People always ask me about my favorite aspects of summer camp. That list could go on forever: community, independence, friendship, activities, teamwork, facilities, personal growth. Staying unplugged and tuned into the world is a key ingredient for all those benefits. Children (and counselors) spend so much of their year in classrooms and their free time plugged in. One of the things camp people look forward to so much is a change in their environment. And there’s no better place for this switch than Maine.
Camp Laurel is in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Tucked among tall pine trees nestled on gorgeous Echo Lake: Maine is the definition of natural beauty. The views of the surrounding forest are a welcome change to the skyscraper backdrop of the big cities from where our campers come. Breathing in the crisp Maine each summer is an amazing experience. The acres and acres of lush green fields give our campers a connection to the nature around them. Campers are also able to take advantage of day-hikes and camping excursions to state parks, Acadia National Park and local spots we’ve been frequenting to for decades.
When campers reminisce about their time at Camp Laurel they always talk about their “experience” rather than specific activities. They mention that distinct mix of friendship, community and nature. It’s a life-changing experience and one that Maine provides in the best way.
It’s very, very hard to believe there are only four days left of Program (actually, somewhere between 3 and 5 days, but we won’t say exactly lest you figure out when College Days will “break.” It’s incredibly rewarding to see campers taking incredible advantage of their last regular program days of the summer. Mastering skills; finishing arts projects; dropping a ski for the first time; challenging a group-mate on the Tennis Ladder; challenging themselves in Dance or Fitness; scaling the Climbing Tower; running the Fit Trail; learning a new recipe in ChefCamp. The list goes on and on.
It was an action-packed week highlighted by the Triathlon and Lake Swim.
This weekend will feature great weather, and we’ll continue to play through until our Super Seniors tell us otherwise; after all, it’s they who help mastermind the start of our summer culminating activity. We’ll keep you up-to-date on all the goings-on in Readfield, and hope your weekend at home is going to be as special as ours, here on the eastern shore of our favorite lake!
I fondly remember my summers at camp: living in a cabin with 10 other boys and my counselors, playing sports for sunset to sundown, Intercamp games, College Days, the list goes on. And while I remember those amazing summers like they were yesterday, they were almost 40 years ago! While I enjoyed camp in my time, kids today benefit from the experience more than ever.
Today’s world has become far more competitive when it comes to youth sports. In many cases, the chance to play many sports throughout the year is replaced by the need to focus on one sport. Children no longer play little league baseball until it’s soccer season until it’s basketball season. It seems that, at eight years old, children pick a sport to concentrate on and hope you are good enough to make the neighborhood traveling team. That’s a lot of pressure at a young age.
At Camp Laurel, children play every sport they want. Newcomers to a sport can learn the rules and fundamentals while experienced campers focus on improving skills. Everyone is met at their respective levels by talented coaches who share their passion of the game. Campers can be part of the team, get ample playing time and learn to love the game.
Children today are overly reliant on technology. Time playing outside with friends has been replaced with screen-time. Often times TV, computers and cell phones replace meaningful play time with others. Camp affords children the opportunity to unplug for the summer, enjoying interaction with their peers and counselors.
Campers also gain a new sense of independence and responsibility at camp. They help keep their cabin and area clean during the summer. They learn to make their bed, put away their clothes and work with their friends to keep the whole cabin clean. They learn to communicate with each to problem-solve. Many parents notice their children come home from camp more confident and independent.
All in all, camp allows children to take a deep breath, relax, have fun, grow as a person, foster friendships and create a treasure trove of memories that will last a lifetime!
“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.
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.
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.
There is a decided difference between popular school sports and popular camp sports. Most schools throughout the nation focus on key sports like football, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. At summer camps, campers have much more exposure to non-traditional sports that receive decidedly less promotion through school but prove rather popular at camp, in spite of—or perhaps because of —the fact that they are not widely promoted in school environments.
Tennis is a sport to which most children are exposed for only a few weeks of physical education class each year. At camp, however, it’s one of the most popular and beloved activities. Campers have the opportunity to play several hours of tennis each week on quality courts and even participate in intra and inter camp league play. Furthermore, the instruction is excellent. Many summer camp tennis directors are former tennis pros who have played at the elite level in premiere tennis competitions.
Lacrosse, although popular in New England and other pockets of the Eastern United States, is not widely played in many regions of the country. Yet, it’s one of the most popular camp sports. Many summer camps offer extensive and ever growing (by popular demand) lacrosse programs. Most camp lacrosse specialists play at the college level and many lacrosse heads coach at the college level. Campers who hail from geographic regions in which lacrosse is still an underdog sport have the opportunity to receive valuable, quality instruction that surpasses anything available where they live. In fact, many of these campers play lacrosse for the first time while at summer camp and discover a new favorite sport.
For children who love water, boating is another popular camp activity to which most campers receive little to no exposure during the school year. Camp waterfronts are a crucial part of camps, and campers spend a lot of time in or on the water at camp. To sweeten the pot, summer camps make various types of boats available so that campers can try their hand at canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and even stand-up paddle boarding. Waterskiing is another popular water sport on which many camps place a particular focus. Campers have the opportunity to waterski throughout the summer, and some of the most enthusiastic camper responses every summer are those of campers who get up on water skis for the first time.
Animal loving campers adore camp equestrian programs. Campers who live in urban environments and have minimal exposure to animals throughout most of the year enjoy learning to care for and ride horses. The experience is doubly beneficial when the fact that equestrian programs are virtually non-existent at the majority of schools is taken into consideration.
Campers race to suit up for roller hockey. It’s an action packed and fast paced sport that is fun to play and a key activity in many camp programs. Not only do a lot of campers embrace an otherwise unfamiliar sport in roller hockey, they learn how to skate as well!
Archery. Most schools don’t offer archery, even as part of a physical education program. But it’s a regular part of camp, and pretty much every camper who takes aim at the bulls-eye throughout the summer will tell you that it’s a fun one.
Golf. Yep, many camps offer golf instruction as well. Campers love to relax while driving balls and working on their strokes. They also like that golf is a sport in which it is relatively easy to measure one’s level of improvement throughout the summer.
Gaga is practically synonymous with camp. It’s serious business there, and it can get intense. Gaga is practically unheard of outside of the camp realm. Still, ask virtually any summer camper to list their top five favorite activities at camp, and chances are that gaga will appear somewhere on that list.
Many a camper engages in what will become a favorite sport at camp for the first time. Perhaps it’s because some sports are a rare treat that, if it wasn’t for sleepaway camp, campers know they would never get to experience and, therefore, are eager to embrace. It can also be that campers find the newness of such sports refreshing in respect to the typical repertoire of school sports. Either way, summer camp is an excellent way for campers to receive exposure to and quality instruction in sports that may not be so popular at school but prove very popular at camp.
The typical image of evenings at summer camp involves campers sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows and singing songs. While campfires are an essential part of the camp experience and some camps enjoy campfires nightly or weekly — they’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to after dinner activities. While some nights, particularly those following busier than usual days, are “chill” nights at camp during which campers watch a movie, enjoy a camp show or, yes, sit around that infamous campfire, on most nights when the sun goes down at camp, the action heats up and things get crazy—sometimes really crazy—and maybe even a little goofy.
Whether it’s a dance, an evening of games or a scavenger hunt, it’s important to dress for the occasion and costumes are often encouraged. Acceptable attire often includes tutus, crazy hats or wigs, temporary tattoos and face or body paint. When competition is involved, dressing in team colors is also a must. Friends or even entire cabins often try to mirror each other with matching outfits, and showing team spirit typically becomes a competition within a competition. Clever cheers (often involving inside camp jokes), singing, and loud encouragement provide the soundtrack to a night of activities designed to help everyone let loose, be themselves, and, most importantly, have fun. So what is the point of so much silliness after a full day of activities? It’s simple. Play. Play has long been touted by child psychologists as crucial to social and cognitive development. At camp, however, the kind of play that happens during evening activities takes on a much bigger role as an avenue for inspiring campers and staff alike to embrace camp values and put them into action.
At least one of these three key words consistently appears in camp mottos: “tradition”, “family”, “friends.” All three are emphasized during evening activities at camp. Whether it’s to win a competition or a race, playful evening activities are a fun way for campers to come together as a family to achieve a common goal. More importantly, individual age divisions often spend time together during evening activities. During the day, campers go in many different directions, depending on their interests and program schedules. In the evenings, however, they come back together as a group. In the midst of lighthearted moments, friendships are born and strengthened.
Sleepaway camp traditions don’t begin and end with campfires and sing-alongs. They are evident—or sometimes born—in even the wackiest moments of evening activities. Those activities become perennial favorites to which campers look forward all year. They spend time during the winter contemplating ways in which they can enhance tradition and future memories by building upon previous experiences of those activities. They communicate with each other, brainstorm ideas and even make plans. In short, through play, campers take ownership of their camp experience as well as their camp traditions. In doing so, they embrace camp values.
Raise your hand if this happened to you this year—as it does every year right about now. Just when you thought you’ve finally—FINALLY—heard the last of the camp stories, it arrived. Maybe it was the camp video, the camp newsletter…even an invitation to a camp reunion. Whatever it was, it was about camp, reminding you that we’re halfway to another summer, and now you’re hearing that waterskiing or baseball story for, oh, about the 27th time. And raise your hand if you ever find yourself questioning how a few weeks each summer can have such a profound impact on your children that they’re still talking about it in the dead of winter as if it was just a couple of weeks ago. Not that you mind. You’re very happy that your investment in summer camp has been a good one. But you still wonder. Well, here are a few things to consider.
1.) At summer camp, campers get to spend all day, every day with their friends. Before you argue that they get that at school too, consider this: At summer camp, campers not only spend all day with their friends, they get the opportunity to interact with them. When you think about it, interaction with friends at school is primarily limited to hallway conversations between classes, recess (for younger children), and lunchtime. Sure, they may steal a few exchanges during class at the risk of detention, but for the most part, talking while teachers present lessons (which comprise the bulk of the school day) is generally discouraged. In juxtaposition, summer camp is more like a sleepover that lasts several weeks, and everyday campers get to do something special with their friends. Beat that on the fun-o-meter!
2.) Children can be themselves at camp. Not that there aren’t rules to follow at summer camp, too. But the rules tend to be the kind that promote being at ease. They are considerably more relaxed than those imposed at school, and even those pertaining to appropriate conduct in social situations are somewhat lax in comparison to those they have to follow the other ten months of the year. Most restaurants (or their patrons) probably aren’t too excited when children start singing or cheering in the middle of their meal, for example. Most summer camps encourage it.
3.) Children get to be independent at summer camp. Not that your children don’t love and adore you, but they like doing things on their own too. Children take a lot of pride in accomplishing something they tried for the first time at camp on their own (with the support of their fellow campers, counselors, and a host of other camp staff as well, of course…but in their minds, it was all them, and that’s okay). It gives them a sense of pride to know that they don’t need Mom and Dad to do everything.
4.) Camp is a youthful environment. Camp is an environment dedicated to youth. Even staff members are young at heart. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but think about the “real” world from a child’s perspective. It’s basically a place where they are constantly put in check by grown-ups and reminded about all of the things they can’t do until they are grown-ups. Camp, in contrast, is a place all about pleasing kids and where they are constantly reminded of why it is so sweet to be a kid.
5.) Children observe time differently at summer camp. Really! They do. When the school year begins, so does a countdown that children measure in “months still to go.” It’s a slow moving countdown of which children consistently consider themselves on the backend. There is always still time. When summer camp begins, a countdown also begins. But this countdown is measured in “weeks that have already passed.” Children place themselves on the front end of the camp countdown. In other words, they know that their time at summer camp is limited. From the second they arrive, they set out to make each and every minute count, which increases the intensity of the experience. That’s why those seemingly mundane ‘It’s a camp thing’ or ‘You had to have been there’ stories you hear over and over are so revered by your children. They were actually living so vividly in the moment they experienced them that the moment sticks with them. Not many children share quite the same enthusiasm about, let’s say, their last math exam, for example.
So when the next camp reminder arrives in your mailbox or your inbox and the stories start again, just remember that, for campers, an arrival of anything from camp is like receiving a postcard from Neverland.
The holidays are upon us and ‘tis the season to ponder those things for which we’re truly thankful. For those of us who are fortunate enough to eat, sleep and breathe camp 24/7, 365 days a year, it’s hard not to make an exclusive “Camp Laurel” list. After all, camp is just as much a part of our lives in November as it is in June. So we figured we’d share some camp things for which we are thankful all year long.
1.) Our campers. Each and every one of our campers brings something unique to camp that makes our camp family complete. Getting emails and phone calls about our campers’ accomplishments throughout the winter makes the memories we have of the summer that much more special, and makes us even more excited to see everyone the following year.
2.) Our camp parents. We feel pretty lucky to have so many parents who as enthusiastic about camp as their children and who keep in touch throughout the winter, providing us with fun and interesting updates.
3.) Our staff. Finding a staff of talented people who are willing to leave their first homes and make summer camp their second home for several weeks each summer in order to literally live their jobs day and night is no easy feat. That we’re able to put together a staff each summer who is so vested in creating an amazing summer for all of our campers is truly a blessing.
4.) Alumni. It’s always a special treat when our alumni share their favorite camp memories and reiterate how great their camp years were. The fact that so many of our alumni are still in touch and/or are active within our community says a lot to us about just how special camp is and motivates us to continue to strive to make camp a lifetime worth of memories.
5.) A beautiful campus. That first drive into camp each summer is always so special. No matter how many times we’ve been there, that first glance of the bunks/cabins, the dining hall, the fields, the courts and the waterfront each summer is something we anticipate all year long.
6.) Memories. Memories are what makes each summer different than the last. Even in the fall, we find ourselves asking each other, “Remember when…?” and laughing over our favorite camp moments throughout the year.
7.) Camp Songs. We often find ourselves turning up the volume whenever a song that proved popular the summer before plays on the radio or humming the alma mater or a favorite dining room tune while we’re busy planning for next summer.
8.) Camp friends. It’s so nice to have someone with whom we can remember those special moments from previous summers and with whom we can have a hearty laugh about those inside moments that only our camp friends can understand. It’s also nice to be able to re-experience camp through meetups through the winter and makes us even that much more excited about next summer.
9.) The camp tradition. It sounds pretty obvious, but just the fact that we’re able to carry on such a beloved tradition is a privilege. Summer camps have been around for more than a hundred years and such an iconic part of our culture that movies and television shows have been made about summer camp and books have been written about it. Not to mention, without summer camp, we’re not quite sure what we’d be doing. We certainly can’t imagine doing anything else.
10.) The promise of next summer. We’ve said it a million times, but we start anticipating the next summer as soon as the buses pull away. That ten month wait each year seems like forever, but it proves to be just enough time to plan another summer that promises to be even better than the last. The anticipation drives us all year long as we plan and makes us thankful to be part of camp all year.