Something New to Look Forward To – Camp Weequahic – Your Summer, Your Choice!

This week, I had the pleasure of touching base with Cole Kelly, Director of Camp Weequahic, who has some exciting news to share regarding Weequahic’s program for 2011!

Starting this summer, Camp Weequahic is moving to an individual choice based program where campers can design and create their own fun summer experience. Prior to camp, campers and parents will complete an on-line program selection form where they will have the opportunity to list 8 to 10 of their favorite activities they want to enjoy throughout the summer. These choices are called “Excel” Periods. Once the Weequahic programming team receives this information, they will build a program especially for you! To round out each program day, each camper will then get to choose 2 ‘Explore” periods a day once they are at camp. The Explore periods are age- and developmentally appropriate activities. These “spontaneous” choices are activities a camper may like to try once or twice…instead of being “focused” on that program for their entire stay at camp. These daily choices can be anything in the Weequahic menu of activities and change daily such as climbing, play practice, guitar, baseball instruction, cooking and so on. Try one or try ’em all during these speical “Explore” periods! There are tons of daily activities to choose from.

This program model also allows camp staff to really focus their teaching because they know what your child wants to achieve, while building in some wonderful flexibility to encourage kids to try things out. Activities that they might have never thought of but heard their bunkmates discussing, for example! Or maybe they just feel like doing something else that day. The model also allows bunks to make group decisions and share new experiences together, such as everyone going to the waterfront for boating, swimming and the water trampoline, which builds community and camaraderie.

Knowing my own kids — two boys under 8 — such an individually based program would be a real treat. They could focus on things they absolutely love, but also be able to choose other activities to explore. Both these opportunities develop their decision making ability, sense of choice and autonomy. So I look forward to hearing about your experiences and seeing your pictures next year at Weequahic!

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the image theilr.

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Camp Mom — Woman of Wonder and Grace

The official end of summer has passed and kids all over the nation are back at school and I can easily imagine the hallways are still bursting over with stories of summer camp and all of its amazing experiences. Let me tell you about College Days! The fireworks over the lake on the last night! I so miss my camp friends…

Someone else campers might be missing as they return to school is their Camp Mom. Usually assigned to the youngest campers, the Camp Mom serves as the wonder woman of camp life. Ever wonder who keeps nails clipped, or makes sure kids eat a balanced meal? Camp Mom.

“I work really closely with them,” says Amy Blum, who served as Camp Mom for the youngest girls (7-11 year olds) at Camp Starlight this summer. Blum lived at camp the entire summer and saw her role as being an “extra set of eyes and ears to make sure the younger kids were having a great time.” Counselors are in their early twenties, Blum points out, and they haven’t had or raised children, so having a mom on hand was a source of comfort for everyone.

“The counselors would come to me for advice,” Blum says, and she would often think of things that young college students just wouldn’t. “We would always be there at lunch time, taking a look at everyone’s plate as they walked by. When kids came by just filled up with French fries, I’d send them back to get something else. That’s not something the counselors may notice,” she says, admitting that sometimes it’s the counselors themselves who may need a nudge toward the healthier lunch options.

Camp Moms are also just what their name implies, a mom away from home. If a camper is missing home, Amy is ready with a hug and a listening ear. When campers in the nurses office or the health center need a cold glass of ice water, Blum is there to deliver it and check in on them. Blum was always there to help apply sunscreen and Chapstick in the morning, help the girls get their bunks ready for inspection and check in after phone calls home or visiting day.

“I was very impressed with how independent the girls were,” Blum says. “I expected more adjustment issues but the girls were very well prepared for camp. The knew what was expected of them and they did it very well.”

There’s always the need for a helping hand, though. Blum was there to lead a circle game while girls waited their turn on the archery field- don’t like the idea of waiting maybe sing with them as they go to activities or something, for example, encourage the girls as they tackle the climbing wall, and make emergency bathroom runs. She would also hand out the “secret snacks” and be their constant cheerleader.

Blum herself has been involved with summer camp continuously since she was a camper herself in the late 70s. “I’ve missed only three summers since then, and I met my husband at summer camp.” The Blum family tradition is continuing; Amy’s daughter was a counselor in the youngest girls’ bunk at Starlight this summer. She hopes to continue the tradition next summer and would love to return to be Camp Mom again. “I loved what I did and we all enjoyed it and had a good time. It was a wonderful experience.”

Susan

Thanks for the image sponselli and Glen Bowman.

Everything I Learned Outside. . .

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv retells a moment in a restaurant when his son asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv had been telling his 10-year old about how he caught crawdads by stringing bits of liver across a creek. When asked to explain, the son replied, “Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down by the swamp.” At first, Louv thought Matthew was irritated and owns up to the fact that like other parents, he can romanticize his own childhood at the expense of his children’s current experience. But Matthew really felt that he had missed out on something, and Louv realized that his own childhood had been different.

If you’re in Louv’s age bracket, you may also recall a childhood filled with a kind of free, natural play that today seems like an antique artifact compared to current kid’s lives. Lives filled with mobile devices, instant messaging, screen time, digital games and fears of “things” outside. In his book, Louv explores “the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, as well as the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” He discusses the accumulating research that implies that secure children (and adults for that matter) must connect with nature to fully develop. This need for contact with the natural world is as imperative as good nutrition and adequate sleep. So, while multiple reasons give us less and less time to connect outdoors, more and more studies suggest that embracing nature is a human necessity.

The ways in which children understand and experience nature has changed beyond recognition for Americans born during the last two decades. While children today may be more aware of the global threats to our larger environment, they are much less aware of their immediate natural surroundings. As children, Louv and his peers may not have discussed global warming, or holes in the ozone layer, but they loved “their woods” and fields intimately and felt connected to the people and their location in the world. They identified specific bends and crooks in creeks and holes in backyards—explored the woods in solitude, lay in fields listening to the wind and marveled at clouds shape-shifting overhead.

Louv discovered that many people yearn for what they have missed living in de-natured environments and they are consciously making choices and decisions to ensure that they will not be “the last children in the woods.” Families and intergenerational groups are finding ways to better live with nature and each other. Summer camp, for example, is one marvelous way for youngsters to make long-lasting memories and deep connections in natural surroundings. With easy access to the great outdoors and opportunities to develop self-reliance within a nurturing community, today’s campers will remember fun-filled childhoods unplugged from urban life—and share their unique memories with future generations.

How can you make sure that you and your kids don’t miss out on the benefits of exploring outdoors? (For the record, I’ve been known to insist that my children at least squish mud between their toes and jump in puddles!)

Deborah-Eve

Thanks for the images wsilver and griffhome.

Coming to a home near you: Where is Cole from Camp Weequahic this week?

So you’ve heard from friends that now is the time to be thinking about summer camp. How can that be? Fall has just arrived and we are already thinking about summer? Well, yes we are, and we would love to get together with you if you are too!

Here at Camp Weequahic, we spend a lot of time in the Fall and Winter seasons traveling around the country to meet with future campers. We schedule home visits where you are, to come and meet your child and answer any questions your family has. Families usually contact us anywhere from a month to a week out from where we are headed (you can find out our current schedule here and gather anyone else who might be interested to meet.

Home visits can be one on one or include several families. Cole Kelly, our director, brings a picture book of camp and other materials for people to go through as he answers specific questions about camp. He usually reviews a typical camp day, answers any and all questions about the program and can provide a list of references. Most families and most kids especially, are intrigued about bunk life — what it will be like living at camp, who will be my bunkmates, where do campers come from, how many counselors are there, what are the counselors like? Other important questions revolve around a day at camp — what the days look like, how do campers choose activities, tell me about the evening activities as well as the special events.

The most productive home visits involve families with a prepared list of questions and Cole especially likes when both parents and kids to ask questions because it is the camper experience that is most important. So please encourage your future campers to ask him about anything! The more actively involved they are in their decision to attend camp, the more they have a sense of ownership over their summer as they build their own experience.

When we can, we especially like to bring new and current camp families together to share experiences. To make this happen, Cole will host ice cream parties in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Both the home visits and ice cream parties bring Cole a special pleasure as camp director. He gets to meet everyone and to know them before camp starts. That way, they have a familiar face greeting them when they arrive. More importantly, these meetings allow Cole to prepare the best possible experience for the children, from their bunk life to the counselor who will share their summer with them.

If you would like to schedule a visit or would like to know where Cole is traveling this season, you can find him on twitter at @campweequahic, where he posts from each of his destinations!

We look forward to seeing you and don’t forget your questions for Cole!

Kirsti, Guest Contributor

Thanks for the images Colin ZHUcharles chan, and Marxchivist.

Summer Camp and Child Development

“The organized summer camp is the most important step in education that America has given the world.”

Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University, 1922

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we’ve focused a lot on how much fun kids have at camp — learning new sports; spending time with friends old and new; going on amazing trips; connecting with friends and counselors. But camp is also an educational experience for the children. We’re so used to education being “school” that it’s a real shift in perception to see lacrosse, tennis, living in a bunk, and other camp activities as education; but educational activities they are, as many parents can attest now their kids are back in school!

Summer camps make a huge difference in the year-round education of our children, but it may require a shift in our thinking about what education is and can be. The American Academy of Pediatrics, alongside many other scholars of child development, explains why, as “Play is essential to development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Our kids learn while playing and they are learning important things about themselves as independent social beings, collaboratively working with others and consequential behaviors such as self reliance, responsibility and accountability.

So what kind of difference can summer camp make to your child’s development? As the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, Peg Smith has been telling the world for years, opportunities for growth and development exist in natural settings that promote experiential learning, improve social skills and physical fitness, teach children to take calculated risks in a safe environment, and expand the creative mind. The environment our kids learn in is important, and nothing beats Nature.

As you can see, summer camp is one of the most precious educational gifts you can give your children. If you would like to read more, check out The Experiential Classroom: Camp by Marla Coleman in The American Camping Association’s Camping magazine. We’d also like to hear what you believe summer camp has taught you and your children! Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Susan

Building Character at Summer Camp

As parents, we are always on the lookout for experiences that help our children learn new skills. We enroll them in music lessons, martial arts, sports, theatre, choir and, of course, summer camps. But we all know that the best programs (and the best educational experiences) are ones that go beyond the basics of teaching skills to help develop our children’s character. The basics of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — are all essential ingredients in summer camp experiences.

“Camp teaches values such as self-esteem, teamwork, and caring — areas where traditional schools sometimes cause more detriment than good. And camp allows everyone, not just the top student and the best athlete, to thrive and enjoy the process of learning,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA).

Everything we’ve written about on this blog so far — being ready for camp, unplugging from the digital world, traveling to camp, developing interpersonal communication skills, interacting with camp counselors, participating in camp traditions, and learning new sports and skills all contribute to building character.

When mom Martha realized that her son Jaden had come home with crucial life skills — taking care of himself and making good choices — she knew that camp had served a crucial role in his life.

“I felt like they were living a free life,” she says. The rules were there, just not stressful. This kind of independence creates the necessary space for the foundations of character to blossom. “I could not believe the person he had become – just a new person – totally confident in himself,” she says.

It’s no surprise, really. Camp activities, to be successful, require all the participants to have self-discipline and an unselfish sense of camaraderie. “There is just something about living with a group of boys,” mom Wendy says after sending her only son Justin to camp for the first time. Living communally in cabins and bunks requires teamwork, creativity and a willingness to work together.

The camp directors, staff and counselors deserve much of the credit for the character development Martha and Wendy saw in their sons after just a few weeks at camp. They work hard to develop programs that bring a diverse community together around common values and goals, and everyone benefits – campers, parents and staff, and the world they come back to each fall, bringing their good character with them. Camp is about educating the whole child and allowing them to flourish, so that we all as a society may do so.

Susan

If I could go back to camp. . .

Star light, star bright,

first star I see tonight.

Wish I may, wish I might,

have this wish I wish tonight.

If you’re a summer camp alum, and you had some extra wishes lying around, would you use one to go back to summer camp? If you could go back today, what would you do?

We asked and you answered, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Here’s some of what your fellow camp alums had to say. We challenged them to finish this sentence:

If I could go back to Camp, I would:

… Flop in the lake…

… listen to the wonderful sounds of camp. Kids laughter, wind in the trees, splashing in the lake…

… say something stupid over the PA

… go to a cook out

…pause time as much as possible, to make every memory that much better, and to get know as many of the staff as possible!

…not even know where to start… or what to do with myself!

…stay.

What would you do if you could go back to camp today? Use the comments section to let us know!

Susan

Building Community

I don’t know about you, but a good number of my current communities are one step away from reality — they only exist online. I have a Facebook community, which includes a good number of friends-of-friends that I’ve never met in person. I visit a set list of blogs every day and have a great time interacting with the authors and the other readers. While our definition of community might be expanding, I don’t think any of us have lost sight of the importance of a good, old-fashioned in-person community though.

According to the American Camp Association, parents have identified the development of social skills/living in community (such as making new friends, getting along with others, becoming more responsible, and learning group-living skills) as one of the main reasons they send their children to camp. The owners, directors and staff at summer camp all understand the power of community and structure these skills into their programs in several areas.

1. Communal Living

I am an only child, and as such, I always had my own room when I was a child, so living in a camp bunk for the first time was a huge learning experience. For the first time, I had to be part of a community of people who were sharing space, delegating work and working, communally, to make things work. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of doing my part and see how even the most menial job — mine was taking out the trash – contributed to the health of the community.

Bunkmates must also learn how to navigate the waters of communal decisionmaking. They must work through the inevitable issues and conflicts that come up in bunk living — and they must learn to adapt and get along when things don’t go their way. They learn to live by the will of the majority, while at the same time respecting the needs of others who represent the minority. Again, according to the ACA, “small group living also provides the necessary intimacy for individuals to achieve a sense of belonging, explore a variety of group roles, cooperate and form relationships with others, and have input into the group’s activities”.

2. Eating and Singing Together

In the past few years there has been a large ad campaign promoting family dinners. Sitting around the dinner table sharing stories, concerns and the high and low points of your day with family members — or fellow campers — creates intimate bonds between all of the participants. Most camps have family-style meals and singing traditional camp songs together is often a ritual. Songs are always a founding piece of any culture and at camp, at the end of session when everyone knows the camp songs, they too become community bonds that live through the years.

3. Connections that Last

Although sometimes I am annoyed with how much of my life occurs online, there’s no arguing that modern social networking has helped nurture the lifelong friendships developed at camp. Now, instead of waiting days or week from a letter from a camp pen pal, you can send a text message, IM, or just nudge them on Facebook. Many camps have Facebook groups, some devoted exclusively to alumni from certain years, so the 50-somethings reminiscing about camp in the 70s can be a subgroup of a larger online camp community.

No matter how much time passes, the camp community lives on. Alumni have frequent get-togethers and are always welcome to spend a day visiting their old camp haunts. Many camps host reunions every year and invite alumni from different generations to come and visit together, creating yet another community, another branch of the family tree.

Want to get connected with the AFSC family camps? Check out their Facebook pages:

Starlight |  Weequahic |  Laurel |  Laurel South

How did you experience community at camp? How have you sustained it since? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

Susan

Camp Traditions Make Summers Extraordinary

Every day at summer camp is exciting and busy, but every camper can’t help but look forward to those special camp events and traditions that are unique to each camp. I still have vivid memories of our camp talent show and the wonderful skit our staff put together using a sheet, a bright flash light and their own shadows. It took place thirty years ago, but it still brings a smile to my face, and that one memory triggers a hundred others.

The AFSC family of camps each have their own special camp traditions that bring the entire camp together for friendly competition, unique bonding activities, wonderful gourmet treats, and a chance to show off talents and teamwork.

Bringing Tradition To Today

Camp Laurel’s Quest is a tradition that goes back 60 years. During the first week of summer, campers are divided into 18 different teams and they compete in fun and zany activities all day long. The winners are treated to a gourmet Chinese dinner at the home of directors Jem and Debbie. We usually think of big all-camp activities happening at the end of the summer, but Quest brings campers together within days of their arrival, kicking off a summer of friendship and bonding.

Laurel also hosts College Days and Lobster and Steak/Final Ceremony. College Days (which lasts five days!) is Laurel’s answer to the camp color war and includes spirit, fun, games, tug ‘o war, swim meets, track meets, staff competitions, Apache relays, silent meals, treasure hunts, dance competitions and much more. Laurel finishes camp with a flourish by hosting a meal with lobster direct from the sea. After all, who could come to camp in Maine and not love lobster? The campers finish their summer with speeches, traditional songs and a night sleeping under the stars.

Laurel South’s activities may have traditional names, but they go above and beyond the same old, same old. Every summer begins with an Opening Ceremony that includes a Keeper of the Flame, who delivers the first spark of fire to each summer. Four weeks later the flame is extinguished, until next year, when everyone joins together again for another incredible summer. During this very special ceremony, each cabin performs a song or skit highlighting memories of the summer gone by.

At Starlight, campers look forward to MTV Night, one of the biggest lip-synch competitions anywhere! Throughout the course of the summer each bunk comes up with, practices and performs a live music video to compete within their division for a chance to make it to this big night. Twenty acts make it to the finals and the entire camp comes together to watch on the magical outdoor stage. At the end of the night, the winning bunk/act is presented with a trophy and a pizza party!

Camp Starlight, which works on the brother/sister model of having separate boys’ and girls’ sides of camp, hosts Spirit of Starlight, the best night on Girls side! Each division picks a theme to represent their age group and the feelings they have for camp. A song, dance, cheer, banner and cake are all created to show the spirit of the each age group. As each division performs, the others are cheering on their camp “sisters” in this friendly, energetic competition to show us what they are all about. Its fun, it’s loud and the spirit is out of this world. After we crown a winner, the entire girl’s side unites for cake, hugs and we sing our traditional camp song “Friends, Friends, Friends.”

Every camp has a take on the camp stand-by, the color war, and at Camp Weequahic, that event is Tribals, which takes place at the end of the first session. The campers are divided into four teams, each representing the four classic elements: earth, wind, fire and water. The previous summer’s winning team keeps the same name (i.e., Seneca) while the other three teams have new names. The events include everything from athletics to spirit events.

Other events campers look forward to are Ms. Weequahic – our girl’s dress up male counselors who then put on a talent (or lack thereo)f show; Ron Dagan has been performing at Weequahic for over 20 years; enjoying different evening activities that we’ve created over the years: Weequahic Goldrush, Grenades, Panic, and others.

Special events are the memory-makers of summer camp, and whichever camp you decide to send your children to, their staff, counselors and bunkmates will come together in friendships that will last a lifetime!

Susan

What We Learned from Camp

The shorter season camps have come to an end, and we asked parents and kids to share with us some of the lessons they learned from their first foray into summer camp.

Martha and Jaden

Martha was born and raised in Peru, and had no childhood experience summer camps. Last year, a family friend sent her child to camp for the first time, so Martha decided to try it this year with her 9 year old son, Jaden. Other kids were talking about summer camp and Jaden was full of questions.

“I didn’t push him to go,” she says, “He was ready to go. Jaden is a child who enjoys everything. He’s a very adaptable kid.” Jaden is a self-described Lego-builder, reader (The Warrior series, currently), and he loves to play Wii. When asked to finish the sentence “Camp is like ___” he had just one word in mind: FUN!

When asked about the funniest thing at camp? “When we were playing waffle ball with shaving cream and we all got covered with it. I looked funny!” he says.

This year Martha chose the 3-week option for Jaden. “I think he could have done the six weeks,” she says, “but for me it was too long. Next year he will go for six weeks.” Martha says camp will make Jaden a better person because he is making friends, having fun, learning new skills, and dealing with emotions like homesickness.

“I learned wakeboarding, tubing, gaga ball, and how to be part of a tribe, which I’d never done before,” Jaden says. “I also learned to be away from home by myself for the first time.”

Martha said the camp’s efforts to keep in touch with her were incredibly helpful in dealing with her own apprehensiveness. The camp sent her frequent updates and she would go online everyday to see the latest photos of camp activities.

Martha and Jaden also exchanged many letters throughout the summer. In his first letter, Jaden reported that “camp is awesome!” and that he loved the turkey meatballs. Martha loved the correspondence, saying, “Jaden would remember and tell me what I wrote in my letters, and he would tell me things he had done at camp – doing the climbing wall, making friends in the bunk, and so on.”

The lessons learned from camp go much further though than new sports skills and songs. Martha learned that Jaden is “a strong child and very willing to try new challenges. He has shown me that I underestimate him and I still see him as my baby but I know he can accomplish a lot and can take care of himself and make good choices; and that makes me happy.”

Now that camp is over, Martha says Jaden can’t stop talking about it. “When I went to pick him up he was happy to see me, of course, but he was more excited to show me around camp.” She would ask him if he brushed his teeth and he would answer with a story about something fun at camp. “I wanted to talk about health issues,” she jokes, “he wanted to talk about camp!”

Wendy and Justin

Wendy and Justin live in Florida, so traveling to Pennsylvania for his first year of camp was a big deal for the entire family. Justin had never been away from home for more than two days. “It was scary for me,” Wendy says, “wondering how it was going to be for him.” Not for long though.

“The camp makes it easy on the parents,” she says now. “They post hundreds of pictures every day.” The first picture she saw of Justin was of him getting off the bus with a huge smile on his face. The next day he was at the lake on the water trampoline. “Those photos are the best way to do start conversations,” she says.

Justin is twelve years old, plays clarinet and baseball, and he loves to bowl. “Camp,” he says, “is like a really long sleepover where you get to have fun, make new friends and try new things.” His favorite part? The evening activities, “because they are always fun and creative.”

Since camp has ended, the conversation has moved back to being in person, but the topic is still camp. “For the first five days after he got home it was non-stop random things about camp,” she says. “I have talked with other mothers and both of them said all the kids could talk about were the fun things they did at camp. But the real happiness and laughter comes from the photos and letting them show you what they did at camp and telling you stories about their life there. The web site helps a lot.”

“Make sure you go to visiting day,” Wendy also advises, “so you can live what they did and so you know the people they know.” This way, when Justin talks about camp experiences, Wendy can really share with him. She has been on the tennis courts, seen the music room, walked to the archery targets and swung the same golf clubs Justin learned on.

“When we sat down to tag all the photos we thought were cool, his were totally different than mine. Things I thought were just nice,” she says, “he thought were the coolest things. Justin would describe people in the pictures as well as all of the activities that he participated in. “He grew up,” she says.

Waterfront

For Wendy, the camp experience was more than she could have imagined. “When you see the video you think it can’t be that good, but then after camp you think the video is not half as good as camp. Camp is 10 times better than the video.”

Both Justin and Jaden attended Camp Weequahic this summer. They have both already made plans with their bunk mates to be back next year. For 6 weeks!

Susan