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

March 18th, 2014

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 duffels 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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Be Better

March 13th, 2014

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 while others 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.

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Camp Brothers & Camp Sisters

March 11th, 2014

There is no doubt about it; we all have someone we look up to in life. And as we grow older, whether we know it or not, someone looks up to us.  In the Camp Starlight world, this idea goes hand in hand with Camp Brothers/Sisters.

During the first few days of camp, everyone gets a Camp sibling, in regard to their respective campuses. Camp sibling activities are popular throughout the summer, and range from Brother/sister lunches, campfires, afternoons at the waterfront, and even a few evening activities.

Younger, first time campers are given a “Big Brother/Sister”, some are even lucky enough to have two! The excitement amongst the youngest campers is buzzing from the moment they find out they are about to receive their Camp Brothers or Sisters.

They know they will have an older, experienced camper to look up to and go to for advice. They feel comfort in having someone from upper camp that has been in their shoes, cheering them on and supporting them during their “Camp Firsts.”

Once children get a little older, some will be middle brother/sisters, meaning they have a younger and an older sibling. This is a time when they get the joy of having an older sibling to look up to, but also get to be a role model for their younger sibling. They get the best of both worlds, supporting younger campers, and getting support from their older sibling.

Finally, the oldest campers at Starlight are given younger siblings. After years of looking up to their “Big brother/sister” they are finally the ones who everyone else looks up to. It’s time for these campers to mature, and become role models for the younger campers. They also feel a bit of responsibility and knowledge on how to comfort their younger brother/sister when they are trying something new at camp, because they have been there themselves.

Camp Brothers and Sisters relationships last much longer than just one summer. Every summer you’ll hear campers talking about their previous camp siblings, still exchanging hugs and smiles as they pass one another.  The relationships these children make with one another is unlike any other role model, and have the ability to last a lifetime.

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