My mom has this ritual of asking me, every day, about what I learned that day. Sometimes I shrug and say “I don’t know,” and other times I spit out interesting facts about blue whales or Egyptian pyramids or volcanoes that I learned that day at school. So in the car the day I got home from a summer at Camp Weequahic, I wasn’t surprised when she asked me what I had learned while being away. She was surprised, however, at my response.
I told her that I learned a lot of new skills that I would never have experienced if I had stayed home. I learned how to play lacrosse and sail. I learned to fish and learned a lot of crazy songs that have been stuck in my head all summer. I learned how to get from one side of camp to the other in the shortest amount of time, I learned how to make the perfect S’more, and even learned how to paint. I was exposed to so many new opportunities and experiences, that I felt like I was learning something new every day!
But in the first few days at home, I kept thinking about other things I learned while I was at camp. Things that were more about character than skill. Things that will help me in life more than knowing the perfect ratio of chocolate to marshmallow ratio on a S’more. When Jessi and I had that big disagreement, our counselors walked us through a communication plan that left both of us feeling heard, understood and we walked away with our issue totally resolved. I learned how to recognize when someone was feeling left out or lonely, and quickly invited them to sit, play or hang out with me. I learned a lot about how to interact with different people and learned to appreciate differences in people without judgment. At the end of the summer, I realized that sometimes I was so focused on the quantity of friends that I have, that I wasn’t focused on the quality. After spending a summer at camp, I learned the importance of having a handful of true friends who are there for you no matter what, who accept you for who you are, and who are honest and real with you.
I learned quickly that I’m a naturally messy and unorganized person, but that keeping my stuff picked up and clean in areas that I share with others is a sign of respect, and learned quickly to live in close proximity with other people and respecting boundaries and personal space. I learned to compromise, to be flexible, and how to manage my time.
I learned that I can, in fact, function without my cell phone and that not everything I do has to be documented through a “selfie.” I learned that without a cell phone glued to my side, I could focus more on the actual experience rather than getting the perfect shot, choosing the best filter, and then waiting impatiently for my friends to “like” and “comment” on the picture through social media.
I didn’t overwhelm my dear ‘ol mom with all of these things that I learned, and instead just gave her little stories here and there to demonstrate all of the new things I had learned at camp. Sometimes, she was the one telling me about the difference that she noticed in me, things that I had learned that made an obvious difference in my attitude and character. She noticed I was more patient with my little sister, more helpful to her and my dad, I was a better team player for my soccer team, and as school rolled around, she noticed I was focusing more on my grades.
I learned a lot at Camp Weequahic. Some of the things are basic skills that are fun to know, while others are foundational qualities that I really feel with set me up for better relationships and experiences for the rest of my life. I’m thankful that going to camp was such a fun and natural way to learn so many new things.
I was nervous and excited to send my son Connor to Camp Weequahic this year. Connor’s best friend attended the camp the summer before and could not stop raving about it. So after plenty of research and discussions, we decided to let Connor spend the summer away. I won’t lie, my “mommy heart” broke a little when he practically jumped out of the car at drop off and didn’t look back, but I was pretty sure we were making the right decision. Last week, when we picked him up, I was 100% sure we had made the right decision. The excited, smiley kid who jumped into our backseat was….different.
I couldn’t pin point many differences right away, except for the excitement in his eyes and voice when he talked about all of his new friends and cracked himself up remembering inside jokes and hilarious conversations with his new buddies. One of the main things I noticed when we got home was how helpful he had become. Without me asking, he would make his bed, take his plates to the sink, offer to bring in the groceries or even simply ask if he could get us anything from the kitchen since he was going that way. I noticed a new sense of thoughtfulness when he came back. Not that he was heartless before by any means, but I definitely noticed a change in his willingness to help others and think of others before himself. As the days passed, my heart exploded with joy to see him excited to email, chat and FaceTime all of his new friends. He went to camp a little reserved, and came back social and confident. I loved seeing him interact with his peers, I loved seeing how he was truly listening to what others had to say, and how he felt confident contributing to the conversation.
Just today, he told me he was going to try out for soccer tryouts at school, a sport he had never played before camp. He said he was encouraged to try it at camp and played it almost every day while he was there. As a mom, I am blown away at what positive changes have come from sending my son to camp. I knew he would make friends, try a new activity or two, and learn to live both independently and with a group, but I had no idea about the social skills, character development, relational growth, and boost in confidence that spending just a few weeks away could create.
Any parent that is even thinking about sending their kid to camp should stop thinking right now and sign them up. Not only will you enjoy a few kid-free weeks of relaxation, but when your kid comes home, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at everything they’ve learned, and more importantly, who they’ve become.
Camp Weequahic changed my son for the better, and we are both looking forward to the growth and changes that will happen next summer at camp!
We recently read an article on the American Camping Association website entitled Who Are Your Campers? The article included a rather interesting illustration of statistics about children today. One of the pieces of data that most caught our eye was the statistic about children and media. According to the illustration, children today spend, on average, 7.5 hours with media. One of the key points of summer camp has always been the greatly reduced exposure to technology. It’s recommended that children sleep 8-10 hours a night, which leaves 14-16 hours left in a day. That means that approximately half a normal day for a child involves the use of media or technology of some kind. Even schools are focusing on transitions to electronic based curriculums. In contrast to the considerably less media exposure of previous generations, it’s easy to assume that summer camp must be practically culture shock to modern children who.
Although many camps offer activities, such as video and photography programs, the noticeably fewer technology options at summer camp leave campers with a considerable hole to fill. This is where athletics come into play. There is no shortage of sports at Camp Weequahic, and campers quickly become very involved in both their intra and inter camp teams. The lack of outside distraction allows them to focus on athletic performance. Although it’s not about winning, per say, for the majority of campers, an astounding number of them voice pride in the improvement of their skills since last year or vocally share their objectives for this year with coaches and counselors over the first few days of camp. They clearly come with goals, which suggests that, contrary to what one might assume, campers actually anticipate a break from media outlets and look forward to it enough to take the time to outline ways in which they hope to improve themselves during their summer camp experience.
Summer camp used to be thought of as an escape to fresh air and nature from urban jungles. Perhaps it still is for some. It seems, however, that it has just as much become a respite from technology and the emphasis on social media that has overtaken the lives of contemporary children. Campers spend time at camp focusing on qualities of life that have taken a backseat to technology in recent years: the value of face-to-face communication, spending time outdoors being active, working toward personal goals in improving skills in sports or hobbies. This is one way in which the motivation for coming to summer camp may have changed but the hoped for end result is still the same. This also is what keeps summer camp a timeless option for filling children’s summers.
Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.” Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout. “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps. To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another. However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others. For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor. Sure the basic ingredients are the same. Most pizza pies even look similar. But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another. It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home. Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child. The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.
In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time. They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers. They’ll bond with favorite counselors. They’ll try at least one activity for the first time. They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents. As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.” Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp. So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.
From the rituals they lead to open camp on the first night until the moment they say teary farewells to their final summers, summer camp plays as significant a role in older campers’ lives as they play in carrying on its traditions. There are a lot of camp articles that sing the praises of summer camp for young children, but few focus on the value of the camp experience for young teens. By the time many campers reach their teens, they already have several camp summers behind them. For them, it’s not really about newness anymore, but reliability and tradition: who is at camp, what is at camp, camp rites to which they’ve looked forward since they were young. In a period of child’s life that can be a roller coaster full of ups and downs that come at full speed, summer camp is oasis of stability. It’s solid ground, a safe place where teenagers go to be themselves and to let loose of the stress and strain that are inextricably part of the teenage years.
At summer camp, teenagers can still be young while getting a taste of what it means to be grown up. They connect with a small group of people with whom they’ve shared experiences since they were very young and with whom they continue to share experiences. They not only share experiences, they share memories that only a select group of others shares. Both give older campers a distinct sense of belonging. Regardless of who or what they are to their school peers the other ten months of the year, camp is a circle of inclusion that often extends far beyond the camp years. Older campers also benefit from privileges that come from being older. They’re tapped to lead camp activities, given leadership roles on teams of younger campers, and charged with being examples in honoring camp traditions. In short, older campers “train” younger campers how to be good campers. For many of them, being a role model and a mentor is one of the best aspects of camp. The pride in having played a role in a younger camper’s life is what brings many former campers back to camp in their adult years to work as counselors.
Beyond rituals and traditions, there is also the encouragement that many older campers get from staff members in pursuing college and career goals, be it allowing them to sample career life through Apprentice type tasks, giving them the opportunity to write an essay for the camp blog, giving them a camera and letting them take photos for the camp website, helping them write a college essay or work through a summer reading assignment, or just talking to them about what life as a teacher or a coach is like. By the time campers reach their teenage years, they’ve learned to appreciate what staff members bring to the table and are eager to learn and listen. Ask any former camper to name a camp staff member who had a special impact on their lives, and within seconds they’ll share the story of a beloved counselor or staff member who taught them something about life that they still practice today.
Although many bonds form when campers are young, some of the most special form when they’re older. Sometimes something as simple as a team building exercise helps teenage campers realize that they have more in common with a fellow camper than they thought they did. At an age when it’s all too easy to feel isolated, being able everyday to realize life as a valuable part of a whole translates into some of the most special memories of a camp career.
Camp is more than just a summer away from home hanging with friends. It’s a learning experience, and some of the most valuable lessons are learned in the midst of teenage fun at summer camp.
As I sit looking over the pictures of Summer 2012, I was struck by how many things you only do at camp. The list is long and full of things that make you laugh and things that make you think. Campers, if I leave anything out, please let me know!
Only at Weequahic…
• Is racing with a bed in hand a serious sport.
• MAKING the bed, hands clasped with a ‘sister’ a timed and valued activity.
• Is Bench ball played, and played well!
• Does anyone know what BBG means but also knows how to play it!
• Do you find a Camp Mom without any ‘real’ children as campers at camp
• Do you play underneath an American flag so old that it has only 48 stars.
• Are you a part of Tribe or Team at the end of the session where you add value, regardless of your strengths and challenges
• Do you spend a Friday night thinking about gratitude, attitude, and courage
• Can you hear cows mooing every day at 2:55pm
• Can you launch a rocket, play in the lake, compete in a soccer game, enjoy canteen, and STILL have time to goof off with your friends.
• Do you get to enjoy Free Play on Main Campus
• You listen to nominations from staff of campers who have done awesome things that day before lowering the flag
• Do you sing Taps and Alma Mater while facing the lake, regardless of where you are on camp
• Are 13-16 year old guys clamoring for a handball team tournament under the lights
• Where you get to hang out with friends 50 feet off the ground
There are so many wonderful things you get to do only at Weequahic, and the above list is just a start. Campers and staff, let us hear from you about what we are missing from this list.
The following blog was contributed by camper Leah C., New York:
Everyone gathered around the flagpole slowly, shoulders drooping, feet dragging in the grass, arms draped tightly around their friends’ shoulders. The traditional wooden “W” stood sturdily on main campus, waiting to be burned, waiting to wordlessly proclaim the end to our summer. Long, erie shadows, created by the glow of the moon, stretched out in front of us as we approached the flagpole. I sat down on the wet grass with my friends surrounding me and lifted my head to look at the black, clear, starry sky. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see my friends doing the same, drinking in the sight of our last night at camp.
The flames engulfed the “W” quickly and within minutes, it was burning so brightly, it was hard to look at it. Yet it was hard to take our eyes off of it. Realization slammed into me, and suddenly it hit me that I wouldn’t see my summer family for another ten months. We would say our good byes, depart on our buses and planes the next morning, and talk to each other all year… but it wouldn’t be the same. With tears in my eyes I glanced away from the W and faced my friends. Looking at each other, and knowing from the expression on their faces, the same realization had struck them too. Tears streamed down our faces and we clung to each other, not wanting to say good bye to our best friends.
The W burned fiercely now, as if determined to end our summer. Everyone stood up and huddled in a group as we watched the “W” collapse. Sparks flew up from the pile of burning wood as it hit the ground with a heart breaking sound. Smoke billowed in the air, stationary above the ruin before drifting up into the night sky.
If you have children who attend sleepaway camp, work at a sleepaway camp, or know anyone who attends or works at a sleepaway camp, chances are that you’ve heard this at least once in your life: “It’s a camp thing.” For those of you wondering what that means, here’s an exclusive look inside the world of sleepaway camp and exactly what constitutes “a camp thing”.
We’ll begin with a definition. “A camp thing” is an experience or tradition that is unique to summer camp. It’s also actually “camp things” rather than a singular “thing”, since there are a host of experiences exclusive to the summer camp environment. Have you ever taken part in a competition, spread over several days, that divides the entire camp into two teams and requires contestants to do such things as cover their heads with shaving cream so that a teammate can attempt to make cheese curls stick to it, dress in crazy team colored gear that includes the crazy garb combination of tutus, mismatched socks, and face paint, or passed buckets of water down a line in a race to see who will fill their container first? Nope? Do you know why? It’s “a camp thing”. Ever sat alongside several hundred other people around a campfire while you watch friends and staff members perform crazy acts, sing songs or participate in games? Nope? Yeah…it’s another “camp thing”.
In case it’s not obvious, “camp things” happen every day at camp, from that first moment when you get off the bus and see your camp friends and your new counselors holding your bunk signs for the first time to the last when you’re saying ‘goodbye until next summer.’ Camp things are being part of a league sports team, whether it wins or loses, going on a special trip out of camp to get ice cream, performing rituals and eating s’mores around a campfire, sitting with your friends at cookouts, taking part in the traditions that are unique to each and every summer camp, and understanding the feeling of being part of a camp family. Camp things are having sleepovers with your bunk or having a venue in which you and your camp friends can pretend to be a rock band, DJs, or magicians. Camp things are that special inside joke that your friends share all summer, end-of-the-summer trips out of camp, sing-a-longs when you’re arm-in-arm with your camp friends. And hugging some of your best friends while singing your camp alma mater and watching candles burn or fireworks explode, knowing that you might not see them again until next summer, is definitely the most precious of “camp things”. If only everyone could experience “a camp thing”…
With Thanksgiving almost upon us, we here at Weequahic are counting our many blessings. Just to name a few of our “thankfuls”:
The most special group of campers in the world.
Families who trust us to develop a community in which their children learn, grow, and build memories that will last a lifetime.
A camp staff passionate about creating the best camp experience possible and talented and humble enough to do it successfully.
The opportunity to carry on a tradition that started in 1953 and has positively affected so many lives.
We talk a lot about gratitude at Weequahic. It’s one of three core principles (along with choosing your attitude and courage of the difficult, everyday variety). Our campers hear about it often, see it practiced each day, and learn about it more thoroughly at one of their weekly camp fires.
There are a number of great quotes on gratitude. Aesop, the great storyteller and teacher, said “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” When you find a person expressing true and humble gratitude, it certainly feels that Aesop is right.
However, people have been known to fake it. As La Rochefoucauld said, “In most of mankind gratitude is merely a secret hope of further favors.” I can think of times when, as a young person waiting for holiday gifts, I fell into that category. While I hope La Rochefoucauld is wrong, I know from experience there are many fakers out there.
May favorite quote on gratitude comes from Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
A person with a gracious heart is normally humble, helpful, and happy. They are not swayed by the swirling winds of society and seem older or wiser than their years suggest. This gracious outlook on life is a habit that leads to happier and virtuous journey. And, though some may argue that gratitude can be found in our genes, I’m a firm believer that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can be built in each of us.
So, on this Thanksgiving, I challenge you to cultivate a gracious outlook on life. It is a choice and one we can’t wait to talk about more around the campfire!
Routines. Everyone has them. For some, they encompass everything that takes place from the time we wake in the morning until we go to bed at night. For others, they come in short bursts throughout the day, such as at mealtimes or bedtime. However, establishing routines as daily parts of our lives is important, especially for children. Childcare experts agree that establishing regular routines for children is essential for healthy development. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning reports that “Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.”
It’s no secret that summer camps provide loose routines that allow room for healthy creative development through structured daily programs and schedules that maintain consistent meal, activity, and bedtimes. Maintaining a routine throughout the summer is also valuable in easing the transition from summer to fall and back into summer again. However, one special aspect of summer camp that is often overlooked is that it helps children learn to understand the difference between routine and ritual—what makes one necessity and the other tradition.
Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., Syracuse University, defines routine as something that “involves a momentary time commitment so that once the act is completed, there is little, if any, afterthought.” However, she defines ritual as “symbolic communication” that has “continuity in meaning across generations.” Rituals take place within the home family setting. However, for children, it’s not always clear how to tell the difference between what is done simply to be done and what is done because it’s significant to their heritage. This is where the summer camp ritual takes on a special significance. Even executives such as Michael Eisner have publicly recalled the important role that summer camp rituals have played in their lives.
Summer camp often draws a distinct line between routine and ritual. Campers understand, for instance, that cleaning their bunks or cabins everyday is part of a routine. That following an activities schedule is part of routine. That hearing TAPS in the evening to signal bedtime is a part of routine. They, too, understand that campfires, however regular, are rituals. They are more than just a fire that they gather around to eat s’mores. Campfires have meaning that goes far beyond the fire itself. The same can be said about opening night shows, closing, and fireworks. Campers understand that these are not just routines done merely to achieve a goal. They’re rituals that make their summer camp the place that it is and them a part of it.
By being able to tell the difference, children are able to accept routine as something that needs to be done and prevent rituals from simply becoming routine by understanding the value in them. Dr. Fiese says that children will often revisit memories of rituals in order to “recapture some of the positive.” experience.” This perhaps explains why so many camp rituals remain sacred to campers far passed their camping years. Some of America’s Finest Summer Camps’ rituals hold special significance for campers and staff members. For Camp Weequahic campers and staff, Flag Lowering and Wish Boats provide some of the most memorable moments for its campers and staff:
Nominations at Flag Lowering – At the end of each day of camp, we gather around the flagpole for some end of the day announcements. Once we have passed along information about the night’s evening activities, we invite counselors to pass along their nominations. Campers are nominated for many reasons – lending a helping hand to a friend in need, getting up on water skis for the first time, showing a great attitude to their team mates. The main thing is that we are rewarding campers for demonstrating our values of gratitude, a great attitude, and courage throughout the day. The nominated campers come forward to lower the flag. It’s a great ritual to end the day at Weequahic.
Wish Boats at the end of the summer are another Weequahic ritual. Our campers are invited to put their wish boats into the water. Campers take their little boats and write a few wishes on the bottom. Then, with the help of our staff members, campers put their candle in the boat and float it out into our lake. While their light is heading home away from Weequahic, tradition holds that they float back to camp soon!