The Difference Camp Makes

Laurel South

Summer is over and it’s easy to spot the children who went to camp. They advocate for themselves. They’ve grown in their skills and interests. And they never stop talking about their summer. But campers share other similarities as well.

Being outside

Children who went to camp always want to play outside. They re-create games they made up with their cabinmates. They have the same rain-or-shine attitude about being outside and they tire more easily from video games and screen time. Campers know real memories are created through shared experiences.

Teamwork

Campers are surrounded by their peers from sunrise to sundown. They understand the importance of collaboration. They learn quickly when they work together they have more fun. They are happy to share their ideas on how things can be better and know how to listen and integrate input from others.

Working with Adults

Camp is all about having fun for campers, which is often facilitated by counselors. Having fun with and listening to counselors is a unique experience for children. They’re adults who haven’t yet lost their childlike wonder whose only agenda is to create a fun, positive and safe experience for their campers.

 

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The Importance of International Staff

The staff at America’s Finest Summer Camps is comprised of a wide range of people that hail from countries scattered all over the globe. America’s Finest Summer Camps becomes a place infused with so many cultures and new traditions in the summer when staff come from places such as New Zealand, England, Mexico and South Africa. When all these people come to camp it can provide campers and other staff members with valuable insight into different lifestyles and help them learn about cultures that differ from their own.

It is so valuable to have these international staff members because it helps America’s Finest Summer Camps become a summer experience enriched with new ideas and cultures. Internationals can help bring new songs to sing around the campfire and new types of friendships bracelets to make for your friends, mixing up the regular everyday American camp customs.

They also inspire people to travel and experience new things, broadening minds on different opportunities to take advantage of across the world. It is so important to have international staff so that the campers can still keep learning even in the summer. Even though summer camp is supposed to be a break from school, campers are learning so many important lessons and things about all these different cultures when they come to America’s Finest Summer Camps. International staff helps campers remain curious and ask questions about things from all over the world, making America’s Finest Summer Camps a better place for campers every summer.

The Push and Pull of Connection

There are lots ways to think of the word ‘connection.’ You can talk about connecting to someone on the telephone, joining two transistors, connecting to the wireless. You can also talk about connecting with other people.

The first set of connections is mechanical – you plug pieces together or type in a few commands and you are connected. With humans, though, it’s a lot more emotional and it requires being in the present moment, together.

Not too long ago, to connect with someone across the city, state or the world, you had to make an expensive phone call or send a letter that would take well over a week.

Campers, you don’t know that world. Each of you were born into a world with literally instant communication with anyone, anywhere in the world. Rather than having to make individual connections like your parents did – phone call by phone call, letter by letter – you have group chats, Instagram broadcasts, and snapchats.

But, while you can connect with more people more easily, I wonder if you are less connected to your peers as your parents were to theirs? A lot of recent studies find you are not.

It seems that with the rise of connection over social media, we are being pushed further and further away from each other.

The Pull of Camp

Thankfully, for six glorious weeks each summer, we change that dynamic.

The individual social media ‘push’ turns into a camp-wide ‘pull’ of connection.  We connect not only to those around us but the very moments in which we live. We spend more time focused on life ‘where our feet are’, rather than being distracted by anything else.

Two pretty impressive people had something similar to say about this need of connection. Albert Einstein talked about one thing he absolutely knew: we are here (on earth) for the sake of others. Mother Teresa talked about it in a slightly different way.  She said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

At America’s Finest Summer Camps, we get to practice this idea of belonging to one another. It’s a such a small community, we remove (almost all) technology, and we get to simply life and laugh and learn together. We make beds, share chores, play on teams, applaud the actors, and frolic together all day. It’s magic, isn’t it?

So the question is this: How can you take some this magic back home when your camp friends feel forever away?

Connection Back Home

Here are a few ideas on how to connect back home like you do at camp:

Idea #1: First of all, take a break from social media, Fort Nite, and other tech. Instead, go and do something with your parents, your siblings (yes, I said it!), or your friends. Play a card game, take a walk, throw a ball, build legos, cook something…. The key is to do something that requires you to interact face to face rather than with your thumbs.

Idea #2: Keep a gratitude journal. You talked about it every night at camp with your counselors. Why not do it at home? Get a small notebook, place it by your bed, and jot down your happies from that day every night before going to bed. Want extra credit? Share those thoughts with your parents. It helps you be more in the moment and realize what’s really important in your day.

Idea #3: Sit with someone new at lunch or reach out to some you’ve not met yet. Yes, I know it’s hard from a social situation but it is no less important. When you get to know people outside ‘your circle’, you stretch. When you stretch, you grow.

I’m sure you can take a few moments and come up with some ideas of your own. The key is to make the effort… and that takes courage and the right attitude. So, for the week ahead, do some pulling with those around you. Have a great week!

The 5 Coolest Things About Night Time At Camp

When you think of summer camp, you may picture sunshine sparkling off the lake, outdoor picnics, slathering on sunscreen before jumping in the pool, or playing games outside until the sun goes down. And while this is very much a part of the America’s Finest Summer Camp experience, there’s something almost magical that happens at camp when the sun goes down. Here are the five coolest things about night time at camp:

Stars

When the sun goes down and the moon rises over the camp, the entire vibe changes. What was just a high energy playground of fun and adventure turns into a calm, peaceful retreat in the mountains. And away from the city lights, the stars shine brighter than you could ever imagine! Just picture sitting with your fellow campers, searching for shooting stars and admiring the overwhelming majesty of the nighttime sky. Campers and counselors enjoy sitting in adirondack chairs and finding constellations in the sky. Not only is it a great way to relax and unwind after a busy day, but it’s also an opportunity for exploration.

Campfire

The campfire is a traditional part of the sleepaway camp experience and brings campers together unlike any other part of camp can. The bright reds and orange flames dancing against the black sky create an intimate and exciting environment in which campers can talk, sing, roast marshmallows, be silly and make memories. A campfire is a place where campers can reflect on their day, where they can share their adventures and stories with other campers, and where they can feel connected with nature. Many campers say that their nightly campfire meetings were their favorite part of camp, as it was a special way to end the day. You can’t do a sleepaway camp without a traditional campfire, and America’s Finest Summer Camps know how to do a fire right!

Fireflies

There’s nothing more endearing than watching a camper experience the magic of fireflies for the first time. Fireflies put on an illuminated show for campers as they make their appearance each night. The laughter and excitement that comes from catching one of these little creatures and examining them up close is an experience that many campers have for the first time at camp. These bright little flying bugs turn night time into a light show!

Night Time Sounds

While many of the nighttime aspects of camp can be seen, there is something to be said about the unique sounds of camp at night. From owls calling in the distance to the songs of crickets and the crackling of the fire, certain sounds will stick with campers forever. These sounds, many of which can only be heard once the noise of the day has faded, serve as a soundtrack to the summer nights that campers will never forget.

Cabin Time

As the campground settles down and busy campers head back to their cabins, more memories await. Cabin time allows campers to have quiet conversations with their bunkmates and share stories and details about their lives. This low key, quiet time is a great way for campers to connect with each other without the distractions of the day. This time gives campers a chance to journal or do some self-reflecting, prepare for the next day or simply get some much-needed rest.

America’s Finest Summer Camps are packed with fun, new adventures, new friendships, and excitement all day long. But when the sun goes down, the fun doesn’t stop. Campers love night time at camp because it brings a whole new feeling and vibe to sleepaway camp. Each night, campers fall asleep with images of campfires and fireflies dancing in their heads and wake up from a good night’s rest ready for another day of fun.

Bringing Camp Back to School

As we reach the end of summer,  many campers are now on the slow march towards back to school season. School is supposed the spot for learning and camp for fun, right? Well….

There are certainly differences between camp and school. The one that is most striking to me rests in the fact that camp reminds us – how to live as a community, stay in the present, be grateful, kind, and courageous. On the other side, school teaches us that which we do not already know – geometry, history, foreign language, biology, etc.

We built a lot of wonderful memories at camp this summer. Amazing traditions, new friends from lots of different places, great daily activities and hilarious evening events. We laughed and played and learned together.

So, if we think of summer camp as a place that reminds us, then what memories will be important to take into school? I’ve got a few ideas.

There are LOTS of people who accept you for who you are.

You’ve also remembered life is a lot easier, more fun, more interesting when you can live as… well, you! That’s an easy lesson to forget when you are plugged back into school and into your phone.Just be yourself… everyone is taken anyway!

Practicing gratitude, choosing your attitude, building courage, and acting with kindness really does make the world around you better.

Easier at camp, yes, because we are all doing it together every day. But that didn’t just happen. We made a conscious effort to act that way. Those actions influenced everyone else at camp. You can have that effect in your home and school, too!

You can do a lot more than you often think you can.

We call it ‘independence’ in the grown-up world but the message is the same – you can act and think more on your own than you often think you can. You just spent three or six weeks away from your parents where you made a whole bunch of friends, decided on which activities to try, made your bed, chose your food, handled your laundry (and lost and found….) You can do so much – take pride in that!

Being afraid isn’t that scary.

All of our new and many of our returning campers had moments of fear: will I make new friends? Will my old friends still like me? I’m away from home for this long for the first time…. And you still had a blast! You’ve remembered that having those moments of trepidation just prepares you to do something brave – reaching out, trying something new, letting your guard down and just being you.

Camp has certainly reminded us about more than this small list. To me, though, these memories will help us in lots of ways as we head into the school year. So, for the week ahead, whether you are going to be hitting the books or hitting the road for a fun last few moments of summer, take some time to remember so that you can learn all the better.

What Senior Campers Will Miss Most about Summer Camp

When you spend eight summers of your life at the same summer camp, you get to reflect on all the magic you’ve experienced and memories you have made at a place that is so special and unlike anywhere else. At America’s Finest Summer Camps, senior campers truly get to experience every single aspect of summer camp, transitioning from summer to summer with more responsibility and more fun. Older campers get to see every angle of camp and experience every special activity, they really do it all. However, when the last night of the last summer comes, it always arrives too quickly for these senior campers. Reflecting back on every summer spent at summer camp, here are the things that senior campers will miss most about camp when they have to say their final goodbye.

The Traditions: They will miss all the iconic traditions that define America’s Finest Summer Camps because that is what makes a summer experience so special. The all-camp games, color wars and campfires all make for a picture perfect summer and these traditions are what transforms a normal summer into a magical one to remember.

The Staff: Coaches and counselors really help define a camper’s summer because they are the mentors in their life guiding them to achieve their goals and overcome their obstacles for that summer. The constant support and belief is what helps a camper become the better athlete, the better artist and the better individual.

The Adventure: Campers are able to explore and feel an adrenaline rush practically every day on or off campus, traveling to different places and cities for special trips when they aren’t whizzing on the zipline or jumping great heights at outdoor adventure. The sense of adventure and opportunity to discover the unknown is an element of Camp Starlight that campers will yearn for the most.

The Memories: Summer camp is unique in the fact that practically every moment can be transformed into a memory. Every evening activity, special event or moment that made a camper smile creates a summer for campers to always look back fondly on, the memories these campers make with each other are unique and often the ones they never forget for the rest of their lives.

The Friendships: Since most campers don’t all come from the same place, summers spent at America’s Finest Summer Camps are so special since this is the only time campers are able to connect and bond with their camp friends. Camp helps form friendships that are so strong and unlike any friendship back home. The friendships are a vital element of what campers look forward to seeing every summer and will regret saying goodbye to the most.

The Best Ways to Enjoy the Waterfront at Camp

America’s Finest Summer Camps would not be complete without the picturesque waterfronts. These sparkling lakes are one of the main reasons that many campers call their summer home “the most beautiful place on Earth”. There are countless ways to explore the waterfront and each different experience is special in its own way. Here are our top picks this summer!

Tubing

Whizzing around the lake behind the speedboat is undoubtedly one of the best ways to enjoy the waterfront. Riding the sombrero with four of your best friends is a blast and the twists & turns form nothing short of a thrilling experience.

Kayaking

One of the most relaxing ways to experience the lake is paddling around in a kayak. It’s the perfect way to appreciate the serenity of t lakes and enjoy your afternoon in the sunshine. Seated in the kayak you feel so close the water and it’s hard not to notice the calmness surrounding you.

Paddle Boarding

Gliding through the water on a paddle board is an incredible and relaxing way to enjoy the picturesque silhouette of the trees over the lake. Campers love to take the opportunity to paddle board as both a way to splash around and also to stop and take it all in while they’re on the water.

The Top of a Water Toy

Whether it’s on top of the slide, rocking on the rock-it, or making a splash on the avalanche and chaos, being on one of these inflatable contraptions feels like being on top of the world! Waving to friends on the dock as campers play and jump on the waterfront toys is a blast and definitely prime time for some of the funniest and best camp memories.

Hiking

Hiking around the lake is truly one of the best things our campuses at America’s Finest Summer Camps has to offer campers. Accomplishing a full hike around the lake is both an achievement and an incredible way to bond with your lifelong friends. Through paths and meadows, the scenery along the lake is often times just as beautiful as the water itself. Don’t miss it!

Sharing at Camp

Sharing is a value heavily instilled in campers from the moment they arrive at camp. When you step off the bus you join a community of people who look out for one another as family. Not only is this important during the summer, sharing is a skill that campers carry with them beyond the conclusion of camp. Sharing makes others feel good and in return, you also feel valued and warm inside.

Sharing can be spotted around the corners of camp in many forms. Campers sharing tutus and stickers,  speakers and decks of cards. The list is varied and endless!

Additionally, our bunks are shared spaces for campers and counselors alike, and throughout the summer everyone learns the importance of working together within this area. The real demonstration of our campers’ fantastic sharing capabilities are proven during inspection when everyone shares the responsibility for taking care of their bunk.

Many physical items are shared at camp, although perhaps the most important things shared here can not be touched or held. Time, laughter, friendship, advice and fun are all shared between both campers and staff daily and these things when experienced together at America’s Finest Summer Camps are magical.

One of the Most Memorable Summer Camp Activities

One of the biggest parts of the summer at most traditional summer camps and nearly as big of a tradition as the concept of summer camp is the color war. For several days, campers and staff members parade around camp in their team colors. Body paint, capes, mismatched socks, colored hair spray, pom-poms, and tutus are the en vogue accessories, and enthusiastic demonstrations of team pride via spirited cheers are infectious.

Although an emphasis on friendly competition geared toward giving campers an opportunity to put their camp skills to the test while exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship has prompted many camps to change the name to such things as Challenges, Tribals, College Days, and Olympics, the concept remains the same: Campers are placed onto teams and, for several days, engage in a host of activities designed to re-cap the summer—a sort of “best of” replay.

Whatever the name, the competition is often full of traditions regarded as sacred by campers and staff alike. The beginning of the games is invariably a surprise to campers and much of the staff with the reveal being is a closely guarded secret about which there is quite a bit of discussion and speculation in the days leading up to it. The breakout is unquestionably one of the biggest events of the summer and always on everyone’s list of favorite moments from the summer. Counselors are included in the action as team leaders and coaches.

The end of the competition often involves some sort of bonding activity designed to bring the teams back together as one camp family to finish out the summer because, in the end, the emphasis of a color on color contest is not whether one is on a winning team when all is said and done, but that each and every camper has had the opportunity to demonstrate what he or she has learned over the summer and, thus, gain an understanding of how each person brings something different and valuable to the camp family. Such a focus makes these types of camp activities a valuable lesson in diversity and teamwork. Everyone has a unique role on the team that directly affects the team’s overall performance. For anyone—camper or staff—who has ever been a part of camps, it’s the part of the summer that is undoubtedly one of the most memorable.

Journeys and Joy at Camp

 

“Journeying is the act of traveling from one place to another—not a moment of arrival. You get ‘there’ by being committed to the journey.” – Bernadette Jiwa

We are all on a journey, we are all going ‘somewhere.’ The questions are, “Where do we want to go?  What will we choose to guide us? And, what would be important to bring along?”

Well…I’m sure there are lots of things that would be useful. Personal qualities like independence, curiosity, patience, and empathy would be great. So would a sense of being able to learn and adapt. And don’t forget friends! They can make any journey not only successful but fun as well.

Hm…. Sounds like we pretty much have everything we need here at America’s Finest Summer Camps to get where we want to go – a destination (creating awesome), values to guide us, a place to practice and experiment, and lots and lots of friends!