Multicultural Aspects of Camp

April 22nd, 2014

There is a multicultural aspect to summer camp that is a great benefit to campers who attend summer camps in America. While standardized test scores dictate students’ admission into certain high schools, learning programs and universities, summer camp is an esteemed diversion. That a student ventured to America and invested a an American tradition so revered as summer camp provides foreign campers an opportunity to advance English skills and immerse in American culture that is almost un-rivaled. The big picture in those countries in which learning is the golden ticket is to learn and take in “all things English.” To experience summer camp is to give a student an advantage beyond any of his or her classmates. Four hours per week in school could never equate to those of several weeks spent at a summer camp experiencing traditions that are quintessentially American while forming friendships that last a lifetime. English is a language that is as much about experience as linguistics. It’s a complicated mix of culture with as many exceptions to rules as there are rules. The best way to understand English is quite literally to experience it. At camp, children can make friends, participate in activities and become a part of traditions that are more than camp: They live English. For those children seeking to become truly fluent in English and gain an advantage over their fellow students, summer camp is an essential investment.
There is a multicultural aspect to summer camp that is a great benefit to campers who attend summer camps in America. While standardized test scores dictate students’ admission into certain high schools, learning programs and universities, summer camp is an esteemed diversion. That a student ventured to America and invested a an American tradition so revered as summer camp provides foreign campers an opportunity to advance English skills and immerse in American culture that is almost un-rivaled. The big picture in those countries in which learning is the golden ticket is to learn and take in “all things English.” To experience summer camp is to give a student an advantage beyond any of his or her classmates. Four hours per week in school could never equate to those of several weeks spent at a summer camp experiencing traditions that are quintessentially American while forming friendships that last a lifetime. English is a language that is as much about experience as linguistics. It’s a complicated mix of culture with as many exceptions to rules as there are rules. The best way to understand English is quite literally to experience it. At camp, children can make friends, participate in activities and become a part of traditions that are more than camp: They live English. For those children seeking to become truly fluent in English and gain an advantage over their fellow students, summer camp is an essential investment.
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Not Your Mom and Dad’s Arts and Crafts

April 20th, 2014

Summer camp arts and crafts programs often conjure images of beading lanyards and tie dying. Indeed, crafts are still a large part of camp, but art is becoming equally as important. That is to say that camps are investing more in open ended mediums that encourage campers to use their creativity to create works of their volition as opposed to pre-determined projects of summer camps past.

The difference between art and crafts may not be immediately clear to those who envision a room at summer camp that houses a seemingly unlimited supply of paintbrushes, glitter, paint, markers, glue, construction paper, and beads.  There is a marked difference, however. A recent article featured in Early Childhood News, M.A. and creative arts instructor Anna Reyer outlines the distinctions between art and crafts. Primarily art is open ended creations that evolve from a variety of supplies and minimal guidance. Crafts are pre-scripted projects assembled using specific supplies and guidelines with a finished product that is the same or similar for everyone.  There is something to be said for both the “arts” and the “crafts” of arts and crafts.

Crafts are fun, and many a camper sings the praises of the relaxation and satisfaction derived from a few minutes of down time in which they are given a set of materials and a set of instructions and are left to their own devices. It is an opportunity to be social and engage in casual conversation with other campers and counselors. There is also a sense of satisfaction with the end product, a three-dimensional completed object that the camper created from a group of raw materials.

Then there is art, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly obvious to camp owners and directors. Art projects provide campers with a period of time during the day in which very little, if anything, has been planned for them. It is their time to create as they choose. Whether it is painting or creating a piece of jewelry, it is a sanctioned part of the day that is limited only by their imaginations. Camp in general is a creative space. Through art, it is also an imaginative space. It’s a space in which children are free to unwind and mentally process their feelings. Art is the perfect opportunity for campers to recharge and turn around a day that has been less than perfect.  In that regard, similar things could be said about camp music, theater, and dance programs.

With the importance placed on creativity, fun, and happiness at summer camp, it is natural that summer camps invest big in arts and crafts programs. A memorable summer is more than just the glory of scoring a winning goal or swimming in the lake. Those times in which campers are left to their creative devices and are free to interact or not interact as they please provide crucial balance to the rest of the summer camp experience.

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It’s Not Too Late…

April 19th, 2014

Are you experiencing it yet? The ‘Oh no, summer is almost here and I still don’t have a summer job yet!’ panic?

Maybe you visited a job fair a couple of months ago, met a camp recruiter, and briefly thought about working at summer camp. It certainly sounded like fun, and it would definitely be different than any other summer job you’ve ever had. But you decided to put off the decision. Oh, how time flies when you’re taking exams and busy planning spring break.

Now, you’re just a little over a month from packing up your dorm room and wondering where you’re going to go. There is home, of course. But if you’ve been hoping for something slightly more exciting this summer, consider revisiting the idea of working at summer camp. It’s not too late.

While it’s true that many camps are filling those final empty positions, if you have a unique or unusual talent, that just might work in your favor. Most of the positions camps are currently filling are those that are hardest to fill, meaning that they require some sort of specialized knowledge that not a lot of people have. What kind of specialized knowledge? Think creatively. Are you good in the kitchen? Maybe you are Shaun White on a skateboard, a Zumba enthusiast, know how to fire a kiln, operate a band saw, sew or build rockets. These are just a few of the specialty hobby or niche programs for which camps sometimes have difficulty finding just the right person. Before assuming that there is no place for you on a summer camp staff, do a little bit of research. You never know when a camp may be looking for someone just like you.

This isn’t to say that if you’re not particularly gifted in anything special that there is no place for you. Sometimes staff members who have signed on for the summer score that last minute dream internship or have to withdraw for personal reasons, leaving camps with positions to fill that require common skills. The point is that although openings are dwindling fast, it’s not too late.

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Countdowns and Stuff

April 17th, 2014

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.

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Adventure Abound

April 8th, 2014

The outdoors and adventure are both synonymous with camp, so it’s no wonder that some of the most popular activities at camp involve outdoor adventure. Summer camp outdoor adventure programs of today have transcended the traditional nature walk (although those still occasionally happen). Outdoor adventure at camp truly incorporates “adventure” into the activities. Campers have the opportunity to scale 50 foot walls or fly over camp on a zip line. They maneuver their way across high and low ropes courses. Using GPS trackers, they locate objects hidden throughout camp. On sunny days, they hike through the woods while enjoying waterfalls, mountain views and absorbing the scents of leaves, trees, and grass. They learn valuable outdoor living skills.

Adventure is defined as an “exciting or unusual activity.” Certainly, for most campers, there is very little that is mundane about standing at the top of a 25 foot platform preparing to take a leap of faith. For that matter, even the traditional hike through the woods is less than ordinary for the majority of children today. Campers frequently report feeling “refreshed” or “invigorated” following outdoor adventure activities. A study conducted by the Children & Nature Network suggests those aren’t just adjectives.

Children who spend time in close proximity to the outdoors tend to feel more energetic than children who spend large amounts of time indoors. They’re also less stressed and anxious. That’s because fresh air literally has a calming effect. Another study conducted by The National Recreation and Park Association concluded that, simply put, our brains need oxygen. Oxygen promotes a healthy psychology as well as helps children relax and even improves their immune systems. There is also data to suggest that exposure to the outdoors has a positive effect on attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders. The study concurs with that conducted by the Children & Nature Network; there is a reason parks were built in urban areas to promote good health. They do just that.

Outdoor adventure activities at summer camp provide campers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors through exciting mediums that aren’t available to them at home. Although climbing walls and even zip lines are being constructed by many suburban recreational centers, a good number of them are indoors. Engaging in adventurous activities outdoors reaches beyond mental and physical health benefits. It helps campers develop an appreciation for the natural environment and a distinct awareness of what separates artificial environments from nature. Sure, several outdoor adventure activities can be recreated indoors, but the sights, sounds, and smells that campers learn to associate with them cannot.

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Camp Mom

April 3rd, 2014

One of the most essential roles held in a summer at Camp Starlight is that of the Camp Mom. The Camp Mom is always alert and sensitive to the needs of campers in their everyday routines. Her chief role is to pay that extra special bit of attention known as mother love to our junior campers, specifically our Junior Boys. She checks that the campers are clean and keeping up personal hygiene. She makes sure everyone is lathered up in their sunscreen before heading off to a day of fun in the sun, and she is always ready with her clippers to trim those finger nails when they need it!

Our staff at Camp Starlight is ever vigilant to the safety and well-being of campers, but as we all know, there are just some things that a mother does best. The Camp Mom has the freedom and flexibility to be where she is needed whenever that is. She drops into the bunks, stops by at activity periods, and of course does her daily rounds at meals for a quick plate check to make sure everyone is taken care of. Counselors are aware and working to make sure the kids are happy and healthy, but only a mom can really go behind and make sure everything is just right. As important as these roles are, the position also steps outside of the everyday practical check-ups and really allows the Camp Mom and the campers to develop a caring relationship through the summer.

In addition to watching the physical welfare of the kids, a Camp Mom also takes on the role of a friend. Campers realize she is there for them to talk to, to wish each of them sweet dreams at night, and to help encourage their independence and growth during their summer at camp. For all of these reasons, it is obvious why the Camp Mom is such an integral part of our youngest campers’ summers. All of our previous Camp Moms have shared their enjoyment of being mother to the many kids they met over the summer and being able to care for them during their time away from home. It is also a common feeling that a summer at Camp Starlight as the Camp Mom brought them a wonderfully warm experience personally because of becoming a part of the amazing people known as the Starlight Family!

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Who Goes to Summer Camp?

April 1st, 2014

A question about the type of children who go to summer camp recently popped up on an internet parenting debate board. The parent in question was considering sending her daughter to a summer camp but was afraid that she would not fit in. Among those offering an opinion, there were a lot of ideas based on stereotypes that seemed mostly derived from what people had seen in the movies rather than firsthand experience. Interestingly, not one of those people participating in the discussion actually sent their children to summer camp. But they knew someone, who knew someone who did. It was like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon summer camp style. But we do know summer camp. It is our lives, not just every summer but throughout the year, and we can describe firsthand the type of children who go to summer camp. Everyone!

It’s true. There really is not a specific type of child that goes to summer camp. Campers who attend the many thousands of summer camps throughout the United States each year come from all walks of life, countries from around the globe, and have about as many different interests as there are types of camps. Here’s the secret. It is not about being the “type” of child that goes to summer camp. It is about finding the summer camp that is right for your child. Camps throughout the United States cater to different interests, budgets, schedules, religious faiths, just about every variable of which one could imagine. Closer to our own home (and hearts), America’s Finest Summer camps fall more into the traditional summer camp category. They are not strictly sports oriented. In fact, they offer plenty of niche activities. But they, as most traditional summer camps, are still considered “sports camps” because there is a lot of physical recreation. Children are encouraged to be active and enjoy the outdoors. Roughly half of each day at a traditional summer camp is focused on sports related activities. It goes without saying that sending a child who is not interested in sports to a seven or eight week camp with an athletic heavy program is probably not a wise choice.

For those ready to cross traditional camps off of your list because you’re sure your child is not the type of child who goes to a traditional style residential summer camp, consider an alternative that is rapidly rising in popularity before you do: choice oriented summer camp programs. Choice oriented camps are sort of a hybrid between a traditional summer camp and special interest camps. In fact, more and more camps are now making their programs more choice oriented because these types of camps have become so popular with campers and their parents over the past several years. Camps that offer choice programs allow campers to decide which activities they do each day. Choice programs vary in the amount of control given to campers. Some offer schedules that are partially determined by the camp with campers having the opportunity to choose a certain amount of their daily activities. Other camps give campers total control, which means that even if the camp is technically considered a traditional sports related summer camp, campers have the opportunity to determine their level of athletic participation. Camps that offer full choice programs tend to draw a slightly more diverse set of campers than traditional sports camps and are typically a good fit for campers who want the traditional summer camp experience but who have special interests on which they’d prefer to focus.

The length of the camp is key in determining whether a camp is a good fit for your child. Children who have never spent any time away from home or who have never attended day camp may find a sleepaway camp that lasts the full summer a bit overwhelming. And who could blame them? Imagine being a child who has spent every day of your life in an urban or suburban setting with mom and dad who suddenly finds yourself sleeping in a bunk or cabin with eight or ten other kids and a couple of college age strangers you just met in the middle of the woods. Yep…a bit of a culture shock, and for children who tend to be a bit skittish, shy, or particular about their daily and/or nightly routines, usually not a good one.  In fact, most full summer camps recommend and even prefer that new campers attend day camp for a summer or two prior to enrolling for a residential program. For those wanting to test the waters with a sleepaway experience, consider trying a session camp with shorter sessions, usually three or four weeks.

All of this is not to say that there aren’t certain attributes that help a child become acclimated to a summer camp environment faster than others. Outgoing, open-minded children who are willing to try just about anything usually get off the bus on their very first arrival day and blend right in as if they’ve been going to summer camp their entire lives. Children who tend to be more reserved may take a bit longer to ease into summer camp life, but the environment of summer camp tends to be one that facilitates acceptance and there are very few types of personalities that don’t eventually hit their stride. Generally, once children meet that special friend or find that favorite activity, self-confidence grows by leaps and bounds and any sort of trepidation they may have had when they arrived is left behind. In that regard, camp can actually be a good experience for those children who could use a little boost in the area of self-confidence.

So, if you’ve been thinking about sending your children to summer camp but haven’t because, like the parent on the parenting debate forum, you aren’t sure whether your child will fit in, remember that it’s really more about finding the right camp for your child’s personality and preferences. Once you find that, chances are that you’ll also find a group of campers with which your child will fit right in!

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

March 27th, 2014

Even though June 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 Starlight 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, Camp Starlight  will 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 more about the Camp Starlight. 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 get a feel for 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.

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Yes, You Can

March 25th, 2014

“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.

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Stack the Caps: Taking on the World One Cap at a Time

March 22nd, 2014

Spring has finally sprung, and as the sun and warm weather moves back into our lives, communities start to become closer again. For some reason, the warmer weather brings everyone together. At Camp Starlight, we are a community made of people from all different walks of life, from all over the world. Recently, a tradition that started at Camp Starlight has made its way across the world into others’ hearts.

Stack the Caps for Kids with Cancer is a non-profit organization that began in 2008 at Camp Starlight, inspired by a wonderful camper, Brielle Namer, who passed away from a very rare form of cancer. Every summer, Camp Starlight puts on a “Stack the Caps” event on the first Friday night of camp. Campers and staff bring baseball caps (that are new and have never been warn) and literally stack them on top of one another. Each year, the “stack” gets bigger and bigger! After the event is completed, Camp Starlight donates the caps to Memorial Sloane Kettering and Boston Children’s Hospital.

This event does not just stop at Camp Starlight. Campers and staff have taken it upon themselves to make this event knownworldwide.  A fun, exciting, and unique event to hold as; bar/bat mitzvah project, school assembly, club/sorority/fraternity philanthropy event, or even just a way to get your community involved with helping others.

Holding your own Stack the Caps event is quite simple.  First you’ll want to contact info@stackthecaps.com for more information, and some promotional products for your event! Choose a date, time and location, get the word out to community members and ask for donations! Contacting local sports teams or sporting goods stores is a great way to get caps. You will also need a ladder and a 2×4 piece of wood tall enough to balance the caps. Be sure to measure how high your “stack” is at the end of your event, and–without a doubt–take lots of pictures! And don’t forget to contact a local Children’s hospital to donate your caps.

You can find even more information and stories of people holding Stack the Cap events at stackthecaps.com. Bring a new/unused cap to camp this summer so you can be apart of the fun and donate to a wonderful cause!

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