ACA Camp Blog

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

April 23, 2013

Guest post by Mary Rogers

A few years ago, someone asked me how camp could possibly still be relevant for children in the 21st century. As a camp professional, the answers seemed so obvious that I had to really think how to explain why camp experiences are even more important for children today.

To explain why camp is still so important for children I would tell the story of one summer day at Sherwood Forest not so long ago.

It was the day of the Boat Regatta in Boys Camp and there were only two rules: Each boat had to be piloted by one camper, and the boats could be made of any found items except an actual boat or boat part. Groups of boys worked together to build their boats. Duct tape, cardboard, styrofoam, a fifty-five-gallon trash can, bits of old wood, a child’s wading pool, gallon milk jugs, milk crates, and binder’s twine were just some of the items used to make the boats. Creativity and cooperation, along with a fierce sense of ownership by the boys, were the order of the day. Counselors and program staff were pushed to the background by the boys, and were of help only in pointing out the location of materials or tools.

At the end of that day, the boat that won the race was made by the youngest group of boys. It was the simplest design possible. Their boat was made of layers of cardboard and styrofoam, two long boards, and what seemed like miles of duct tape to hold everything together. The boards served as stabilizers in the front and back. The pilot of this boat sat in the middle wearing his lifejacket and a grin from ear to ear. He navigated with a kayak paddle and was only minimally hampered by the need to keep his strokes short so as not to hit the stabilizers sticking out from either side in front and back.

When the older boys got over their disappointment of not winning with their more complicated boat designs, they congratulated the boys in the youngest group on their win.

How many times in children’s lives today do they truly get to be masters of their own destinies? How often do adults step aside and let them figure things out for themselves? When was the last time in your neighborhood you have seen a group of kids “making” something out of found items with no adult leading the process?

Think of the 21st century skills that came into play as the day of the Boat Regatta unfolded. Creativity, cooperation, communication, and problem solving were the skills that our boys put to best use that day.

And that is why I can’t think of any better place for learning and growth than summer camp or any experience more important and more relevant for today’s children.

Mary Rogers is the executive director at Sherwood Forest Camp. She attended Sherwood Forest as a camper and has spent every summer at camp, in different roles, ever since. Mary is a longtime ACA member and has served in various volunteer roles at local, regional, and national levels. She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.

April 16, 2013

Visit Career One Stop’s Competency Model to find an outline for your counselors’ resumes.

The camp experience/job helps counselors hone their personal effectiveness competencies. They must demonstrate initiative, integrity, and interpersonal skills if they are to be successful camp counselors.

There are academic competencies that are prerequisites for the job of camp counselor and will be practiced throughout the summer: reading, writing, mathematics, science, communication, critical thinking, active listening . . . oh, yes, and wonderful storytelling skills, not to mention music.

Workplace competencies also reign. The camp community is nothing more than successful teamwork that demands flexibility and adaptability. A counselor must know how to focus on the customer/camper as they guide, manage, and coordinate daily events.

Finally, management competencies are an inherent part of the internship. Each day, a counselor will be delegating, networking, monitoring, and supporting others. They will inspire and motivate while managing conflict and team building.

Yes, a camp counselor develops and utilizes many of the life/career skills that will enhance their future success. Don’t fail to articulate these to everyone who will listen!

Photo courtesy of Camp Eagle Ridge, Mellen, Wisconsin

April 8, 2013

When the science of early childhood development discovered the important, rapid growth that takes place from birth to age eight, babysitting was transformed into a profession: early childhood education.

That said, early adolescence and young adult development continued on as the great mystery that often was explained away as a mental health issue, a judiciary concern, or the result of hormonal eruptions.

Yet today, with the science of teen brain development, we might be at the precipice of discovering the cogent, developmental pathway for those between the ages of thirteen to twenty-five. It is not a mystery to be explained away by some less than attractive causal factor. Instead, these years of in a young person’s life hold an incredible opportunity for growth and development — when nurtured and understood — that results in the emergence of a positive, productive adult!

Those of us who work with this age group should advance our knowledge and understanding, just as those in early childhood did decades ago. We should create a new public appreciation and demand for quality, expanded learning opportunities designed for this age group: the camp experience. We should shepherd an awareness for the value of our profession and its importance in creating healthy productive citizens for the future.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado.

April 1, 2013

Okay, so, I know I harp on play. Yet, with all the disparate nomenclature surrounding noncognitive skills, character building, and the plethora of “readiness” inventories, I find it may just all be about a four-letter word: PLAY.

I was reading a 2008 article by Alix Spiegel called “Old Fashioned Play builds Serious Skills.” He notes that today, the word play is associated with toys; but in the nineteenth century, play meant activity. Gee, what a difference a few decades can make.

When play is improvised and regulated by those participating (kids), what happens? It seems kids are practicing self-regulation. They are using their imaginations and creating ideas upon which to innovate. They are using what many call executive functions; planning, problem solving, and reasoning. These are elements that many bemoan are missing today, causing kids to disengage, disconnect, and drop out.

Instead of commercializing, criminalizing, and eliminating this aspect of child and youth development — maybe we should all go outside and play.

Photo courtesy of Camp Pathway, Macon, Georgia

March 26, 2013

A summer of learning is just around the corner. Lately, I have been reading about “inquiry learning,” and I found a quote on NPR’s Mind/Shift blog that resonated with me:

Inquiry means living in the soup. Inquiry means living in that uncomfortable space where we don’t know the answer.

Inquiry is about creating an environment that embraces curiosity and the desire to learn even more. It is not about telling and repeating, but accessing and experiencing. It is about wanting to know more and being enabled to explore, seek, question, try, fail, and learn again.

The camp experience is an oasis for these joyful, teachable failures.

Photo courtesy of Sanborn Western Camps, Florissant, Colorado

March 19, 2013

. . . to overparenting! So says Madeline Levine, PhD, psychologist, author, and keynoter at the recent ACA national conference in Dallas.

Drumroll . . . !

The mother of three “newly minted adults,” all who had life-changing positive experiences after growing up as campers, Levine says dreaming, creating, and play are the lynchpins of a happy, successful adulthood — enter camp!

You see, she explains, a counselor is not invested in the same way as a parent who, understandably, finds it hard to endorse a “successful failure,” which provides the traction for mastery. And yet successful failure is exactly what we encourage at camp, along with an invitation for exploration and collaboration and manageable risk taking.

So maybe we are not only in the business of youth development but in parent development, too! Is it possible that, through the camp experience, parents can discern the benefits of not succumbing to the three mistakes Levine believes comprise overparenting?

  • Don’t do what your child already can do
  • Don’t do what your child can almost do
  • Don’t confuse your needs with those of your child

Think about it — isn’t this what counselors do so well?!

Mea culpa. As a parent, it’s not so easy! But, as a youth development professional, it is so apparent to me. We get caught in the stream of parental frenzy and are swept into the current of too much interference. However, if every child had a camp experience, we might just be able to stem the tide of overzealous parenting — because then all children would benefit from the “try something new” environment of camp and the inevitable outcomes of believing in their own abilities to achieve their goals and picture their successes.

Michael Thompson, author, psychologist, and past ACA board member, likes to ask this question: Think about your own best memories of childhood; did any of them involve your parents?

Didn’t think so! Turns out there are some pivotal developmental skills that we cannot give our own children, such as:

  • Make them happy
  • Give them high self-esteem
  • Make friends for them
  • Be their life “manager” or “coach”
  • Compete with their electronic world
  • Help them stay safe
  • Make them independent

But — camp can, and does, build this resiliency. After all, camp and school are the yin and yang of education: If school is the science of learning, then camp is the art of navigating the sometimes choppy waters of learning and life.

Now, all we have to do is convince all those non-camp people out there — the ones who haven’t had a camp experience and therefore don’t know that “camp gives kids a world of good,” that it builds self-reliance and resourcefulness organically.

The job of parents, Levine concludes, is to help kids know and appreciate themselves. Camp professionals, always responsive to the needs of society, now have the opportunity to leverage the camp/parent partnership, much as we have advocated for the camp/school collaboration.

And so, I propose, we should add “parent development” to our youth development portfolio.

This month's guest blog is from Marla Coleman, 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.

February 18, 2013

This month's guest on Peg's blog is Lance Ozier, member of ACA's national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE) and former education coordinator at Project Morry.

Once upon a time, when the world seemed young and our whole lives lay before us, my brother and I would camp outdoors just a few feet from the backdoor of our house. Under the night’s moonlight and beside the fire's shawls of final smoke, we were free. Although our parents were only a few steps away inside the house, they were out of sight and out of mind. Spending endless childhood days in the woods, we found wide open spaces that gave us room to learn and make mistakes.

From morning coffee to goodnight yawn, there’s nothing quite like long adult days to remind us that we’re no longer drifting through the dream of childhood. After the Victorian era, when children were seen and not heard, child psychologists have theorized that most of the experiences that consist of a child’s day are much more than child’s play. From Piaget to Vygotsky to Rousseau, we know that “play” is an integral part of a child’s learning process, just as exposure to disappointment, failure, and unfairness result in necessary resilience that leads to a well-balanced self-concept.

Unfortunately, it seems that children are increasingly deprived of the chance to wander into the woods alone for fear that they might get hurt, scared, or upset. “In an age when it’s the rare child who walks to school on his own,” said child psychologist Michael Thompson, “a parent’s first instinct is to shelter their offspring above all else.” Dr. Thompson’s latest book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, finds that “helicopter parents” (parents who constantly hover over their kids) actually “deprive children of the major developmental milestones that occur through letting them go — and watching them come back transformed.”

Over the last fifteen years that I have spent working in camps and schools, I have observed that classrooms driven by the desire for schools to perform well on standardized tests are left with much less for stimulating and/or challenging discussions about who young people are and will become. Our society's obsession with answering test questions has outpaced our nation's original desire to see each other as equals, brothers, sisters, and citizens.

Critical thinking and consciousness through education becomes obsolete, and we have forgotten what it means to tolerate ambiguity, struggle with ideas, and search for answers that are not easy to come by. Today so much of education is clear-cut: standards are identifiable; answers can be looked-up; thinking is deferred. However, it is in struggling to learn about our strengths and limitations with one another where true education resides; our differences not only make us unique, they certainly make us stronger.

Those of us in the camp community know well that summers are opportunities for young people to practice the important developmental outcomes that are likely to lead to a healthy self-concept and future success in life. Achieving these outcomes in leadership, independence, responsibility, etc. is not easy. Getting anywhere worth going requires hard work and persistence and often includes an ounce of disappointment and failure. Each of us probably has our own “into the woods” memory: a fear of the dark when we were young or a nagging homesickness when we didn’t sleep in our own bed. Though there are these and other challenging safe risks, kids deserve a camp opportunity with space and time to shape success for themselves.

Thinking back to those dark nights with my brother in the woods outside our house, the heavenly moon glow showed me everything: its cool tongues of silver lapping piedmont stones and the always-moving branches of oak, pine, and more, illuminating even the deep green eyes of whatever animal it was — a deer, I believed, and still believe, though I confess I did not rise that night to make sure, did not shine my light or murmur, but let my head settle slowly back down to the pillow fashioned from my wadded up clothes.

If our lives were filled with only goodness, then we would have no reason to fear; and if the once-upon-a-times always led us back home, then we would never hate to say goodbye. Parents’ own children are their most precious possessions — their whole life and world — and so, there’s no greater reason to give them a lifetime of happy-ever-afters.

For fifteen years, Lance was a counselor, group leader, head counselor, and education coordinator at Morry’s Camp — named for the late, great Morry Stein — now known as Project Morry. Lance received his doctorate from Columbia University and is an assistant adjunct professor at The City College of New York. He is currently the senior literacy specialist at the Institute for Student Achievement at the Educational Testing Service (ETS). In 2010, Peg Smith appointed Lance to the ACA’s national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE). Contact Lance at


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