ACA Camp Blog

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

Lun. V. (2006 March 27). Disruptive thinking. The Idea Dude. Retrieved from

Tough, P. (2012). A conversation with Paul Tough. Retrieved from

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 Defined

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.

Setting Goals

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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Be polite. Say “thank you,” “please,” and “I am sorry.”
  2. Lower your voice if you want me to hear you.
  3. Stop whining or begging — it is unattractive.
  4. If you don’t like her, she probably doesn’t like you. (Ouch, I remember that stinging.)
  5. Be fair. No manipulating to get your way — again, it is unattractive.
  6. Don’t sweat the small stuff or fight over petty issues.
  7. No one will change until you change.
  8. A smile wins more than a frown.
  9. You are not as important as you might think.
  10. 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

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

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