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.
The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.
Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better whileothers actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.
Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp, they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.
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.
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.
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.
A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what’s the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.
First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to saying goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.
Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.
Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.
Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make it through the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.
There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.
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.
Admit it. During the summer, you just scroll through the camp photos looking for any part of your child—a pose with friends, a smiling face, an arm, a shoe, a finger—anything that you can bookmark and study intensely to see what information you can garner using every technique you’ve ever learned from Law & Order. But have you ever gone back through the photos months after camp ends and just browsed at large, not just at your children, but at camp at large? If you haven’t, you should.
Camp photos aren’t just random shots caught by the camp photographer as he or she casually passed by. They tell a story. The story of camp and how the summer unfolds. The camp photographer is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest working people at camp. In fact, the work is so difficult, that many camps employ more than one, plus a videographer or two. Camp photographers are some of the first people out of bed each morning and some of the last to go to bed each night. Daily, they are charged with capturing the spirit of camp in pictures. If that sounds easy, try making around several hundred acres to capture about twenty activities happening simultaneously. On top of that, you’re taxed with trying to capture images of each and every camper each day. It’s a task. But a valuable one. Because, at the end of the summer, what a camp photographer leaves behind are images of the best moments at camp.
If you look back through the camp photos, you see friends enjoying time together in arts & crafts, sports teams in action, candid shots of campers living in the moment of whatever activity in which they are participating, being reflective, or just taking it all in. You also see moments of true surprise, awe, joy, and even disappointment. You can literally relive the summer by looking through the camp photos. If you want to know what your child is up to, scroll for the photos of our child. But if you want to know what is happening at camp, take the time to look through the camp photos…again.
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.