They’re In Good Hands: Getting Your Children to Summer Camp

Summer camp season 2010 doesn’t start for a few weeks, but if you haven’t made travel arrangements yet, it’s time to start planning! Depending on where you live and the camp your child will attend, you’ll have various transportation options at your disposal.

Your first step, however, doesn’t involve calling a travel agent or navigating to your favorite travel website. The family of AFSC summer camps are very experienced with the ins and outs and obstacles of getting children from all over the country and all around the world safely to camp.

As soon as you know which session your child will attend and have completed the enrollment process, review the camp’s website Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for specific details on your camp’s procedures. Once you have a plan in mind, call the camp and make your arrangements. It’s really that simple, and the staff’s reassurances about their personal touch and genuine caring about your child will keep your heart rate and blood pressure low.

Option 1 – The Drop-Off

The most hands-on way to get your child to camp, of course, is to drop them off yourself. For families who live within an easy day’s drive, this choice may make the most sense. Families who live farther away have been known to make the trek to camp a family road trip, stopping to see sights along the way. The bonus? Mom and Dad get to spend some time alone on the drive home!

Option 2 – The Magic Bus

Camp buses are magic because unlike ordinary bus lines, the only passengers are campers and their staff chaperones. Many camps

“bus stops” in several major cities with a day’s drive from the camp. Camp Weequahic, for example, which is located in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, charters buses to pick up campers outside of New York City, at one of two locations in New Jersey, in Philadelphia and in Baltimore.

As soon as the campers step on the bus they are basically at camp—parents can rest assured that their children are in the hands of experts who will handle every aspect of managing check-in, finding the right bunk, getting the luggage to their right place, etc. The bonus for taking the bus? Dropping kids off at the coach stop can make the transition to camp easier. Kids say their good-byes and then settle in for a ride with their friends, old and new.

Option 3 – Big Old Jet Airliner

If you live too far away to drive your child to camp or have them catch a ride on the bus, sending them by air is pretty much your only option. For parents whose children have never flown alone before, the idea alone can cause a cold sweat and a jump in blood-pressure. The airlines and the camps, however, are very experienced at helping kids navigate air travel. Parents are allowed to drop their kids off at the gate – when you receive your child’s boarding pass, you will get a special pass that allows you to accompany him or her past security. When you arrive at the gate, a special airline chaperon meets you at the top of the jetway and escorts your child all the way to his or her seat.

When your child arrives at the destination airport, camp chaperones meet him or her at the gate and provide  escort to baggage claim and to onto a camp shuttle or bus. Be sure to review the current TSA prohibited items list shortly before you leave – the list can change at any time. Also, review the airline’s website for their specific procedures regarding children flying alone. The more comfortable you feel before they leave, the less stressful everyone will be on departure day!

To Learn More

For more information on how each of the AFSC camps handle transportation, visit their websites by using the links at the top of this page.

Thanks to Caren Mack, John Trainor and Flare for the great photos!


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The Magic of Starlight

“We want our kids to leave here at the end of the summer never questioning what will happen next year – they know they will come back to Starlight,” says David Miller, the Pennsylvania camp’s director. “There is something special and magical about the Starlight world,” says Miller.

Camp Starlight is a full-season (7-week) camp located in Starlight, PA (about two-and-a-half hours from New York City) which has been in continuous operation since 1947. David and his wife Allison bought the camp from the original owners in 1999, but some things just don’t change. Just driving into the facility up a secluded one mile road to the top of a mountain gives campers a sense of separation from the real world. Starlight is revealed at the peak of the overlook. The 70-acre lake is private to the camp, which enhances Miller’s goal of wanting everyone to feel safe and secure in the Starlight world. “This is their summer home,” he says. “When campers walk into the dining hall there are hundreds of plaques – one from every bunk from every summer since 1947. Campers know that there is a long tradition of fun and family here.”

One thing that makes Camp Starlight unique is how it straddles the line between a co-ed camp and a same-sex camp. There are separate facilities and staff for boys and girls, and they participate in separate sports and activities during the day. “It’s the best of both worlds,” Miller says. Those families that are looking for a single sex camp experience get the separation and camaraderie they are looking for, but the boys and girls all come together for morning ceremonies, dinner and many of the evening activities. The Starlight set-up works especially well for families with sons and daughters who want to attend camp together and are looking for high-quality activities. Miller adds, “my favorite time of day is the flag raising ceremony in the morning. Girls line up on one side and boys line up on the other, but brothers and sisters always have time to check in with each other and see how their day was. I love seeing the kids reconnect with each other.”

It is the connection between campers that is paramount at Starlight. When new kids arrive at camp, they are assigned to bunk with kids their age, but with different interests. “That’s what bunk bonding is all about,” Miller says, “learning about and loving people who aren’t carbon copies of yourself.” Some bunks stay together their entire eight years of summer camp, forming a real family of brothers or sisters. These children because they are given the opportunity of overnight camp usually adjust better to college and dorm life because they are used to living with others and being away from home.

Camp Starlight also works well for families with same sex siblings with different interests because the program is so well-rounded. Whether a child loves athletics, art, theater, adventure or water sports, or just loves to do it all, the quality of the Starlight program and facility make this a first-rate experience no matter what activities a child is drawn to. Camp Starlight also helps expand the horizons of campers by exposing them to all the different activities the camp has to offer. Campers have two choices in their daily program so they also have the time to develop their talents in their specific interest areas; especially as they get older. The two oldest bunks get to set their own daily schedules, for example.

Miller knows that some families have reservations about sending their children to a full-season, seven-week camp, especially when campers can start as young as third or fourth grade, but the benefits are tremendous. Rather than kids moving from camp to camp, week to week, there is truly time for kids to unwind, escape from the outside world and all its pressures and disconnect from technology. This type of summer program provides a real opportunity for kids to be themselves, get to know each other and make friendships that truly last a lifetime. There is no question that this is why such an extraordinarily high rate of campers return summer after summer. The summer is also long enough to do full season camp and still have family time to visit relatives or have a family vacation before school starts.

So if you’re thinking about full-season camp, you can learn more about Camp Starlight at As David says, “Most families who come to visit our camp end up enrolling their children,” Miller says. “There is something magical about this place.”

Come meet David and visit the Starlight world first-hand!


The Unique Experience of Maine

Camp Laurel

“There’s something special about camping in Maine”, says Jem Sollinger, director of Camp Laurel, a traditional camp with unparalleled, modern facilities. Indeed, the landscapes available in Maine are rarely seen elsewhere, and campers can take advantage of everything this amazing state has to offer.

Camp Laurel is located along beautiful Echo Lake, with nine miles of shoreline, and offers a full-season, 7-week camping experience. There are 250 boys and 250 girls in camp each year and everyone arrives and leaves on the same day. “It’s very much a family,” says Jem. The camp, which is in its 61st year, also offers a 5-week international option and hosts campers from France, Italy, Switzerland, Israel and Japan. “Our international campers are a very small portion of our population,” Jem says, “but they are an important addition to the camp community.”

“We also fully take advantage of our location,” Jem says. Campers take short trips to nearby Maine and New Hampshire destinations and get real outdoor experiences exploring the natural landscapes of surrounding areas. Campers especially take full advantage of the expansive waterfront, often water skiing 4-5 times per week, sailing daily on our fleet of more than 35 sailboats, playing tennis, baseball, lacrosse and participating in an amazing arts programs…..not to mention a world-class equestrian program.

If you are interested in touring Camp Laurel, Jem says you are welcome to visit any time. Just please call in advance to set up a visit. Prospective families also get a home visit before the camping season begins. Jem visits families regularly in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Boston.

Laurel South

Laurel South is in the Lakes region of Maine, in the town of Casco on beautiful Crescent Lake, with nine miles of shoreline. Camp Director Roger Christian, who has been with Laurel South for 14 years, spends much of his off season time meeting new camp families throughout the country as the camp emphasizes family and tradition. It doesn’t really matter, after all, whether your facilities are state of the art or how many miles of waterfront you have – as long as campers and their families feel that camp is home away from home.

Laurel South was born 15 years ago as a spin-off four week camp from the traditional full season Camp Laurel. “There was just a great need for a shorter, quality, co-ed season,” says Roger. Every year, Laurel South welcomes 200 boys and 200 girls in each of its two sessions. In those 4 weeks, campers at Laurel South experience an amazing, power packed program centered on Athletics, Arts, Waterfront, Adventure and Equestrian.


The Full-Season Camp Experience

Last week we started our discussion of choosing which length of camp is right for your child. Sometimes making that choice is downright easy, especially when it comes to the to the full-season camps. For those children who wish to be at camp for the seven weeks, a full-season camp experience can be an extraordinary time in their lives.

So, how do you know if a full season camp experience right for your child?

Remember our discussion of “Is Your Child Ready for Camp?” If you can answer a confident “yes” to all of the questions about readiness, then a full season camp may be perfect for your child.

As 7 week camps, Camp Laurel and Camp Starlight provide ideal opportunities for children to:

1) develop relationships and bonds with other campers and counselors with whom they are living,

2) explore new activities which they have never done,

3) refine and develop skills and focus so that by the end of camp they are, as an example, not just getting up on water skis…but skiing barefoot; not just hitting a baseball… but mastering the sport; not just participating in a one-act play for 20 minutes….but being part of the cast of a full length musical.

Children who go to Camp Starlight or Camp Laurel return to school refreshed and ready to tackle the new year ahead. They have achieved great success at camp – not only in making great friends – but also in developing and refining skills during the summer that can last a lifetime. Many children who wish to make their middle, JV or high school teams can practice and refine those skills all summer long. They also create beautiful and meaningful pieces of art and have greater outdoor educational experiences during their time at camp. All because they have time and opportunity.

PBS’s camp expert, Bob Ditter, M.Ed., puts it this way:

Camp is about making some of the best friends of your life. It’s an exercise in self-reliance and social learning. Kids not only make some of their best friends at camp, they learn what real friendship is. Since campers live in groups, it is also about learning the give-and-take of making decisions and getting along with all those “brothers” or “sisters” you suddenly inherit when you arrive. In a time when resilience–the ability to stick with something and recover from a setback–is a great quality to cultivate in our children, camp is an increasingly attractive option.


(Photos: Thanks to eyeliam and zappowbang for the great shots.)

When 3 or 4 Weeks is Just Right

Choosing a camp involves much more than just choosing a location or even the camp with the perfect activities and feel for your child. Camps also come in different sizes, so to speak; depending on how long their sessions are. Sleepaway camps range from two-week to two-month sessions, and choosing which one is best for your child depends on several factors.

In this post, I’ll take a closer look at three-week camps (profiles of longer, 7-week camps will be posted next week). First, some reassurance. Campers don’t “get less” because their camp is shorter. The schedules for the day and the special activities are very similar or exactly the same as longer camps. The programs are just as well rounded and varied, and you’ll be amazed at how much swimming, sport, adventure and creative arts can fit into three weeks – and the kids still get a one-hour rest period after lunch! We should all be so lucky!

Most importantly, the camp counselors and staff are as involved, caring and competent as they are for the longer camps. I know that for my children, their camp experiences are flooded with activities, but it’s the people they keep talking about (and talking to!) months later. Lifelong friendships can be forged and nurtured in the shortest of camp experiences.

So which camp for my child?

Take a look back at my earlier blog post, “Is Your Child Ready for Camp?” If you feel that your child is ready for camp, but you’re still feeling a little trepidation, why not try a shorter camp — for many new campers (and their moms), three weeks is the perfect amount of time.

A three- or four-week camp may also be perfect for your family if:

  • You need to fit in camp among other family plans and vacations
  • Your child is nervous about a longer camp but a shorter one gets him or her excited
  • Your child may be ready for more weeks of separation, but you’re not
  • Your child lives out west, where school schedules can make a late-summer 7-week camp out East difficult (my children get out of school at the end of May and start back in the middle of August!)

Two of the AFSC family of camps offer three or four week sessions: Camp Weequahic and Laurel South.

Camp Weequahic offers a complete traditional co-ed camping experience. What does this mean? Think of every wonderful image you have of summer camp – great times playing sports, spending time in the lake, learning new arts and crafts (friendship bracelets anyone?), going on new and exciting adventures, and, if your child is up for it, they can take guitar lessons and be the next campfire sensation. And it all happens with your new best friends right beside you.

The other AFSC camp that offers short sessions (4 weeks only) is Laurel South. With its beautiful location on Crescent Lake in Readfield, Maine, Laurel South is able to offer the same kind of dynamic programming that you can find at longer camp sessions. They even have the added bonus of an equestrian program.

Whatever you want your child to get out of camp: tradition, family, spirit, adventure, time in nature, and lots of fun, all can be found inside these three-and four-week camps. Because shorter doesn’t mean skimpier!


Life, Unplugged

I don’t know about you, but my kids are constantly plugged into something, whether they are texting their friends (does anyone talk anymore?), bopping along to Lady Gaga’s latest, updating their Facebook status, researching a school project online and creating a multi-media presentation, or playing games on my iPhone while I desperately try to finish a conversation at the vet’s office.

Some days I can win a battle or two (no texting at dinner!) but the war is ongoing. And honestly, I’m not the best example. That iPhone I mentioned is never far from reach, and right now I’m surfing online, listening to my own brand of pop music, answering text messages as they come in and writing this blog.

Don’t you wish there was a place where we could all live life unplugged? We adults may not be so lucky; but for our kids, that place is summer camp.

Knowing that someone out there is cultivating a culture of back-to-basics, low-tech life is an irresistible draw for me as a parent. My husband and I love the outdoors and frequently take our kids on short camping trips, but these offer only a short break from the world of “screen time”. Monday morning comes and before the sleeping bags air out, we’re all rushing to see what awaits us in our email inboxes.

As a mom, I worry about the long-term effects of all of these tech ways of communicating. I’m not alone. Several studies have suggested that kids who spend too much time plugged in lose some skills for interpersonal interaction. Let’s fight back.

At camp, social interaction is done the old fashioned way – face-to-face. Campers and counselors alike leave their cell phones at home and get back to a simpler life, when there is an art to conversation. If you were a camper, think back to your best memories. All of mine involve revolve around interpersonal interactions you just can’t get through an email: telling stories around a camp fire; sharing hushed secrets late into the night; telling the worst jokes you ever heard; huddling together to decide the best capture-the-flag strategy.

Friendship doesn’t need a high-tech interface. Don’t think your kids will get with the program? Check out this Seventeen article where teen girls share their favorite summer camp memories. Not one involves a cell phone, I promise!

Thanks to Pink_Sherbert_Photography and eron_gpsfs for the photos!


Is Your Child Ready for Summer Camp?

You’ve collected the brochures, visited the web sites, maybe you’ve visited a camp or two. You may have even have marked off a few weeks in July on your calendar. But you did it in pencil, because you just can’t get rid of that nagging question – is my child, my baby (sniff) ready for overnight camp?
There is no magic formula or age for camp, and every child is unique; but there are some tried and true signs of readiness. So before you pack the tennis racquets and the swimsuits, start by answering these five questions:

1. Is your child interested in and asking about camp?

Spring has just sprung – if your child is already asking about going away to camp, take that as a good sign. Children who are self-motivated and interested in attending camp have a greater chance of being successful once they arrive. Point your child to this: It’s My Life, a PBS web site for tweens, which has advice specifically for kids headed to camp. The site even encourages kids to talk to their families first. What mom doesn’t love that tidbit?

2. Can your child manage personal care needs and the tasks of daily living without mom around?  On their own?

Overnight camp involves independent living. Does your child get dressed for school without your help? Can he/she fix themselves a snack? Take a shower? Remember to brush their teeth? If they still need help or daily reminders, you don’t have to keep them home (remember, your child will have great camp counselors to care for them), but you may want to encourage more self-reliance, a good quality to have at home, too.

3. How long has your child been away overnight without you? Was it a positive experience?

If your child loves sleepovers and slumber parties (at other people’s houses) transitioning to sleep-away camp may be a breeze. A week at grandma’s isn’t the same as three or four weeks at summer-camp; but if an overnight without you has never worked, do some trial runs before registering your child for camp. My own personal role model, Supernanny, has some great tips for making sleepovers a breeze.

4. Does your child have a healthy respect for adults and listen to instructions?

Life will be much easier for everyone if your child is good at following instructions and is willing to go along with camp rules. Just keep in mind that our kids often reserve their worst behavior for us, their parents, bless them. If your child is well-behaved in school, with coaches and other adults in positions of authority, they should do fine at camp.

5.  Is your child willing to try new things?

Life comes at you fast, Ferris Bueller said, and the same is true for summer camp. Each day is filled with new people to meet, new surroundings, and new activities to try. For kids willing to give it a go, there’s no better place to spread their wings than summer camp.

The Bottom Line

No one knows your child like you do – even after you’ve completed all the quizzes and checklists and asked all your friends about their kids’ experiences, the best thing to do is trust your instincts. If you feel it in your gut that your child can handle overnight camp, you’re probably right.  Get ready… summer is on its way!

Thanks to stevedepolo and peterblanchard for their pictures!


A summer of fun, a lifetime of memories!

It’s that time of the year again. Time for me to start thinking about what to do with my kids over summer time. Summer time. Remember those lazy, hazy days spent jumping between friends, sports, ice cream, the pool or the lake, back for more ice cream, camping, back to the pool or the lake …? Remember how it was? Evenings spent running until dusk, toasting marshmallows around the camp fire or BBQ, sleeping under the stars and telling tall tales with your friends. Yes, those were the days. Days full of friends. Days full of fun. Days full of life. Those are the kinds of days I dream of for my kids. Don’t you?

This is a blog dedicated to those days and our kids. It’s a blog about friendship, good times, creating memories and building independence. It’s about getting back to basics and building healthy individuals and families. Our aim is simple: create a place where past, present and future campers and their families can share and immerse themselves in the spirit of camp, its culture, life and lessons over the seasons. We’ll cover the seasons of camp – from getting your kids ready and choosing a camp, through the active camp season and into the memories of camp experiences past. We hope you’ll ask questions and share your stories about camp and camp life. We look forward to sharing tips and hints as well as resources we have found to be helpful. We really look forward to your pictures and we hope someday you’ll come and visit and stay with us!

So read, write and please feel free to participate in our community and let us know what things you’d like us to cover here!

Here’s to making memories together!

With thanks to lyzadanger and saritarobinson for their fantastic shots of summer!