Camp Laurel Blog

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Building Character at Summer Camp

As parents, we are always on the lookout for experiences that help our children learn new skills. We enroll them in music lessons, martial arts, sports, theatre, choir and, of course, summer camps. But we all know that the best programs (and the best educational experiences) are ones that go beyond the basics of teaching skills to help develop our children’s character. The basics of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — are all essential ingredients in summer camp experiences.

“Camp teaches values such as self-esteem, teamwork, and caring — areas where traditional schools sometimes cause more detriment than good. And camp allows everyone, not just the top student and the best athlete, to thrive and enjoy the process of learning,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA).

Everything we’ve written about on this blog so far — being ready for camp, unplugging from the digital world, traveling to camp, developing interpersonal communication skills, interacting with camp counselors, participating in camp traditions, and learning new sports and skills all contribute to building character.

When mom Martha realized that her son Jaden had come home with crucial life skills — taking care of himself and making good choices — she knew that camp had served a crucial role in his life.

“I felt like they were living a free life,” she says. The rules were there, just not stressful. This kind of independence creates the necessary space for the foundations of character to blossom. “I could not believe the person he had become – just a new person – totally confident in himself,” she says.

It’s no surprise, really. Camp activities, to be successful, require all the participants to have self-discipline and an unselfish sense of camaraderie. “There is just something about living with a group of boys,” mom Wendy says after sending her only son Justin to camp for the first time. Living communally in cabins and bunks requires teamwork, creativity and a willingness to work together.

The camp directors, staff and counselors deserve much of the credit for the character development Martha and Wendy saw in their sons after just a few weeks at camp. They work hard to develop programs that bring a diverse community together around common values and goals, and everyone benefits – campers, parents and staff, and the world they come back to each fall, bringing their good character with them. Camp is about educating the whole child and allowing them to flourish, so that we all as a society may do so.

Olivia, Guest Contributor

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? Today, 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 Camp Laurel, 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, Guest Contributor

Keeping Kids Safe at Camp: What Every Parent Needs to Ask/Know

Even when you are right there next to your child to offer comfort, care and treatment, accidents and injuries can be difficult to deal with. So as we prepare our kids to go to summer camp, it is important to ask some questions of the camp and prepare our children well. That way, everyone can rest assured they are having a summer of fun and making memories to last a lifetime in a safe environment.

We’ve discussed many issues parents need to consider when choosing a camp, enrolling their child and sending them on their way on this blog. As parents are making decisions on sending their children to camp next year, here is a list of things to ensure are in place as you get your family ready for a summer away:

  • Camp is accredited by the American Camp Association. This requires camps to follow certain guidelines, including counselor to child ratios and other safety procedures.
  • Camp requires staff safety training.
  • Camp has emergency contact information for your child.
  • Camp has been notified of any medical conditions and/or allergies your child has. Be sure to be specific when you communicate with the staff. Let the camp know the specific name of the condition as well as warning signs and steps to take to help your child. Click here for an ACA article on administering medications at camp.
  • Camp has provided written health protocols and policies.

Beyond physical safety concerns, ask how the camp deals with homesickness. We’ve talked about that topic on this blog as well and will also be discussing staying connected in an upcoming post.

Just as the camp can have multiple safety policies and procedures for kids, it is also important for our young ones to learn how to stay safe independently. So take the time (repeatedly) to ensure that you and your child

  • Know what’s safe and what isn’t. Review the camp’s handbooks for rules of conduct for campers. Review these with your child before he or she leaves for camp.
  • Understand which kinds of behavior are acceptable and which aren’t. Breaking the rules can put others in dangerous situations.
  • Have good hygiene practices. Cover sneezes and coughs with their elbows (not their hands) and wash hands frequently.
  • Know when to notify a staff member and ask for help. Not every bump and bruise requires medical attention – make sure you and your child knows which is which. Camp Starlight has a health center with nurses present and a doctor that is on campus or visits daily.

These are all fairly simple ideas to keep families safe and camp is no different. If, as parents, we do our research, read the parent handbooks and camper manuals, ask all the right questions and talk with our children, everyone spends the summer relaxing, being cared for and as safe as possible. For more information, visit the ACA website and read more about this and other camp topics on their parent pages.

Thanks to Tom@HK and cjc4544 for the photos!

Olivia, Guest Contributor

Everything I Learned Outside. . .

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv retells a moment in a restaurant when his son asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv had been telling his 10-year old about how he caught crawdads by stringing bits of liver across a creek. When asked to explain, the son replied, “Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down by the swamp.” At first, Louv thought Matthew was irritated and owns up to the fact that like other parents, he can romanticize his own childhood at the expense of his children’s current experience. But Matthew really felt that he had missed out on something, and Louv realized that his own childhood had been different.

If you’re in Louv’s age bracket, you may also recall a childhood filled with a kind of free, natural play that today seems like an antique artifact compared to current kid’s lives. Lives filled with mobile devices, instant messaging, screen time, digital games and fears of “things” outside. In his book, Louv explores “the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, as well as the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” He discusses the accumulating research that implies that secure children (and adults for that matter) must connect with nature to fully develop. This need for contact with the natural world is as imperative as good nutrition and adequate sleep. So, while multiple reasons give us less and less time to connect outdoors, more and more studies suggest that embracing nature is a human necessity.

The ways in which children understand and experience nature has changed beyond recognition for Americans born during the last two decades. While children today may be more aware of the global threats to our larger environment, they are much less aware of their immediate natural surroundings. As children, Louv and his peers may not have discussed global warming, or holes in the ozone layer, but they loved “their woods” and fields intimately and felt connected to the people and their location in the world. They identified specific bends and crooks in creeks and holes in backyards—explored the woods in solitude, lay in fields listening to the wind and marveled at clouds shape-shifting overhead.

Louv discovered that many people yearn for what they have missed living in de-natured environments and they are consciously making choices and decisions to ensure that they will not be “the last children in the woods.” Families and intergenerational groups are finding ways to better live with nature and each other. Summer camp, for example, is one marvelous way for youngsters to make long-lasting memories and deep connections in natural surroundings. With easy access to the great outdoors and opportunities to develop self-reliance within a nurturing community, today’s campers will remember fun-filled childhoods unplugged from urban life—and share their unique memories with future generations.

How can you make sure that you and your kids don’t miss out on the benefits of exploring outdoors? (For the record, I’ve been known to insist that my children at least squish mud between their toes and jump in puddles!)

Deborah-Eve, Guest Contributor

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, 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 diffusing at the end of the summer. Of course, 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. We have 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. 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 Camp Laurel 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

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:

…run the Fit Trail for old time’s sake!

…go to a Cook Out.

…sing the Tooth Fairy Song and make a friendship bracelet of course. :)

…sit by Echo Lake.

…do a flip off the Mini-Tramp.

…wake up Bec at 8:10am sharp by saying …”Goooooodmorning Kennebec!” :)

…rewind College Days and have them all over again! UMAINE!

…pause time as much as possible, to make every memory that much better…

…make my kids stay little forever…they’re SSRs, ah!

…run down the blue rock like a parent on Visiting Day and go jump off the docks!

… flop in the lake…

…spend every possible moment hanging out in Bago.

…have my wedding on an S-Day at the Cove…

…do everything!

… MAGIC!

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

Olivia

Summer Camp and Child Development

“The organized summer camp is the most important step in education that America has given the world.”

Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University, 1922

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we’ve focused a lot on how much fun kids have at camp — learning new sports; spending time with friends old and new; going on amazing trips; connecting with friends and counselors. But camp is also an educational experience for the children. We’re so used to education being “school” that it’s a real shift in perception to see lacrosse, tennis, living in a cabin, and other camp activities as education; but educational activities they are, as many parents can attest now their kids are back in school!

Summer camps make a huge difference in the year-round education of our children, but it may require a shift in our thinking about what education is and can be. The American Academy of Pediatrics, alongside many other scholars of child development, explains why, as “Play is essential to development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Our kids learn while playing and they are learning important things about themselves as independent social beings, collaboratively working with others and consequential behaviors such as self reliance, responsibility and accountability.

So what kind of difference can summer camp make to your child’s development? As the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, Peg Smith has been telling the world for years, opportunities for growth and development exist in natural settings that promote experiential learning, improve social skills and physical fitness, teach children to take calculated risks in a safe environment, and expand the creative mind. The environment our kids learn in is important, and nothing beats Nature.

As you can see, summer camp is one of the most precious educational gifts you can give your children. If you would like to read more, check out The Experiential Classroom: Camp by Marla Coleman in The American Camp Association’s Camping magazine. We’d also like to hear what you believe summer camp has taught you and your children! Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Olivia

Building Community At and Beyond Camp

I don’t know about you, but a good number of my current communities are one step away from reality — they only exist online. I have a Facebook community, which includes a good number of friends-of-friends that I’ve never met in person. I visit a set list of blogs every day and have a great time interacting with the authors and the other readers. While our definition of community might be expanding, I don’t think any of us have lost sight of the importance of a good, old-fashioned in-person community though.

According to the American Camp Association, parents have identified the development of social skills/living in community (such as making new friends, getting along with others, becoming more responsible, and learning group-living skills) as one of the main reasons they send their children to camp. The owners, directors and staff at summer camp all understand the power of community and structure these skills into their programs in several areas.

1. Communal Living

I am an only child, and as such, I always had my own room when I was a child, so living in a camp cabin for the first time was a huge learning experience. For the first time, I had to be part of a community of people who were sharing space, delegating work and working, communally, to make things work. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of doing my part and see how even the most menial job — mine was taking out the trash – contributed to the health of the community.

Cabinmates must also learn how to navigate the waters of communal decisionmaking. They must work through the inevitable issues and conflicts that come up in cabin living — and they must learn to adapt and get along when things don’t go their way. They learn to live by the will of the majority, while at the same time respecting the needs of others who represent the minority. Again, according to the ACA, “small group living also provides the necessary intimacy for individuals to achieve a sense of belonging, explore a variety of group roles, cooperate and form relationships with others, and have input into the group’s activities.”

2. Eating and Singing Together

In the past few years there has been a large ad campaign promoting family dinners. Sitting around the dinner table sharing stories, concerns and the high and low points of your day with family members — or fellow campers — creates intimate bonds between all of the participants. Most camps have family-style meals and singing traditional camp songs together is often a ritual. Songs are always a founding piece of any culture and at camp, at the end of session when everyone knows the camp songs, they too become community bonds that live through the years.

3. Connections that Last

Although sometimes I am annoyed with how much of my life occurs online, there’s no arguing that modern social networking has helped nurture the lifelong friendships developed at camp. Now, instead of waiting days or week from a letter from a camp pen pal, you can send a text message, IM, or just nudge them on Facebook. Many camps have Facebook groups, some devoted exclusively to alumni from certain years, so the 50-somethings reminiscing about camp in the 70s can be a subgroup of a larger online camp community.

No matter how much time passes, the camp community lives on and on and on, especially through our Facebook page.

How did you experience community at camp? How have you sustained it since? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Olivia

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