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It’s definitely summer when you know this is about to happen…

img_2923School is FINALLY over! The weather is warm. It’s summer. But as a camper, you know that it’s never REALLY summer until you get to camp, There are little signs every year that mark that mark this day to which you’ve been counting down for several LOOOONNNNGGG months. But it’s most definitely summer when you know this happens…

Your parents take you to a meeting place for a img_9913bus or plane ride to camp, or maybe they’re driving you to camp themselves. The trip to camp will seem 10X longer than it actually is because you just want to get there.

Your mom most definitely cries when she says goodbye and assures you she’ll see you on Visiting Day. You’re so excited you can hardly stand it, but maybe you cry a little too just so that she doesn’t feel bad.

189-img_9032As soon as you pull into camp, you start looking for your camp friends. Maybe they spot you first. No matter who finds whom, you run and hug. After hugs all around with your friends, you also hug your favorite returning counselors and staff members.

You meet your cabin mates (if you don’t already know them) and your new counselors, who are every bit as excited as you that you’re finally at camp!

You go into your new cabin with your friends and realize that you really ARE at camp. Another summer has begun! Bring on the FUN!

You spend the rest of the day cheering, singing and laughing with your friends. This is just day 1, 168-img_9150and the entire summer is ahead of you. But it’s definitely summer because all of this happened, just as you knew it would.

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.

Friendship Bracelets: A Storyboard of Summer

172-img_2654A chuckle-worthy camp confession recently spotted on Pinterest: “My wrists did not see sunlight all summer because of the bracelets.” Anyone who has ever attended or worked at a sleepaway camp is all too familiar with the “bracelet tan.” Of the thousands of camps across America, there is not an Arts & Crafts area that is not well stocked with beads, lanyard, skeins of embroidery floss, paracord, rubber bands and just about anything else that can be turned into a bracelet. Bracelets are BIG at camp. They’re not merely wearable art. They’re a symbol of friendship. Few campers or staff actually keep the bracelets they make for themselves. Instead they exchange them with friends and other special people at camp. Although people have been making friendship bracelets since ancient times, they have become a camp tradition. It’s fun to conjure memories of a special person with a glance at one’s wrist.

The act of making the bracelets is almost as pleasurable as the bracelets themselves. Friendship bracelets are also easy to make, and campers of all ages easily catch onto the various ways of braiding and weaving materials into fashionable designs. Friendship bracelets also appeal equally to both boys and girls. The fact that making bracelets takes very little concentration makes them the perfect social craft. It’s easy to interact with others while making bracelets at camp. Bracelet making is the perfect conversation opportunity and bonding activity.

The row of bracelets is not just camp fashion, it’s a storyboard of the summer that is unique to july 18_0004every individual at camp. It represents who they met during the summer and the special moments that have been committed to memory. One the best things about friendship bracelets is finding them tucked away long after the summer has ended, and having a moment to remember the summer and the people and stories behind each bracelet.

How to Have Fun at Summer Camp

Campers: June is finally here and you’re about to head off to camp for the summer. Whether this is your first summer or your seventh, it’s completely normal to be a whole lot excited and even a little bit nervous. This just HAS to be the best summer EVER…as in epic! But do you ever find yourself a little bit confused about how to make that happen? Here are a few ideas to help you out as you get ready for camp.

 Make new friends

Of course your old friends are amazing. That’s why they’re your friends. But new friends are pretty great too. Make it a point to say ‘hello’ to people and introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Talk to other campers to find out what you have in common besides camp. Show support for other campers at activities.

 Get involved in camp activities

There are so many awesome things to do at camp. Take advantage of the opportunity to get involved in them. Don’t just rely on favorites for your summer fun. Try some new things too. You’ll find that if you go to each activity—even those you don’t love—with a positive attitude and get involved, camp is even more fun.

 Show your camp spirit

Camps rely on their campers to create a fun, energetic environment by showing their camp spirit. There’s a reason you count down the months and days each year until it’s time for camp and why YOUR camp is the BEST camp. Don’t be shy about showing it at camp.

 Be your best self

Camp is the most fun for everyone when campers are positive, energetic, open and inclusive. There’s no need to make it like school where only certain types of people hang around together. If someone in your bunk or at your activity is shy, go out of your way to include them and take a leadership role in introducing them to others. If your friends try to say negative things about other people, change the subject or reply with a positive. Encourage others at activities, particularly those who struggle or who fear being made fun of. The more fun that everyone has together, the better camp is!

 Keep an open mind

Sometimes, things at summer camp don’t go quite how you expected. Think before you react. Don’t let one bad activity, conversation or even day ruin your whole summer. Remember, it’s just one thing out of thousands that happen over the summer. Rather than dwelling on that one thing, shake it off and move on. If you do, you probably won’t even remember it by the end of the summer.

Camp Trips

Campers love their camps.  They’re green, picturesque and they often feature facilities for just about any activity a kid can dream up. One thing campers also love, however, are camp trips. Camp trips are a lot like school field trips — only better.  Way better!  They’re a special time away from the daily routine. Campers get to board buses with their friends and go off on an adventure outside of the camp environment. Yes, playing by the camp waterfront with friends is a great way to spend a summer. But taking in a baseball game, visiting a local amusement park, or going bowling with them adds an extra element to the camp experience because it allows campers to do normal “friend things” with some very close friends who they often only get to see during the summer.

Rites of passage are a big part of camp and trips are among those rites. While all campers enjoy some of the same trip destinations throughout the summer, other places are reserved for campers of certain ages. In this respect, trips become a way for campers to mark time in their camp experience. An exclusive trip makes that specific summer unique because it’s the only summer a camper may go to a specific place.

Camp trips also help campers put their summer camp experience into perspective. Sure, they could do just about anything they do on a camp trip without having gone to camp, but doing them at camp makes them part of camp. And makes them very special.  And very fun! The memory of having done those things at camp makes these excursions even more special, which is likely why there is always a tinge of  excitement in the air on trip day.

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.

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