Camp is a lot of things. It’s fun and it’s gorgeous and it’s exciting. But it’s also very big. It’s acres and acres of land, its gigantic trees and sprawling landscapes and giant lakes. It is set against giant mountains and has a unique way of quickly reminding everyone who enters about how small they are in the grand scheme of things.
Camp has a funny way of putting things into perspective for both campers and staff, and it can be a humbling experience. It’s interesting how one camper who is considered “popular” at school enters the camp experience completely equal to the quiet and reserved student who doesn’t say much at school. Status at school and at home means nothing here and puts everyone on the same playing field from day one.
Take Max for example: Being the star athlete was how he defined himself at home. He was the fastest and strongest on his team, and everyone knew it. But when he got to camp, he met some other guys who were equally as talented, some even more so, and it challenged Max to find other ways to define himself. He did a lot of soul-searching that summer, and learned about the deep and foundation character traits that defined him, and learned that being a great athlete was just a part of who he was, not all of who he was.
Life lessons like this are learned all the time at camp. Campers can learn humility in other ways as well. One of the best ways to learn to be humble is by serving others. Campers see first hand how to serve others selflessly every day as they watch counselors and staff work hard for them. Campers also act as Big Brothers and Big Sisters and learn quickly what a big responsibly it is to have people look up to you.
Camp is such a unique experience, and many campers leave with a deep appreciation of the experience they were gifted. They understand that so many kids across the country don’t have access to such an innovative, hands-on, safe, fun and diverse camp experience, and they leave camp truly humbled and grateful for what they have.
Character building and life lessons are built into the foundation of Camp Weequahic. Campers learn a lot about themselves here and develop a deeper and more genuine understanding of themselves and the world around them, all while they jump, dive, sing, run, play, act, create, dance and swim the days away.
When camp comes to an end, you’ll pack up your trucks and head home to get ready for another busy school year. When you leave, you’ll leave with a lot more than you came with. Your journals will be full of memories, your phones will be full of new phone numbers for all of your new friends, and you, as an individual, will leave with a new sense of confidence and independence that you only get when you spend a summer at Camp Weequahic.
There are different ways different campers bring a little piece of camp spirit home with them. You may find yourself humming one of the whacky camp tunes as you clean your room, which will bring back memories of campfires and canoeing on the lake.
You may find yourself digging through your laundry basket to find your super comfortable camp t-shirt, the one that reminds you of scoring the winning soccer goal or laughing until you cry at one of the shows put on by some of your best friends. You may search your room for your beloved camp hat or sweatshirt, as the perfectly worn in feeling brings back warm memories of late night talks and adventures outside.
Your family members may notice that you come back with a new sense of confidence, a new passion for sports or the arts, or a brand new sense of independence. They may notice that you left for camp one way, and came home with the camp spirit still dancing inside of you. They may notice you are happier, more active, and more willing to try new things. A lot happens at camp that causes changes and shifts within you, and it is impossible not to take those experiences and lessons and apply them into your normal routine back home. Shy campers may find it easier to make new friends, outgoing campers may learn to find comfort in quiet time and connecting with Mother Nature. Camp has this special way of exposing campers to a side of themselves that they may not normally see. This is the spirit of camp that comes home with each and every camper.
And next summer, when you come back, you’ll be amazed at all of the new things you take home with you. Year after year, even after you think you’ve done and learned and experienced everything camp has to offer, you still come home with something new each summer. You may learn that you don’t need to be constantly connected to Wifi to feel connected. You may learn that there is something special about spending time in nature. Every summer, campers take a little something extra home with them that stays with them for the rest of their life.
Lucky for you, a lot of the camp spirit that you’ll take home with you, and carry with you for the rest of your life, won’t take up any extra space in your camp trunk.
With hundreds of different activities, sports, events and things to do at Camp Weequahic, it is no surprise that campers spend a large portion of their day at play. Whether you’re playing on the soccer field, on the lake, on the stage or in the pool, there is never a shortage of playtime at camp. But there is more to play than just having a good time. When kids play, they learn, and when they learn, they grow. For campers, it may feel like a summer free from learning or education, but they are learning a lot while they play.
Studies show that when young children play, whether it is with blocks, cars, on the playground or in a sport, they are doing a lot more than having fun. Play sparks their imaginations, which helps to improve their problem solving skills and encourages creativity. Being able to play alone helps kids feel independent, while playing in a group helps kids with important values such as sharing, compromise, taking turns, patience and flexibility. More physical play, like running, jumping or dancing helps kids with their balance and coordination, and boosts their confidence. Play is the main way that kids explore the world, and is essential in their social and emotional development.
At camp, kids spend all summer playing, and therefore spend all summer learning. They may not realize that participating in crafts is teaching patience, hand-eye coordination and appreciation for the arts, and they may not realize that team sports is teaching them cooperation and communication. It may not be until they get home and others begin to see a change in their personality or character that they realized they learned a lot at camp. They may search their brains trying to pinpoint a moment when they learned a certain thing, and most won’t be able to. Learning through play can be a subtle process, which is also why is it so effective.
Play based learning is just as important as academic learning. Kids spend all year behind a desk, looking up at a teacher who is spitting out information. If they are lucky, they will get one or two teachers to use a more hands on approach to learning, but as the students get older, play and exploratory learning becomes less and less common. After spending all year filling their brains with facts and figures, a summer of play is something most kids look forward to. Some will spend their summers in front of a mind numbing computer screen or watching endless hours of TV, which does nothing for their developing minds. Kids who spend their summers running, jumping, trying, failing, laughing, communicating, climbing, making, singing and exploring learn so much more than those in front of a screen. They learn about the world around them, about their peers, and most importantly, about themselves.
The importance of play cannot be stressed enough when it comes to the growing minds of kids. Young kids are like sponges, and soak in information from all areas of their lives. Spending the summer at camp gives them a chance to learn differently than they do all year, and studies show that what kids learn during play may stick with them longer than listening to the same information through a lecture. When they do it themselves, when they touch and see and feel and experience something, they will remember it.
Campers play all day, which is why they love being at camp. While they are playing, they are also learning, which is why parents love summer camp. Academic learning is a vital part of childhood development, but play works on a child’s brain like nothing else can, and the best part: they don’t even know it’s happening.
Did you know body language – the positioning of your body, expression of your face, and movement of your limbs – communicates more of your intended meaning than your words?
It’s true and you’ve seen it before. You’ve seen someone walk into a bunk for the first time with a smile on their face. The concern in their eyes, shoulders, and arms, though, were screaming out. Our counselors are really good at seeing this and helping that camper get comfortable. Once they’ve built friendships, the camper opens up to who he or she really is.
The Power of Body Language
Camp Mom Judy – the queen of welcoming kids to camp!
Your body language has a huge effect on how others judge you how you judge yourself. If you are open, friendly, and interested, you are more likely 1) to be judged as a friendly person, 2) more likely to have those around you mirror your actions, and 3) more likely to see yourself as a friendly person.
On the other hand, if your body language shows you as intimidating, uninterested, or rude, you’ll be marked as an unfriendly person to be avoided. And, just as in the above example, the people around you are likely to offer the same type communication to you or simply leave.
Now, we’ve all had moments in our lives when our bodies are giving off messages we don’t intend to show. We are really upset about something totally unrelated but make a friend feel we are mad at them. Or, we are deep in thought about something and don’t pay attention to those around us. It makes them feel ignored or left out.
(Aside: The middle school years for many of our kids are full of these moments. So much is being thrown at them in the forms of academic, social, and outside demands. It’s overloading their ability to manage. This creates interactions that adults sometimes view as… unpleasant. We are lucky that camp creates a community that mitigates most of those concerns. Instead, our campers get to drop everything and just be their happy selves.)
Um… guys? Not too inviting, there….
Those moments of negative body language are ok. One moment does not define you as a person. Rather, it’s the long arc of your actions that make the biggest impact. If you decide to consistently show yourself as a trust worthy friend, a person who is excited to see those around you, and polite to everyone you meet, a few moments of not-so-great body language will be forgiven or forgotten.
A Real World Lesson
Here’s the good part: what you say with your bodyis yourchoice. You get to decide in every situation. You simply have to 1) understand the power of your body to convey meaning and 2) learn how to manage that ‘language’ through practice.
I learned this lesson very early on in my camping career. At 27 years old and running a camp for the first time with over 250 girls, I was totally out of my depth. Masking my anxiety from the kids and parents had been working but it did not have the same effect with our staff.
One team member was brave enough to call me out on it. (Thankfully, Flick did it in a private and thoughtful way.) After spending some time monitoring myself and asking others, I realized she was completely right. So, I decided to change. Rather than seeing myself as a harried, in-over-his-head camp director, I started to act like I knew what I was doing and smiling a lot more for everyone.
It worked. I believe that lesson in body language has made me a better camp director, mentor, and father. It’s something I continually practice and ask our staff to do the same.
So, what are you saying to those around you? Are you friendly, open, and trustworthy to everyone? Do you help to light up a room when you enter with a smile, looking people in the eye? From what I’ve seen at camp, you are ALL able to be great at this. It’s your choice.
There are many things campers notice when they arrive at camp the first day. They notice the cabins, all of the new faces, the baseball fields, ropes course, tennis courts and acres and acres of open space to run in, play in and explore in. But one of the most breathtaking and exciting parts of camp is the lake. With “so-clear-you-can see-right-to-the-bottom” waters, the lake and sandy shoreline is a popular place for campers to spend the majority of their summers.
When it comes to watersports, campers can try a variety of different options while at Camp Weequahic. Campers can relax and learn the art of fishing, or work their muscles on a standup paddle board, or they can get their heart rate up as they experience the speed and thrill of wakeboarding and water skiing. The lake doesn’t just offer a location to try new sports; it serves as the backdrop for the time in their lives when kids will remember they tried something new. It will be the place they fondly remember as the spot where they faced their fears, tried something new, and had the time of their lives.
The lake also serves as a great place for reflection and peace. A quiet stroll along the shoreline can be a great place for a confidential conversation between friends, a quiet place for journaling or writing letters back home, or simply a place to connect with nature. Warm, sunny days heat the water to a comfortable 80 degrees during the day, making it easy to run, splash and play in the crystal clear waters all day long. (Don’t worry, sunscreen is readily available and lifeguards and other professionals are always around!)
The lake is a central part of camp, and it brings campers together in a variety of ways. Camp Weequahic would feel incomplete without all of the activities, events and life lessons that are centered on the lake. Self-confidence, friendships and trust are all built on the lake. Campers who come from a part of the country where they don’t have access to such a beautiful part of nature really connect and enjoy everything the lake has to offer.
The lake is so much more than just a body of water in the middle of camp. The lake is a place that campers really connect with, and where lifelong memories are made.
Summer camp is already super fun. So as you can probably imagine, adding international campers and counselors to the mix turns up the fun-dial even higher!
…But international camp isn’t just the same camp activities and friendships with a few exotic accents thrown into the mix. The secret sauce that makes international camp so special to returning campers is the chance to learn something about people who are truly “different” — and learn something about themselves in the process.
1. Difference is the spice of life
Everyone is different and special in their own way — at international camp, they’re just a little more different! Meeting peers from other countries and finding common ground with campers from the other side of the world teaches international campers to value differences.
After all, no one wants to be around people who are exactly like themselves all the time! Learning to appreciate different cultures helps international campers grow into curious, tolerant, and fun-loving world citizens.
2. Communication is everything
Is talking about communication redundant? We sure hope not, because workshopping camper communications skills is a huge part of the leadership programming out here at camp! International camp is a chance for campers to put their communication skills to the test.
Especially when all the campers come from different cultures with separate languages, finding common ground and making oneself understood can become a challenge; every international camper learns the rewards of sharing a part of yourself with someone completely different.
3. Meaningful friendships
Friendship is at the core of the camp experience, and it’s what keeps campers returning year after year.
“Who’s going to be in my group this year?”
“Where will they come from, and what will they be like?”
Questions like these are at the top of any young summer camper’s mind.
…The best part is, once the summer ends, international campers return home with pen pals from every corner of the globe. Who knows — maybe you’ll even go visit some of your new friends in France, China, and Spain some day soon!
4. Tolerance is the international passport
In a world that’s more connected every day, learning to be tolerant of those who are different from you is an important lesson for everyone to learn — not just summer campers.
International campers learn first-hand how the differences between cultures can be fun and interesting rather than intimidating or alienating. Bridging cultures is the name of the game at international camp.
5. Curiosity is key
International campers know that the secret to making friends is to always be curious. Instead of assuming things about people from different cultures, international campers simply ask.
When it comes to making friends with campers from other countries, listening with a curious ear is the easiest path to a fun summer. Who knows what you might learn!
Always open to new experiences
The world is an adventurous place full of fun and opportunity for those who know where to look. International camp is an excellent first step, teaching campers not just the exciting things the world has to offer, but an appreciation for the things that make their own culture unique and interesting.
Every country in the world seems exotic from someone’s perspective — for international campers, the world is one big family!
I could hear my heart pounding in my chest and I felt like I was going to throw up. I could hear the whispers of my fellow campers just behind the curtain, and I became absolutely certain that this was a very very bad idea. And then, like slow motion, the curtain lifted and I saw the entire audience looking at me. And the music that was all so familiar from practice started, and my feet started moving and my lips started talking and I was doing it! I was preforming in front of a huge crowd and to my surprise, I was LOVING it. It was so much fun pretending to be someone else, and I lost myself in the character I was playing. I had never been in a play before, and never thought as myself as the “in the spotlight” kind of kid, but I felt right at home on stage.
One of the reasons I felt so confident on my big night was because we had so many opportunities to practice. Every day, almost from the first day at camp, we would all get together and practice our lines, our movements and we got a lot of guidance from our counselors, some of whom had been in dozens of plays in high school and college! They were so helpful in making us feel comfortable and confident, and sometimes we forgot we were “working” because we were having so much fun.
Some of my cast mates were from preforming arts schools, and had a lot of theatre experience under their belt. We all really learned a lot from them, and were lucky to have them on our team. But no matter if we had done 10 plays or this was our first one, everyone was treated like a very valuable part of the production. I loved the feeling of being part of a team (since sports have never really been my thing) and feeling valued, wanted and appreciated. When I got nervous, I just had to look out of the corner of my eye to my friend Jake who would give me an encouraging nod or wink, and I suddenly found my confidence. When someone else got tripped up on their lines or forgot their mark, I was able to mouth the words or improvise so that the show flowed smoothly.
Since I was in the play at camp, public speaking at school has been much easier. I even tried out for the play at school, and although I didn’t get the role I auditioned for, I’m having a great time being part of the production. That is another thing that being in the camp play helped me with; understanding that you don’t always get the starring role, but that without the supporting roles, the play can’t go on! Everyone has such an important role, no matter how small, and I love that about being in theatre.
After the play, everyone clapped and cheered, and for the rest of my time at camp, people I didn’t even know came up and told me how funny I was and what a good job I did. It was so nice to get that encouragement from my fellow campers. Some even said that they’re going to try out next time!
Being in the camp play was one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, and amazing things I’ve ever done, and I learned so much!
I wish you could have seen my face the first day of summer camp; my excitement was so contagious I was worried the nurse would put me in quarantine. That being said, my excitement had nothing to do with sports. So far as I was concerned, sports were just another stressful school activity, and to be honest I was initially disappointed when I first saw “basketball” on my daily schedule.
Fast forward a week later, and I was signing up for golf and baseball of my own free will, and even organizing pickup games during rest hour. While I’d dreaded sports at school, they quickly become one of my favorite activities at camp!
So what happened? Well, it might sound a little cheesy, but it didn’t take much camp spirit to change my attitude. Let me explain…
Camp is “different.” In a good way.
Although many of the team sports at camp are familiar from the team sports at school, the experience of participating in sports at camp can be a completely different experience. In a good way, of course.
For campers who thrive on organized sports at school, camp offers a unique opportunity: a chance to hone skills in a more focused environment, and access to incredible coaches who are completely invested in helping their campers have a blast and build their skills. “You mean I get to spend all day long outside playing games?” For sporty campers, the athletics program at camp is paradise.
For campers who might be less inclined towards sports at school, on the other hand, camp offers a different kind of advantage: a chance to try a wide variety of sports in a stress-free environment, without the pressures that come along with the high-stakes atmosphere of organized team competitions at school.
Learning to challenge yourself
I know I wasn’t the only convert; many other campers who would never describe themselves as sporty outside of camp found themselves discovering the more positive, pro-personal-growth side of athletics during their time at camp. If the school environment sucks the fun out of volleyball for you, just try it at camp! It’s a totally different game. Trust me.
When competitive sports let me down at school, I thought it was everyone else’s fault. But getting a chance to chill out and try new things at camp taught me that actually, it wasn’t anybody’s fault; I just needed to relax and learn to be okay with winning some days and losing on others. You know, just like life.
Camp is a great environment to try new things
Regardless of a camper’s feelings towards sports at school, the number one difference that camp has to offer is this: variety.
At camp, it’s not a question of fitting a sport or two around academics; it’s a question of fitting as many sports as you can imagine into a single day! Roller hockey, golf, flag football, lacrosse, cheerleading, baseball, tennis, soccer… and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
The chances for finding a sport that suits you are endless, and if you don’t care for a particular game you aren’t stuck with it; after all, a new one will be starting up next period.
Keep an open mind
So here’s my advice to a new camper who might be anxious about team activities at camp: relax, give it a try, and keep an open mind. The best part of camp is that the scenery is always changing. Even if you decide that an activity isn’t up your alley, you can always sign up for something new next time.
…And once you do discover your favorite sport, it’s just a question of signing up as much as possible!
Alright campers, it’s time to get serious about another classic summer activity: archery.
It may look easy to hit a bullseye if your only point of reference is the Hunger Games or Avengers, but remember — they have CGI special effects to make it easy for them!
As anybody who’s fired a bow at camp can tell you, getting an arrow to fly through the air and hit a target is a whole lot easier said than done. Chances are it’ll take some serious practice before anything aside from chance gets your shots anywhere close to the mark.
…But that feeling when you land one directly on the bullseye? Priceless.
Here are some of our favorite strategies for going from zero to bullseye as quickly as possible.
Before you even shoot, proper stance is key to being able to shoot consistently. If you’re dancing around and shooting from different positions, trust me, it’ll take forever to get a feel for where to aim.
First step: make sure your body is completely parallel to the target. That means shoulders and hips pointed directly sideways to the target. This may seem obvious, but we see campers struggle to keep this pose going, especially since it feels more “natural” to point your toes at the target like when you’re throwing a baseball or football.
Keep your whole body from your toes to your shoulders pointed sideways, and you’ve already won half the battle!
Something campers often struggle with is figuring out where to aim.
Bows don’t come with crosshairs, so it’s a question of figuring out where the sweet spot is for your particular bow, at your particular height, at your particular distance from the target.
Sounds like a lot to think about, right? Well don’t worry; there’s an easy strategy that figures out the trajectories for you:
Firstly, never move your feet. If you keep your feet in the same place between arrows, you ensure that your position relative to the target doesn’t move. So resist that victory dance just for a minute!
Secondly, you have to miss on purpose. Yep, you heard me right: miss the target.
For your first arrow, shoot low on purpose. Low enough that you know it’ll hit the bottom of the board, or even the turf below the board. For your second arrow, aim high on purpose. Shoot so that you see where the “crosshair” is pointing when you’re going way overboard.
Finally, on the third arrow, shoot in the middle. Just like goldilocks, but instead of getting porridge, you get a bullseye!
Blame the wind
My personal favorite tactic: always blame the wind. Missed the target? Crossbreeze! Hit someone else’s target by accident? Another darned crossbreeze!
Enthusiasm is as important for archery as it is for all camp sports, and a little humor goes a long way. Don’t get too serious — and always blame the crossbreeze, never yourself!
The last thing that holds a lot of campers back from their bullseye victory dance is so simple it’s ridiculous: breathing.
It’s tempting to hold your breath or hyperventilate while you aim, simply because that’s the natural human reaction to being excited. Although archery feels like a precision exercise when you first start, the truth is that a lot of it is up to chance. Every arrow is a little different, every bow is a little different, and jokes about cross-breezes aside the wind absolutely plays a factor that can thwart even the most talented and practiced archery master.
The key to success in archery, as it is in many camp sports, is simply letting go. Bullseyes don’t really matter as much as having fun, and part of the game’s a gamble anyway.
Just relax, smile, breath, and give it your best shot. Chances are that’s all it’ll take for you to start hitting bullseyes left and right — in archery, and in your life.
We talk a great deal about gratitude at CW. Even though it comes up often, not everyone knows exactly how to define it.
There are a number of definitions but our favorite comes from researcher Robert Emmons. He tells us that gratitude “is an affirmation of the good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received… and we recognize that the sources of this ‘goodness’ are outside of ourselves.”
So, how do we work gratitude into our daily lives at camp? Lots of ways!
It comes up every night before going to bed in the form of a question: “What are your two ‘happies’ for the day?” This forces (in a good way) our campers to think about all the great things they’ve enjoyed that day before going to bed.
It’s explored with our staff during their interviews and repeated often during their nine-day orientation before camp starts. We find that college aged women and men who already hold gratitude as an important part of their life to be more interested and interesting staff members. It comes up often in our winter office when we look back over the previous summer and plan for the next. (We have a fantastic job!) And, thankfully, it mentioned a lot when speaking to parents and campers about their experience with us.
At Camp Weequahic, we find it vitally important to demonstrate gratitude on a daily basis by saying thank you, writing a quick note, or sharing a kind word with one another. This is so much more effective than simply speaking about it or learning from a book.
We believe community that practices gratitude on all levels throughout the day is a happier, more patient, and more engaged community. And, it’s one worth building every day.