Full Circle at Camp

A significant number of our counselors are campers who just can’t get enough of America’s Finest Summer Camps. Some of our veteran camp counselors and staff members started out as wide-eyed, excited, first-time campers who fell in love with sleepaway camp. The camp experience is ingrained so deep into their life that there’s no place they’d rather spend their summer. Some can barely remember a summer that wasn’t spent at America’s Finest Summer Camps, and they love it that way.

The first year a counselor comes back to camp in a leadership position instead of a camper can be a surreal experience. As they grow as campers, they are given new roles and responsibilities in leadership that prepares them for this role. They serve as big brothers and big sisters for first-time campers and are trusted by counselors and staff to set a good example for younger campers. This prepares them for their role as the ultimate summer role model. When campers evolve into counselors, it means they are fully equipped and ready to help first-time campers have the happiest, safest and most memorable summer of their lives.

Counselors who grew up at summer camp know the campgrounds like the back of their hands. They have formed relationships with other counselors and staff, are familiar with schedules, rules, traditions, and expectations that make camp run smoothly. Their experience as a camper gives them a head start on camp routines and helps them lead in confidence.

Full circle counselors, those who transition from camper to counselor, can share the love of sleepaway camp in a way that others can’t. New counselors can learn to fall in love with camp, but full circle counselors have this love embedded in who they are and naturally share this love with new campers. These counselors have experienced almost everything a camper can experience, so they’re able to relate with common new camper experiences.

America’s Finest Summer Camps loves all of our counselors, but there is a special place in our heart for full circle counselors. We’ve watched these campers grow and evolve into responsible young adults who are passionate about providing the best sleep away camp experience for every camper, just like a counselor did for them.

The first summer spent as a counselor is a unique blend of new experiences and comfortable familiarity. Counselors quickly fall into the familiarity of camp, while happily embracing their new roles and responsibilities. Every day is different as a counselor and provides a new appreciation and respect for the leaders who came before them.

Every year, campers reach the point where they have to decide whether to end their summer camp experience or come back as a counselor. We know that being a camp counselor isn’t for everyone, but view it as the most significant indicator of success when campers choose to come back as a leader. Camp wouldn’t be the same without our dedicated counselors!

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Sparking Interest and Developing Skills at Camp

Laurel South:

Camp means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For first time campers, it’s about trying new things and making new friends. Counselors revel in the idea of sharing their passion every day in a new place. Parents know that Laurel South instills confidence, allows campers to take safe risks, and helps them develop their social, physical and emotional skills.

At Laurel South, our counselors are very skilled in the activity they instruct. Our athletic fields and courts are populated by college athletes. Our InterArts program features many counselors majoring in their chosen fields. The same can be said up and down our staff roster in Adventure, Special-Areas and the Waterfront. Our counselors also have a strong desire to share their craft while working with children. This creates a unique environment of understanding and skilled counselors, willing to meet each camper at their current ability level.

Ask our counselors how they first got involved in their activity and they’ll light up with memories of their early coaches and teachers. They remember someone else taking the time with them and want to have a similar impact on their campers. Counselors understand that campers need to have an excitement of a new craft before they begin to develop skills. Coaches and instructors are thrilled to spark an initial interest in an activity and are talented enough to develop campers’ skills. And while campers may not realize how life-changing that is immediately, they’ll look back with fondness on their summers at Laurel South when they realize how they first found joy into their favorite activities.

Athletics at Camp: Good for the Body, Good for the Mind!

Being active is good physically and emotionally!

America’s Finest Summer Camps combine the classic traditions of summer camp, like s’mores around a campfire and exploring the outdoors, with the physical activities that are designed to challenge campers both mentally and physically.

Spending the summer at camp means having ample opportunities to improve upon a skill you already have or to learn something new. There are team sports and individual sports, giving everyone a chance to find a sport that fits them. The beautiful thing about athletics at camp is that campers learn so much more than the rules of the game. Participating in athletics at camp not only makes you a better athlete, but it makes you a better person.

Camp Athletics: Good For The Body

Camp is a safe place to try new things. Sports at camp push campers out of their comfort zones while still ensuring they are being safe and having fun. Campers are taught the rules of the game and given appropriate equipment to ensure they can play their best, regardless of their skill level. Sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and roller hockey require you to work on speed, agility, and coordination. Gymnastics and dance is an excellent option to improve balance and flexibility, and fitness classes and cheerleading are sure to get your heart rate up. Regardless of your fitness level or ability, everyone can experience the joy of participating in sports. 

The habit of getting outside and getting your heart rate up is something that you can implement into your lifestyle far after you leave camp. Focusing on getting daily exercise, along with learning to balance your meal choices and getting enough water each day helps to build a foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

Camp Athletics: Good For The Mind

Sometimes, just trying a new sport can do wonders for your self-esteem. You can gain a new level of confidence from simply trying something you didn’t think you could do. This is just one example of how athletics are such a vital part in summer camp character building. Participating in sports fosters teamwork and accountability, patience and persistence, and effective communication skills. Practicing a sport over and over engrains the discipline and healthy habits into growing campers. It has also been proven that children and teens who play sports get better grades and have a more well-rounded social circle. Athletics can be a great stress reliever and improve problem-solving skills.

Another great thing about playing sports at camp is that you are playing for fun. There is no pressure from sideline parents and no scouts to impress. Campers simply play for the love of the game. You are allowed to play without the fear of making a mistake or disappointing your team. Everyone is on the same team. Campers learn how to enjoy healthy competition, and handle both winning and losing with grace.

At America’s Finest Summer Camps, you get the traditional camp experience with a bonus: endless opportunities to improve your mind and your body and to have a lot of fun while doing it. Campers can focus solely on one sport or branch out and try them all, either way, you are learning valuable life skills that you can use both on and off the sports field.

Interpersonal Skills at America’s Finest Summer Camps

In a world where third graders have cell phones and middle school students are striving to be “Insta-famous,” it’s no wonder why teachers and parents are noticing that students lack the basic interpersonal skills needed to be successful in the real world. This is why more and more adults are actively looking for ways for young people in their lives to connect with others and improve their communication skills. America’s Finest Summer Camps is a great option for students not only to spend the summer having fun and trying new things but also provides a safe space for them to work on their interpersonal skills, meet new people and build relationships organically.


Being successful at camp means being able to listen to rules and expectations, follow directions and adhere to a schedule. Campers have a lot of freedom to make their own choices, but there are times when their safety, health, and wellbeing are dependent on listening to counselors and staff. Counselors make it a point to ensure all campers feel heard and demonstrate active listening strategies when campers are talking. Eye contact, body language, and asking questions are all way counselors show campers they are listening, and campers follow their example.

Campers are expected to listen to each other and avoid interruptions or distracting behaviors while fellow campers are talking. Learning to be a good listener will help campers be successful students during the school year and prepare them to be successful leaders as they enter the workforce.

Decision Making

Good leaders can make important decisions in a short amount of time. They understand how to use all the information that they have, consider their past experiences, common sense, and intuition, and decide with confidence. Campers are given hundreds of chances over their sleepaway camp experience to work in their decision-making skills. From which activities they want to try each day to what they want for lunch, campers are trusted to make healthy, safe and smart decisions to customize their camp experience.

Problem Solving

While camp will easily be the most fun campers will have all year, not every moment is rainbows and butterflies. Campers will face challenges during their time away from home, and it may be the first time they are charged with solving big problems without their parents by their side. Counselors are always on hand to guide campers through obstacles and challenges, but encourage campers to find solutions on their own. After a summer at camp, campers are equipped with problem-solving strategies to help them become more effective leaders.

Verbal and Non-verbal Communication

In a world where children and teens do most of their communication from their phones or computers, it’s no surprise that many are lacking opportunities to practice good ol’ fashion face-to-face communication. Since screen time is minimal at camp, campers spend most of their time talking and listening to others, developing things like self-awareness, empathy, patience, conflict management and listening. They learn to read cues given off by other campers, and how to be aware of the way they interact with others, both one-on-one and in a group setting.

Camp helps campers bridge the gap when it comes to the critical interpersonal skills they need to be successful in life. And, as is most of the life skills that campers learn while they swim, fish, act, dance, hike, play, sing and explore, they usually have no idea they’re actually learning something. Every day, campers work on character building disguised as fun and leave camp more well-rounded than they came.

Living with Peers at Laurel South

Whether it’s in a few months or more than a decade away, eventually we will help our children pack up and move them into a dorm, apartment or house of their own. We hope that all we did to teach them how to be productive, respectful and kind human beings will stick. We cross our fingers they have a great roommate. And that they are a great roommate! Did we instill the importance of keeping their stuff picked up, being quiet when other people are sleeping, doing their own dishes? Did we teach them how to take care of their dirty laundry?

By sending your children to camp, you give them the opportunity to learn what it’s like to live with people other than their immediate family. It helps them prepare for opportunities in the future (college, marriage, etc) where they will be sharing the same space with other people. Being a good roommate is an important quality. Learning how to deal with other people who aren’t the world’s best roommates is also an important life skill.

Campers are expected to respect each other’s space and personal belongings. Everyone is responsible for keeping the cabin picked up and clean. Counselors help show campers how to communicate their feelings about another’s actions. Being able to effectively communicate an issue or problem you have with someone you’re living with is a valuable life skill campers learn by living with their peers.

Many campers plan to move away to college, where they will be living in a dorm or apartment with other students. If they have the experience of living with others at camp, it will prepare them for the kind of roommate they want (and don’t want) to be. Having counselors in the cabins also helps to ensure all campers feel safe and respected. Sending your kids to Laurel South gives them a big head start in the rule of sharing their space. And, with our fingers still crossed, that should make the day we move them into the dorms that much easier.

New Year, New You

Camp Laurel

Parents often head into the New Year with renewed goals and resolutions: eat healthier, work out, read more, be on the phone less, etc. Turning over the calendar to a new year is a logical time to prioritize our lives. As a parent, it’s interesting to notice things we want for ourselves we also want for our children. Camp naturally prioritizes these things for campers. Balanced meals, constantly being active, interacting with friends and staying unplugged.

At camp, phones, tablets and the internet aren’t constantly at our fingertips. Video games are non-existent. The afterschool shuffling to and from different activities is a distant memory. By focusing on what’s important, we cut out a lot of the extraneous “noise” in our day to day. Don’t get me wrong, Camp Laurel gets LOUD. The Laurel Spirit is always alive and well, no matter what’s going on. But without constant distraction from devices, campers learn to focus on the important things in life: living in the moment, building relationships and being a good friend.

The New Year gives us a concrete reason for a fresh start. It’s also when the camp countdown begins in earnest. The days grow longer and summer inches closer. While we try to stick to our resolutions in 2019, let’s remember to be grateful for the opportunities our children have every summer at camp.

How Camp Horseshoe Helps New Campers Adjust, Fast!

Day One Engagement

We understand that coming to a new place can be an overwhelming experience.  We have campers from all across the USA and around the world.  One thing that everyone has in common: the first day of camp is the first day for everyone!  Our staff are expertly equipped with tools to help campers feel comfortable and “belonging” the second the campers step off the bus and into our gymnasium.  For our youngest campers, our staff unpack their duffles, organize their dressers, make their beds, and get their entire areas ready upon their arrival.  Although it may not seem like a big deal, it’s one less thing to provide worry or anxiety for our new campers. Night one is always “cabin night” where they will have the opportunity to participate in all sorts of different activities around camp with their cabinmates and counselors.

Learn their name and more!

At Horseshoe, we call everyone by their first name. Upon each encounter, we say hi to everyone followed by a fist bump. The first step to making new campers feel comfortable is getting to know, through connecting and building trust with them. When one of our counselors meets a camper for the first time, they’ll introduce themselves, give them a “fist bump”, tell them something about themselves, and then introduce them to someone else so they can make another new friend!  All activities for the first week start with some variation of name games and other icebreakers to help all campers feel more comfortable.

Big & Little Brothers

At the end of our first meal together, all new campers get a “big brother” who is in one of our two oldest age groups.The big/little brother system is just another way we forge and foster friendships and create comfort and familiarity throughout camp.  As soon as the the big brother meets his little brother for the first time, he takes him on a tour of camp.  The tour is important not just because they get to spend time getting to know one another, but the new camper also learns and becomes familiar with the campgrounds.  During the first week of camp, the big brother will spend significant time with his little during rest hour and other periods to help teach camp cheers and to help him integrate further into the Horseshoe community.  They also complete the swim test with their big brother during the first couple days of camp. One added bonus: they get a big/little brother pizza party during the first week too!

These are just a few of the constant ways that we are helping integrate new campers into the Horseshoe community! 

Echo Lake Sunsets

Camp Laurel 

Everything at camp is moving. There are friends to see, activities to do and memories to be made all the time. One of the joys of being a camper is there’s always something happening, even if it’s just hanging with cabinmates and counselors. Often times it isn’t until we’re back home when we realize just how great our summer was. We’ll remember a random talk with a camper from another cabin on a walk to the Field House. Or a time one of our counselors organized a goofy game in the cabin. In real time, it can be hard to appreciate these moments as they happen minute to minute.

But every now and then, everything at camp stops for a few moments and feels perfect. The place this happens most often for me is seeing the sun go down over Echo Lake. The sheer beauty of the scene can force us to stop and appreciate the colors in the sky, the warmth of the sun and the beauty of being surrounded by great friends. And that’s the true wonder of camp.

It isn’t simply the sunset, the friends or the counselors, it’s how it all works together. And a sunset over Echo Lake reminds me to appreciate every moment I have at Camp Laurel.

Sports Academy Women Lead the Pack

Brant Lake Sports Academy Women Lead the Pack!

Camp Directors Test Their Boundaries

My hunger for competition has only grown stronger as I grow older. As I juggle 3 kids with busy schedules, volunteer town board positions and a job, I realize that opening myself up to new athletic and social adventures has not only enriches my life but has set me up to be the best role model I can be both for my campers and my family. Whether it’s a spin class, a 5k or a triathlon, be active, stay, set goals and inspire someone. What are you doing today? Read more about Rachel




Sports Academy Supports Chloe

Kudos goes out today to Assistant Director, Chloe Grimes for completing her first ever NYC Marathon. “I set my mind to accomplishing this goal and if I wasn’t surrounded by such positive people, it would’ve been a hard goal to achieve”, says Chloe.

“It feels good to know that my Brant Lake Sports Academy girls were cheering me on every step of the way.”

Chloe’s sports interests range from little league softball to AAU basketball, which brought her to discover a professional career as an athletic trainer for a wide range of sports. In addition to running, she also plays Urban Professional League basketball. Learn more about how Chloe’s leadership guides Sports Academy girls during the summer.


Sports Academy Girls Can Too

Campers at Brant Lake Sports Academy are just like Chloe and Rachel. They learn what’s required to be a female athlete. In an encouraging environment, they can push themselves mentally and physically to be their best. We focus on improving the athletic skills of motivated, sports-loving girls by providing training in many different sports.

Our soccer, lacrosse, basketball and volleyball coaches are dedicated to teaching girls that they too can be empowered through sports. The nurturing and supportive environment at Brant Lake Sports Academy provides a unique place where girls can feel comfortable to push their limits and realize their potential on and off the field.

10 Things You Need to Know About BLDC

It may seem like simply a lot of fun but what you come away with from a summer at Brant Lake Dance Camp is immeasurably beneficial to your growth and your life.

Ten things you’ll get out of Brant Lake Dance Camp:

  1. You’ll learn new skills; like making great friends and how to roast the perfect marshmallow after finding your own perfect marshmallow stick.
  2. You’ll learn to overcome adversity; like how to deal with and take care of a little bug bite, or that the marshmallow that you burnt really still tastes good.
  3. You’ll gain courage; because you will try things that you would never try at home, like Yoga or Tap (or toasted marshmallows).
  4. You’ll become confident; because you’ve mastered things you would never have tried at home – like tap dance or marshmallow pulled taffy! (- notice a theme here?)
  5. You develop compassion; as you help a friend master a combination she finds way more difficult than you did (insert your own compassionate marshmallow story here.)
  6. You appreciate diversity because girls are coming to camp from all over the world and Teachers are teaching things you never saw before. (One of them even brought, yep, lemon flavored marshmallows for everyone to try!)
  7. You just plain have a great time. No pretense, no expectations on you from anyone other than yourself. You dance and play all day with your friends and at night everyone goes home together and when you wake up you do it all again!
  8. You make memories that will last a lifetime, when you see your first shooting star while lying on the ground at the shore of beautiful pristine Brant Lake.