ACA Camp Blog

August 26, 2013

We have reached the end of another summer season. I have watched the Facebook posts of those who are leaving camp to go back to school, home, or another job. Each post is overflowing with mixed feelings of both sadness and hope. The songs, words, and prose abound with memories embedded deep within the recesses of the emotional memory muscles.

What has been learned and shared over what accumulatively may seem like nanoseconds in time will repeatedly resurface during the forthcoming years, having a profound impact on future experiences that will draw from these moments. Ellen Gannett inferred such influence in her recent blog post when she wrote about Willis Bright’s ideas on navigational and interpretive skills. As Willis suggests, those skills actually serve as a moral compass, often for life.

Yet, why does this happen? I have often suggested it is the intensity and density of the camp experience. Yet, that is short-hand for something much richer. Why do kids have such a  visceral reaction to the camp experience — one that often is rarely replicated anywhere else in their lives? Or why do kids reveal to others during a camp experience a side of them (even their fears or life torments) when they have not done so anywhere else?

In an NPR radio story on August 8, 2013, “Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic . . . and Respect,” I believe we gain insight into our own phenomenon. As it has been suggested, we know where kids go to receive “academic equipment,” but where are the places they go to receive critical social and emotional readiness equipment? And maybe even more importantly, what happens to the functionality of the academic equipment if the social and emotional equipment has been neglected?

I believe the camp experience provides what many have called a “sacred space.” A space where kids can find authentic adult mentors who are accessible — one cannot share one’s feelings if time is not provided or someone is not prepared to listen. A space where words are used to “name” feelings and emotions, giving kids “emotional literacy” — feelings cannot be expressed, verbally, if one is not familiar with the words or is not exposed to others who know how to use such words constructively.

Finally, a quality camp experience understands and emulates justice and friendship; such attributes create a space that nurtures trust. When we trust others, we often put them in high regard — we respect them. I believe respect is the engine that ensures the social and emotional equipment is working — even through difficult times.

Photo courtesy of Camp Skyline, Mentone, Alabama

August 20, 2013

Guest post by Lance Ozier

Lance OzierSummers have always belonged to children, and the traditionally fun activities that kids enjoy while on vacation at camp might not seem to have any relationship to the skills needed to be successful in school and beyond. After all, most camps are not summer study programs — camps have always served as respites from school, as an oasis from the textbooks and homework associated with the classroom. But as recent research suggests, the seemingly fun and playful activities that engage kids at camp not only serve as important skill builders that mitigate “summer learning loss”; these camp experiences also develop what economists call “noncognitive” factors known to be predictors of life success.

As we drive at full speed into a new school year, and the memory of summer camp fades in the rear view, it seems apropos to recognize the complementary ways in which both school and camp shape the lives of children and young adults. In a recent blog, Peg Smith referred to camp as a “19th-Century Solution to 21st-Century Obstacles,” and I think she’s right. The adoption of Common Core State Standards in almost every state is a clear indication that policy makers are addressing the need for students to analyze rather than memorize in order to equip the next generations with the 21st-century learning skills required of them in college and careers. These new standards, and the assessments being developed to measure them, will focus less on what kids know and more on how they can use their knowledge in new and different situations. For over 150 years, camps have provided landscapes of learning for generations of campers the old fashioned way, and camps now have the opportunity to lead by leaning into the future and continuing to give kids the space to practice what they learn and opportunities to explore ways of making sense of what they know in new and different ways.

A recent review of literature on the role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance issued by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research identified behaviors, attitudes, and strategies that are critical for success in school and in later life. These factors included attendance, work habits, time management, help-seeking behaviors, self-control, persistence, and social problem-solving skills that allow students to successfully manage new environments and meet new academic and social demands. To anyone who knows the power of the summer camp experience, this list sounds very familiar. In fact, ACA has conducted important studies with conclusions aligning closely with this list of noncognitive factors — 3,395 families whose child attended one of eighty different day or resident summer camps measured growth from precamp to postcamp surveys in four domains: positive identity, social skills, physical and thinking skills, and positive values. 

Now, more than ever, by simply getting better at what we already do, summer camps are well positioned to be a leader in the rapidly changing educational climate by preparing learners who will make up the fabric of this country’s communities and workforce. The evidence is clear: children need more than academic knowledge to succeed in the world of tomorrow and camps have been proven to provide the kinds of experiences that 21st-century learners need.

Dr. Lance Ozier is the senior literacy specialist at the Institute for Student Achievement, a division of the Educational Testing Service. For fifteen seasons he spent his summers in the Catskill Mountains of New York at Morry’s Camp. Lance now volunteers on ACA’s national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE). Contact the author at

August 12, 2013

In July, I had the opportunity and privilege to visit a number of ACA camps in Southern California. Visits to camps are always inspiring. This trip was particularly enjoyable because I was given the opportunity to not only spend some quality time with camp owners and directors, but I was provided additional discussion time with counselors.

These young people are without question the best ambassadors and champions for the camp experience. They understand the intrinsic value and importance of the camp experience for youth. What I was also impressed with was their ability to articulate what they are gaining from the experience: leadership, ability to listen, contribution, problem solving, humility, joy, and friendship.

Amidst all of their impressive, thoughtful expressions of purpose and promise, I was buoyed by their laughter and camaraderie. They shared stories, embellishing and editing with great artistry of language. They used words to paint impressionistic pictures that invited you into their community. If they take their enthusiasm about the camp experience out into the world, they will have the power to create a camp movement.

Finally, a young woman, expressing the beauty in the simplicity but magnitude of the camp experience, shared that just that afternoon, when she was working with a very young group of campers, she had let them follow a butterfly. I was struck by her phrase, "Today, we followed a butterfly." It made me pause — you see, just as a cocoon goes through a process of metamorphism to become a butterfly, this young woman was facilitating the metamorphism of young children into tomorrow's citizens. Sometimes it’s as simple, and as difficult, as following a butterfly.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

August 6, 2013

Am I missing courage? I am a Wizard in an Oz of my own making.

I love to assimilate thoughts and concepts that may appear ambiguous and create meaning. To do so takes courage because at times the results may appear foolish. Yet, when I apply my genuine emotions (my heart) and use my brain to utilize the best thoughts collected from others, every once in a while, new meaning and provocation emerges.

That happened this week when I was re-reading an article by Edutopia.

The article was discussing brain-based learning and emotion science. The term brain-based learning resonated with me more directly than simply saying “teen brain research,” which often expresses “how the brain is developing.” Attaching the word “learning” illustrated what I think is the real value of brain research! It is about how we learn — not just understanding how the brain develops. Combining brain-based learning with emotion science was equally exciting because I believe both of these credible and powerful concepts are practiced and applied every day at camp!

The article went on to talk about whole-person support. Of course, camp professionals know it is about the whole child — health, environments, and social contexts. We may use different terms and vehicles to deliver such contextual experiences, but nonetheless, our ability to provide such unique, rich environments means that without grades or textbooks, we help young people learn to focus and build healthy relationships that, in turn, give our country productive, healthy citizens.

Finally the article suggested the need to create “your own school movement.” I, of course, immediately said, “We should create our own camp movement” — one camp at a time — while working together as an association/community of camps. We are in a position to weave our networks of internal and external relationships together in such a way that we could build a natural bridge to the formal school movement. Can we not recast our image in such a way that camp is recognized for its contribution to brain-based learning, emotion science, and whole-person support? In truth, shouldn’t schools recognize true whole-person support means weaving together relevant systems that have been built and designed for children, youth, and families in such a way that the whole child, family, community, and society benefits? What happened to that “takes a village” concept?

Oh, if I only had a brain . . . a heart . . . courage!

Photo courtesy of Rolling River Day Camp, Oceanside, New York

July 22, 2013

Guest post by Audrey Monke

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” —Marian Wright Edelman

In our cut-throat, competitive culture, where assertiveness and achievement are glorified and valued, I believe the importance of focusing on kindness as a character trait is often overlooked. There are anti-bullying posters and speakers at most schools, but where is the message about the powerfully positive impact of kindness?

All youth development professionals, including teachers, coaches, and camp staff, know that wording things positively and telling kids what we DO want them to do is far more effective than a list of “don’ts” and “nos.” So, why hasn’t this message translated into how we teach children to treat one another? We’re talking with children a lot about not bullying each other, but we’re not talking with them enough about what we want them to be doing instead — which is, of course, to treat each other with respect and kindness. I propose that as youth development professionals we flip the “anti-bullying” message into a “pro-kindness” one. And, to that end, we need to teach our staff and parents specific ways to teach kids kindness.

Here are a few specific, easy ways to model and practice kindness in your home or at your camp:

  • Get kids to focus on kindnesses that they have seen by asking them to point out kind acts they have witnessed or done.
  • Brainstorm with kids kind things they can do for others and help them follow through. Focus on small, easy kindnesses rather than huge things.
  • Talk with kids about how they feel after someone has done something kind for them or after they’ve done something kind for another person.

Being a considerate, kind person who thinks about others is a great character trait that helps children form good relationships and leads to a happier life as an adult. And what should we say to super competitive parents who want their children to succeed at all costs, even if it means cheating and being mean to others?  It could be helpful for them to know that research has clearly shown that kind people are happier people, and happier people, in turn, are more successful in life. In jobs and in future relationships, kindness will take our children “further in life than any college degree.” Focusing on kindness needs to be a higher priority for everyone who cares about children.

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” — John Wooden

Audrey Monke, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-four years. They have five children (ages nine to nineteen) who keep their life camp-like year round. Audrey has been a member of ACA since 1989 and was President of WAIC (Western Association of Independent Camps) from 2007–2010. She writes about camp and parenting at

July 9, 2013

Recently, camp has received some uninformed exposure in the media, and as stewards for youth and the camp experience, we must be prepared to respond with facts. We must use this opportunity to shine a light on the critical 21st-century skills our campers learn, our care in providing role models, and our continued efforts to reach every child with a quality camp experience.

If I were queen, I would wave my magic wand and ban all poorly researched articles that allow people to unfairly use their influence. (Although, I am happy to say that Dr. Drexler, who wrote the blog post I’m referring to, appended her post after receiving my letter and reading the many comments in support of camp.) If I were queen, television would look for ways to portray experiences with honesty and sincerity, instead of trying to sensationalize for entertainment purposes.

Ah, but alas, I am not Queen and probably for good reason. That said, I, like obviously everyone else, can share an opinion when dismayed — and you can, too!

Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina

July 2, 2013

Guest post by Marla Coleman

“Play is not a luxury we should ration, but rather a crucial dynamic of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development for children of all ages.” So says Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child. In fact, play is the work of childhood, experts clarify. It is what gets children ready for learning in the first place.

But did you know that over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours per week of free, spontaneous play? And a recent study concluded that kids’ overall ability to follow instructions was inversely related to the amount of time they had to practice imaginary play. That’s because play teaches self-regulation and other lifelong skills needed for success. It is the catalyst that makes us more productive in everything we do and leads us ultimately to happiness.

Here’s the good news: Play is both the stage and the backdrop for the camp experience! It’s where children learn to dream big and to realize their goals for both themselves and for the world at large. And more good news: Play is actually instinctive for children.

Benefits of play include:

  • better social skills
  • higher emotional intelligence
  • superior self-discipline
  • greater creativity
  • school success

Christine Carter, sociologist at UC Berkley and author of Raising Happiness, asserts that “Parenting is one grand opportunity to find happiness in the messiness of life.”

So, as partners in parenting, camp directors and staff can encourage parents to sit back — revel in the joy and let the “stuff” of camp unfold for the summer — as we give their children opportunities to lead; have them engaged with counselors who are actively involved in their play; allow them to thrive by living in the moment; provide ample time for play; and celebrate their creativity and spontaneity, gratitude and forgiveness, grit, and optimism.

Camp is here — it’s time for kids to be kids — and play to their hearts’ content! It’s the power of camp!

Marla Coleman is a past president of ACA and a spokesperson. She is a founding director of Coleman Country Day Camp on Long Island. She also serves on the board of Roundup River Ranch in Colorado, a SeriousFun camp (formerly Hole-in-the-Wall) for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

June 24, 2013

James (Pop) Hollandsworth passed away last week.

I met Pop Hollandsworth early in my ACA career. I was attending a conference in ACA, Southeastern and was advised to go to Pop’s workshop on “how to climb a tree.” To my surprise, when I arrived at the session (being held under a tree), I saw a diminutive, sparkling elderly man who was in his eighties. He reminded us of the simple beauty and magic of climbing a tree — a tree full of life lessons.

Regardless of Pop’s size or age, the power, energy, and spirit this man emitted was extraordinary. In the years that followed, whenever I had the privilege of sharing time with Pop, it was the same — I left his presence knowing there was good in the world.

The last time I was with Pop was in Hong Kong for the 2011 International Camping Congress. I was exhausted from the long flight and bemoaning my weariness, when once again, I saw that diminutive, sparkling elderly man, bent and gnarled by time, navigating his way through the camping congress with energy and zest. My youngest son, Dayton, had traveled to Hong Kong with me, and I felt it was such an honor to introduce him to this powerhouse of a man.

Neither Dayton nor I complained one more time about jet lag! We simply were in awe.

We will miss Pop but forever feel his presence.

Read more about Pop’s life and contributions.

June 17, 2013

Guest post by Ann Sheets

In his closing keynote speech at the 2013 ACA National Conference in February, Dr. Gary Krahn spoke about children's creativity. He reported that during the preschool years, children score a 98 percent on the Torrance creativity test; at five years old, the score drops to 50 percent; after children reach the age of ten, their creativity score drops to less than 30 percent. His point? Formal education inhibits creativity in children.

Fast forward to the present time for summer camp. What better place than camp for children and youth to think outside of the box, to stretch their minds unbound by academics, and to be creative?

The ACA National Board of Directors recently created a work group on noncognitive skills, those skills we take for granted that we teach at camp, such as self-esteem, leadership, grit, curiosity, and creativity. I am very interested in seeing the results of their work, especially as it relates to creativity at camp.

But in the meantime, here's a resource that I have found quite interesting — the Creativity Post. It's a Web platform that shares the best content on creativity, from scientific discovery to educational reform.

You'll find tons of fascinating articles; the March 18, 2013, post on "Unschooling and the Benefits of Unstructured Time" included this quote:

"Because outdoor play spaces are more varied and less structured than indoor spaces, they provide children with better opportunities to engage their curiosity and imaginations, use their bodies and engage in decision making and creative thinking as they explore the outdoor space."

Another post, from September 29, 2012, was "As Children's Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity," by Dr. Peter Gray. This post describes the fascinating study using the Torrance Tests that Dr. Krahn mentioned and includes this statement:

"Creativity is nurtured by freedom and stifled by the continuous monitoring, evaluation, adult-direction, and pressure to conform that restrict children’s lives today. In the real world, few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world . . . . We are also increasingly depriving children of free time outside of school to play, explore, be bored, overcome boredom, fail, overcome failure — that is, to do all that they must do in order to develop their full creative potential."

Reading these articles is an affirmation of what we do. As camp professionals that are knee-deep into last minute planning for the summer, there seems to be little time for anything except the urgent. But I urge you to take time for yourself to read something every day — messages from ACA (caught you doing just that!), the Creativity Post, or your favorite blog — because you'll likely find reminders of why we're in this business. And along the way, encourage your staff to be creative and nurture your campers in the fantastic opportunity at camp to let their creativity soar!

Ann Sheets served as ACA's national president from 2005 to 2008 and recently completed a term as the Board Development Chairman. She is senior vice president at Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth.

June 4, 2013

Some of my son’s best memories at camp were related to the friends he made from other parts of the world. His appreciation of what makes us different and, more importantly, how we are all the same, was profound. Even today, as a young adult, he draws on those camp experiences to make sense of the world.

Camp has always been a unique developmental environment that weaves global citizenship with other outcomes such as critical thinking skills, leadership, and character development.

And now more than ever, the gifts of culture that our international visitors bring are critical. Not only because the Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls for social and cross-cultural skills as a stepping stone to success. But, importantly, because we must teach our children cultural empathy and understanding — to see themselves in others, recognize the beauty in differences, and unite in the spirit we share across global boundaries.

That is why I am so touched by the words of Tove, a former cultural exchange program participant from Norway who recently advocated with the Senate to keep our nation’s Cultural Exchange Program viable for camps. Currently, Congress is considering legislation that would overhaul our immigration system, including the Cultural Exchange Program that provides international camp counselors and support staff to camps across the country. If provisions currently under consideration are swept up in this reform, the program may be in jeopardy.

If we want a world of peace and understanding, we must let our children experience that world firsthand — at camp. I encourage you to read Tove’s testimonial. ACA will keep you up to date on this important issue. And if you have a cultural exchange story to tell, please share with us in the comment section of Tove’s page.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

May 28, 2013

I am most intrigued by how young people learn. In the most basic of terms, do young people best learn by rote or real experiences? In truth, I believe it is both; however, too often the rote experience is taking precedent, and real experiences are being diminished. To what end?

Rote learning is often by memory without thought or meaning. It is more often than not delivered using a passive lecture/telling style. Activities and operations are carried out by a teacher giving out information. As such, one may be able to “pass” by the nature of memorization but without understanding.

Real, authentic experiences in the learning process call for young people to actually and actively participate. This process provides fertile ground for deeper understanding and meaning beyond memorization. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving are inherently involved in such collaborative and interactive experiences. Real experiences are student oriented — seeking and receiving information.

Rote — far too much in our current systems.
Real — far too little in our current systems.

The formula for success is compromised without a good dose of both. Camp is a part of the antidote: Real experiences!

Photo courtesy of Trailside Discovery Camp, Anchorage, Alaska

May 20, 2013

Guest post by Jean G. McMullan

Again we are roaring into the summer camp season. The months spent before camp opens are some of the most pressing, most challenging, and often the most anxious of times. Will parents adequately prepare their campers for the thrill and fun of the camp experience? Will staff measure up to the high expectations of the directors and the campers?

Since the very first organized camp experiences over a century and a half ago, it is a pretty safe conjecture that preparations for camp are, although very different in specifics, still quite similar in nature. I wonder if we actually capitalize on a basic reason that camping is so viable. What is there about camp that holds thousands of past and present campers in a state of excitement and anticipation — or as an indelible memory? Even if a camp experience has had an occasional negative outcome, how can a simple, small camp or large, multi-activity camps have such a powerful effect? Few other institutions may lay claim to that which garners such positive outcomes: growth in independence, gaining control over fears, learning new skills while forging lifelong friendships, and living in a group where kindness and encouragement are the norm. Where else is the sheer joy of play, as well as the pride of conquering seemingly impossible goals, so effective? Lifelong habits are honed as we make forays into ways to develop and preserve a sustainable community. How can pure fun actually affect the quality of our own future?

I submit that it is the sheer adventure of the camp experience that is unmatched in its effect. Once a group of our campers canoed to a Maine island and found that they had forgotten the large cooking pot essential for meal preparation during their three-day trip. In an imaginative “save,” an aluminum canoe was scrubbed with ocean water and the spaghetti cooked in the bow of the canoe propped over an open fire. What adventure!

Organized camping is a force for peace in our world. As daily media images of violence recede in the culture of a camp setting there is gradual movement toward multi-cultural and international camp friendships. It becomes pure adventure when campers are allowed the dignity and resolve of leaving home; when youthful staff teach campers responsibilities and provide a light touch to the atmosphere of camp; when camp leaders help campers learn to be flexible and resolute. The adventure of camp is ongoing in its magic.

High idealism and stark realism surround camp leaders everywhere. Let’s take time during camp season to delight in the marvels going on around us. Let’s savor the creativity that comes with the solving of day-to-day concerns. Each of us will have our own story. Each of us will have the adventure of camp as a basis for pragmatic and imaginative decisions that actually work. Camp truths are forever.

See you in camp!

At Alford Lake Camp in Maine, Jean has promoted camper independence, helped campers enjoy the adventure of simple living, and forwarded international friendships. Her American Camp Association activities include work in professional development and association leadership in Maine, New England, and on the national level.


May 13, 2013

ACA camps work intentionally to develop communities that bring everyone closer — living and learning together.

Seth Godin once said: “For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

ACA camps create “tribes.” Within camps, there are often multiple tribes witnessed by cabin groups or activity groups while each unique tribe still feels a part of the camp community, at large.

ACA camps who participate in international exchange programs are setting the stage for an expanded understanding of today’s culture and the opportunity to create a “global tribe.”

This is an extraordinary demonstration of global leadership within the ACA camp community. Godin tells us that we can belong to tribes but can’t cut ourselves off from others: “Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.”

He is talking about camp! 

Understanding can help prevent hate. Reduce hate and you promote hope!

Learn more (and participate in) about ACA’s recent call to action regarding international staff.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

May 6, 2013


  1. A parent tells me they assumed “someone” was monitoring the camp.
  2. The media calls and asks what set of best practices/standards my camp follows.
  3. I am faced with a difficult situation or crisis and feel grateful I already have systems in place due to the standards program.
  4. I have staff turn-over and my camp’s institutional memory is compromised.
  5. I realize my state offers my camp regulatory relief because we are accredited.
  6. I realize I may be eligible for public funding only if I am accredited.
  7. I realize my insurance carrier requires accreditation and/or my insurance rates will decrease because of accreditation.
  8. I realize it is the professional standard of my profession.
  9. I realize it is the right thing to do for kids.


  1. It is said, “But parents never ask if I am accredited.”
  2. I decide not to place the ACA accredited logo on my Web site.
  3. I think the process is too laborious and time consuming.
  4. I feel it costs too much.
  5. I decide I have been in the business so long I already know what I need to know

Photo courtesy of Camp Kamaji for Girls, Cass Lake, Minnesota

April 29, 2013

Three Words
Change. Credit. Claim.

Three Thoughts

  1. Lesson learned — Over thirty years ago, science recognized rapid brain development in children from birth to age five. This discovery advanced the field of early childhood development into a recognized and respected profession.
  2. Today — Science has discovered a second period of rapid brain development: “Teen brain development” for those between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five.
  3. Pedagogy — “How” we work with young people complements the rapid growth taking place. We know how to create environments and spaces that encourage that growth. Young people do not “survive” but thrive in our spaces.

Three Actions

  1. Change minds — We must share language that clearly articulates what is happening when we work with young people.
  2. Establish credibility — We must articulate, measure, and share our skills and knowledge.
  3. Claim the space — we must advocate for more children of all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds to have a quality camp experience.

Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua, Everett, Washington

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