1, 2, 3, 4…We Want Color War!

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…Or should we say: We’re IN Color War!

Color War 2015 broke on Wednesday night, and already camp is overflowing with spirit, friendly competition, and intense Green and Gold pride. For our Bunk One campers, Color War is the culmination of all the leadership skills they’ve been learning during their years at camp; and for every camper and staff member, it’s a chance to celebrate the summer through fun, games, and lots and lots of cheering!

Each year, our Color War “break” — the event that signals the beginning of Color War — is more creative and spectacular than the last. Our top-secret Color War planning team seems to have a bottomless bag of break ideas, and we never know what they’re going to dream up next. Even Dan and Jane are surprised every year by the way Color War arrives!

This year’s Color War break had a “Night at the Museum” theme based on a mystical Lake Bryn Mawr Camp legend. In the Fieldhouse and the Dining Hall, where the backdrops from Color Wars past are displayed throughout the summer, something magical happens every night after Taps: Powered by the spirit of the Color War hatchets buried on camp, the characters pictured in the backdrops come to life. Should the hatchets be removed from their proper place, the backdrops would lose their ability to come to life, and the spirit of Bryn Mawr would be trapped for the rest of time.

Over the last week, the characters from past Color War themes began to reveal themselves, telling campers that they needed more spirit, more songs and more cheers to survive because it seemed like some of the characters were losing their power — and some had even disappeared completely! Led by Captain Hook (from the Notorious Villains backdrop), a series of characters such as Pippi Longstocking (Unaccompanied Minors), Winnie the Pooh (Bedtime Buddies), Rainbow Brite and Doc from “Back to the Future” made appearances as the problem became clear: Someone was trying to steal the hatchets.

More clues were revealed that a group of undercover operatives were trying to steal the hatchets for someone known only as “Command.” The villains schemed to unbury the hatchets and get them off camp. In a series of fake breaks, they made various attempts to escape camp with the hatchets, but the campers rallied together in spirit and trapped the bad guys inside a backdrop!

Last night, the operatives escaped from their captors and headed to the lake, where they attempted to get away on Captain Hook’s stolen pirate ship. Everyone in camp followed them down to the lake, where the Bunk One campers had to quickly assemble a catapult. Using the catapult, Captain Hook managed to catch the ship on fire, and the bad guys swam to shore, where they were vanquished by the group of Color War backdrop characters.

With the hatchets restored, who should appear but the mysterious “Command”… Jane?! Jane revealed to camp that stealing the hatchets was her plan to see how far campers would go to protect the values and spirit we hold so dear. With that, the giant letters G&G to represent Green and Gold were illuminated, and a surprise fireworks display lit up the sky — Color War 2015 had broken out!

In the days to come, there will be sports and games, treasured traditions like Apache Relay and Bucket Brigade, and intense preparations for Sing, the culminating event of Color War at which a new pair of backdrops, Green and Gold, will be revealed. We love this exciting time of summer — and we especially love the sense of magic and surprise that is woven throughout the buildup to Color War. Camp is a place where even the most sophisticated teenager can believe in magic, that paintings can come to life and a pirate ship can sail across the lake and songs and cheers have the power to protect the place you love.

Three cheers for Color War!

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Campfire Stories the Bryn Mawr Way…

Who doesn’t love a great story? We know our campers do! For years, campers have enjoyed traditional summertime readings of two of our favorite books, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Giving Tree, and we’ve blogged before about why we love those two books.

Each summer, when we sit down to read our Friday night stories, we try to bring back some old favorites as well as introduce some new selections, each with a message that underscores the values that are at the heart of the Bryn Mawr experience. Here are some of the books we’ve enjoyed at our all-camp storytimes this summer!

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day
By Jamie Lee Curtis

“Today I feel silly; Mom says it’s the heat. I put rouge on the cat and gloves on my feet.” We love this fun picture book about a little girl and all the various emotions she experiences from day to day. Moods (good and bad!) are something that happen to us all, and it’s so important for children to feel like they can express their feelings in an honest, open and constructive way. Everyone will be angry, sad, excited, scared, happy or silly at various times, and we love that this book makes it feel OK to have all these different feelings, and to know that they are universal.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
By James Dean and Eric Litwin

Singing, chants and cheers are such a big part of life at camp, so this sing-along book is a big hit with campers of all ages. We also love the message — that “stuff” doesn’t matter. Pete loses his buttons, but he doesn’t let that get him down. He keeps on singing! This is such a fun book to read aloud and to encourage kids to join in on the rhymes.

Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t)
By Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley

Miss Brooks is a quirky librarian who loves to bring stories to life. And Missy is a little girl who refuses to like any of Miss Brooks’ book suggestions. Miss Brooks goes overboard to prove to her student that there’s a book out there for her! To tell you the truth, this one is for our counselors as much as it is for our campers — they have all experienced trying to get a camper excited about something she doesn’t think she’ll like! For campers, Miss Brooks’ message is a wonderful one that really highlights one of the great things about camp: We might not all like the same things, but when it comes down to it, there is something for everyone!

We hope you and your daughters enjoy some of these stories at home — and if you have book suggestions, send them our way. We’re always on the lookout for a great read with a great message!

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We’ve got spirit, yes we do!

There’s excitement in the air around camp, and we bet you know why…

Thursday night was Spirit Night!

OK, OK — we know, and you know, that this Saturday is Visiting Day. It’s a highlight of the summer for campers and parents alike. For parents, it’s your chance to see what your daughters have been up to all summer — meet their counselors, see their new skills, check out their art projects. And for campers, it’s a day to show off their summer home, plus revel in a little special family time!

Just like you spend extra time getting your house ready to welcome special guests, we invest extra effort in getting camp ready to welcome our most special visitors: our parents and families. During the week before Visiting Day, excitement runs high around camp as campers rush to finish art projects, perfect new skills and clean up their bunks in preparation for the big day. There’s a thin line between excitement and nervousness, and as much fun as it is to think about the joy that comes with Visiting Day, campers also sometimes have a hard time focusing on day-to-day life at camp as they think about the family reunion to come.

More than a decade ago, we landed on a way to channel that pre-Visiting Day energy into something fun and productive that celebrates camp and all the things we love about it. In the days running up to Visiting Day, amid the preparations for Saturday, we spend extra time preparing for Spirit Night, an evening when campers quite literally sing the praises of their age groups.

Spirit Night is about bringing campers together to reflect on what makes their age group special — their interests, their inside jokes, their love for camp and what it means to be a camper in their age group. Girls from each bunk work together to write original song lyrics that tell the story of who they are and what makes their age group special — the things they all have in common. On Thursday this week, we gathered all the age groups together in our annual Spirit Night to hear each song performed and embrace the spirit of togetherness that unites girls across cabins, across friendships and through each summer, year after year.

On Saturday, you and your families will be ready and waiting to run across Main Campus and greet your campers, and they’ll gather in a spirit chain to chant “let them in!” The excitement of Visiting Day is the excitement of sharing camp with the outside world and the people we love there. We know there’s no better way to prepare than to spend a special evening celebrating what it means to share camp with one another — the campers and counselors who truly understand what it means to be a Bryn Mawr Angel!

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Here at camp, we love the nightlife — evening activity, that is!

When the sun goes down at Bryn Mawr, the fun is just beginning. Every night after dinner there’s something new to do.

Planning for evening activities is one of the biggest jobs our staff does as we prepare to start the summer. Seven weeks of camp means 48 nights of evening activities, and when you take into consideration that some nights have as many as four or five different activities going on, that means we’re planning hundreds of hours of evening entertainment every year. Some of those nights will include favorite traditional activities like Talent Night, Spirit Night and Gold Rush, but we also want to give campers new, fresh events to look forward to each summer, and that means our program staff and group leaders are constantly working on creative ideas for late-in-the-day fun.

There are a few things we always consider when planning an evening activity. First of all, of course, is safety, followed closely by fun! We work on scheduling a mix of different kinds of activity levels; for example, we know Friday nights are always Talent Night, so we try to make sure either Thursday or Saturday has an evening activity that is more active or athletic.

Another way in which we have to provide balance? Age group-specific vs. all-camp evening activities. Part of the benefit of camp is having younger girls interacting with older girls, providing opportunities to learn leadership and positive role modeling. That’s why every week of camp includes a few evening activities that involve the whole camp — special events like Spirit Night, when each age group gets to show off what makes it special, as well as routine gatherings like our weekly talent shows, when Bunk One girls take the lead as hosts and girls of every age have the chance to share their skills.

At the same time, age-appropriate activities are important, too! That’s why some evening activities are planned for specific age groups. Junior campers get to have some silly fun while senior campers enjoy activities that are designed to appeal to older girls.

For example, in the past week we’ve had several evening activities — College Night, a DJ’ed dance party, Talent Night — that have been for the entire camp to enjoy. And we’ve also had some evenings when campers have had special evening activities planned just for them. Every Monday night for the past 15 summers, juniors have competed in Junior Leagues, a fun, recreational sports league that mingles the younger age groups, introduces new games and gives our oldest juniors a chance to be the leaders for the night. While juniors were playing Leagues and Lower Seniors were off on their overnight trip to the Berkshires, the Upper Seniors bonded at a campfire, Bunk Two had a special age group activity put on by their group leaders, and Bunk One enjoyed “Flick and Float” — a Senior Camp favorite — movie night at the pool! The following night, Junior Camp held the Rainbow Games, while Bunk Two enjoyed their own Flick and Float, Upper Seniors had a special activity planned by their group leaders, and Bunk One hosted another favorite senior activity — a social with our friends from Camp Wayne for Boys.

While there’s nothing quite like the energy of having everyone together for an all-camp evening activity, there’s also something very special about the days when just one, two or a few age groups spend the evening together. It’s a chance for campers to get to know one another better, share new experiences and model leadership and community in a different way every night.

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Summer 2015 is Officially Here!

Every year, it seems like the first day of camp will never come — and every year, it feels like a dream to see the buses roll onto Main Campus and hear the sound of hundreds of girls coming “home” for the summer. But today the dream was reality, and we are so excited to welcome all our campers, new and returning, for the best summer yet!

Here at camp, we start right into a regular routine in order to help the girls get settled, so first thing tomorrow morning we’ll jump into activities and instruction. Camp is about fun and friendship, and it’s also about learning new things, from sports to leadership to life skills. One of our favorite camp experts, Bob Ditter, talks about the three basic psychological needs all people have:

  1. Relationships – a connection to someone else
  2. Mastery/competence – feeling good about what we do
  3. Sense of autonomy – being who we really are

What we love about camp is that it’s a place where girls can fulfill all three of those needs and learn new things at the same time… all while they just think they’re having fun! In fact, sometimes the summer goes by so quickly that girls don’t really have time to reflect on what they’ve learned and how much they’ve grown.

One way you might help your daughter get the most out of camp is to help her set some goals for the summer. By this time tomorrow, she’ll be well into her first full day of activities, and she will already be thinking about all the different things she’ll get to try this summer. Now that she’s at camp and the summer feels real, what will she want to try and do? What will she learn along the way? And when she looks back on the summer, will she be able to appreciate everything she’s accomplished? By going through the process of setting goals, working toward them, and evaluating progress, your daughter will be able to look back at the end of the summer and not only remember all the good times she had but appreciate all the ways in which she grew and learned.

When you write to your daughter this week, consider encouraging her to think about her goals for the summer. These goals might be skills-focused (learn an overhand serve; move up a level in riding; land a back tuck), meeting her need for a sense of mastery. They might be relationship-focused (make friends with someone in every age group; go to three intercamps and introduce new friends at each one; room with someone new on an overnight trip and learn three new things you like about her), helping her forge connections to others. Or they might be self-focused (count to 10 before losing your temper; try five new foods; pick a characteristic you like, such as friendliness or patience, and try to do something every day that embodies that word), helping her develop a sense of autonomy.

Check in with your camper about her goals throughout the summer to see how she’s progressing. You could also suggest she share them with her counselor or group leader and ask for their support — our staff members love to help campers set and achieve goals, whether athletic, creative or personal! Through praise, encouragement, instruction and problem-solving, counselors are always there to help their campers strive for success.

Tonight, your camper spends the first night of the summer sleeping under a starry Pennsylvania sky. Tomorrow, she’ll jump headfirst into a summer of fun, friendship and learning. We can’t wait to see what the summer brings… and to help your daughter achieve her goals, whatever they may be!

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Project Morry: What happens at camp matters in the “real world”…

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Project Morry was established in 1995 to provide a summer camp opportunity to inner-city youth who otherwise likely wouldn’t be able to experience the gift of camp. Named for Morry Stein, a legendary camp director who died in 1994, Project Morry honors Morry’s belief that summer camp provides lifelong benefits and his dream of making summer camp a reality for children from all backgrounds. Founded as Morry’s Camp, the organization adopted the name Project Morry as it expanded to become a year-round, long-term program that fosters education, enrichment and lifelong success.

At Bryn Mawr, we have felt a very personal connection to Project Morry since its beginning. Morry Stein came into Dan’s life 50 years ago when he came to the Kagan family home to enroll Dan’s brother in summer camp. Morry gradually became a very important influence in Dan’s life, first as his camp director and later as a mentor, helping Dan hone the skills that make a great camp director — compassion, honesty, fairness, listening and leadership.

Since Project Morry was established, we have been proud to support its programs and help share Morry’s vision. What has been truly wonderful, though, has been seeing LBMC campers and staff, most of whom never had the opportunity to know Morry himself, embrace Project Morry and its mission.

For 15 years, support for Project Morry has been a part of the Bryn Mawr summer experience. Our campers have swum countless laps and raised thousands of dollars through our annual swim-a-thon fundraiser, and our oldest girls have been able to visit and volunteer at Morry’s Camp, where they have experienced Morry’s vision firsthand. And campers and counselors of all ages have made supporting Project Morry a part of their lives long after camp ends through donations, service projects, and participation in Project Morry fundraisers.

One of our campers, Dani Z., was so inspired by her summer experience at Morry’s Camp that she recently nominated Project Morry to receive a grant from her JCC’s Teen Philanthropy Institute.

“During the final meetings, I shared stories of my experience with Project Morry, which significantly impacted our decision,” Dani wrote. “My peers were inspired by my own experiences and realized how great of a cause Project Morry really is.” Dani’s youth group voted to make a donation of $2,200 to Project Morry. In a note to camp, Dani expressed her appreciation for Project Morry and the opportunity she had at camp to support its work.

“I wanted to thank you for allowing me to have that experience, and for making Project Morry such a huge part of camp,” she wrote. “It really does have an impact on me, and I am sure, on all of the campers.”

All of which just goes to show that Morry was right: What children do at camp translates into life after camp. Whether it’s demonstrating team spirit, learning good sportsmanship, developing problem-solving skills or gaining an appreciation for helping others, the lessons of camp become lifelong lessons that help shape campers as they grow into adulthood. We’re looking forward to the life lessons that await our campers when camp starts in a few weeks — and to watching as they put those lessons to use in the years to come!

Learn more about Project Morry at www.projectmorry.org.

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Summer camp simplifies kids’ complicated online lives…

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It’s no secret that technology, even as it makes life easier, also leads to complications — especially when it comes to interpersonal communication, and especially for young people. Teens, tweens and even small children are spending more time with devices than ever before, and it’s complicating their lives in ways that are both expected and surprising.

One of our favorite writers, Rachel Simmons, breaks down some of the complex psychology and positioning that takes place on just one social platform, photo sharing service Instagram, in this piece for Time:

Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it). They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes,” after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.

While young people are doing all this delicate negotiating online, they may be losing the ability to communicate effectively in person. New York Times columnist Bruce Feiser wrote recently about a Stanford communications professor who told him about “research he was doing that suggested young people were spending so much time looking into screens that they were losing the ability to read nonverbal communications and learn other skills necessary for one-on-one interactions.”

How much screen time are we talking about? According to Feiser:

The Kaiser Family Foundation puts media use among 8- to 18-year-olds at more than 7.5 hours a day. A study released this month by the Pew Research Center showed that a quarter of teenagers are online “almost constantly.” Among 12- to 17-year-olds, texting has become the primary means of communication, outstripping direct human contact.

Although there’s no consensus about the extent to which excess screen time may be detrimental to children and teens, there’s no question that as technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, it’s important that we give kids time away from their devices to learn how to communicate constructively face to face. That’s why Lake Bryn Mawr Camp is a cell phone-free zone. Instead of trying to interpret their social standing through Instagram likes and re-Tweets, we want campers to be able to relax, act like kids, and learn how to foster healthy friendships that don’t have anything to do with comments, likes and shares. We want them to learn how to solve problems in constructive ways, by talking to their friends honestly about their feelings and learning how to listen when others have something to say.

The good news, according to Feiser, is that research suggests that time away from screens can help rebuild communication skills. In a 2012 study (conducted at a summer camp!), researchers found that “After five days without screens, the children at the camp were significantly better at reading nonverbal emotional cues.”

When there is down time at camp, instead of filling it with Candy Crush and Yik Yak, our campers use that time to bond with their friends, make up dance routines, act silly, tell jokes, play games, braid hair, and otherwise enjoy one another’s company… and you know what they’re doing at the same time? That’s right: learning to read emotions, communicate face-to-face, and interact in constructive ways with the people around them.

We know that for some children, technology isn’t just a way to connect with others — it can be an escape into a personal world through games, e-books and other solo pursuits. There’s a place for “me time” at camp, too; instead of screen time, though, our campers take time alone to write letters or journals, draw, make bracelets, or read. And there’s no better way to wind down after a long and fun-filled day than with a good book! We love this list of inspirational books for little girls and these empowering books for middle school girls. Who needs YouTube when you can share the adventures of a self-rescuing princess or a young explorer?

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Preparing for camp: Knowledge is power…

camp bryn mawr girls

A summer at camp! For first-time campers, it sounds exciting — and, as with all new experiences, maybe a little bit scary. Just like the first day of kindergarten, the first ride on an airplane, or many of the other firsts in a child’s life, going away to camp for the first time comes with a mix of emotions. Excitement and nervousness are close cousins, after all!

What is it that makes “firsts” a little scary? It’s the element of the unknown: When I go to camp, what will my day be like? Who will my friends be? Where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I find my way around? So to help our first-time campers minimize their pre-camp jitters, we maximize their pre-camp preparation. The more knowledge they have about what camp will be like, the more ready they’ll feel when it’s time to get on the bus!

We start off with home visits. During the fall, Dan and Jane hit the road, visiting with every new camper and family in their homes. It’s a great opportunity not only for us to get to know new campers but for parents to get to know the people who will be responsible for their daughters’ summer experience. Home visits are the time when Dan and Jane can answer all the questions about each camper as an individual — how we can meet her unique needs and interests. It’s a really important step in helping campers and parents feel comfortable with camp.

Of course, Jane and Dan are an important part of each girl’s camp experience, but the people who are really important are the friends she’ll make. That’s why we give new campers a head start on getting to know their bunkmates. In February, we match up returning campers with first-timers through our pen pal program. Nobody knows more about what it’s like to be a camper at Bryn Mawr than our campers themselves, and our returning pen pals love to answer questions and get to know their future friends, bunkmates and summer sisters. It’s always exciting to see pen pals greet each other like old friends when they arrive at camp — even when they’ve never met face-to-face!

Many times parents have more questions than campers, something Dan and Jane understand completely as parents (and, as of a few weeks ago, grandparents!) themselves. In March, we send out our parents’ guide to camp. This book is jam-packed with information about camp — how it’s structured, who’s responsible for what, how to communicate during the summer, what the important policies and procedures are, and much, much more. Often the information in the parents’ guide, in addition to providing some reassuring knowledge about how camp works, makes parents think of additional questions, which we are always happy to answer!

Finally, in May, we host our Open House at camp. This is one of our favorite events of the “off-season” — probably because it’s the one that feels most like a day at camp! New campers and their families are invited to Honesdale to meet key staff, talk with Dan and Jane, take a tour of the facilities, get a sneak peek at any new programs or buildings, enjoy a tasty meal, do an art project or try out the ropes course, and maybe even meet a future bunkmate. Parents and daughters alike have the opportunity to ask all their last-minute questions, and we have lots of our senior staff members there to answer them all.

We also make sure new campers and their parents know that there’s no wrong time to ask a question — and there are no wrong questions. We’re available all year long to talk about camp and what to expect. The more you know, the more ready you’ll be to have an amazing summer at Bryn Mawr!

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What You’ll Learn as a Counselor…

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If you’ve talked to a friend who’s been a camp counselor, or if you’ve read anything at all about working at camp, you’ve heard all the usual promises: It will change your life! You’ll learn so much! You’ll discover things you didn’t know about yourself! It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love!

Sounds great. But what does all that really mean?

Camp is one of those experiences that can be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Imagine trying to explain your favorite flavor of ice cream to someone who has no idea what ice cream is:

“Well, it’s cold, and it’s creamy, and it tastes like chocolate.”

“Like chocolate milk?”

“Kind of, but not really. It’s solid, and you eat it with a spoon. Or you can eat it in a cone.”

“So it’s a hard cone of chocolate milk?”

“No, it’s soft, but it’s solid. It’s a soft solid, and it’s rich and chocolaty!”

“So it’s a soft cone of chocolate milk that you eat with a spoon?”

That’s kind of what it’s like to try to explain camp to someone who hasn’t been there to experience it for themselves. We do our best to prepare staff members through an in-depth interview process, a week or more of full-time training, and lots of informative handbooks and reading materials… but the reality is, as much as we can prepare you for the schedule, the traditions, the structure of camp, the rules and the girls’ individual personalities, the only way to find out what kind of counselor you truly are is to dive headfirst into the summer. (And as with all headfirst diving, we make sure you’re properly equipped and safety-minded and diving at the correct depth!)

While the only way to know what your summer will truly be like is to experience it, there are a few things we can promise you’ll learn during your time as a camp counselor. Many of them are skills that will have applications in your life as a student or professional. Others — well, others will just mark you as a member of the sorority of experienced camp counselors!

The importance of schedules — and teamwork:

Camp runs like a tiny town, and all the various parts — program areas, Cabin Row, the dining hall, the health center — function like interlocking gears. They all turn together, and they all turn one another. When one of those gears slows down, they all slow down. That’s why, to keep things running smoothly, we all live by a routine. The most important players in keeping that routine functioning are our counselors, and by the end of the summer you’ll be a pro at managing time and helping keep a group of kids running on schedule. After that, managing your school or work schedule will be a breeze.

How to be prepared for any circumstance imaginable:

Pop quiz: You’re on the bus on trip day and one of your campers feels queasy. What do you do? Not to worry: You came prepared, knowing that this particular camper gets motion sick. You made sure she took her Dramamine before she got on the bus, and you’ve got a bottle of water and health center-approved nausea meds in your trip bag. Are you psychic? Nope — just well-prepared, thanks to the trip leaders who made sure you knew what to expect and had the tools you needed to keep everyone happy and healthy. You never know what will happen at camp, but as a counselor you’ll learn how to be prepared for what might come up — what to do, where to get help, and how to get your group back on track after a disruption.

Girls Camp PA

All the words to every top pop song of the summer:

You’ll hear them at rest hour, shower hour, bedtime, cleanup, Talent Night, on bus rides and being sung around camp. Prepare to get to know Ariana Grande, One Direction, or whoever happens to be the next breakout star of the summer.

How to navigate in new places:

If you’re coming to camp from another part of the country — or the world — the summer is a time to experience new places, both at camp, on trips and on your day off. Whether on camp trips or during free time, many of our counselors see places they’ve never before experienced — anything from busy New York City to sunny Hershey Park.

What it means to be a role model:

The phrase “role model” has positive connotations, and at camp you’ll quickly learn that being a good role model takes a conscious effort. Campers will take their cues from their counselors whether the behavior they’re modeling is appropriate or not, and it won’t be long before you realize how your attitude ripples through your cabin or program area. Some days you’ll be tired or cranky, and it will seem hard to put on a smile and encourage your campers to join you in having a positive approach to the day. But when you make the effort to be a great role model, you’ll see that your positivity makes a difference for the better.

How many bracelets fit on a single wrist:

Beaded, braided, knotted from embroidery floss, woven on a Rainbow Loom or improvised from hair ties… It’s more than you think.

How to thrive in new situations:

Many of our counselors are full-time college students, and in many ways, the structure of camp couldn’t be more different from the structure of college life. Yet good counselors thrive in both environments. Your ability to adapt, learn new routines, and embrace a different kind of lifestyle is a muscle — the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And there’s no better place to flex that muscle than in the unique setting of camp life.

The secrets of Chocolate Banana Night:

We really can’t tell you too much more about this one. No, seriously — we’ve said too much already.

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Recognize that “things” are not the most important thing…

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It’s that time of year — we’ve got gifts and giving on the brain!

Of course, the winter holidays aren’t just gift-giving occasions. Some of us celebrate religious holidays or festivals at this time of year. Others observe winter holidays from a secular perspective and value them not as excuses to shop but as days to celebrate values like family, community and friendship.

If you’re like many parents, you want the holiday season to be about more than toys and treats, especially if you feel like your children have enough — or too much! — already. We know some parents who subscribe to a “one in, one out” philosophy, teaching their children that for each new toy they receive for a birthday or holiday, they donate one old toy to charity. Other families follow a guideline for gift giving that’s gained popularity in recent years: Rather than a mountain of presents at birthdays and holidays, they give each child something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

That’s not to say we don’t like to give and receive gifts. Who doesn’t love to watch their child’s face light up when they receive something special? Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have a little inspiration to find a gift more meaningful than the next Rainbow Loom or “Frozen” sing-along DVD.

This essay from the New York Times struck a chord with us this December. In it, economist Arthur C. Brooks talks about the idea of “abundance without attachment” — the idea that material prosperity isn’t a bad thing, as long as we recognize that “things” are not the most important thing.

“In other words,” Brooks writes, “if we are lucky enough to achieve abundance, we should be thankful for it and work to share the means to create it with others around the world.”

One of Brooks’ suggestions is to “collect experiences, not things.” That’s why we enjoyed this list of 25 gifts for kids that have nothing to do with toys. While some of the suggestions are more traditional alternatives to dolls and toys (art supplies, photo books, science kits), many of the ideas in the list are experiences — things you can give your kids that will stay with them as wonderful memories long after they’ve outgrown all their toys.

(As we read through the list, we realized why we liked it so much: Many of the experiences on the list are things we love to do at camp! Game nights and movie outings? Check. Favorite foods and impromptu parties? Double check. Lessons, classes, excursions and trips? Triple check!)

We’ve blogged in the past about the gift you give your daughter when you send her to camp. There are other experiences that can be gifts, too — to your family and to others. During the summer, our campers get excited about supporting programs like Project Morry, one of the nonprofits — along with S.C.O.P.E. — that we’re proud LBMC is able to help provide summer camp experiences to kids who might not otherwise be able to afford them. We’re always excited when we see our campers embracing the giving spirit year-round, whether they’re raising funds for programs like SCOPE or Project Morry or giving back to their communities in other ways.

This year, think about holiday gifts through the lens of “abundance without attachment” by finding a giving experience you and your children can enjoy together! It could be as easy as spending an afternoon lending a hand at your local food pantry, helping out at an animal shelter or putting together a basket for a needy family. The experience of helping others is a gift twice over — once in the giving itself, and again in the gift of caring you’re giving your children.

How does your family find new ways to give — and appreciate abundance — during the holiday season?

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