divides the entire camp into two teams and requires contestants to do such things as cover their heads with shaving cream so that a teammate can attempt to make cheese curls stick to it, dress in team gear that includes crazy garb such as tutus, mismatched socks, and face paint, or passed buckets of water down a line in a race to see who will fill their container first?  Nope?  Do you know why?  It’s “a camp thing”.  Ever sat alongside several hundred other people around a campfire while you watch friends and staff members perform crazy acts, sing songs or participate in games?  Nope?  Yeah…it’s another “camp thing”.

In case it’s not obvious, “camp things” happen every day at camp, from that first moment when you get off the bus and see your camp friends and your new counselors holding your cabin signs for the first time to the last when you’re saying ‘goodbye until next summer.’  Camp things are being part of a league sports team, whether it wins or loses, going on a special trip out of camp to get ice cream, performing rituals and eating s’mores around a campfire, sitting with your friends at cookouts, taking part in the traditions that are unique to each and every summer camp, and understanding the feeling of being part of a camp family.  Camp things are having sleepovers with your cabin or having a venue in which you and your camp friends can pretend to be a rock band, DJs, or magicians.  Camp things are that special inside joke that your friends  share all summer, end-of-the-summer trips out of camp, sing-a-longs when you’re arm-in-arm with your camp friends.  And hugging some of your best friends while singing your camp alma mater and watching candles burn or fireworks explode, knowing that you might not see them again until next summer, is definitely the most precious of “camp things”.  If only everyone could experience “a camp thing”…

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