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Bringing Away Life Skills

CL Life SkillsFor most campers, when the summer of 2014 draws to a close, there is always next summer to which they can look forward. For the oldest campers, however, farewell this summer means farewell forever to their years as campers. Even though a significant number of former campers choose to return to summer camp as staff members later, the experiences they gained as campers are unique to those years. Although it is difficult to say goodbye at the conclusion of their final summer, it is also a time when older campers reflect upon their camp years and truly take inventory of what camp has meant to them and will continue to mean as they proceed in life.

Older campers come away from camp having attained life skills that give them a distinct advantage img_2191as they move through their high school years and college becomes a focus. There is, for instance, respect for tradition. College campuses, like resident camps, are built on traditions that help define them.  Former campers understand the importance of their role in these traditions by creating experiences that are both memorable and worthwhile.

Former campers know how to show spirit and to live in the moment as well. At camp, campers are sensitive to the fact that their time at camp each summer is limited and they embrace each minute. Having already learned to comprehend that their camp years are limited to a specific timeline in their lives, former campers arrive on college campuses already understanding that their college years are much the same.

img_4897There is also an emphasis on total involvement at camp. Summer camp is about creating an environment in which campers feel encouraged to try new things and to push their level of comfort each summer. In the safety of a setting that emphasizes inclusion, campers learn to understand that diversity is key to success. It takes many types of people and talents coming together to make camp the beloved place that it is in the hearts of the campers. With such an understanding, campers tend to get to know and befriend individuals who they might not otherwise have taken the time to get to know in a setting that does not facilitate similar ideals.  Having been submerged in such a culture for several summers, campers are well equipped for the transition from home to college life after several summers at camp. They also tend to be somewhat open- minded when it comes to new things and experiences.

Older campers also come away from camp as leaders. Whether they have led fellow campers in anCL Life Skills 4 activity or helped mentor and lead younger campers in their later camp years, leadership is another quality that is rigorously promoted and embraced at sleepaway camp.

Campers also learn everyday life skills at sleepaway camp as they spend several weeks away from home each summer and make decisions for themselves. Making healthy eating decisions, for instance, is an important skill that children learn at camp. Campers also learn how to juggle multiple commitments at once, such as having a role in a camp show while simultaneously playing on a sports team. They co-habitate daily with several other campers and learn how to maximize their living space.

Clearly, those campers who will say goodbye to camp at the conclusion of the summer are bringing away far more than fun memories of a place where they spent their childhood summers. They’re bringing away experiences that translate into life far beyond camp.

 

5 Minutes at Camp

StopwatchWe focus a lot on how much happens at camp over the course of the summer, but the amount of activity that takes place in just 5 minutes on any given day is mind blowing to anyone who is not familiar with camp. Five minutes at summer camp is like a symphony: many individual components come together at the same time to create a single, enjoyable experience. In addition, each component is unique, yet critical, to the overall piece. In just five minutes at camp…

A soccer team may score a goal to win a championship game while play rehearsal takes place on the stage and, at the waterfront, swim instruction is happening. In arts & crafts, campers are busy putting the finishing touches on projects as a batter on the softball team steps onto first base and a volleyball is spiked over the net. A group of campers is learning how to sail on the lake as a group of paddle boarders make their way across the water. A camper does her first giant swing on the parallel bars in gymnastics just as another reaches the top of the climbing wall while yet another makes his way across the high ropes course. It’s a 3 on 3 tournament on the basketball courts and a group of campers are learning how to improve their tennis serve just as a camper finds the back of the net at lacrosse. A team captain just called a time out at roller hockey and the finishing touches are being put onto some hip hop choreography in dance. A group of mountain bikers pass a group of runners and two teams are facing off in flag football. It’s the bottom of the 9th on the baseball field and the game is tied while the final two players in an intense game of gaga face off as their fellow campers cheer them on. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies wafts from the cooking studios and campers in photography take nature shots as a small group of campers fishes nearby.

And it’s not just the action that takes place in any given five minutes at camp that creates the Conductorrhythm of summer, it’s the interaction. As all of these activities are happening, campers and staff members are talking, laughing, learning and cheering. In the same five minutes at camp, friendships are formed and new skills learned. Traditions begin and are repeated. Campers try something new for the first time as well as accomplish them for the first time after a summer of trying. In five minutes at camp, campers gain life skills by becoming more confident and more self-reliant.   In just five minutes at camp, memories are made. Like a conductor, memories bring all of those activities together to create the image of summer camp that campers replay for a lifetime.

 

Camp Influences

CL influence 1In their book True North, Bill George and Peter Sims challenge readers to examine the qualities and influences that have made them great leaders through a series of motivational chapters complemented by interactive surveys. In the survey that follows the first chapter, readers are asked: “During your early years, which people had the greatest impact on you?” This is a very significant question to anyone who either attended camp as a child or who works at a camp as an adult.

It only takes a single summer to influence a camper for a lifetime, but the majority of campers CL Influence 2attend summer camp for seven summers or more, which exponentially increases the chances of camp counselors having a lasting impact on their lives. Add the community environment of camp in which campers and staff live together 24 hours a day, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine that each camper’s life is not greatly impacted by at least one member of the camp staff. Such a conclusion is evident by the amount of former campers who state the influence of former staff members as one of the primary reasons they chose to return to camp as camp counselors themselves.

CL Influence 3George and Sims challenge readers to “discern passion through life experience.” Such an intense task puts the role of camp counselors into a new perspective. Not only do counselors have the ability to greatly impact a child’s life, but to inspire passion in them through the experiences they provide at camp. This is an interesting concept because it is not one about which most camp staff tend to reflect throughout the summer. Camp is a temporary environment that is structured with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Combine this with the fast pace of camp, thinking tends to steer in the opposite direction.  Yet, many campers –and even counselors– are so influenced by their camp experiences that they take away a passion for camp as well as the traditions and values they are taught there.

When examined from such a perspective, the role of camp counselors becomes so much more than CL Influence 4a summer job, whether a staff member spends one summer or many summers at camp. When counselors pack their bags each summer and head off to camp, they are taking on the tremendous responsibility of inspiring children to become so deeply invested in the camp experience. It’s neither a small nor insignificant challenge. Yet the hurdles of living up to such high expectations is exactly what draws so many camp counselors to their summer camp roles each summer—and what makes them return in subsequent summers. In this regard, the campers have as much influence and inspire as much passion in the counselors as the counselors do to them. The two roles are interdependent.

It’s easy to go through one’s daily life without slowing enough to properly contemplate the potential influence each of us has over others. But when the concept of influence is examined through the perspective of camp, it’s very easy to see how little time is needed to influence someone for a lifetime.

I Never Thought I Would…

img_0026A recent blog shared some of the most popular counselor ‘I never thought I would…’ thoughts. Counselors aren’t the only ones from whom this phrase is commonly heard as the introduction of wonder throughout the summer. It’s heard just as often from campers. Here are some of the most popular perspectives of camper exclamations that begin with, ‘I never thought I would…’

Learn to play the guitar

I’ve never played an instrument before in my life! But my camp’s guitar instructor is amazing. He really loves music and he knows how to teach us chords in a way that is really easy to remember. Sometimes I wish I could spend all day at guitar. But then I think of all of the other stuff that I would miss. Instead, I asked my parents if I can take guitar lessons when I get home in the last letter I wrote to them.

FINALLY get my back handspring!

I’ve been working on my back handspring at camp since last summer. This year, I finally got it! I started a couple of summers ago on the tumbling track with my cabin counselor, who was also a img_7307Gymnastics specialist. She knew one of my goals was to learn how to do a back handspring, so she worked with me on the tumbling track, which is a really long trampoline. By the end of the summer, I could do a back handspring pretty well on the tumbling track, but I couldn’t do one on the floor without being spotted. I don’t take gymnastics during the winter, so this summer, when our camp’s gymnastics coach asked me if I was ready to learn how to do a back handspring on the floor, I was nervous. We did a couple on the tumbling track, then he/she spotted me while I did them on a mat. By the end of my next gymnastics activity period, I was doing back handsprings on the floor—by MYSELF! The best part of all is the camp photographer got a picture of it. I can’t wait until my mom sees it!

Become friends with my cabin mates so quickly

This is my first summer at camp, and I was SO nervous because I didn’t know anyone. I met my new cabin mates as soon as I got off the bus. It felt like we already knew each other. We’re already BFFs. We do EVERYTHING together! Our counselors taught us how to make friendship bracelets. Then we all made one and traded them with each other.

Swim in a lake

img_7431Before coming to camp, I’d only swam in pools. I was super nervous about swimming in the lake, especially since we had to take a swim test in it. I was so scared to jump in the first time. Then my friends and counselors convinced me to get in. The lake at camp is really just like a giant swimming pool. It was especially fun to jump off the water trampoline while holding hands with my camp friends for the first time after passing my swim test.

Make my own pasta

I love spaghetti. When I found out we were making our own pasta in Cooking, I was SO excited! We had to roll the dough a lot, but it was so much fun to see how pasta is made. Fresh pasta is so much better than the pasta you get in a box. I’m going to ask my parents if I can make homemade pasta when I get home after camp.

Be in a show

I’ve always wanted to be in one of my school plays, but have never tried out because I didn’t know if img_2149 (1)I could get up in front of lots of people. After being in my camp show this summer, I’m totally going to try out for one of the school plays next year. Being in the camp show was so much fun! It was a lot of work. We had to practice a lot. But my counselors worked with me every day to help me memorize my lines. When it was finally time to perform my part in front of the whole camp, I was ready and so excited to get on stage and show everyone what I could do that I didn’t even think about being nervous!

Score a soccer goal

I’ve been trying and trying and trying to score a soccer goal ever since I made my club team at img_5627home. This year, I told my soccer instructors at camp that I wanted to be able to tell my club coach that I’d scored a goal when the fall season starts. They gave me lots of tips during our instructional periods. I got to play forward on my division’s team, and I scored the first goal of my first intercamp game!

Act so crazy on purpose

At school, I’m really conscious about how excited I get about things. I’m always wondering what my classmates will think. Camp is completely different! At camp, it’s so easy to just go crazy because all of my camp friends do too. I love being able to be myself without wondering what all of my friends are thinking.

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.

Making Decisions at Camp

If your child regularly spends a half hour in the cereal aisle of the supermarket choosing his breakfast cereal or takes the better part of a day debating whether he wants to go to the movies or have a play date with a friend, there is a somewhat underrated and under appreciated aspect of sending your child to summer camp that you may want to consider.  Camp helps children learn how to make decisions.

For many campers, sleepaway camp is their first real experience away from their parents. They find themselves faced with decisions every day, some of which are traditionally made by their parents.  Camps, for instance, often offer campers several different dining options each meals.  Without their parents there to tell them to eat salad because they don’t like tuna or pasta, children find themselves faced with the decision about what to eat.  This sounds like a small thing, and in the scheme of larger things, perhaps it is.  However, it’s not an exercise without long-term benefit.  Once children understand the decision is theirs, they tend to get adventurous.  As a result, many will try—and be surprised to realize they like—foods that they might not have tried at home if steered toward safer choices by us parents who, let’s face it, sometimes choose the path of least resistance if for no other reason than to maintain peace.  The sense of adventure gained also carries over into their daily activities.

Most camps programs are designed around camper choice.  While the level of choice varies from camp to camp with some giving campers exclusive control of their daily schedules while others plan part of the day and allow campers to choose a couple or a few activities, campers are still faced everyday with choosing at least some of their daily activities.  Making such decisions forces campers to consider whether it’s better to stick to a tried and true activity that they love or try something new.  While some campers are inevitably more adventurous than others, the ability to make decisions without the pressure of peers or parents and in the open, accepting environment of camp at which being adventurous is not only accepted but encouraged, children learn to choose what they want rather than what they feel that others want for them.  Again, this may seem like a relatively small accomplishment in the larger scheme of growing up, but many books about success emphasize that the children who grow up to become the most successful adults learned early to understand what they wanted and how to make the choices in life that would help them achieve their goals.  Additionally, when children know what they want, they’re able to be more assertive in pursuing goals and voicing when they’re unhappy.

So if you’re tired of perusing the aisles for the second, third, and fourth time while your child tries to decide between Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cheerios or are frustrated about not being able to make evening plans because your child can’t decide what he wants to do, consider sending him to summer camp where he can get a crash course on learning to make decisions on a daily basis.

What I Learned at Camp

Summer is winding down. Wait – we just got here!

That’s how fast camp goes. One day a kid boards the bus with nervous anticipation. The next, he heads home on the same bus with a smile and a lifetime of memories.

They don’t even realize that – in addition to having tons of fun – they’ve grown a lot.

The other day, we asked a few of our campers what they learned this summer. Here’s what they shouted – er, said:

  • Counselors are cool. We talked about everything.
  • Before I went to camp, people said the food stinks. It didn’t.
  • I learned I could swim a lot farther than I thought. But the waterfront guys told me I could do it all along.
  • It’s impossible for my counselor to pack everything back up the way my mom did before camp.
  • It’s okay to wake up early if you don’t know what time it is.
  • I’m not sure, but I may ask my parents if I can do yoga when I get home.
  • Sometimes when people say “hurry up, you’ll be late,” they really mean it. Sometimes they don’t.
  • I always thought I liked lacrosse better than soccer. Now I’m not sure.
  • I saw my sister less this summer than I do at home. But it was still nice having her here.
  • No one will clean up your cabin for you, except you.
  • It’s really nice if your parents write a lot, even if they don’t say much in their letters.
  • It’s hard to canoe when your paddle falls in the water.
  • I have eight new best friends.
  • When they tell you to bring a sweatshirt and a blanket, they know what they are talking about.
  • I was positive I couldn’t live without my cell phone. Now I forget where I put it in my room before I left.
  • How come no one ever told me that waterskiing was so much fun?
  • It’s good to go on trips away from camp. And it’s good to come back.
  • I like my new nickname a lot.
  • When I came to camp I missed my dog. When I go home I’m going to miss my horse.
  • Maine is an awesome state!
  • It feels like I grew five inches, but the nurse says only one.
  • I still can’t sing, but our play was amazing anyway.
  • My goal in life is to come back as a counselor.

It’s Almost Here…

TennisLook at the horizon. What do you see? Camp!

The big day is near. Soon, your child leaves home for a summer of fun, excitement and growth.

Scary, isn’t it?

Sure. New experiences usually are. But we’ve got some ideas to help.

Talk with your child. And we mean “talk honestly.” It’s great to chirp about the wonderful days ahead. But be sure to acknowledge that fears and worries are okay.  They’re normal. Let your son or daughter know that everyone – even you! – gets nervous before doing something different. Remind your child that directors, campus leaders, counselors and staff members know about nerves – and they’ll be there to talk, day or night.

ArcheryDon’t say, “And if you get homesick, you can come home!” Though reassuring, it sends the wrong message. It focuses on the negative – and undermines the idea that you’ve selected that camp because you trust the directors and counselors so much. Emphasize instead that while homesickness is normal, it goes away – and everyone at camp will help make it disappear. (It’s also a good idea to not say too much how much you’ll miss your child – or how badly everyone will feel that they’re not at the annual 4th of July fireworks or family reunion.)

Campus TimePrepare together. Read the packing list with your child. Go shopping with him or her. Your child will pick out items he or she really likes – while at the same time sharing a quiet, unhurried conversation about camp.

Reinforce camp policies on things like cell phones. You may want to give your child a phone to call home “just in case” — but that’s the wrong “call.” For one thing, it contradicts what you’re saying about the counselors’ and directors’ ability to help. For another, it encourages “bending the rules.” For a third, it shifts your child’s focus from having fun and making new friends, to sneaking off and being alone.

SailingDon’t let your own anxieties affect your child. As a parent, you may feel trepidation too. You’ll miss your child – and fear you’ll miss out on his or her growth. That’s natural. But don’t burden your kid with those thoughts. Tell your spouse and friends instead!

Camp is a time of independence. Of spreading wings. Of making new friends, forming strong bonds and creating vivid memories in a non-family, out-of-school environment. The days leading up to camp may be anxious – for campers and their parents. But the rewards will be well worth a week or two of very normal nerves.

We can’t wait to see your son or daughter at camp!!!

Camp Adventure Programs Help Campers Soar High

Anyone would feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment after scaling a forty foot wall and then whizzing down a zip line or perhaps, while attached to a harness of course, taking a giant leap of faith off a perch with a great view. But when the person is under the age of sixteen, the feeling is unmatched. This is the sense of elation that camp adventure programs bring to campers every summer. Adventure is one of the most popular programs at camp. But what’s the point of all that climbing, jumping, and zipping around you ask?

For starters, high and low ropes courses have been used for some time now as team building event, probably the most commonly known reason for their usage. In the case of a high ropes course, which is often at least thirty feet above ground and is sometimes as high as fifty, courage is one of the first words that comes to mind. Quite simply put, it takes a lot of courage to shimmy up a ladder or patiently work your way trial and error up a climbing wall and then attempt to maneuver across beams or rope of miniscule width with the ground looming below, even if one is safely secured to a harness and cables and spotted by trained professionals. Trust is really what high ropes courses are all about. A high ropes course challenges campers’ comfort levels and forces them to put trust in their fellow campers and camp staff, who also share in the inevitable sense of pride after successfully finishing a challenge.

Low ropes courses, on the other hand, encourage team building. They feature such elements as webbed rope nets, trust falls and activities that challenge participants to get their entire team between platforms by building a bridge, or to move from wide cables to narrow ones. More specifically, at camp, low ropes provide a great way for campers to bond with one another and encourage cabins to work together as a unit.

Nature programs also often compliment outdoor programs by helping campers reconnect with nature and understand the importance of preserving the environment. Fishing is another part of many outdoor adventure programs. While fishing is a perfect relaxing social opportunity, it’s also a great way of increasing children’s patience level.

So it’s no wonder that these outdoor adventure programs are not popular merely for the lofty challenges that they provide, but for the thrill and sense of pride campers feel for having had the courage to accept and achieve them.

BECAUSE OF CAMP…

We could talk about the benefits of camp from now ’till the end of the summer.

But this month we’ll let the American Camp Association (ACA) do it for us.

Recently the ACA – an organization that educates leaders, ensures camp safety and accredits over 2,400 camps – created a short video. It ran in movie theaters across the country. Watch the video below:

In it, a number of celebrities highlighted their own camp experiences.  Movie-goers learned that, because of camp…

  • Emma Roberts made lasting friendships with people she still keeps in touch with.
  • Hill Harper learned about self-esteem.
  • Lisa Loeb plays guitar.
  • Ashlan Gorse developed a personality.  (Hey, that’s what she said.)
  • Lisa Raye turned out just fine.
  • And because of camp, actor Justin Chambers is sending his own kids to camp this summer.

 

For over a century, millions of other people have also been positively impacted by camp. For some, camp helped unearth a skill they never knew they had.  Or fired a passion that is now their life’s work.

Because of Camp

For others, camp built a lifetime of memories. Or introduced them to one lifelong friend.

Camp is many things to many people. It is what you make it – and what young peers and caring adults help you to be.

Because of camp, I am who I am today. And because of camp, I welcome you to join me in a summer experience that lasts forever.

Because of Camp - Debbie

Can’t wait to see you this summer.

Debbie Sollinger
Camp Laurel

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