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Summer Camp Helps Children Maintain Routine

Summer camp is a lot of fun. One need only ask any camper on virtually any summer camp campus to confirm that notion. Children love the activities and the relatively relaxed environment of sleepaway camp. However, there is something else that summer camp children crave, although they might not know it: structure. Dr. Laura Markham asserts that routine helps children develop self-discipline, cooperation, change tolerance, and responsibility.

To an outsider, summer camps may seem like little more than organized chaos. However, most summer camps operate around set daily schedules that move children from activity to activity at specific times throughout the day. Although the daily activities may change, the times and length of the periods do not. Meals are also held at set times. The use of bugle calls, bells, music, or announcements assist campers in transitioning from one part of their day to another, which, according to Markham, helps eliminate power struggles by setting parameters and giving children a recognizable sign for knowing when it’s time to bring one activity to a close and move onto another without being told.

A daily routine also helps at night. Research shows that children who have a structured schedule sleep better at night. Routine also lessens anxiety and improves behavioral issues. Children feel less anxiety when they understand what is expected of them and can confidently anticipate what will happen next. Summer camp is built on traditions that happen from year-to-year. Many camps are also divided into age groups that serve as steps through the camp experience from the first year of camp to the final. From their first day at camp, there are certain rites and privileges related to sleepaway camp traditions specific to each age group to which campers can look forward as they get older. That children can see from the beginning that summer camp is a progressive process also helps them to understand the concept of patience when working toward a goal.

Because of the benefits provided by the structure of summer camp, many parents are increasingly seeing the advantages of time spent at summer camp. As a result, summer camp is experiencing a revival of sorts as a summer staple. More than eleven million people attended camp last year, according to the American Camp Association. If you’re trying to think of a way to add value to your children’s summer, consider sending them to summer camp.

Camp: A Different Set of Expectations

Okay, admit it. You’ve found yourself spending a considerable amount of time admiring that candle your daughter gave you on her camp’s Visiting Day or those wooden bookends your son brought home. Part of you wonders how come you never got to make stuff that cool when you were a kid while another part of you is mystified by how the arts and crafts staff of your child’s summer camp was able to draw out the Picasso in your little ones. After all, you can barely get them to focus long enough to make a poster for their science projects. What is it about camp that seems to facilitate children’s creativity?

Sure it’s woodsy and remote, even quaint–the perfect place for children to feel free to be themselves. They certainly do a lot of things at camp that they don’t get to do at home. And you did spend the entire summer looking at photos of your daughter posing in a rainbow colored tutu—Did she ever take that thing off?—and of your son covered in face paint knowing full well that neither of them would EVER dress like that at home. And was that your son dressed as a dog singing on stage? Singing? Him? Really? And last night he just told you, by the way, that he is trying out for the school play this year because the camp play was really fun. He would never ever—even if someone had double dog dared him—have auditioned for a play before camp. What changed? The Expectations.

There are a lot of reasons children find themselves exploring more creative avenues at summer camp, but one really big one is that the expectations are different. Children learn to respond to expectations. Moreover, they learn to respond to the expectations of individuals. They understand that their parents have expectations as do their teachers, siblings, friends, coaches, so on and so forth. Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, a lot of the expectations in that ten month world campers know as “winter” in some way promote conformity. Expectations placed on children at home, in school, etc. emphasize the importance of following rules and established guidelines. Of course, camp expectations do this, too, but the emphasis at camp is not to find one’s place in that larger whole by blending in but by standing out. Camp is a place in which children are encouraged to try new things in a quest to find their passion.

Sure you’re thinking of those photos of your daughter holding up her latest tie-dye creation for the camp photographer’s camera—those ones in which she was covered to her elbows in dye—and you’re thinking that’s you wouldn’t really classify tie-dye as a “passion.” Maybe not. But it could be the beginning of one, the spark that leads to an interest in art or the arts, or even just the memory of trying something new that turned out to be fun that lends courage to trying other new things. The expectations in the “world” of camp is that campers will explore it. Perhaps this is why it’s no surprise that many well known figures attended summer camp and attribute it to being the place where they found long-term direction. Sure, learning how to plunk out folk songs on a guitar is a long way from the philharmonic and being part of the chorus in the camp play is certainly not Broadway, but the idea is the same and, for many campers, it’s the start of building enough self confidence to stand out.

Dance at Camp

A lot is made of sports at summer camp, but most summer camps also offer many programs in the arts.  Dance is one such program that is becoming increasingly popular among both boys and girls.  Like the many sports available to try, summer camp dance programs give campers the opportunity to experiment with several different dance styles.  Aside from the traditional jazz, instruction is often available in contemporary, modern, hip hop, and ballet.  In addition to offering instruction in multiple styles of dance, many camps also form competitive dance teams that, like sports teams, travel to other camps to compete in dance competitions throughout the summer.  Even if campers aren’t quite ready to audition for So You Think You Can Dance, being a member of a camp dance team is still well within reach.  Typically, because summer camp staff work hard to make their camps a safe environment for children to feel encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and try new things, more emphasis is placed on interest than ability.  Many camps create teams for beginners as well as the more experienced.  Summer camp dance teams are also the reason many campers find their camp dance programs a great way to pursue a non sports related interest yet still be competitive.

Another reason that summer camp dance programs have become so popular is that they provide an outlet to still be physically active in a creative environment. Summer camp is about letting go and not being afraid to act a little bit silly.  Dance provides the same disciplinary and physical training as traditional sports yet also gives campers the opportunity to express themselves and sometimes even be a tad goofy through artistic choreography.  Dance instruction is often provided by trained dance instructors or college students who compete on their university dance team or are pursuing a career in the field of dance.  The availability of instruction in popular forms of dance such as hip hop has also driven the popularity of dance.

Dance is also versatile. Even though not every camper has a desire to be competitive in dance, campers enjoy learning new moves in dance class and then using them to choreograph bunk or cabin dance numbers for camp shows or talent contests.  They also like showing off their moves on the dance floor during camp dances. Having the opportunity to practice new dance moves in an open, accepting environment such as summer camp gives campers the confidence to continue learning, practicing, and trying what they’ve learned at home.

The Fun Doesn’t Stop after 5PM!

It’s January.  The kids just returned to school after their winter break, from which you’re still exhausted.  You’re already thinking about summer.  Entertaining them for two weeks was hard enough, let alone two months!  Maybe it’s time to start thinking about summer camp.  Yes, it’s January.  Yes, this is the time of the year when most of us start monitoring the morning radio and news reports for school closings and delays.  But summer is closer than you might think and now is the ideal time to start choosing a camp.

Summer camps come in many sizes and lengths from around one hundred campers all the way up to several hundred and sessions that last a from a few weeks up to seven.  There is truly a summer camp for every preference and budget.  No matter what type of summer camp you prefer, they all have one thing in common:  the fun doesn’t stop after 5pm!

Summer camp doesn’t just occupy your children during those summer hours when they’d otherwise be at school.  It’s a place that entertains them well into the evening hours as well.  In fact some of the best times at camp happen after dinner.  Sure there is plenty for campers to do during the day; play sports, pursue a hobby, swim, boat, play games, make new friends.  But the evening is when some of the deepest bonding moments of the summer take place.  After dinner at summer camp, children don’t retire to the living room sofa to watch television or flip on the Wii.  There are no cell phones in which to engage themselves for hours playing Angry Birds.  At camp, campers may find themselves taking part in a sing along, acting in a camp show, playing crazy games, or watching a magician or hypnotist.  It could be drum circle night or there may even be a campfire with s’mores in store.  Maybe it’s a swim or a dance party…or both!  It could be a sleepover or a night making special treats or craft projects.  Maybe it’s just a night to chill with the cabin  No matter what the activity, it’s fun and two words that are NEVER heard at camp: “I’m bored!”

Much of the support for summer camp revolves around the skills children develop during daytime programming activities.  The value in summer camp evening activities is often underrated.  However, a great deal of planning intended to extend camp spirit and tradition into evenings.  Camps employ entire teams of people whose sole responsibility is to plan and execute evening activities and special events that enhance the overall camp experience.  While having fun at their evening activities, campers also continue to learn how to shine as an individual, to be part of a team, and to develop their creativity in ways that benefit them as well as others.  At the same time, some of the most prevalent and pervading summer camp memories are made at evening activities.

An investment in summer camp is not just an investment in keeping children occupied during their summer days.  It’s a 24/7 investment that also includes evening entertainment that further develops the skills that are honed during the daytime.  So now and during their next break from school, when your children proclaim, “We’re bored,” think about summer camp.

Now is the Time to Start Choosing a Summer Camp

The leaves are falling off the trees and the weather is starting to cool down, but it’s not too early to start thinking about sending your children to summer camp next summer.  There is certainly no shortage of American summer camps and finding the right one for your children is essential to their success there.  There’s a lot to think about, which makes now a great time to start thinking about what you want in a camp.

Traditional summer camps are a great way to introduce children to summer camp because they offer a broad and well-rounded experience.  Children still trying to find their niche in a sport or hobby find great success at these camps because they’re given opportunities throughout the summer to take part in many different types of activities.

The length of the summer camp you choose is also important.  Most overnight camps accept campers from the age of seven.  When considering camps, it’s key to consider your family’s lifestyle, your children’s other activities and commitments, and even your children themselves. Many embrace the traditional seven week experience because it removes the stress of trying to figure out how to keep children active and entertained during summer vacation.

Consider how far away from home you want your child to travel as well.  Some parents prefer to send their children to a summer camp within a few hours of home while others view summer camp as a way to introduce a global perspective to their children and send them abroad to attend summer camp.  This is particularly becoming a trend in Europe, where European parents are deciding that they’d like their children to experience traditional American summer camps.  However, increasingly, parents from all over the world are making this decision as well.  Many American parents find the amazing reputations, beautiful campuses, and the breathtaking scenery of Maine idyllic and send their children from as far away as California, Florida, and many other states.

The structure of a camp’s program should be given careful consideration as well.  As they grow older, most campers like to make decisions about their daily activities at camp, and Camp Laurel gives them the opportunity to do so.  However, we find that younger campers, especially those new to summer camp, prefer a structured program with all or most of the decisions about their daily activities made for them.

Once you have decided what type of camp, length, location, and program are right for your child, you will likely find your search narrowed to a manageable number of camps.  At that point, it’s important to start learning about the camps that fit your criteria.  If you’re reading this blog, you’ve already found Camp Laurel’s website and are on the right track.  We also invite you to check out our Facebook page, and sign up to follow our Twitter feed.  By doing this now, you will give yourself plenty of time to watch, read, and listen.  If you are unfamiliar with camp, you will be pleasantly surprised at how active our summer camp community remains throughout the winter.  In fact, many of our families will tell you that camp never really ends for them—and that’s a good thing.

Create a Camp Atmosphere All Year Long

Just because your children are no longer at camp doesn’t mean you can’t create a camp atmosphere in your home. There are several things you can do to keep the camp spirit alive all year long.

This doesn’t have to be a radical flip of the switch that completely eliminates conveniences and luxuries from your lives. In fact, such an act is probably not very realistic for many families. But taking small steps to reduce your children’s reliance on things such as television, video games, and cell phones is a great way to remind them that don’t need them as much as they think they do. Designate a day or two each week in which you won’t turn on the television or play video games. Have a family game night instead. Board games and card games are a great, light-hearted way to bring the entire family together for a few hours. Turn off cell phones during meal times, before a designated time in the morning, and after a designated time in the evening. Yes, with the invention of smart phones, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on these convenient little gadgets, but you may be surprised at just how much you enjoy the peace and quiet of a few hours without them each day…and, your family will also likely remember just how much they appreciate having a conversation with someone who is not looking at their cell phone or texting the entire time.

Keep supplies for creative bursts. Arts & Crafts, Eco Science, and Nature don’t have to be activities restricted to the camp setting. In fact, many of the projects that your children do at camp can quite easily be done at home, and they’re a great way to fill an afternoon or evening on which you’ve decided to have a break from television and video games. There are books readily available that walk you step-by-step through such popular camp projects as tie-dying, candle making, beading, shrinky dinks, Mentos geysers, goo, and many more. YouTube also has a host of videos that demonstrate kid friendly home science and nature experiments. Keeping a closet or a chest of standard supplies for these types of projects will prevent you from having to make a shopping trip every time the kids want to have some summer camp style fun.

Have a “campfire”. You might not have a backyard big enough (and there may be some local ordinances against this, even if you do), but consider having a backyard fire. A patio fire pit, if you have one, is actually ideal. An operable indoor fireplace works, too. Make s’mores, tell stories, share memories. This makes for a great evening to invite friends over because, as every camper will tell you, the more the merrier at a campfire. If you live in an area in which weather permits, actually taking a weekend camping trip is always fun, too.

Start a garden (if you have a yard) or cook with your children once a week. Gardening and cooking programs are popular at camp. Even if you don’t have the space in your yard, herb gardens are easy to maintain and can be grown indoors. Besides being enjoyable and fun, cooking is a valuable life skill for children to learn. Let your children look up healthy recipes, talk about nutrition with them, and, most importantly, let them do the work in the kitchen.

Have regular family “out of the house” trips. At camp, children regularly take “out of camp” trips to places such as local sporting events, the movies, or bowling… They look forward to these trips as a special treat and time to create some very special memories with their camp friends. Why not make special memories like these as a family?

By making just a few (fun) adjustments, your entire family can enjoy the spirit of camp throughout the year, and it just might make those ten months of waiting a little more bearable for the kids!

Come Rain or Come Shine…

Do you ever wonder what happens at camp when it rains?  We assure you, it’s nothing like those scenes in movies that depict bummed out campers forced to spend entire days in their cabins or bunks .  Typically, it doesn’t rain all that often in the northeast during the summer and, whenever possible, activities proceed as planned.  We never let a few sprinkles get in the way of our regular activities.  But on those rare days when there is just no way around it, we’re ready!

When we wake up to a morning that makes outdoor activities unrealistic, we swing into action by implementing alternative programs.  Camp is just as fun and active when it’s a little bit wet outside as it is when the sun is shining.  By utilizing our indoor facilities, we’re able to keep the action going by combining our regular programs that are already completely or partially indoors, like gymnastics and arts and crafts, with special activities, like games, trivia contests, or sing-a-longs.  Sometimes, we simply move some of the things we normally do outside to an indoor location.  Ga-ga, basketball, and soccer, for instance, all adapt well to indoor locations.  By making just a few minor adjustments, we’re able to make sure that everyday at camp is full of good times and memories for our campers, not just those days when the sun shines.

Crazy Days and Whacky Nights

Parents, do you ever log onto your computer to check out the camp photos for the day, see your child painted in blue from head to toe or maybe wearing a crazy wig and big nerdy glasses and wonder, ‘What in the world?’  The answer probably has something to do with your summer camp’s special events and evening activities.  For fifty plus nights (and some days) summer camps entertain your children with some of the zaniest games and wackiest contests that they can come up with.  Why?  Because it’s fun to be painted in blue from head to toe…seriously.  Or at least it is when your cabin is performing a dance to the Smurfs theme in front of the entire camp and you’re Papa Smurf—or Smurfette.  And seeing images of your children and their counselors slipping, sliding, and splashing around in what appears to be multi-colored goo…it’s a camp thing…a really fun camp thing.  Eye patches are always fun.  So is spending a day pretending to be pirates and searching for buried treasure.   Becoming a secret agent and collecting clues to decode a message or pretending to be wild animals is also a great way to spend that occasional non-program day.  From trivia contests to talent contests and everything in between, some of the greatest moments of summer camp happen during the crazy days and wacky nights!

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