ACA Camp Blog

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

October 30, 2012

I sit here today like many others across the nation watching the weather event taking place in the Northeast. My thoughts go to the children. Although I grew up in “tornado alley,” weather was rarely a distraction. With all of the talk about global warming and one dramatic weather event after another, it seems these topics are as oppressive for young children today as the Bay of the Pigs was for me as a child.

The adult talk in nervous, hushed voices frightened me as much as the black and white granular news coverage or the school safety drills at school. I wonder today how children are managing the glaring, relentless coverage (in HD) of the world’s weather challenges.

“Googling” the phrase “kids and weather” results in a fascinating array of Web sites sharing the sad, threatening realities of our weather today. Reading through these pages, I realized many of the messages are the same as one finds on the news pages for adults. That said, I found reading the messages designed for kids had a much greater impact on me. Maybe that is because I was seeing the messages through the eyes of a child. If we viewed our global weather challenges through the eyes of children, would we not be doing more?

Regardless, I hope we are paying attention, preparing, and planning to keep our children safe — not only today but in the future. The small child in me says: “work harder.”

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts



October 9, 2012

Recently, ACA received a 2012 Summit Award from ASAE — the Center for Association Leadership. Watch the video below to learn more. Giving a voice to the camp experience's positive (and safe) youth development outcomes for parents and the public is a very important part of all of our work, and ACA was honored to win this award.


September 25, 2012

I was rereading an article that was in the Boston Globe earlier this month titled “How Kids Make Friends — And Why It Matters.” Of course when I first read the article, I was reminded of ACA’s outcomes research and the power of the camp experience as it relates to “making friends.”

However, as I reread the article, I found myself considering deeper thoughts: The article does not just talk about making friends but honing “friendship skills.” Are we simply creating opportunities for kids to “make” friends, or are we teaching and facilitating “friendship skills?” And what does that look like?

The article also recognized our recent societal concentration on the prevention of bullying (which is very important). But the article questions whether we should be putting equal focus on helping kids build friendship skills. Once again, I recognize the camp community as an excellent environment for this kind of skill building. Do we talk about it enough as an antidote to bullying?

What are your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California

September 17, 2012

Are we camp professionals? Yes. Are we mentors and advisors? Yes. Are we coaches and social workers? Yes. Are we surrogate parents? Yes. Are we youth development workers? Yes. Are we educators? Yes.

I also believe we are a new form of venture capitalists. We are making investments in humans and community systems that build competencies and capacities that lead to better results! Don't undersell or underestimate the power of capacity on future performance.

Better results that lead to better tomorrows — changing the world.

Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Pasadena, California

September 10, 2012

There are many ways to have a "ful" life.

Thankful.                "Annoyful"
Respectful.             Awful
Hopeful.                  Doubtful
"Gameful."              Hateful
Mindful.                   Hurtful
Joyful.                     Neglectful
"Heartful."                Shameful
Impactful.                Pitiful
Successful.             Ungrateful
Wonderful.              Wasteful

The choice is yours!

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts

August 20, 2012

Have you seen the T-shirt that says, “Forget the box — think outside”?

I want that T-shirt. There are so many applications for this phrase.

  1. If we want to save the “outside,” we better forget thinking inside the box. Solutions are going to have to be new, innovative, and profound.
  2. If we read the research, our ability to think is enhanced by the time we spend outside. To be boxed in a classroom for extended periods of time (throughout the year) seems counterintuitive.
  3. If we would think about how we help our children balance their time spent with technology and outside, my guess is we would be healthier, have young leaders committed to solving environmental woes, and take more time to be thoughtful and reflective.

We all need to “wear” — that is, live — the life this T-shirt suggests.

August 13, 2012

Articles are once again popping up about adding school days to the academic year. No one argues that year-round learning is not only developmentally and academically sound, but also pertinent to the issues of safety and wellbeing for many children who may not have something to do over the summer. Where we seem to diverge is the appreciation on how best to accomplish those desired outcomes.

The organized camp industry for children and youth provides nearly 216 million dollars for those who might not otherwise have a camp experience. The research that has been done absolutely supports the fact that a quality camp experience is a viable expanded learning environment that not only meets the developmental needs of a child but compliments academic success. A camp experience can stem learning loss that so many suffer.

If those outside the camp industry were to provide equal, if not more, support for children and youth to have the opportunity to have a quality camp experience, we might have a new solution to an old argument. If we want to get rid of the learning problem, we need new solutions.

Photo courtesy of Camp Courageous, Monticello, Iowa


August 7, 2012

The Children’s Defense Fund has just released The State of America’s Children® 2012 Handbook. Consider a few of the facts shared:

  1. There are 16.4 million poor children in America.
  2. More children were killed by guns in 2008–2009 than U.S. military personnel in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date.
  3. A child is born into poverty every twenty-nine seconds in America.

I believe we are a part of the solution. But only if we are informed advocates for all children.

I find it alarming that two things most critical to a healthy future are fragile today — the environment and children. We can do something about both. What will you do?

July 23, 2012

We all know we don’t operate at our best all the time. So what do we need to understand in order to manage that risk, especially at this time of year in the summer camp season? 

Remember where our counselors are developmentally.

  1. New risk capacities (training) evolve over time with experience.
    • Mentor young counselors with seasoned staff throughout the summer.
  2. Peer pressure can still prevail.
    • Continue to support clarity and sincerity in behavior and words.
  3. We all get tired and exhausted.
    • Be sure counselors are getting plenty of rest in order to be at their optimum.
  4. We function best when we know our surroundings.
    • If going to a new surrounding, partner new counselors with seasoned staff.

Counselors are modeling for campers — seasoned staff and directors are modeling for counselors. It is an enormously successful form of synergy and energy. It can power positive camp experiences.

Photo courtesy of Jaycee Camp Hope, Pendleton, South Carolina 

July 9, 2012

We hear so much about 21st century competencies such as creativity, collaboration, and communication. I have my own 21st century list of desired “Cs”. Here is my wish list:

  1. I wish for confidence. Not arrogance or hubris, but the spirit of probability — probability of success and the ability to add value to the lives of others.
  2. I wish to achieve clarity. I want to be able to share my thoughts so they are easily understood, giving my voice a quiet power as an advocate for others.
  3. I wish for consistency. A consistency in principles that offer a framework for shared uniformity even within an ever-changing and complex world. I wish for an ability to assert these consistent principles even in contradiction.

I wish for these things because I believe it will make me a better person in a better world.

July 2, 2012

I have never liked lengthy documents — especially when it is clear something can be said using fewer words. I have always been particularly fond of bullets and even more enamored if it can be done in three, or fewer, bullets! Personally, I have been suspicious that I feel that way because remembering more than three bullets is a challenge for me.

But as I read some tips on marketing strategies today, behold, I found: “Never try to make more than three points in a single message.” I am validated!

Can we make messages about the camp experience that are: meaningful, believable, and memorable? What are your messages?

Check out the marketing resources available in ACA's Knowledge Center.

June 26, 2012

A couple months ago, I spoke with Susie Lupert, the new executive director of ACA, New York and New Jersey, about the importance of customer service. Although customer service may be seen as traditional business nomenclature, the concept is just as critical (if not more so) for associations. A few weeks after our conversation, Susie sent me Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service, by Ari Weinzweig.

As I have always loved things in threes, I was immediately drawn to a three-step recipe. (Yes, life should be so easy.)

  1. Figure out what your customer wants.
  2. Get it for them accurately, politely, and enthusiastically.
  3. Go the extra mile for the customer.

Certainly, we can all strive to accomplish those recommended steps to great customer service.  Can you?

June 12, 2012

I believe we all want kids to grow up to be successful, healthy, contributing adults. Yet, it seems we have a contradiction in approaches — a paradox — that causes competition in resources, both fiscal and time.

Which strategy gives kids the brightest future: One that employs academic, resume building environments? Or one that presents engaged, experiential, and expanded learning approaches?

I believe, if we do share a desired outcome for children, in fact, both strategies are essential. The sooner we figure out how to manage that shared space, the greater our shared success — for our kids.

Photo courtesy of Camp Echo in Coleman High Country, Merrick, New York.

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