- Get Involved
- Education & Events
- Publications & Research
- About ACA
ACA Camp Blog
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 LWO2001@columbia.edu.
February 12, 2013
Recently, ACA Board Executive Steve Baskin spoke at the TEDx San Antonio Conference on "Unplugging Our Kids." Steve does a wonderful job explaining to attendees of the conference why kids need camp more than ever to find success in the 21st century. Watch the video below.
February 5, 2013
“Camp is not all about the performance, but the pursuit — the pursuit of relevant experience and knowledge.”
The following article by ACA CEO Peg Smith appeared in USA TODAY on February 1 and 4, 2013.
What is the path to innovation — spending alone time in a seat or actively engaging in learning that helps one become adaptive, ambiguity-able, and alert? What will help create tomorrow’s innovators? One thing is clear: We will need innovators. Maybe we should spend as much time considering how we develop innovators as we do graduates. I believe a balanced approach is imperative — to life and to education.
Robert C. Pianta, PhD, found that fifth graders spend 90 percent of their time in their seats listening or working alone (Bromley, 2007). That statement seems counterintuitive to what we know about child and brain development. If play is a form of invention, and invention seeds innovation, where does active learning take place today? Where are the safe places that young people can experience risk taking, explore new activities, and gain new skills while exercising their natural curiosity to learn? Where can children enjoy lessons that are experiential and relevant to their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development?
I believe, absent of positive play, we are seeing children manifest social and emotional behaviors that are developmentally underdeveloped. They are not prepared to work with others or participate successfully outside of the family unit. They have not learned to manage conflict or solve problems in cooperation with others. Yet, maybe most disturbing, they have not had a chance to exercise their creative and innovative muscles — the opportunities to make mistakes, reflect, persist, and survive setbacks or defeat. This is the “grit” discussed by many, including Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: “Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success” (2012).
I believe the camp experience is a classroom without walls that young people deserve and need today. Yet, it is said that the radius of play has shrunk from 1 mile to 500 feet. That time spent outdoors has declined by 50 percent in the last two decades. That by age twenty-one, a young person will have spent 10,000 hours in front of a screen. (It only takes 4,800 hours to acquire a bachelor’s degree.) A balanced approach to childhood will create tomorrow’s innovators. Our new environment is understood, but long-standing, important elements of development must be preserved.
Innovators in the future will need minds capable of synthesizing and making new meaning. Experiential learning environments such as camp give young people the opportunity to rehearse and refine ways of thinking and doing that afford an expansion of possibilities. Innovators will be critical. It is not just those who have imaginations thinking up new ideas, but innovators who will take action, make change, and make a difference.
Innovators must be comfortable with mistakes and capable of learning from mistakes; they must be persistent with a stomach for imperfection. In his blog, Vernon Lun (2006) writes that “being innovative . . . requires disruptive thinking, which is an evolutionary process with many failures along the way. That’s tough to do especially since all of us are taught that failure is bad and we try to avoid it at all costs.” Camp is not all about the performance, but the pursuit — the pursuit of relevant experience and knowledge. Learning is risky.
A positive, healthy camp experience is an oasis for many young people in today’s complex, frenetic world. It is a laboratory of maturation encouraging discovery, reflection, and possibility. Like nature, the camp community is a diverse, dynamic system that uses creativity to find new meaning. Camp allows one to synthesize his or her best intuition, life lessons, and creativity to discover new learning and a harmony with the natural world and fellow campers (citizens) — an extraordinary gift in today’s world.
Consider camp for your young innovator — camp can inspire the power of imagination, spirit, and entrepreneurial flair.
Bromley, A. (2007 March 29). Elementary school classrooms get low rating on high-quality instruction. UVA Today. Retrieved from http://news.virginia.edu/content/elementary-school-classrooms-get-low-rating-high-quality-instruction
Lun. V. (2006 March 27). Disruptive thinking. The Idea Dude. Retrieved from www.theideadude.com/2006/03/disruptive-thinking.html
Tough, P. (2012). A conversation with Paul Tough. Retrieved from www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/extras/
Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Kitaki, Lincoln, Nebraska
January 15, 2013
Each month, Peg will host a guest blogger here on A Word from Peg. This month's guest is Audrey Monke, owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp.
"Camp has taught me to be brave and reach my goals. If it wasn't for camp, I wouldn't be nearly as courageous as I am now."
— Remi, age 11
At camp we have the phenomenal opportunity to teach campers grit, a character trait that will benefit them far beyond our lakes and forests. Through teaching our campers to set goals and have a growth mindset, we can make a positive, life-changing impact.
The start of a new year begs for a resolution. Why not set a goal to incorporate more grit development into your camp curriculum this summer?
Grit has become the new buzzword in education and parenting thanks to Paul Tough's best-selling book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. (Be sure to catch Tough at this year’s ACA national conference!)
Disciplined, hard working, and persistent are all adjectives that describe a person with “grit.” But how do we teach grit to a non-gritty generation who have often been protected from failure and shored up by well-meaning parents? Some of our campers and staff arrive at camp accustomed to giving up when something gets hard.
I think two keys are teaching campers to set and work toward goals and teaching them to adopt a growth mindset.
Train your staff to lead a goal discussion at the opening campfire or meeting with their group. Have them ask campers:
- Is there an activity that’s new to you or that you’re scared of?
- Is there an activity you want to improve at?
Practice during staff training by having your staff ask themselves those questions and share with each other their own goals for the summer. Encourage them to think of something that is outside of their comfort zone and at least a little bit challenging, just like what they will have their campers do.
In order to reach their goals, campers and staff will need encouragement and to think of themselves differently.
Teaching a Growth Mindset
“I’m bad at archery.”
When our campers and staff label themselves as “bad” or “good” at activities, they’re demonstrating a fixed mindset, or the belief that talent is innate. In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck outlines the importance of using praise that helps kids adopt a growth mindset or “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts."
Have your staff praise campers by saying things like, “Wow, you really worked hard at that. I noticed that you tried six times before you were able to make it up that climb. I’m really impressed with your persistence.” Teach staff to praise EFFORT, so that the campers are willing to keep putting in effort even when something gets difficult.
If our campers learn to set goals and have a growth mindset while they’re with us at camp this summer, they will also gain a valuable character trait — grit!
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 sunshine-parenting.com.
December 21, 2012
We all continue to mourn the events of Sandy Hook Elementary School. That said, the discourse and deliberation about possible solutions are being expressed across the country.
Yet, what is the comprehensive answer? Frankly and honestly, I don't know. That said, I expect that any number of ACA's leadership groups will be seriously deliberating on this issue, and others, during the next couple of months. For instance, the National Council of Leaders and the ACA Board of Directors will meet in February, and I expect this topic to be at the top of the agenda.
We must act — but informed and cogent action is imperative. I do believe we will see both short- and long-term solutions emerge as a country and as a camp community. The problem is too complex to result in one solution; instead, the solution may be a series of powerful, impactful changes in regulation, access, procedures, behavior, and culture. (Again, for the camp community and the country.)
All I know is that we must protect our children. They are the future. To do anything less is incredibly careless and foolish. I hope that you will engage in ACA's leadership deliberation in the new year.
December 17, 2012
Last week, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School horror, I shared on Facebook that I had no words. Since, I have watched and read many reactions to the loss of such innocence. People have expressed such wisdom, insight, and resource. Yet, I am still without words.
I find I am left with one thought. Maybe more than words, laws and regulations, and resources, we must also demonstrate new behaviors. I am not so naive to think the answer is that simple because I understand so much more is needed. However, I have to ask myself, “What can I do?” What can I do that teaches young people new ways of behaving?
Instead of getting angry, can I take the time to seek alternative solutions? Can I demonstrate that there are more responses than harm or rage? Can I slow down so I can be more civil?
Instead of saying more needs to be done, can I give more? Can I encourage communities to consider solutions to societal issues as individuals who must work together collectively to create healthy, safe environments? Can I turn care into share?
Can I demonstrate how one can be a part of a deliberation with definite opinions, but also with the wisdom to find ways to work together, before winning becomes more important than the greater good? Can I demonstrate humility?
Can I find a way to help parents understand that as much as we may want to wrap our children in a cocoon that we must realize that environments that help young people to engage, explore, and experience how to learn about and understand others are more important than ever? Authentic connections are as imperative as the ability to accomplish math.
Will I remember to turn off the TV and take a child's hand and walk them outside? To search for four-leaf clovers with our noses in the grass? Will I stop the noise and frenetic activity long enough to be still — to hear the beat of my heart?
Will I remember to sing, inviting young voices to join me? To be silly and twirl about until we get dizzy — just because we can?
Then I stopped here because I was still at a loss of words. How would I close these thoughts . . . ?
Later in the evening, I listened to President Obama address the community of Newtown and the nation. Regardless of one's politics, his thoughts brought closure to the thoughts I had earlier in the day.
I realized I had been asking myself, "Am I doing enough?" And, I believe, I replied, "I must do more." The President is right — I will have to change to see change in our world. I hope we all decide to do so because, as he said, "We all bear responsibility." Maybe that is why this loss of innocence rendered me speechless — I bear responsibility and must do my part to create change.
As always, I am encouraged by the fact I work for a community, the camp community, made up of individuals that I know will do the same.
Visit the resource page for talking with children about tragedies.
December 7, 2012
As many of you know, a new national grant announced this past Monday will fund extended school days for ten school districts in five states. (Read more about the grant here.)
This pilot merits our serious attention: 1.) to learn more 2.) to advocate for the camp experience as viable in the education of the whole-child and 3.) to take the opportunity to engage in the conversation. I am also encouraged by the words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan:
The goal here is not more time, the goal here is more learning.
I hope that means it is about learning, not more skill and drill.
Being ready to learn is just as important, if not more, than being taught. What do children need in order to learn? They need authentic connections in order to make learning relevant, experiential opportunities to engage their natural curiosity and make learning fun, and safe environments to take risks, make mistakes, and grow. These things have been inherent in camp experiences for over 150 years, and I am pleased to see the opportunity for them to be used in a classroom — but a traditional classroom is not the only learning environment.
I am also encouraged by the words of Ami Prichard, president of a teachers union in Colorado that has already been working with expanded learning hours:
If we can provide kids with a longer day that allows them to have electives, explore arts, become critical thinkers, as well as learn basics, we're all better off . . . This is not more of the same but something additional.
To that point, we must be involved, which includes understanding the action steps we can take as advocates for children and youth:
- We must collaborate with the larger community of youth development practitioners and teachers. We must work with parents, schools, and other out-of-school time activities to take on the critical task of raising this next generation of leaders. I applaud the efforts of school leaders to provide children with learning environments that infuse the best of the camp experience. However, the opportunity to truly collaborate between the two systems would provide an even stronger foundation.
- We must share and build with schools when it comes to effective teaching and learning. Over the past ten years or so we have added great knowledge to our 150 years of experience. We have learned a lot about successful camp-school partnerships and how to actively engage students during a school year. We have also learned a lot about keeping kids from the summer learning slump by incorporating just 30 minutes of reading time into their day through ACA’s Explore 30 Camp Reading Program. We must share this data as it relates to desired outcomes and translate what we’ve learned to the needs identified.
- We must engage and participate in the solution. We must network, write, call, and seek out opportunities to contribute to the discussion. Young people need our voices to be heard.
That said, there will always be a unique love for the camp experience. Lastly, I find encouragement in the words of student Olivia Nevadomski, who will soon have extended school days. While she does not mind extra hours during the school year, she did have this to say about school in the summertime:
That's a “no way” for me . . . It's for sleepovers, staying up late, and sleeping in. No summer school. Please no summer school.
Photo courtesy of Camp Courageous, Monticello, Iowa
November 27, 2012
It may be my imagination but, at times, I feel many of us feel that we are far too often dealing with unfriendly spaces or feeling threatened. We may feel physically, emotionally, or even economically threatened. Regardless, the feelings are the same — discomfort or fear. How can we be better people, a stronger family or community, or a healthy country, if we feel unsafe?
I believe the camp experience allows young people to learn and practice civility — which might be one of the most important attributes in this decade.
I am not saying we should be passive or easily pushed around to avoid conflict; rather, what are the skills we can possess and teach others that will facilitate healthy, constructive, and safe discourse?
Well, I don’t believe the answer is rocket science. Frankly, what comes to mind are the lessons my grandmother taught me. Or more recent, the lessons I have observed being taught at camp.
- Be polite. Say “thank you,” “please,” and “I am sorry.”
- Lower your voice if you want me to hear you.
- Stop whining or begging — it is unattractive.
- If you don’t like her, she probably doesn’t like you. (Ouch, I remember that stinging.)
- Be fair. No manipulating to get your way — again, it is unattractive.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff or fight over petty issues.
- No one will change until you change.
- A smile wins more than a frown.
- You are not as important as you might think.
- Don’t become your own problem.
The wisdom in some of my grandmother’s quips was not always immediately apparent to me, but over time, when I have found myself worked up or hurt, they have provided great counsel. I believe the lessons camp professionals teach may not always be immediately apparent, but I will bet money they will help us secure a more civil world.
Photo courtesy of Camp Aranzazu, Rockport, Texas.
November 20, 2012
Last week I wrote about the value of play as it relates to socialization and maturation. Play has an important role in the development of maturation for not only our campers, but the adolescents and young adults at camp who serve as our CITs and counselors.
As I reflected on the concept of play, it occurred to me that if I were a young adult, I might resent my activities being characterized as play. When I was in that stage of my life, it was important to me to be seen not as a child but as a capable adult, albeit a young one.
I started to dig a bit deeper into the literature about play. I found myself wondering what Piaget, Hymes, and Erickson would think regarding all that we have learned recently about brain development. Ah, this would be a whole new and interesting discussion, but I digress.
Regardless, there are any number of definitions of play that clearly complement what young adults want to be recognized and valued for today when engaging with the world:
- Comprehension of directives
- Ability to cope and react in emotionally appropriate ways
- Flexibility of mind
- Adaptive practices
- Ability to create and improve
- Responsive to circumstances and environment in appropriate manner
It is also clear that many of these attributes resonate with the 21st century skills. Play for the young adult is a form of rehearsal where one continues to refine and hone one’s skills and abilities.
So, I return to the title of this blog. Scott Brody, an ACA board member and owner of Camps Kenwood and Evergreen, often talks about the counselor’s job as a legitimate internship that should be valued as much as any other internship that a young adult might secure, if articulated appropriately. It’s an internship that offers supervised practical learning opportunities; an internship that affords one the chance to acquire professional skills that will serve one in life and career. Let’s consider how we describe the counselor’s internship. How would you describe such an opportunity?
Is it play or an internship? I think it is both . . . the best of both.
Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Kitaki, Lincoln, Nebraska
November 9, 2012
What happens when children and youth are deprived of play?
We view play as frivolous or fun — a waste of time. Yet, once again while meeting with camp staff in Alaska, I was reminded of the danger of removing critical developmental opportunities for children and youth. Marginalizing play is an unwarranted, unrecognized, and careless experiment.
Play is a child's laboratory. Without that lab, the camp professionals in Alaska are witnessing some interesting developmental gaps in readiness. As we discussed these observations, it called the questions . . .
What happens to young children who are not allowed to participate in unstructured free time — play that is not scripted or merely a secondary experience? What is happening when children do not have a chance for SOCIALIZATION — engaging in parallel play and moving into cooperative play?
I believe, absent positive play, we are seeing children who are six and seven years old manifesting social and emotional behaviors of three and four year olds. They are not prepared to work with others or participate successfully outside of the family unit. These children might know their colors, speak in compound sentences, manage technology, or read, but they are unable to share space with and understand others. They have not learned to manage conflict and solve problems. They have not exercised their creative and innovative muscles. As a result, one has to ask what happens when we limit or remove a child's developmental right to play. What skills have they not had a chance to learn and practice?
Then, what happens to young adults who continue to have their opportunities to “play” (practicing adult skills) limited, managed, or absent? Without MATURATION, experiences that provide safe environments for risk, mistakes, reflection, and exploration, we find young people who are unable to self-regulate, are unable to make independent decisions, or, worse yet, feel crushed by defeat. I would suggest many of these young adults are the same ones failing in their freshman year of college.
You simply can't skip critical developmental steps without consequence.
Are we paying attention? Have we considered the shrinking radius of space for play children have today? A decade ago it was one mile; today it is 500 feet. Have we considered the accumulative time a young person spends in front of a screen compared to having authentic experiences with others? For instance, by the time a young adult is twenty-one, he or she will have logged in nearly 10,000 hours in front of a screen. It takes 4,800 hours to get a bachelor's degree. What does that say about our priorities? Have we considered that limited access to the out of doors combined with sedentary screen time have produced the most obese, unhealthy child population in our country's history?
At times, I grow weary hearing all the jargon about 21st century skills, graduation rates, or workforce readiness when we have undercut a basic, foundational key to healthy development — play. Creative, imaginative play does, in fact, exercise and support many of the 21st century, character, noncognitive, soft skills young people so desperately need if they are to grow up and be successful, contributing adults who are ready to learn, adapt, and excel.
We need a balanced, informed approach as parents, caregivers, politicians, and the public. We must learn to understand play as a form of invention. Invention seeds innovation. Innovation will bring true value to the 21st century.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
November 5, 2012
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This was Shakespeare’s way of telling us that what matters is what something is, not what it is called. Boy, would Shakespeare love today’s nomenclature. Today, we spend an inordinate amount of time arguing over shared concepts just because we are using different terms to describe the same thing.
Consider the term “development” of a decade ago — career development or work force development is now referenced by the term “readiness.” Often you see the trifecta — career, work, and life readiness. And yesterday’s reference to “soft skills” seems remarkably similar to today’s “noncognitive skills.” A rose by any other name . . .
I was reading Expanding the Leadership Equation by Ellen Van Velsor, PhD, and Joel Wright, and it clearly illustrates how similar concepts under new headings can be seen as “new work.” But there are timeless human qualities that are essential to “readiness” no matter the decade.
For example, we look at today’s contemporary competencies compared to yesterday’s desired skills and find, in fact, two major abilities endure — self motivation/discipline and effective communication. It is anticipated some of today’s competencies will, in fact, endure in another decade — adaptability and agility. At the same time, it is expected we will still see the need to advance self-motivation/discipline and effective communication into the next decade. A rose by any other name
. . . and in any time!
Regardless of your affection for any particular term based on your generation, professional affiliation, or popular culture, it is my hope we will focus on what matters — what it is and how we add value to the acquisition of such skills and competencies. A rose, indeed.
Photo courtesy of Happy Hollow Children's Camp in Nashville, Indiana