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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.

Environmentally Friendly Noise

Whether you’re a new or returning staff member who is preparing to work at camp this summer, the decibel level of those first few days at camp are always a bit above what you anticipate. Of course, we hear noise every day.  But camp noise is different than other noise. A camp staff member once relayed a memory of her first summer at camp. She recalled the shock of the day the campers arrived. ‘It was suddenly very loud,’ she said. ‘They don’t prepare you for that at orientation. Then again, there is probably no way they could.’ She is right. There is no way to describe what several hundred excited children who have been waiting for a moment for ten months sounds like. It’s certainly not noise pollution, though. It much more closely resembles environmentally friendly noise. It’s the noise of excitement, happiness and anticipation.

A strange phenomenon happens with environmentally friendly noise. You not only expect it, but anticipate hearing it every day. You don’t even realize how much you look forward to camp noise until the end of camp. When the buses pull away on the last day of camp, the quietness that settles over the campus is one of the saddest moments of the summer. You realize the kids are gone, and the summer really is over. Even after you return home, you find yourself wishing to hear the sounds that defined your summer–bugle calls or bells to signal daily activities, constant cheering and laughter, mealtimes with hundreds of other people. Everyday noise just seems like noise pollution.

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.

Sunset at Camp

Camp provides the perfect backdrop to a sunset. Watching the sun dip below the tree line and catch the reflection of the water before finally disappearing into the horizon as the campus slowly lights up isn’t just a classic picturesque image of camp, it’s symbolic. It signals a shift in the camp day. The daily activities have ended and now it’s time for the evening to begin.

Sunset at camp signifies dinner. Dinner is an important activity at summer camp. It’s a time for everyone to come together and tell stories about their day as they share a meal as the daylight slowly transitions into a star filled night.

With the sunset also comes campfires. Each camp has its own unique campfire traditions. But the one thing they all have in common is that campfires happen after the sun goes down. Whether it’s entertaining each other, singing songs or eating s’mores, sitting around a campfire at night helps everyone tune into the environment around them and take in the magic of summer camp. The sounds of campus become more amplified. The smells become more distinct.

Campers and staff alike also know when they see the sun begin to set that it’s almost time for evening activities. Evening activities are some of the most action-packed and anticipated moments at camp. Sometimes the entire camp participates in evening activities together while at others separate activities are held for different age groups.

It’s so easy to not even notice the sunset during the ten months when one is not at summer camp. But at camp, sunset is something that just can’t be missed. Not only is it an important part of the camp day, it’s nice to take notice of such a beautiful transition and to understand that taking notice of it is a special part of camp.

Countdowns and Stuff

For the millions of youth who call summer camp home each summer, excitement begins to grow exponentially just after spring break each year. Not only is the end of another school year just around the corner, but the beginning of another camp season is oh so close that campers can practically smell the campfires. A variety of countdowns help them keep track of just how many sleeps are left until they’re back in their bunks or cabins and reunited with camp friends. Oh, of course there are the literal countdowns of exactly how many days, minutes, and hours are left that are featured on many summer camp apps and websites. But kids tend to be a bit more creative than website designers when it comes to countdowns and pre-camp rituals.

Parents may be a bit mystified, for example, when they’re handed a pillowcase, blanket, towel, etc. that campers have conveniently kept out of the laundry basket for the past several months because it “smells like camp.” For campers, this is just the release of one summer as part of the final preparation stages for the next. For parents, it’s a good reason not to send the good pillowcases to camp.

The amount of times the word camp finds its words into a conversation—and sometimes even a single sentence—steadily starts to rise again.  Maybe there is justsomething about seeing green, or maybe it’s the warmer days. Whatever the motivating factor, after a graduating dipping off during the coldest winter months, with the arrival of spring comes the re-integration of camp lingo into everyday speech. Parents need not become frustrated, children are usually happy to translate until someone gets around to writing that all important Camp Dictionary for Parents Who Want to Know What Their Campers Are Saying.

Some campers measure the time left until camp by the amount of episodes remaining before the season finale of their favorite television shows and then the number of weeknights they have to endure with nothing on television but reruns to watch until camp starts. Still, others prefer the exam approach and countdown their time until camp by the number of tests remaining in the school year. (Note: Some counselors use both of these approaches as well.)

Clever Apple users countdown with SIRI and hold daily conversations with her about camp. Others like to plan ahead even further into the summer by making out their Visiting Day snack lists, just in case they get too busy to do so after they get to camp. Countdowns are rarely a matter of just plain counting down when it comes to camp. Like camp itself, they’re full of ritual and meaning.

5 Things for Camp Staff to Begin Thinking about in the Spring

Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:

1.)    Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.

2.)    Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.

3.)    Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.

4.)    Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.

5.)    Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.

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.

5 Things for Camp Parents to begin Thinking about in the Spring

March is here, which means spring is just around the corner. More importantly, summer is only a few months away, which means it’s time to begin checking off that annual camp preparation list. No doubt, the idea that it’s time to begin thinking about summer is a welcome respite for many following a winter that regularly included terms such as “polar vortex.” So whether you’re preparing your children for their first summer at camp, or are still thawing out after a frigid winter, here are five things to think about as the snow begins to melt, temperatures begin to rise and vegetation blooms:

1.)    Order camp clothes. Some camps feature catalogues and websites that cater to supply lists and sell logo merchandise. Although most camps do not require parents to order supplies and clothing from these catalogues, a few items are never a bad idea, particularly for children who intend to be part of sports teams. Also, camps sometimes require children to wear a specific colored logo shirt on certain occasions, such as out of camp trips. These clothing catalogs are the best resources for these items.

2.)    Start talking about camp. For returning campers, chances are that they’ve never completely stopped talking about it. It’s good, however, to begin preparing first time campers a few months ahead of camp so that they are not completely overwhelmed when departure time for camp actually arrives. For all campers – returning or not – it’s good to set some goals for the summer. Some parents find that their children are a step ahead of them when it comes to goal setting, while other campers need a bit of assistance with organizing their thoughts and prioritizing. Either way, it’s good to begin a dialogue now so that you and your children have time to think about expectations for the summer.

3.)    Begin stockpiling. Some parents actually pull out camp duffles and begin packing in the early spring while others just clear off a shelf in a closet and begin picking up basic supplies such as sunscreen, shampoo, and socks whenever they are out shopping. Gradually building a stockpile prevents that last minute scramble that inevitably ends in a phone call either from or to the camp about forgotten items.

4.)    Schedule pre-camp checkups. This is particularly crucial if your child’s pediatrician tends to be one that is perpetually booked and scheduling appointments a month or two into the future. Camps are safety focused, and it’s is very important that they understand each and every camper’s medical needs and limitations. For liability reasons, they also need medical and insurance information prior to being able to permit campers to participate in certain activities, such as out of camp trips. Also, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor about any medications that will be necessary for the summer.

5.)    Complete paperwork. Camps mail or make necessary forms available online to parents around this time of year. The forms may include information about trips, interests, goals, children’s personalities, etc. Although the purpose of the paperwork may not always be clear, camps put a lot of thought and consideration into the information they request parents to provide, and that information is crucial to facilitating a successful summer for campers. Since this task can seem daunting in the midst of those last minute preparations just before camp, it’s a good idea to set aside a block of time early in the spring to complete forms.

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