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Outside the Comfort Zone: How Camps & Teen Programs Push Kids to Develop

To be blatantly honest, I do not take many risks. I, like many people, struggle with the idea of change. Maybe it is due to a loss of control, maybe it is due to the uncertainty. Whatever it may be, I stick to my routine. However when I am able to push myself beyond my limits, I am able to grow socially, emotionally, and intellectually. To this day, going abroad was one of the biggest risks I took, and I believe choosing to go was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made because it pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

In an article written in The Atlantic titled Traveling Teaches Students in a Way that Schools Can’t, Amanda Machado highlights how a trip to Ecuador changed her perspective on traveling: “That month in Ecuador did more for my character, education, and sense of identity than any other experience in my early life.” Going abroad had the same effect on me as it did for Machado. Traveling for a semester pushed me out of my comfort zone. With my newfound independence, I assimilated to the new culture and urged myself to try new things. While abroad, I was completely in charge of my own well-being. I learned how to manage a budget, be respectful of other cultures, have proper manners, and how to communicate with the locals.

I believe leaving your comfort zone to experience and learning new things ultimately makes you a more well-rounded person. There is no doubt that people are at ease when they are at home, or in other familiar situations. But as the saying goes – nothing ventured, nothing gained. My unfamiliarity in a new setting became comfort, and I found myself not wanting to leave. This same learning curve applies to many children and teens who experience and benefit from camps & teen programs across the country and the world.

In the camp world, campers are pushed to try new things and broaden their horizons, and for good reason. Individuals grow and learn the most when they are beyond their comfort zone, especially in such a supportive environment. One of my biggest comforts while traveling abroad was that not only was I with three close friends, but I had friends all over Europe. So, when I traveled on the weekends I got to see them. Fortunately, I, like many children, had that same comfort at camp. As the saying goes: camp friends are the best friends. The support I felt from camp friends and staff members throughout my time both as a camper & counselor allowed me to become more comfortable taking risks, which enabled me to grow as a person, and this is true for thousands of children who experience the benefits of camp each summer.

For those who have outgrown camp, teen programs provide an opportunity for middle & high-school aged students, in a similarly supervised and supportive environment, to step beyond their comfort zone and grow during the crucial period of adolescence. Whether this means traveling abroad, working on domestic or international community service projects, or taking challenging summer classes that expand a students’ academic horizons, these programs expose teenage students to new aspects of the world, and new aspects of themselves. During these programs they may discover experiences or activities that will develop into passions, or develop a new perspective on the world around them. These programs are invaluable for fostering teen development, and putting teens in a position to step beyond their comfort zone and grow in a supportive environment.

Trying new things, even for those of us who cherish routine, can be very rewarding and can in turn lead to an extremely positive and beneficial experience. Camps and teen programs encourage self-development and independence by placing kids and teens in supportive environments where they are forced to step outside their comfort zones. While overcoming fear and trying new things, campers are learning to deal with emotions that they have maybe never felt before, and as a result they are growing as individuals.

My experiences abroad helped me develop these skills further – however these skills built upon the foundation that was laid during my experiences at camp and on teen programs, which taught me skills beyond the classroom such as communication, manners, patience, and most importantly how to live in the moment and take risks.

Both travelling and camp teach skills that are not accessible in a classroom setting such as communication, manners, patience, and most importantly how to live in the mome


Election Lessons and Camp: Coming Together, Moving Forward

We are currently on the heels of one of the most divisive and charged election seasons in the history of our country, and certainly the most charged in our young lifetimes. While some are exalted, others are in dismay. Those who feel hurt need time to heal, and those who feel validated are ready to press forward – however one message that has been conveyed by President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and President-Elect Trump in the wake of last night’s election news is vital to the success of our country, and vital to the success of our children: we must learn to work past our differences, and past our pain or sense of vindication, in order to move forward together.

When we send our children to camp, we hope that they will come home happy and more independent. However, we are not so naïve to think that they will not experience disappointments, contention or frustration during their summers away – in fact, part of the reason we send our children to camp is to allow them to face these challenges and work through them in a structured and supportive environment. Every summer, various children struggle with this reality: they feel their counselors are not listening or their bunkmates are not empathizing. And yet, with the help of camp directors and staff, they learn to listen. They may not learn to agree, but they learn to move past their differences. And because they overcome these experiences, they emerge stronger than before.

Similarly, the teens we ask to coexist on their summer programs will ultimately disagree with their fellow travelers. In fact, they may find that they simply do not like some of their program’s other attendees. But they cannot disengage, they cannot act divisively – otherwise that all-important element of any teen program, the fabled “group dynamic”, will simply fall apart. And so they learn to live with one another, and they learn to coexist; with the help of leaders.

Of course I am not comparing the disagreements of teens or campers to the feelings of discord that permeate our nation today. The implications of an election are more visceral, more real and impactful, and farther reaching than any disagreement between campers or any dislike between teens. However, in both cases, the path to a solution is just as clear and just as challenging: we must put aside our differences, unify, and move forward. That is what builds strong campers and strong teens, and that is what will make us a truly strong nation.


Learning to Deal: How Camps & Teen Programs Teach Kids to Cope

For any young person, whether they are a child or adolescent, early encounters with any type of adversity can seem insurmountable and overwhelming. And this makes sense – without the framework of past experience, it can be difficult for a child or teen to properly contextualize whatever obstacle they are facing, or to approach it with the confidence that ultimately they will reach a resolution. Whether the problem is social or academic, a child may feel that they simply don’t have the answers, and may not be receptive to their parents’ advice, either because they perceive it as “outdated” or because children and teens are often, almost on principle, not receptive to their parents’ advice.

The New York Times recently published an article that discusses research that is currently being conducted with high school freshmen in America. This research, which focuses on providing the teens with the ability to cope with the stresses of high school, is three-fold: initially, the students read a scientific article that suggests that personalities can change over time; then, they read advice about dealing with high-school conflicts written by high-school seniors; finally, they are asked to write their own encouraging advice to younger students. Thus far, the results of the research have been notable. Providing students with a framework to contextualize their stress, and advice from older students about how they managed, allowed them to develop the coping mechanisms needed to succeed in high school.

When reading this article, I immediately thought of camp’s version of mentorship – Camp Brothers and Camp Sisters. While the various stresses that campers face are not all the same as those faced by high-school students, many young campers face stresses nonetheless. They are away from home for the first time, navigating a social sphere without their parents’ guidance or support. Perhaps they miss home, perhaps they are worried about struggling in a certain activity, or perhaps they are having trouble making friends or feel they are not fitting in. An older “Camp Sibling”, provides each child with a peer and mentor – someone who may have encountered the very same struggles just a few years earlier, and someone who is willing to share advice about the way they dealt with their issues.

Camp Siblings allow young campers to approach their summer with a degree of confidence – if they see their older Camp Sibling thriving, they may believe that they too will thrive with the advice of their older mentor. This confidence, and the presence of a built-in older friend, allows children to feel less overwhelmed, and thus provides them with a greater ability to cope when they are faced with difficult situations. Over the course of several summers, this ultimately translates into a continuity of mentorship and tradition of support: when younger campers grow into the role of the older Camp Siblings, they provide advice based on their own experiences, as well as advice they received from their Camp Sibling before them.

On teen programs – whether they are academic, adventure/travel, service or enrichment – participants generally will not be on a trip with former participants in the same way that younger campers are paired with older campers. However, students do have the built-in support structure provided by other participants, and the guidance of older trip/group leaders. Because these students are all on the same program together, experiencing the same challenges, obstacles, and difficulties, they will often band together and help each other cope with the situation. And when they are faced with a challenge, a well-trained and caring leader will be in a position to act as a role model and help them overcome any adversity they may face.

Encountering adversity is an inevitable and beneficial aspect to childhood and adolescence – ultimately, these experiences build resilience and inform the way children and teens will respond to adversity throughout their lives. However, giving students the support needed to cope with difficult situations is a vital aspect to making sure that these experiences ultimately end up having a positive outcome. The built-in support structures both at camp and on teen programs allow children and teens to encounter adversity in an environment that allows for positive development, and to ultimately develop the coping skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.


Summering With an Open Mind: Passion, Discovery, and the College Admissions Process

“What are your passions?”
The answer to this question seems to be the new key to the increasingly competitive college admissions process. While well-roundedness was once considered the strength of a student’s profile, the tides have shifted and a demonstrated depth of interest in one area now supersedes the widespread dabbling that used to fill high-school resumes. And, because students’ school-year schedules are often stacked with AP classes, varsity practices, dress rehearsals, and several hours of homework, there is often little time during the school for a student to really explore their interests and learn about what resonates with them.

Which is why summer – those blissful two months set firmly outside the high-school curriculum – is the perfect time for students to explore. Recently, Quartz published an article quoting Everything Summer’s Jill Tipograph that discusses the lengths to which some students will go to discover their passions over the summer, and the desire to translate this experience into a captivating college essay. And at Everything Summer, we certainly believe that a well-designed summer can allow students to explore interests in a way that supplements their rigorously structured school year – in fact this belief is at the core of what we do.

However, while, in Jill’s words “the outcome optimally would be better preparedness for college and the admissions process”, this does not mean that a summer experience should be a passion shopping spree in which students arbitrarily seek out niche experiences that will stand out on a resume or in an essay. In fact, an experience that is sought solely for admissions purposes may not translate to a captivating essay, as a student who made the decision purely for admissions-based reasons will have a hard time articulating why they chose a certain route, and what truly interests them about their supposed passion.
Instead, a summer experience must be chosen because – above all – it will allow a student to further explore a subject or area that already interests them, and, crucially, this must be approached with an open mind. According to Jill, “the summer should be about self-discovery, passion, broadening horizons, and getting out of your comfort zone”. And it is vital to note that part of this self-discovery may involve a student realizing that they are ultimately not passionate about something that interests them, a realization that can ultimately lead to the discovery of a true passion.
As an avid lacrosse player in high-school, I spent the entire summer after my sophomore year attending lacrosse camps as I sought to further my interest in the game and potentially be recruited to play in college. And after a summer filled with nothing but lacrosse, I was, quite simply, tired. While I certainly liked the game – and I had been playing for multiple years at this point – this further exposure led me to realize that perhaps I didn’t want to play in college, and that I may want to explore other interests. The next summer, I did not continue my investment in lacrosse in an effort to force a passion where none existed – instead, I took an educational trip to Europe to study Roman Archaeology and Art History, and in the process, by chance, I discovered improv comedy and theatre.
I have not played lacrosse since high-school. And while I am still fascinated with art history and the classical world, I would not necessarily describe these interests as passions. However, theatre and improv are both interests that I have continued to invest in, because they are interests that speak to me on a deeper level. I wrote my college essay, honestly, about my discovery of improv and the road I took to get there – and fortunately, I was accepted to my first-choice school. I received my degree in theatre, and have participated in productions both during and after college.
While my experiences with theatre and improv have opened many doors for me, I did not explore these interests in order to secure college admission – on the contrary, I stumbled upon them entirely by accident. However, the fact that I was open to exploring interests outside my predetermined niche, and the fact that I was honest about what truly captivated me and what was simply interesting, was ultimately what allowed me to find a true passion. And so, as high-school students strive to find themselves in time to write their college essay, I would encourage them to search for passion, but not to force it. The self-discovery of a well-planned summer will make you a strong candidate, and a more mature individual – and eventually your passion will come to light.


No Phone, No Problem: How Tech Free Summers Aid Youth Development

The Washington Post recently published a riveting profile of 13 year-old Katherine Pommerening; a girl, like many her age, who is inextricably linked to her cell phone. While reading this piece, I was struck by a core difference between the approach to technology that Katherine and her fellow members of Generation Z have, and the relationship that my friends and I had to technology a decade earlier. When I was growing up I certainly played my fair share of video games, and watched plenty of television – however, the core difference was that time was clearly delineated between when we were using technology and when we weren’t. When the game was done or the show was over, we stepped away. Today, however, the link between student and cell phone is almost unbreakable – with the constant opportunity that portability presents, students no longer learn to live without checking their various social media platforms, scouring the internet for likes. Until, of course, they get to camp.

One of the defining differences between camp and the outside world lies in a simple policy that is the norm at most traditional summer camps: no electronics – and there are obvious benefits to the break from technology that camp enforces. When validation does not come from a well-lit photo and a catchy caption, campers are forced to interact with each other in meaningful ways in order to obtain the social validation that we all seek. It is no surprise that so many children find their best friends at camp, as camp is the environment that allows them to forge meaningful interpersonal relationships. The environment at camp allows campers to develop their conversational skills and emotional intelligence, which will benefit them in the long run. In fact, according to a recently published New York Times Article, kids who spent even a short period without technology will develop a greater understanding of interpersonal communication. If coexisting in the bunk becomes a challenge there is no ‘block’ button – campers learn to resolve their disputes and live together, simply because they are put in a position where they have to. Counselors at times play mediator, as may be needed; but it is the campers who need to problem solve.

The lack of technology also helps campers live in a present moment without worrying about the very real anxiety produced by superficial concepts of perfection that are often pushed on social media. In the Washington Post article, Katherine talks about how if a picture or post isn’t well-received, she will delete it. The unspoken truth is this: only the most manicured, perfectly planned versions of a person are good enough – human imperfections simply aren’t an option. At camp, however, this microscope is more or less eliminated. Without a camera phone, the perfect selfie is no longer an option, and so the perfect make-up, hairstyle, and clothing are no longer necessary. In fact, many camps even have a required uniform which further reduces the social value of clothing or personal presentation. The outcome? Kids can learn who they are without worrying how they are perceived. Camp is, at its core, a place where kids can be sweaty or muddy, and where a juice stain is nothing more than proof of hydration. It is, in short, a place where kids can be kids.

It goes without saying that technology has become an inextricable aspect of day-to-day life for kids and adults alike, and that is not changing. However, there are very real consequences to the persistent pervasion of electronics in our day to day lives, particularly as it pertains to child development. Camp is one of the last havens of childhood, where kids can learn what it’s like to exist with one another. While they may not be foregoing their phones anytime soon, a summer at camp will help them learn to live without, and will help them go a long way in relearning what it means to be a child or young teen.


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