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Camp Changed My Kid

P19I was nervous and excited to send my son Connor to camp this year. Connor’s best friend attended camp the summer before and could not stop raving about it. So after plenty of research and discussions, we decided to let Connor spend the summer away. I won’t lie, my “mommy heart” broke a little when he practically jumped out of the car to get on the plane and didn’t look back, but I was pretty sure we were making the right decision. In August, when he got home, I was 100% sure we made the right decision. The happy, smiley kid who jumped into our backseat was…different.

I couldn’t pin point many differences right away, except for the excitement in his eyes and voice when he talked about all of his new friends and cracked himself up remembering inside jokes and hilarious conversations with his new buddies. One of the main things I noticed when we got home was how helpful he had become. Without me asking, he would make his bed, take his plates to the sink, offer to bring in the groceries or even simply ask if he could get us anything from the kitchen since he was going that way. I noticed a new sense of thoughtfulness when he came back. Not that he was heartless before by any means, but I definitely noticed a change in his willingness to help others and think of others before himself. As the days passed, my heart exploded with joy to see him excited to text, chat and FaceTime with his new friends. He went to camp a little reserved, and came back social and confident. I loved seeing him interact with his peers, I loved seeing how he was truly listening to what others had to say, and how he felt confident contributing to the conversation.P43

Just today, he told me he was going to try out for soccer at school, a sport he had never played before camp. He said he was encouraged to try it at camp and played it almost every day while he was there. As a mom, I am blown away at what positive changes have come from sending my son to camp. I knew he would make friends, try a new activity or two and learn to live both independently and with a group, but I had no idea about the social skills, character development, relational growth and boost in confidence that spending a few weeks away could create.

Camp changed my son for the better, and we are both looking forward to the growth and changes that will happen next summer at camp!

Healthy Habits at Camp

health-wellness_01When you combine the ease and affordability of fast food and the ability to record TV to be watched at anytime – the result is kids who are spending a lot of time eating junk and watching junk. Children are spending more time in front of a screen than they are playing outside. Sometimes the only body part getting a workout is their thumbs from playing video games or their index finger from pointing and clicking for hours at a time. Lack of exercise and accessibility to unhealthy foods is what has caused childhood obesity to skyrocket in the last 30 years.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of kids and teenagers were overweight in 2012. The physical risks of childhood obesity are endless: joint problems, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure. All of this leaves children vulnerable to various types of cancers as they get older. Not only can early obesity lead to a lifetime of bad habits that are very hard to break, but the effects on a child’s already very fragile self-esteem and body image can be devastating. Children who are overweight and self-conscious are less likely to participate in team events or sports, try out for a new sport or activity, or be proactive in making new friends. Being overweight can be a lonely and scary time for kids and teens, and it is absolutely preventable.

Front Cover (5)At Camp Laurel, we take the health of each camper very seriously. We have been known to sneak exercise into the daily lives of campers by giving it a new name: FUN. We’ve also found a top secret, patented way to keep campers from eating unhealthy foods all the time: We don’t give them access to calorie filled foods throughout the day. It’s novel concept, we’re very aware.

The menu at Camp Laurel varies every day. There is always fruit available, and the salad bar is always an option at lunch and dinner. Homemade soups and plenty of healthy options are always available. Whether your child needs a menu that is gluten, dairy, soy, nut or shellfish free, or they have other specific food allergies, a menu of delicious options can be created for them so they can enjoy everything camp has to offer.

health-wellness_02Even if campers do splurge on mac and cheese, chicken sandwiches or get creative at the pasta bar, they will easily work off all of those calories in the endless physical activities that camp has to offer. A game of flag football, an afternoon of kayaking (talk about an arm work out!), an early morning climb up the climbing wall, an impromptu basketball game vs. the neighboring cabin or an hour dancing away in Dance are just a few ways campers can keep their heart rates up while having fun with new friends. Exercise disguised as fun means campers stay active all the time! When campers are so busy running from activity to activity, they don’t have time to mindlessly munch on snacks. Plenty of water keeps campers hydrated as they tackle another day of go, go, go!

Camp Laurel wants the best for every camper on every level, including their physical health, which is why we are focused on instilling a positive attitude toward healthy decisions. A mindset focused on healthy food choices and staying active is an excellent value to instill in children. By encouraging children to eat right and exercise daily, they are creating habits that will benefit them as they grow, and allow them to live long and healthy lives.

Camp Family

img_0632Over the next several weeks, campers will arrive at summer camps all over the country knowing that although each summer brings new surprises, it also brings the familiarity of a second family and home. For campers, camp is a touchstone of people, activities and events on which they can depend each summer.

For those who have never experienced summer camp, it’s difficult to imagine forming such tight bonds with others in the span of a month or two. Those who have attended or worked at a summer camp understand cmaps are more than a place where campers go to have fun and enjoy the outdoors each summer. They’re a place where friendships and networks are formed that last long beyond the teary goodbyes and hugs that mark the end of each summer.

Although almost ten months pass between summers, with camp family, it inevitably feels like img_8482everyone was together just minutes ago. Hugs are plentiful when camp campers reunite with their camp family and conversation comes easily. There’s also an easiness about the pastoral settings of summer camps that facilitates a relaxed atmosphere. Tradition is an easy place marker that helps everyone slip back into the summer routine.  And the thrill of the endless combination of opportunities to embark on new adventures is balanced with the everyday act of sitting down to meals with camp “siblings” or coming back to the bunk or cabin at night to share the details of the day.

img_7760Summer camp is a naturally inclusive atmosphere, which is perhaps what makes it unique from other social settings and allows for tight familial bonds to form in such a short period of time. There’s also something to be said for the overnight aspect of sleepaway camps. At sleepaway camp, campers are together around the clock as opposed to a school or day camp setting in which the majority of campers return to their homes at the conclusion of the day.

288-img_9095There is an intimacy about sharing living quarters that makes people more open and even accepting of each other. Sleepaway camp friendships, like family relationships, are built upon the knowledge that everyone must co-exist. Campers tend to maintain acquiescent opinions of one another, and disagreements are typically brief. Personality quirks are not only socially acceptable at camp but often an attraction. There is a saying that summer camp is the only place where ‘you’re so weird’ is a compliment.

Family is comprised of people who accept each other for who they are, in spite of any and all flaws, and encourage each other to be themselves. For campers, their camp “family” is no different, which is what makes them so eager to return to their summer homes each summer.

Not Your Mom and Dad’s Arts and Crafts

Summer camp arts and crafts programs often conjure images of beading lanyards and tie dying. Indeed, crafts are still a large part of camp, but art is becoming equally as important. That is to say that camps are investing more in open ended mediums that encourage campers to use their creativity to create works of their volition as opposed to pre-determined projects of summer camps past.

The difference between art and crafts may not be immediately clear to those who envision a room at summer camp that houses a seemingly unlimited supply of paintbrushes, glitter, paint, markers, glue, construction paper, and beads.  There is a marked difference, however. A recent article featured in Early Childhood News, M.A. and creative arts instructor Anna Reyer outlines the distinctions between art and crafts. Primarily art is open ended creations that evolve from a variety of supplies and minimal guidance. Crafts are pre-scripted projects assembled using specific supplies and guidelines with a finished product that is the same or similar for everyone.  There is something to be said for both the “arts” and the “crafts” of arts and crafts.

Crafts are fun, and many a camper sings the praises of the relaxation and satisfaction derived from a few minutes of down time in which they are given a set of materials and a set of instructions and are left to their own devices. It is an opportunity to be social and engage in casual conversation with other campers and counselors. There is also a sense of satisfaction with the end product, a three-dimensional completed object that the camper created from a group of raw materials.

Then there is art, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly obvious to camp owners and directors. Art projects provide campers with a period of time during the day in which very little, if anything, has been planned for them. It is their time to create as they choose. Whether it is painting or creating a piece of jewelry, it is a sanctioned part of the day that is limited only by their imaginations. Camp in general is a creative space. Through art, it is also an imaginative space. It’s a space in which children are free to unwind and mentally process their feelings. Art is the perfect opportunity for campers to recharge and turn around a day that has been less than perfect.  In that regard, similar things could be said about camp music, theater, and dance programs.

With the importance placed on creativity, fun, and happiness at summer camp, it is natural that summer camps invest big in arts and crafts programs. A memorable summer is more than just the glory of scoring a winning goal or swimming in the lake. Those times in which campers are left to their creative devices and are free to interact or not interact as they please provide crucial balance to the rest of the summer camp experience.

Yes, You Can

“No” is a word that children hear a lot. No talking in the classroom. No running in the hallways. No playing ball in the house. No to anything that gets clothes dirty. No. No. No. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that “yes” is one of the many reasons that children so eagerly anticipate camp each summer. Of course safety is always a factor, and children also have parameters at camp for that reason. However, those parameters extend much further at summer camp than they do at home and school. At summer camp, campers are encouraged to climb walls, zip down ropes, run, get dirty and play ball. Even when they express doubt in themselves, they are encouraged with, “Yes, you can.” There is no pressure to be the best at something or to even be good at it, simply to try it. With such encouragement, many campers venture into previously unexplored territory and discover that they can, in fact, do things they previously thought they couldn’t.

The benefits of such encouragement extend beyond the development of courage to try new things. Children become more open to possibilities. They develop the skills to venture out of their comfort zone and examine situations from different angles. A refined sense of creativity helps them attack tasks that previously seemed difficult or even impossible. They learn to comprehend the importance of trying, particularly when the time and place is right. With such perspective, “no” and “yes” become words less associated with ability and more associated with restraint. If they’re talking in the classroom, they can’t understand what the teacher is saying. School is not an environment that makes running in the hallways safe. Things tend to break when they play ball in the house. The clothes they wear when they’re not at camp are just a little nicer than the ones they tend to wear at camp. In contrast, camp is a safe environment for them to talk, laugh, run, play, climb and get messy in ways that are productive. In short, it’s an environment with less restraint in mind. Once children are able to understand the symbiotic relationship between “yes” and “no,” they are better able to accept “no” for what it actually means: It’s not in your best interest.

Camp Pets

Experts unanimously agree that there are benefits to pet ownership for children. In addition to teaching them responsibility, pets also entertain children, keep them active, alleviate stress and teach them about life. For some families, however, busy lifestyles make pet ownership impractical and even unrealistic. Enter another little known benefit of summer camp: summer pets. Many camp nature, exploration, and eco-science programs include an animal or two. Some camps even have extensive equestrian programs with camp-owned or leased horses and ponies. Because of allergies, camps tend to shy away from common household pets such as cats and dogs. Rather, animals with naturally reserved demeanors that are easy to handle like reptiles, rabbits, turtles and guinea pigs are preferable when it comes to camp pets. As a result, even campers who have pets at home get the opportunity to handle, care for and observe – to their comfort level – animals they may not frequently encounter. Those campers who do not have pets at home get to experience the joy of pet ownership and all of the benefits of it while those campers who do have pets at home tend to miss them less when their camp has animals. Camp pets sometimes double as mascots and campers come to view them as part of their camp. Best of all, everyone at summer camp, regardless of whether they have pets at home or not, has the opportunity to have a pet for at least a few weeks each year.

Media Break

Do you ever find yourself wishing your children would put their phones away for one day? If so, then consider an opportunity for them to put their phones (and all other forms of media) away for several weeks. One of the primary goals of summer camp is to encourage children to be active while interacting with each other and the environment. In order to facilitate this, most camps have strict restrictions regarding the use of technology. Neither campers nor staff are permitted to have phones, laptops, television, video games, or anything capable of accessing the web. If you think you can hear your children groaning already, think again. Most campers actually report that they enjoy the media break camp provides.

With conditions such as social media anxiety and Facebook fatigue on the rise, it’s no wonder that campers value a break. Not only is it a nice reminder that there is more to life than Twitter or Instagram, time spent with friends at camp reiterates the value of interpersonal communication. Body language speaks volumes. LOL is never quite the same as the sound of a friend’s laughter, and ROFL never has quite the same effect as actually seeing someone so doubled over with laughter that they’re rolling on the floor. The former are strictly exchanges. The latter are experiences, and it’s experience that makes memories. Virtually no one ever mentions that time that “so and so” texted “such and such.” But they do recall that time by the Waterfront…or in the bunk or cabin or…in the Dining Hall, for several years after it happens. Those are the types of memories over which campers exchange fond tears on the last night of their last summer at camp and, in many instances, the post camp reunions to come.

Seeing and hearing real time reactions also keeps children in touch with acceptable behavior when it comes to communication. By seeing firsthand how people respond to them, children are able to gauge when they’ve gone to extremes that may be hurtful to others. Likewise, they are also able to take note of those conversational approaches that receive positive responses from camp friends as well as those that even help them make new friends. In other words, campers don’t miss their social media because it is replaced with time with each other. Children are less likely to bully each other or express thoughts or ideas they may later regret. In short, people are a much better deterrent to unacceptable behavior than a monitor or phone screen. There is much more immediacy and accountability.

The media break that camp provides helps children put social media into perspective as well. They come to understand that social media is just an interim form of communication rather than the exclusive form. Yes, it’s a fun way to keep in touch with friends, including those camp friends who live far distances and are rarely seen away from camp, but it’s also not the sum total of life. Rather, it’s a fun tool for engaging with others when it’s not possible to see them in person, and its importance should not be overvalued.

Most importantly, what children learn during their media break at camp is that they can live without it. Not only is it possible to live without it, life can be enjoyable while doing so. Chances are, those who have been to summer camp think twice before declaring that they could never live without their phone or other media devices, because they know otherwise. And they also know that sometimes the fun of communication is the creativity with which they must go about it in interpersonal situations.

 

A College Case for Camp

One of the most understated advantages of summer camps is how much they do to help prepare older campers for life after the summer.  Increasingly, sleepaway camps are taking an interest in providing older campers with valuable experiences that will help them through the college application process and later in life. Leadership programs, college visits and community service are just a few of the offerings for older campers, and statistics show that there is a college case for them.

There is a rising trend of college admissions foregoing standardized test scores in favor of applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences. An article on www.education.com reveals that colleges are realizing high standardized test scores are not necessarily indicative of good students. Rather, those students who demonstrate well-rounded backgrounds with involvement in a variety of activities, such as summer camp, generally make good students because they learn valuable skills through these activities. Beyond the activities themselves, however, colleges are considering the value of them by examining how applicants engaged in them. In other words, colleges considering activities in lieu of test scores aren’t just placing heavy weight on applicant involvement in activities such as summer camp, they’re placing considerable weight on what applicants did while involved. This creates prime opportunity for summer camps to step up and showcase just how much campers benefit from returning each summer, and many camps are answering the challenge.

Campers attend summer camp for several years—sometimes as many as eight. The summer camp environment is the perfect place for them to engage in fun activities with friends that teach skills college admissions teams find valuable. Through special activities and opportunities to lead younger campers, teenage campers learn to be effective leaders. Some camps also offer extended counselor training programs that provide high school campers with the opportunity to take on staff roles at camp. Often, these types of programs are the first work experience for campers eager to take on leadership roles at the beloved summer home where they grew up.

Beyond counselor training programs, or sometimes in place of them, a handful of camps also offer highly customized programs in which campers learn how to communicate effectively and support each other. Such programs teach inclusion and help older campers develop a resistance to falling prey to common teenage stumbling blocks such as gossip, bullying and negative peer pressure. Camps often work with professional psychologists, life coaches, and even nutritionists to maximize the benefits of these programs. These professionals are frequently featured guests who engage campers in special activities that demonstrate life lessons in fun and engaging ways.

There is also a trend in camps taking on the task of taking campers on tours to a variety of college campuses. Many camps in the New England area are within proximity to some of the most esteemed institutions of higher learning in the nation, and they arrange formal tours so that their older campers can actually get a glimpse of college life. Moreover, college tours prompt students to begin considering the qualities for which they are looking in a college, such as size, geographic location, and extra-curricular offerings by seeing firsthand how these factors affect the college experience.

Community service programs are also a rising trend in camping, surprisingly, often by camper request. Campers grow up in camp learning to be a member of a community. They develop such a respect for that community and everything it has contributed to their lives that they want to give back. They see the value in passing on the rites and traditions with which they grew up to others. While some community service programs stay within the camp campuses, others reach well beyond camp and extend into the local or even national community. Camps openly support charities and plan special events dedicated to those causes, which means that campers are learning from an early age the value of community involvement.

Parents wondering if summer camp is still as beneficial to their children as teenagers compared to when they were younger need only look at college admission trends. Chances are that camp could be that all important deciding application factor and the skills teenage campers bring away from their final few summers at camp may well be much more valuable than you thought.

Seven Summers

Most children step off the bus and get their first glance of summer camp as eager, excited, and slightly nervous seven or eight year olds. It’s their first time away from home and they’re not quite sure what to expect. Few register those first moments as the first of a seven year adventure. It’s just the first summer, after all. Even parents sometimes forget that summer camp isn’t just one summer and, in that regard, is much more than a campus. It is a place where children grow up, and it should be a place where campers are every bit as enthusiastic about stepping off the bus their seventh year as they are their first. It should be a place where they feel an integral part of something larger.

Relationships form early at camp. The friends campers make their first year are often their closest throughout their camp careers. The adrenaline filled first meeting is the beginning of several years in the making. But the accepting environment of camp that encourages children to try new things also facilitates the promise of new friendships each summer. What campers learn as they progress through summers is that at “their camp,” no two summers are quite the same.

There is always the element of the unexpected at camp. Anticipation throughout the winter to return to camp is driven by the mystery of how the next summer will be different than the last. The ability to envision the campus as pretty much the same way they left it (with maybe a few upgrades or improvements) eliminates the element of fear in change for children. The stability of the campus itself makes change something to which campers can look forward. Boating docks, dining halls and arts and crafts studios become favorite spots as the settings of memories from summer to summer. Although they are the same places they were the summer before, the memories campers associate with them make them slightly different.

That first exploratory summer, young campers are also able to observe and begin to anticipate the various rites that occur as they age. They look forward each summer to special trips and activities that are exclusive to their second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh summer. In the end, summer camp isn’t a singular experience. It’s the sum total of many summers and a culmination of friends, activities, traditions and memories that builds from that first welcome on the first day of camp that first summer.

Benefits of STEM Related Summer Camp Programs

Stem is a popular buzzword—or, more appropriately, acronym–circulating among educational circles, but it might not be a term one might expect to hear within summer camp circles. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, four subject areas to which educators are increasingly striving to give students additional exposure, and summer camps are hopping on the bandwagon. According to the American Camp Association, STEM related activities have been among the most popular additions to summer camp programs over the past five years and for good reason. Summer camp provides campers with an alternative venue to learn in ways that are fun. Classrooms are replaced with the outdoors or facilities designed exclusively for individual programs and class size is vastly reduced allowing campers to be able to take a more intricate, hands on approach to exploring STEM areas through related camp activities. According to the New York Daily News, the average class size in New York, an area in which summer camp is particularly popular, is 25 students. In some schools, class sizes exceed 30 students. STEM related camp programs such as Nature, Rocketry and Radio, are often capped at fewer  than a dozen campers per activity period.  STEM related programs increasingly prove to be among the most popular with campers. So why are children flocking to educational niche programs? There are likely several reasons.

First, summer camp provides an informal, laid back setting. There is no homework. There is no syllabus. There are no lectures. There are no deadlines. There are no exams. It’s completely a ‘participate to the level of your comfort’ environment. All campers are encouraged to try camp STEM related programs at least once during the summer, but some find a new interest or passion and return several times. The ‘participate as you wish’ approach also allows campers to choose how to focus their interests. Counselors, often college majors or professionals in the area that they lead, are facilitators. They are there to encourage and assist campers in channeling their efforts into particular aspect of a STEM related activity if they so desire.

Second, the whole point of summer camp is for campers to have fun. So it goes without saying that camp activities are designed to emphasize fun, even those related to subject areas in which students are traditionally less than enthusiastic during the school year. In that regard, educational niche programs at sleepaway camp aren’t intended to compete with or replace the learning that takes place during the school year, but to enhance it.

Third, there is a healthy mixture of activity. Unlike a school setting in which students move through subjects throughout the day typically in a lecture setting, at least half of the day at a traditional summer camp is spent outside where campers take part in sports and water activities. Many camps also incorporate a designated time to rest into their programming day in order to give campers and staff the opportunity to recharge. So those program activities that could be perceived as educational are mixed in with healthy doses of physical activity and relaxation.  This allows campers proper time and space to both process the activities in which they take part throughout the day and to approach future activities with a fresh mind.

Although traditional summer camp STEM related programs are not intended to replace those offered in schools, they may ultimately be equally attributable to inspiring future scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians by encouraging campers to explore these subjects in ways and to a level that they might not get to do during the school year. Some campers may carry a new found interest in these subject areas home and take on a new enthusiasm at school, making summer camp STEM related programs an invaluable addition to their program lineup.

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