Camp Cloister encourages play and exploration for children, creating memories that last a lifetime.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
A girl observes a baby sea turtle break free from its shell in its natural habitat, and she becomes a young biologist. A boy pulls a tray of cookies from an oven and he’s transformed into a James Beard Award-winning pastry chef. A group of teens use a compass to find their way in the dark at night, not because they’re lost—they’re learning survival skills.
Kids can let their imaginations run wild with the activities that offer them the chance to learn, cultivate passions and try something new, all in a safe and fun environment. As a family resort, Sea Island is an enriching adventure for all ages with a realm of activities to explore. The experience starts for the littlest member of the family through Camp Cloister, which offers an array of options for children. “Kids can do things here for the first time in their lives,” says Anne Harvey, activities manager for the resort.
Led by Sea Island’s Junior Staff, Camp Cloister consists of both creative and instructional activities such as nature walks, sports, fishing, games and crafts designed for children ages 3 through 14. During the seasonal camp, which is a highlight of summer, spring break and holiday vacations, children are divided into age groups. Younger kids, ages 3 to 6, for example, might spend their summer days in organized play such as splashing around in the swimming pool, going on scavenger hunts and storytelling with camp counselors.
“The program for older campers, ages 7 and up, is a little more in-depth,” Harvey explains. “They play games in the morning and then spend time with a naturalist doing anything from practicing herpetology (the study of amphibians) at the pond at The Cloister, participating in a sea turtle presentation on the beach or learning about birds of prey. Every day, they do something different with a naturalist that is fun but also educational.”
Older campers also have a chance to participate in the resort’s other amenities after lunch. Campers can learn how to use an air rifle at the Sea Island Shooting School or test their squash or tennis skills by matching up with a pro. They can explore the waters by fishing off the dock or sailing, which Harvey says is one of the more popular activities.
“We are giving them a glimpse of all the things you can do here at Sea Island,” Harvey explains. “That’s what makes our program unique. … We can give kids different experiences across the resort, versus playing games in one room all day.”
The Junior Staff, a camp tradition since 1960, helps transform the array of activities into fantastic memories that last a lifetime. Approximately 30 college students selected as Junior Staff act as camp counselors and supervise the organized children’s activities at the resort. They are carefully selected for their high academic achievement, outstanding character references and, most importantly, their genuine care for kids.
“The first thing we look for is how they work with and interact with children,” Harvey says. “They must have a good attitude, good personality and people skills. We want a staff made up of role models, who can develop relationships with the kids and get on their level.”
Some campers eventually become staffers themselves and get their chance to pass along their knowledge and love of Sea Island. “We have a lot of Junior Staff members who grew up coming to Camp Cloister,” says Sea Island’s training manager Ashley Williams. “When I was overseeing the program, and even when I was a staffer, parents would come in and reminisce about their glory days at camp.”
Witnessing children discover Sea Island through Camp Cloister elevates the experience to something even more magical, Williams says. “I love the kids’ unique perspectives,” she explains. “I don’t think you ever forget seeing turtles hatch when you go on a turtle walk. Watching kids when the turtles hatch, however, just takes it to a whole new level. The excitement of experiencing the island through their eyes was my favorite part of being a Junior Staffer.”
While Camp Cloister is the largest children’s program, it isn’t the only one. Other organized activities include tie-dye, where kids are taken back to the 1960s and get to create their own T-shirts (under supervision of the Junior Staff), and Cookie Cutters, a sweet Saturday afternoon program where kids make and decorate baked treats.
“Cookie Cutters is phenomenal,” Williams says. “The kids go to town. It is a huge mess, but a delicious one—and so much fun. They get to be little chefs for an hour.”
And as most kids know, it’s hard work taking care of parents all day. While mom and dad enjoy Sea Island’s fine dining, Kids’ Night Out frees up children ages 3 to 12 for dinner—kid-style.
While video games and TV are go-to pastimes for plenty of kids, there’s a whole world of opportunity to explore on Sea Island alone. Stimulating imaginations with exciting and educational activities may seem like a big task—but Camp Cloister and the Junior Staff are up for the challenge. M