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Posts Tagged ‘lessons from camp’

What I learned from playing sports at camp

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 3.13.27 PMI wish you could have seen my face the first day of summer camp; my excitement was so contagious I was worried the nurse would put me in quarantine. That being said, my excitement had nothing to do with sports. So far as I was concerned, sports were just another stressful school activity, and to be honest I was initially disappointed when I first saw “basketball” on my daily schedule.

Fast forward a week later, and I was signing up for golf and baseball of my own free will, and even organizing pickup games during rest hour. While I’d dreaded sports at school, they quickly become one of my favorite activities at camp!

So what happened? Well, it might sound a little cheesy, but it didn’t take much camp spirit to change my attitude. Let me explain…

Camp is “different.” In a good way.

Although many of the team sports at camp are familiar from the team sports at school, the experience of participating in sports at camp can be a completely different experience. In a good way, of course.

For campers who thrive on organized sports at school, camp offers a unique opportunity: a chance to hone skills in a more focused environment, and access to incredible coaches who are completely invested in helping their campers have a blast and build their skills. “You mean I get to spend all day long outside playing games?” For sporty campers, the athletics program at camp is paradise.

For campers who might be less inclined towards sports at school, on the other hand, camp offers a different kind of advantage: a chance to try a wide variety of sports in a stress-free environment, without the pressures that come along with the high-stakes atmosphere of organized team competitions at school.

Learning to challenge yourself

I know I wasn’t the only convert; many other campers who would never describe themselves as sporty outside of camp found themselves discovering the more positive, pro-personal-growth side of athletics during their time at camp. If the school environment sucks the fun out of volleyball for you, just try it at camp! It’s a totally different game. Trust me.

When competitive sports let me down at school, I thought it was everyone else’s fault. But getting a chance to chill out and try new things at camp taught me that actually, it wasn’t anybody’s fault; I just needed to relax and learn to be okay with winning some days and losing on others. You know, just like life.

Camp is a great environment to try new things

Regardless of a camper’s feelings towards sports at school, the number one difference that camp has to offer is this: variety.

At camp, it’s not a question of fitting a sport or two around academics; it’s a question of fitting as many sports as you can imagine into a single day! Roller hockey, golf, flag football, lacrosse, cheerleading, baseball, tennis, soccer… and those are just the tip of the iceberg.

The chances for finding a sport that suits you are endless, and if you don’t care for a particular game you aren’t stuck with it; after all, a new one will be starting up next period.

Keep an open mind

So here’s my advice to a new camper who might be anxious about team activities at camp: relax, give it a try, and keep an open mind. The best part of camp is that the scenery is always changing. Even if you decide that an activity isn’t up your alley, you can always sign up for something new next time.

…And once you do discover your favorite sport, it’s just a question of signing up as much as possible!

What a campfire means to a summer camper

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.48.44 PMCamp life may thrive on variety, but the traditional evening campfire has remained constant for as long as anyone can remember. The mere mention of a campfire brings back a flood of memories for many summer campers; memories of friends gained, challenges overcome, and a time when all there was to worry about was playing games and growing stronger. Nothing captures the spirit of the summer camp experience quite like the snap-crackle-pop of the hot fire and the magical smell of freshly split logs waiting to get thrown on the flames.


A day at camp is often hectic and wild, and the evening campfire offers everybody a chance to wind down. Camp simply wouldn’t be the same without it. After all, the traditional evening campfire represents more than just a nice way to stay warm on a brisk night; gathering around the fire represents community, the circle of life, and togetherness with friends new and old.


Fire has been a life source for all of recorded history, from the first ancient person to rub two sticks together to the diligent camper wielding flint and tinder. For all that time, friends and family have gathered around the fire to tell stories, play games and enjoy good food. (or s’mores, as the case may be!)


Building a fire with only matches, kindling and elbow grease is a chance to pit your wits against nature and enjoy a connection to “the old days” — before light bulbs, or flashlights, or flashlight apps on your smartphone.


Experiencing a campfire, and perhaps even starting one yourself, is a taste of independence for campers, for whom camp is the one of many steps towards independence and self-sufficiency.


Another thing campfires represent is a time for winding down through songs, skits, and theatrical games. Charades is never as funny as just before bedtime, when your best friend is dancing and gesturing desperately to get everybody to guess the right word. Even if you’re feeling tired after a long day of activities, you can count on this to be true: laughter flows freely by firelight. Just watch out for all the camp-related inside jokes!


And of course no mention of campfires is complete without talking about traditional camp songs, especially the kinds that involve audience participation. (“Hey, Burritos!” anybody?) Legend has it that there are campers out there who know so many verses of “The green grass grows all around” that it would take a whole day just to sing it from start to finish. Even if everybody sings out of tune, the harmony comes from the camp community’s commitment to keeping the traditional melodies alive — even the completely goofy ones.

…And of course we can’t forget s’mores!

One part of the fire nobody wants to miss: s’more time! Crafting the perfect golden-brown marshmallow is an art as old as marshmallows and fires. Like any fine art, roasting a marshmallow to perfection is a tricky task that takes hard work and commitment. (Thankfully, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and truth be told some folks prefer to let them catch fire for a crispy flavor!)


Whether you prefer a classic graham cracker and hershey’s milk chocolate s’more or have your own special recipe — I for one appreciate homemade chocolate chip cookies — roasting marshmallows on a rip-roaring campfire is something nobody forgets.


Plus, it’s just the right amount of sugar to keep you awake for the closing songs, but not so awake that you have trouble drifting into peaceful dreams after lights out!

Camp Changed My Kid

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

I was nervous and excited to send my son Connor to one of America’s Finest Summer Camps this year. Connor’s best friend attended camp the summer before and could not stop raving about it. So after plenty of research and discussions, we decided to let Connor spend the summer away. I won’t lie, my “mommy heart” broke a little when he practically jumped out of the car at drop off and didn’t look back, but I was pretty sure we were making the right decision. Last week, when we picked him up, I was 100% sure we had made the right decision. The happy, smiley kid who jumped into our backseat was….different.


11403218_10152921109351960_6993264803082064644_nI couldn’t pin point many differences right away, except for the excitement in his eyes and voice when he talked about all of his new friends and cracked himself up remembering inside jokes and hilarious conversations with his new buddies. One of the main things I noticed when we got home was how helpful he had become. Without me asking, he would make his bed, take his plates to the sink, offer to bring in the groceries or even simply ask if he could get us anything from the kitchen since he was going that way. I noticed a new sense of thoughtfulness when he came back. Not that he was heartless before by any means, but I definitely noticed a change in his willingness to help others and think of others before himself. As the days passed, my heart exploded with joy to see him excited to email, chat and FaceTime all of his new friends. He went to camp a little reserved, and came back social and confident. I loved seeing him interact with his peers, I loved seeing how he was truly listening to what others had to say, and how he felt confident contributing to the conversation.


Just today, he told me he was going to try out for soccer tryouts at school, a sport he had never played before camp. He said he was encouraged to try it at camp and played it almost every day while he was there. As a mom, I am blown away at what positive changes have come from sending my son to camp. I knew he would make friends, try a new activity or two, and learn to live both independently and with a group, but I had no idea about the social skills, character development, relational growth, and boost in confidence that spending just a few weeks away could create.


Any parent that is even thinking about sending their kid to camp should stop thinking right now and sign them up. Not only will you enjoy a few kid-free weeks of relaxation, but when your kid comes home, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at everything they’ve learned, and more importantly, who they’ve become.


America’s Finest Summer Camps changed my son for the better, and we are both looking forward to the growth and changes that will happen next summer at camp!

Finding Your Voice at Camp

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Although most campers leave camp an excited, talkative and outgoing ball of energy, not all of them come to camp that way. Camp has a magical way of taking a quiet and introverted child and encouraging them to find their voice and speak up for themselves. Children who came to camp as followers can emerge as outspoken leaders. Every camper is different and comes with their own unique personality, but each camper will spend the summer learning to communicate with other adults and their peers, a vital skill that children need to learn as they navigate through their formative years.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 11.07.22 AMCampers are always encouraged to work through their issues and problems in a healthy and productive manner, and learn various conflict management techniques. They are taught how to speak up for themselves and make sure their opinions and ideas are heard. They learn how to feel confident asking for help, and learn to be their own advocate.

Learning to find their voice is one of the best things a young person can do for their confidence and self esteem. Learning to say no without feeling guilty and feeling confident about contributing to a conversation are valuable life skills. Learning these skills could mean the difference between a student caving into peer pressure and one who can speak their mind. In a world where kids face challenges every single day regarding whether they will be a leader or a follower, a student who spent the summer at America’s Finest Summer Camps will have the experience necessary to speak up for what is right, even if they’re the only one speaking.

Campers who learn to speak up for themselves also learn to speak up for others. In a society where bullying is so prominent, the world needs more young people who are able to say what they think, stand up for what is right, and know how to do so in a way that is healthy and productive. A camper who spent the summer finding their voice may use it to help another friend, student or sibling who hasn’t found theirs yet.

Instilling confidence in the youth of country is something that will change the world, and when campers truly find their voice and learn how to express their ideas in a constructive way, they feel confident enough to truly make a difference.

Summer Camp: Improving Your Child’s School Performance

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Sure parents send their children to summer camp to have fun.  And letters home detailing exciting moments during the summer usually more than assure them that they’re getting their money’s worth.  But did you know that summer camp also may improve a child’s performance in school?

For one, there is routine.  Yes, it’s summer camp.  Yes, your children are letting loose and having some serious fun.  But they’re also maintaining a routine.   Studies have shown that children who maintain regular routines get better grades than those who don’t.  Many camp programs follow a schedule.  Although the individual activities vary from day to day, campers know when they will eat meals, have day and evening activities, shower, and go to bed from day-to-day.  Child-experts  have noted that maintaining a routine helps children stay focused because it keeps their lives calm and predictable.   When children feel calm and safe, they accept change more easily.  By maintaining a schedule at camp, children are able to transition more easily from the previous school year into the new one.  “Children handle change best if it’s expected and it’s handled in the context of a regular routine,” says Dr. Laura Markham, behavioral specialist.   Dr. Markham also notes that routine helps children understand expectations.  The faster children are able to transition into their new school year, get settled and understand expectations, the more likely they are to be successful.

Camp also provides social structure.  Social structure helps children learn how to interact with other people.  Ultimately, they become better communicators.  The benefit of being able to learn this process at camp is the camp social structure has a ready made support system.  Summer camp promotes a strong sense of family and tradition.  Emphasis is placed on the idea of each person being a valuable member of the camp family and the importance of individual contributions to the continuance of camp traditions.   Camps tend to place emphasis on fun rather than appearance. Children are also encouraged to be curious.  The atmosphere is very fun, playful, and nonjudgmental.  In his 2006 article Why play, Toys, and Games are Important, author Dr. Toy (yes, that’s his real name) says that children feel free to be themselves when they are relaxed and having fun, which makes them better listeners and communicators.  Students who are good communicators are less likely to feel frustrated in school.

As children mature at camp, they’re taught and given more responsibility.  From the first day they arrive at camp, campers obeserve that there are certain rites reserved for specific age groups.  They see that even they, as early campers, are not without their own special traditions.  But they also learn that there are things to look forward to in getting older and becoming more experienced campers.  Older campers take longer trips outside of camp and sometimes journey further away.  They stay up later.  They have more freedom of choice in their daily activities.  There are also have rituals exclusive to mature campers, something that younger campers learn to look forward to when they were young campers and of which they anticipate being a part.

Finally, there is the element of family in summer camp.  Not only do children learn to collaborate and be flexible by co-existing with others and participating regularly  in team sports and challenges, they are given additional tools by Camp Directors and Staff who care very much about them and their development.  Many camps utilize the services of professionals, such as MA Jeff Leiken, to implement special programs that help older campers prepare for high school and beyond by understanding how to maximize their potential for success.

Sure children have fun at summer camp!  But they also learn and maintain healthy habits that help them transition into the role of good student between summers.

*For more information or to contact Jeff Leiken, please visit his website

Put on Your Bathing Suits, Goggles, and Sunblock–It’s Time to Swim!

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Almost every camper will name his or her waterfront area as one of the best parts of camp.  Many camps are built on lakes and their waterfronts play a crucial role during the summer, not only as a place for swimming but as a gathering place and the perfect backdrop for outdoor evening activities.  Learning to swim at summer camp is a rite of passage.  But learning to swim not only provides a great foundation for building camp memories of sunny days spent at the waterfront, it has lifelong benefits as well.  

Of course, there are the much acclaimed physical and mental benefits of learning to swim that we all know.  It’s a great low impact exercise that is suitable for almost everyone, which makes it an ideal part of a regular fitness regime.  It’s also not age restrictive.  Rather, it’s an activity that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.  The fact that muscle strength is also greatly improved as a result of pushing oneself through the water goes without saying.

Swimming also improves coordination, emotional well being, concentration, and social skills.   In fact, it’s the largely social aspect of camping that likely makes it such a positive and popular part of the camping experience.  The relaxing atmosphere of a pool or waterfront area provides the perfect setting for children to let down their guards and enjoy the type of casual conversation that builds and strengthens friendships.  When combined with the sheer fun of the activity, it’s the perfect setting for building memories.

Camp waterfront locations are extremely active and full of almost endless possibilities for campers experiences.  There are often several activities taking place at once, which is why camp Waterfront areas are typically generously staffed with well trained, fully certified lifeguards who complete an extensive and rigorous training program prior to the start of camp.

The pool area is not merely a place for swim instruction at summer camp but fun activities such as  synchronized swimming competitions in which campers have fun using creativity and teamwork to choreograph a musical number that combines dancing and swimming.  Pool parties are popular evening activities at camp, complete with music and plenty of opportunity to socialize.    

Even more adventure can be found on larger lake areas that, in addition to swimming beaches, also often have water toys, such as trampolines, rock-its, and climbing rocks for campers to enjoy.   Since these areas require campers to pass a swim test prior to being able to use them, they provide fun and attainable goals for campers: first, to pass the test that allows them to swim to these special areas, then the challenge of climbing the wall or walking the plank.  Camps also incorporate their waterfront areas into their special event planning.  Water games and pirate themed treasure hunts are just a couple of ways that water play is used creatively in camp programs.

Swimming at camp takes on a new level of excitement when included in camp activities–such as decathlons, apache relays, and Olympics or Color Wars–that give campers the opportunity to use their swimming skills to rise to a challenge.  Many camps also compete in swim meets through their inter camp leagues.   Whether racing against other campers or a time clock, being able to apply their swimming instruction in an engaging way and seeing firsthand how they’ve improved has been a moment of pride for many a camper.

So the next time your child regales you with tales of the waterfront at his or her summer camp, remember that it’s not just summer memories that they’re gaining from their swimming experiences, but lifelong skills.

Sparking Creativity through Campfire

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

One of the most endearing and sacred parts of summer camp is the campfire.  More than just wood lit with a match, it’s an intimate part of the camping experience that goes far beyond simply sitting around a fire.  Each camp has a set of traditions uniquely connected to the campfire experience and, to campers, each tradition is significant, demanding reverence.  The campfire is the very place where many children recall the moment when their camp transformed from “a camp” to “their camp”, where fellow campers and counselors become family while singing songs, roasting s’mores, and engaging in campfire activities.   So intricate is the campfire to the summer camp experience that even former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has reflected on its importance in making him who he is:

“Simply consider the lessons I was taught by the campfire…every time the rich
reward was the same as we simply sat and enjoyed our consuming creation. And, there
was one aspect in particular that never failed to intrigue me, and that was the process of seeing the single small flame of the match spread to the kindling and then the twigs and then the smaller branches and finally the larger logs. It didn’t dawn on me until years later, but this was the perfect metaphor for the creative process…Years later, I found myself running a network television division and then a movie studio and now an entire entertainment company. But, much of the success I’ve achieved can be traced to the direct and metaphorical lessons I learned in building those campfires.”

To some, to assign such significance to fire may seem a bit of a stretch.  But to anyone who has attended camp, it’s not only believable but apt.  Beyond Eisner’s metaphor, the campfire is symbolic of camp, and represents the bonding between campers and nature.  Campfires instantly evoke feelings of togetherness and promote an atmosphere of being together in an intimate setting that is unique to the people who are present.  Many camps hold opening and closing campfires to welcome campers and immerse them in the camping experience and to help them say goodbye at the end of the summer.  At the beginning of the summer, the flames represent the birth of a new summer.  Opening campfires often include some sort of ritual that introduces an idea or process that can be re-visited throughout the summer, such as setting goals for the summer or some sort of introduction and bonding activity with camp “siblings”.  The meaning of the flames, however, transforms at the end of the summer. The burning of a closing campfire represents the end of the season.  It’s a way to give the summer a proper and respectful send off.  Campfires held throughout the summer supplement overnight camping trips and special events.

To say that the campfire breeds creativity is not only accurate, but understated.  The various representations and meanings that the actual fire itself takes on helps campers learn to look at the same thing from different angles, a crucial aspect of honing creative thought and learning to think “outside the box”, which is essential to developing good problem solving skills.  When considered from this perspective, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies crediting much of his success to his camp experiences, specifically to the campfire.  In fact, it provides insight about the significance of camp and how the lessons learned there can be carried throughout life.

Giving Back: The Spirit of Camp Community

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

American author Mitch Albom has noted, “The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  Community is a big part of camping and is a core value often emphasized through community service, peer mentoring within camp, and special programs created to help older campers maneuver through their teen years.   For many campers, the spirit of community that they learn to embrace at summer camp becomes a passion that remains with them throughout life.  A large percentage of professionals in the camping industry began their camping careers as campers whose passion for camp and community has lead them to lend their time and resources to organizations dedicated to providing opportunities for everyone to be able to attend camp.

SCOPE (Summer Camp Opportunities Provide and Edge) is one such organization.  Since 1991, SCOPE has sent more than 15,000 children from low income families to summer camp through the generous donations of individuals, corporations, and foundations that share a mutual belief in the long reaching effects of summer camp.

David Miller, Owner/Director of Camp Starlight in Northeastern Pennsylvania, is one such individual.  Miller will emcee the annual SCOPE benefit event, which raises money to send underprivileged children to camp, on April 6t.   Over 200 attendees are expected at this year’s event.  Miller says that he and his wife Allison have always believed that it’s very important to give back to the camp community.  Miller attended camp as a child.  It was there that his dream of someday owning a summer camp was formed.  It became a reality in 1999 with his purchase of Starlight, which is the summer home to 260 girls and 260 boys each summer, and has been featured in Forbes Magazine as one of the premiere summer camps in the nation.

He first became involved with SCOPE seven years ago as a member of the dinner committee.   He says that he believes, “that a summer camp experience is very important to children from all socio-economical households.  Giving underprivileged children the opportunity to leave the inner city for a portion of the summer helps in their social, physical and emotional development.”  Each year, SCOPE sends 1600+ children to summer camp through corporate sponsorship, blind donations, individual contributions, and fundraising events such such as the one Miller will host.

If you’re interested in providing summer camp opportunities for underprivileged children, would like to learn more about SCOPE, or would simply like to donate, please visit

Childhood Obesity Part II: Balancing Nutrition and a Healthy Lifestyle

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed the benefits of physical activity at camp.  There are underlying advantages to this that directly relate to nutritional habits.  Research shows that that the more time children spend doing passive activities such as watching television, sitting at a computer, or playing video games, the more likely they are to overeat.  The reason for this is simple.  A sedentary lifestyle leads to boredom.  Nutritionists assert that lack of activity mars a child’s ability to determine the difference between boredom and hunger.  Unfortunately, according to dietician Jennifer Thomas, the increased amount of free time and lack of structure that often come with summer break make children particularly vulnerable to tedium and excessive food consumption.  Says Thomas, “A child can pick up 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a summer, so it’s important to recognize the difference between boredom and hunger.”

Concern about the obesity crisis has sprung to the forefront of the camping industry.  Cedric Bryant, Ph.D. and Chief Scientist for The American Council on Excercise, was a keynote speaker at the 2011 American Camp Association’s (ACA) National Conference, attended by thousands of camp professionals.  In his address, Dr. Bryant discussed the growing issue of obesity and praised the ability of summer camp  to transform poor habits through exercise.  Most traditional summer camps offer children a healthy mix of hobbies and athletics.   Camp staff members encourage campers to participate in everything that’s offered to them, even that which they might not necessarily do or try at home.

There is also something to be said for the fact that many summer camp activities, including dining, are scheduled into a child’s day and carried out in a group setting.  Access to food is limited throughout campus, and eating is typically not permitted in bunks.  Quite simply, obtaining food at camp is not as easy as walking into the pantry or opening the refrigerator on a whim for lack of something better to do.  New research has established many benefits to family meals.  One potentially underrated advantage is that dining as a unit may keep consumption in check by limiting what nutritionists call the “eating area”, the combination of time and space in which eating occurs.  “This strategy can help determine if they [children] are really hungry or just bored,” says Thomas.  Meals at summer camp are held at specific times in a designated place—usually a dining or mess hall—and campers dine together, often with their bunkmates.  Counselors supervise, insuring that everyone receives food and reporting any changes in a camper’s eating patterns.

The four day 2011 ACA conference also featured  seminars that addressed issues such as how to  work together to improve the overall health and nutrition of campers, understanding the relationship between nutrition and wellness and using that knowledge to help campers be high achievers through healthy bodies and minds, and adding healthy options to dining room menus, particularly for those campers who require special diets.

Indeed, though many camps are constantly striving to improve in these areas, the notions  introduced in these seminars are not new.  Meals served by most summer camps are carefully planned and balanced in accordance with USDA recommendations.  Many camps also encourage their campers to make healthy choices at mealtimes by providing several fruit options in the morning and salad bars at lunch and dinner.  Vegetarian alternatives are typically available and, increasingly, more attention is being given to rising nutritional challenges such as diabetic or gluten free diets.
All of this is enough to make summer camp worth considering as a combatant to the type of lackadaisical lifestyle that leads to pooreating habits and, possibly, obesity.

Summer Camp: Curbing Childhood Obesity

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that nearly 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese, it has become imperative that we, as parents, make as much effort to set our children up for success in establishing proper food habits, just as we would in other areas of their lives.  Three primary causes consistently cited for childhood obesity are lack of physical activity, an unbalanced diet and overeating.  An often overlooked benefit to summer camp is the significant impact it has in curbing childhood obesity by promoting an active lifestyle and healthy eating practices.  In this multi-part series, we will examine the efforts being made by summer camps to battle poor diet and exercise.

Part I.  Physical Activity

Beyond traditional summer camp sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, roller hockey and gymnastics, many camps are increasingly focusing on the development of extensive programs for such popular fitness activities as spin, running, weights, zumba, yoga and the martial arts.  The instant popularity of these programs suggests that children have a natural interest in exercise and will engage in it of their own accord in the absence of many of the daily distractions that promote a more lethargic lifestyle but are not readily available at summer camp, such as computers, video game systems and television.  The ability to participate in fitness programs as a form of fun also encourages campers to approach such activities with an open mind rather than as something forced on them and that is only done out of necessity.  

Some camps are also experimenting with nutrition programs that merge cooking and fitness activities.  Such programs teach campers how to plan healthy meals and snacks and then prepare them.  Cooking programs are among the most popular at summer camp.  To merge them with nutrition is a clever way to demonstrate the importance of using discretion in choosing what we eat and consuming it in moderation.  In the past, the idea of “diet,” as in depriving oneself of necessary nutrients, has been cited as a contributing factor in the growth of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting.

For those who question the lasting effects of fitness and nutritional habits adapted at summer camp, statistics indicate that they won’t be going away anytime soon.  According to the American Camp Association, more than half of children who pursue a new interest at camp will continue pursuing that interest once they return home.

Up next, part II.  Balancing Nutrition and a Healthy Lifestyle