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New Year, New Summer

There comes a point for everyone involved with camp when we finally stop wishing for it to still be last summer and begin looking forward to this summer. The beginning of the new year is the perfect time for this. The new year is a time of new beginnings for most people and, although that long list of resolutions most of us start out with in January has already been all but forgotten by the time the first spring blooms begin to peep out of the ground, there is always the promise of camp. January starts that final countdown toward summer. We’re finally in the year 2014, and it is only a matter of months before we arrive at the Summer of 2014.  And a fast six months it always is! We spend cold winter evenings watching our camp videos or reading our camp newsletters. We attend camp reunions and follow our camp Facebook pages. By spring we’ve ordered all of our new camp gear and are eagerly awaiting for it to arrive.  We start to set goals for the summer with our camp friends. Then we blink, and it’s May. It’s time to start packing! School ends and the countdown is down to days…days that seem to take longer than all of the months we’ve waited put together. But it comes, the new summer of the new year, faster than we ever thought it would a year ago.

Eagerly Awaiting the Arrival of Campers!

In just a few short days, campers will arrive at each of America’s Finest Summer Camps in droves. But summer camp campuses all over the country have already been populated by someone else for the past several days: staff. Working with children 24/7 requires more preparation than simply showing up ready to work and being given a brief tour of the “office.” When your “office” is a summer camp campus, there is quite a lot of preparation to do before the campers arrive. That’s why summer camp staff participate in orientation sessions that last for a full week. During this time, staff are trained in everything from inclusive techniques and ice breakers to emergency procedures.

Some of the staff members, like many of their campers will later this week, stepped off of a bus and into summer camp for the first time. They were nervous, as is expected of everyone showing up for their first day on the job. Having carefully been selected by year round camp staff over the course of the past year, many of them are working toward degrees that will lead to careers working with children and have some idea of what to expect…but not completely. Over the past several days they’ve learnt a lot about camp, a lot about themselves, a lot about each other, and a lot about the campers they will meet in a few days.

If you ask any of them, they’ll tell you it has been an intense few days, but beneficial ones. They’ll tell you that not all of it has been fun, but a lot of it has. They’ll tell you that they’ve already made some new friends they know they’ll have for life. But, perhaps most telling about the type of people who choose to embark on an adventure as seemingly crazy as working round the clock for seven straight days in an unfamiliar place for two straight months, is that they’ll tell you that they can’t wait to meet their campers!

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Packing…

May means a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some it’s Memorial Day and the official beginning of summer.  For others, it marks the end of another school year.  For summer camp parents, it means it’s time to start thinking about packing.  For first time parents, the task can seem absolutely overwhelming.   How much sunscreen and shampoo do I pack?  Do they really need shinguards?  How many t-shirts are enough?  For seasoned camp parents, packing is a science based on experience.  The art is in packing just enough but not too much or too little…and knowing which items the children have sneaked into their bags to take out and which ones to let go.  Packing properly takes time…and patience.

Camps provide rather comprehensive packing lists.  These should not be disregarded.  They’re compiled by professionals with years of camping experience who have excellent knowledge of what children’s bags need to contain in order for them to arrive prepared for a successful summer at camp.  Also keep in mind when packing that living space is somewhat limited at camp.  Your child will not have his or her own room at summer camp.  He or she will live together with several other campers as well as a couple of counselors. This means that there is not a whole lot of room for “extras” and labeling clothes is important as mix-ups are otherwise bound to happen.  If laundry is your primary concern, rest assured that camp laundry is done at least once per week.  Your child’s counselors and other camp staff will see to it that your child has clean clothes.

Summer camp values also often downplay appearance.  The emphasis of summer camp is on fun, friendship, and safety.  Before the end of the summer, your child will likely get wet, slimed, painted, generally messy, and a host of other cool things that tend to make children laugh and adults cringe.  So keep the really good stuff at home and send clothes that neither you nor they will miss too much if they have to be “retired” at the end of the summer.

It’s important for both new and seasoned camp parents to pay as much attention to the items your child’s camp asks not to bring as those items it asks to bring.  There is a reason your camp requests that certain items not be brought onto campus, whether it’s to help facilitate a specific environment, protect those with allergies, or to avoid other issues not conducive to the spirit of summer camp.  Packing “do not bring” items risks them being lost or confiscated until the end of the summer.  This ultimately causes undo stress on your children.  Alleviating stress that results from the idea of having to leave a beloved item such as a cell phone or notepad at home is typically accomplished by reiterating to children about what they will have at camp as opposed to what they won’t.

By following your camp’s advice and being proactive rather than reactive, packing for camp can be a fun countdown to camp rather than a reactive chore.

Got Communication?

Parents: Camp is near. You’re packing bags, making last minute preparations, and listening to endless stories with increasing enthusiasm about what happened during the summer of 2010 in eager anticipation for summer of 2011 to begin. You’re checking and re-checking to make sure all of the paperwork has been submitted and the bag pickups have been scheduled. So we figure now is the perfect time to talk about the importance of maintaining good communication with your Camp Directors—now and throughout the summer.

Camp is a big deal for your children and for you. Whether you’ve planned a quiet summer at home or have an awesome vacation planned, we know that your top priority is to know that your children are having an amazing summer. You can help, simply by being informative.

We’re first and foremost concerned for your child’s safety and well being. Some of you probably wonder why we ask for photos of your children prior to camp. It’s so that we can show them to your children’s counselors when we discuss your children’s activity preferences with them so that they can greet campers by name from the moment they step off the bus and have full knowledge of how to make their summer successful.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of communicating medical issues. Whether it’s an allergy to certain foods or insects, perhaps a dietary restriction, asthma, a vitamin deficiency, or wetting the bed, your camp directors need to know so that these matters can be handled appropriately as situations relating to them may occur throughout the summer.

We also want to know what your children’s interests are. If we know your child can’t get enough soccer, for instance, we can make sure that he/she gets maximum exposure to soccer during the summer. Knowing what your children like only helps us guarantee they have the summer of a lifetime.

Personal family matters are never easy, but if there is something happening at home—a divorce, illness in the family, academic issues, etc. it helps us to know. Perhaps it’s a positive development. Your child has landed a new role in a film, has made a particularly competitive athletic team, has earned a special honor at school. Whatever IS your children’s lives at the moment they come to camp, we want to be able to channel it into an amazing summer for them. And we’re confident we can. Otherwise, we wouldn’t ask. As your child’s “summer family”, we want to know how we can help them be at their best.

If anything comes up between the time you put your child on the bus or plane to come to camp and the time we put them back on the bus or plane to come home that might affect his or her summer, please call us. We want to know what’s happening. We want to understand how we can make your child’s stay at our camp effortless and memorable. Even if it’s minor, if you have any reason for pause, please call us. We want to be proactive in making your child’s experience memorable.

Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation is in full swing! All our staff is at camp learning the ins-and-outs of being a camp counselor and having a blast. It’s certainly a talented crew! We’ve had a jam-packed week so far with Leadership Training Sessions, Health and Safety Seminars, Typical Day At Camp, Role Playing, Staff Chaos, Campus Competes, Field Night, CL Drafts, Swim Tests, Driving Tests and so much more. We even brought in Maine’s premier Square Dance Caller, Al Hipkins, for a little Hoe-Down last night. Yeehaw! We still have a lot to do before camper arrival day on Saturday but we can’t wait. Only 5 days till camp!!!

A Summer Full of Adventure

Few people think of finding a summer job while bundled in scarves, coats, and gloves as they attempt to maneuver roadways and college campuses after the latest snowfall.  However, whether 2011 is the first time you’re considering a summer camp position or you’re a seasoned veteran, February is exactly the time to start the process of securing summer employment, if you haven’t already done so.  Many camps attend campus recruiting fairs in order to assemble the perfect staff.  So why should you attend one of these fairs or complete an online application now?  To begin with, a camp job is definitely fun, but also a lot of work…so be prepared! Where else can you get paid to play all day while building valuable job skills? Whether you work in a specific area and focus on a sport, activity or hobby you love or you work as a counselor who travels from activity to activity with campers, your day is full of exciting challenges and a probably even a few surprises, both of which will develop your problem-solving, critical thinking, and negotiation skills.

If you like working with children and aspire to a career in a field such as education, sports training, psychology or sociology, then you already have another reason to work at a camp.  Camp is an excellent place to gain valuable experience and is impressive on a resume.  Although camp seems lighthearted–and it is in many ways–working at camp requires a lot of responsibility, flexibility, and adaptability, all of which are very valuable characteristics sought by employers.   Each day guarantees new challenges, many of them unexpected.  Summer camp is often organized chaos.  Yes, there is always a plan in place, but the unexpected is also inevitable.  While this may seem scary the first couple days, it also brings an excitement and satisfaction that delivering pizzas or serving food (or even working at an investment bank)  never could.  Working at camp also requires a lot of communication and interpersonal interaction, two more transferrable skills that are highly valued by employers.  At camp, you must effectively co-exist with your campers, co-counselors, and other staff members to be successful.   You will also be able to tell future employers that you worked with people from all over the world and from many different socio-economic backgrounds.  That you’ve overcome cultural, language, and social obstacles with others tells recruiters that diversity is not something you fear, but rather embrace.

Working at summer camp can also be very healthy for your bank account.  You won’t become Donald Trump spending your summers at camp. However; camps provide housing and food in addition to a salary. It’s possible to live virtually expense-free for a couple of months.  Many summer camp counselors take home all or most of their salaries at the end of the summer.

Finally, you will form lifelong friendships at camp.  You may arrive alone and nervous in June, but you will leave in August with literally hundreds of friends from all over the world.  Two months may not seem like a long time, but when one lives and works in close proximity with co-workers, it’s more than sufficient to form bonds that ordinarily would take years.  There are always  tears on the last day of camp, not only when saying goodbye to your campers, who will have secured a special place in your heart forever, but to co-workers—the ones you know you will see again as well as the ones you know you will not.  Regardless, the world will seem like a much smaller place to you.

Though it may seem early to begin planning such a special adventure with so many possibilities, building a successful camp staff not only requires individuals who possess all of the qualities previously mentioned, it requires finding the right mix of personalities and talents.  Such an endeavor, of course, takes time.  Camp recruiters review literally thousands of applications each year and speak with hundreds of candidates to find those who are the best fit for their camp’s atmosphere, philosophy and program.  Starting your job search while the ground is still white and the tree branches still bare provides you with the advantage of a larger pool of positions from which to choose.  By April, most camps have nearly completed their hiring and only difficult to fill or highly specialized roles remain.

So, after a winter of wading through piles of snow, are you ready for a summer full of adventure?

I can do it myself!

While no actual human being develops in the precise sequence of a child development chart, new parents quickly learn that children do go through dramatic stages. Like other skills, becoming self-reliant takes time and can only develop through real time.

To begin with, parents often track all the “firsts” that a child achieves on a daily basis but as the list grows longer we come to expect changes. The way that most young children acquire language and skills is so rapid that later—even when parents are getting a little more sleep—it becomes difficult to remain excited about each previous new word or action! However, there is one stage that most parents don’t forget and that’s when a child starts declaring, “I can do it myself.” All of a sudden, totally dependent infants morph into adamant creatures with distinct needs and wants. This exasperating but essential stage is filled with cute moments when children seem to hover between babyhood and childhood. But it can also be a difficult time for some parents if they fear that their child may not need them any longer.

As children mature, they continue to develop and require more experiences where they can make independent choices without parents. If parents don’t allow children to make decisions and do things on their own, they won’t develop confidence or realize that they are not just extensions of their caregivers. It’s a tricky line that parents walk! Sometimes giving children room to spread their wings seems counter intuitive, but in order to grow into a self-reliant adult, children need to struggle without the offer of a quick fix. Even when parents can take care of things, the better choice is to support a child through the process of working through and solving problems. Long after a problem has been forgotten, a self-reliant child will remember hearing, “Wow! You amaze me! You really worked hard to figure that out.”

A child who is self-reliant can think for themselves, trusts their own judgment and feels in control of their life. This leads to becoming more active, independent and competent adults and citizens. The child also develops skills to draw on inner resources and use coping mechanisms even when they feel things are not easy. Sending a child to camp is a perfect way for a child to further develop self-reliance in a nurturing, safe and supportive environment. The whole camp experience is designed to illustrate to the camper that becoming a successful person takes personal strength as well as playing a role in a larger group–with the emphasis always on FUN. I can’t think of a more wonderful childhood experience for facilitating such important life skills!

Of course, the process of becoming self-reliant is not easy, but that’s where camp staff and counselors are there to help your child adjust and learn. If you wonder how to help your child develop self-reliance, remember that each child comes to conclusions for themselves, so the only way to experience camp is to be a camper. They are building on early determination to “do it themselves,” and those first fierce moments of independence are precious. Camp offers a full range of fun, adventure, and opportunities to experience emotions with different adults and in new, safe situations. By the end of summer camp, campers bring a lot of stuff home. There’ll be great crafts, stories to tell and some inevitable laundry to wash—but every camper in the world—also brings home a new understanding of themselves.

How did you learn self-reliance at summer camp and what strategies helped you support your independence? Which experiences do you think especially helped kids develop inner strengths? We look forward to your stories too!

Emma

Thanks for the image AmberStrocel.

Pre-Camp Has Arrived…

Just about 15 days until we’re all together again on the shores of Echo Lake. We’ve been in Maine for about three weeks with 20 counselors who joined us from all over the United States who are part of our Pre Camp Crew. Along with our contractors (builders, roofers, hard court painters, electricians, landscapers, turf and field specialists, boat mechanics and others) these counselors are weed-whacking, cleaning up and getting everything ready for your arrival.

It’s a lot like regular camp now….except there are no campers yet. We get up…have breakfast…then have four hours of activity in the morning (working on the grounds, setting up all the sports equipment, moving picnic and ping pong tables, raking leaves, getting the barns ready, etc.) Then we have lunch…followed by more activity (setting up docks, putting in the slalom course, sorting staff shirts, setting new routes on the Climbing Towers) until it’s time to…eat dinner. After dinner the counselors get a good break, play volleyball, take a swim, work out in the Fitness Center and enjoy Maine.

In a few days, all the pre-season training will begin. Inner Quest from Virginia comes to certify the adventure staff; swim staff update their waterfront certifications; outdoor trippers head all over Maine and New Hampshire to scout our camping trips; equestrian staff will break-in our ponies and horses…and it will all come together.

Debbie and I love being up here at this time of year…but we can’t wait for you to get up here. Anabel and Madeline love it too…but are already asking when the campers will arrive. Baby Tess has also given Maine the thumbs-up. Tonight we have our annual Pre Camp bar-b-que at Alliquippa to thank these awesome counselors for the hard work.

Get psyched! We’ll see you in Readfield before you know it!!

As always,

Jem

Is Your Child Ready for Summer Camp?

You’ve collected the brochures, visited the web sites, maybe you’ve visited a camp or two. You may have even have marked off a few weeks in July on your calendar. But you did it in pencil, because you just can’t get rid of that nagging question – is my child, my baby (sniff) ready for overnight camp?
There is no magic formula or age for camp, and every child is unique; but there are some tried and true signs of readiness. So before you pack the tennis racquets and the swimsuits, start by answering these five questions:

1. Is your child interested in and asking about camp?

Spring has just sprung – if your child is already asking about going away to camp, take that as a good sign. Children who are self-motivated and interested in attending camp have a greater chance of being successful once they arrive. Point your child to this: It’s My Life, a PBS web site for tweens, which has advice specifically for kids headed to camp. The site even encourages kids to talk to their families first. What mom doesn’t love that tidbit?

2. Can your child manage personal care needs and the tasks of daily living without mom around? On their own?

Overnight camp involves independent living. Does your child get dressed for school without your help? Can he/she fix themselves a snack? Take a shower? Remember to brush their teeth? If they still need help or daily reminders, you don’t have to keep them home (remember, your child will have great camp counselors to care for them), but you may want to encourage more self-reliance, a good quality to have at home, too.

3. How long has your child been away overnight without you? Was it a positive experience?

If your child loves sleepovers and slumber parties (at other people’s houses) transitioning to sleep-away camp may be a breeze. A week at grandma’s isn’t the same as three or four weeks at summer-camp; but if an overnight without you has never worked, do some trial runs before registering your child for camp. My own personal role model, Supernanny, has some great tips for making sleepovers a breeze.

4. Does your child have a healthy respect for adults and listen to instructions?

Life will be much easier for everyone if your child is good at following instructions and is willing to go along with camp rules. Just keep in mind that our kids often reserve their worst behavior for us, their parents, bless them. If your child is well-behaved in school, with coaches and other adults in positions of authority, they should do fine at camp.

5. Is your child willing to try new things?

Life comes at you fast, Ferris Bueller said, and the same is true for summer camp. Each day is filled with new people to meet, new surroundings, and new activities to try. For kids willing to give it a go, there’s no better place to spread their wings than summer camp.

The Bottom Line

No one knows your child like you do – even after you’ve completed all the quizzes and checklists and asked all your friends about their kids’ experiences, the best thing to do is trust your instincts. If you feel it in your gut that your child can handle overnight camp, you’re probably right. Get ready… summer is on its way!

Thanks to stevedepolo and peterblanchard for their pictures!

Olivia, Guest Blogger

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