ACA Camp Blog

June 4, 2012

As a parent, I fear we have forgotten that for generations, children grew up outside. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and splashed around in creeks. We ran barefoot in the grass and climbed trees. Childhood was characterized by innocence, imagination, energy, wonder, and laughter. Frankly, the thought of being cooped up inside all day long was unfathomable and tortuous. Truth be known, that was how my dad punished me — I was sent to my room.

Yet today, research shows that the amount of time U.S. children spend outside has declined by 50 percent in the last two decades alone. On average, children currently spend 5.5 hours a day plugged into some kind of electronic device. Worse, yet, both the media and parents are often telling children and youth they should fear others and be afraid to go outdoors. As a result, silently and suddenly, we have a population of young people who may never have seen the stars, heard an owl in the darkness of night, or been surrounded by the miracle of nature versus the "progress" of man. Kids today even define the outdoors differently — for many of them, it's hanging out on a corner or on the hood of a car versus really enjoying the natural world.

Play time is markedly decreasing. According to researchers who monitor how our children are actually spending their time, outdoor activities are on the decline. Even walking is an endangered activity. William Doherty, a University of Minnesota researcher, reports that over the last twenty years, there has been a 25 percent decline in the time children spend playing and a 50 percent decline in time spent in unstructured outdoor activities. While fleeing indoors may not be a "movement" in itself, there is a profound cultural shift occurring. This shift threatens to leave behind an entire generation of the caretakers of this planet — who will fail to recognize the wonder and discovery of the open air and space, the awe and beauty of nature, or the importance of the ecosystem and its relationship to the quality of life.

We seem to all be tethered by invisible wires. I am not sure children today can feel the unspeakable liberation of moving, dancing, and running in open spaces, free of realized or unrealized confinement. Maybe that is the reality of today's world. Maybe it is imperative in order to keep kids safe. Yet, at what cost? Read more in my recent LA Family article, “Tuning into the Real World.”

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

May 29, 2012

I love to read, and as such, many people forward things to me they think I might find interesting. It is great — I feel like I have my own set of librarians working just for me. ACA’s Director of Research Deb Bialeschki is one of those librarians.

Last week, Deb shared an article with me by Shelly Engelman and Tom McKlin about “Grit” as a measure of academic success. Seriously! They write: “While interest and content knowledge do contribute to achieving goals, psychologists have recently found that Grit — defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals — is potentially the most important predictor of success. In fact, research indicates that the correlation between grit and achievement was twice as large as the correlation between IQ and achievement.”

Let’s a give a “Woo Hoo!” Or as Linda Erceg, executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses, would say, “Hot spit!”

We are all starting our summer season of the camp experience. Without a doubt, we are helping young people discover their firmness of character and indomitable spirit when making new friends, trying new activities, and sharing a learning community with others. They will dare to face new and, at times, difficult experiences — using resources and courage — while being supported by a caring and, more often than not, cheering group of supporters. I believe we excel in the acquisition of GRIT!

Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas.

May 22, 2012

There is something to be said about the revival of a “way of learning” that supports tacit knowledge, (tacit knowledge will be needed in a constantly changing world — see “Learning for a World of Constant Change,” by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown), and its relationship to the cultivation of both hope and imagination. Tacit knowledge is a result of doing and experiencing — engagement. Tacit knowledge is not a learning process that is linear or mechanical but the result of a collection of experiences that help one make meaning.

This approach to learning requires a massive shift from hierarchical teaching environments to "heterarchical" learning environments. The camp community is one such heterarchical learning environment — and it happens to bring to the 21st century more than 150 years of experience creating these learning environments. This revival may, in fact, become the new way of educating our children across all platforms of learning. The camp experience could provide a foundation for those platforms of learning.

Photo courtesy of Cali-Camp at Big Rock Ranch in Topanga, California.

May 7, 2012

We are rapidly approaching significant opportunity as a community of practice. We must be present, prepared, and practiced for parents, politicians, and professionals alike who are beginning to clamor for what we do and have done for decades for children, youth, and adults. They are using different terms and nomenclature to describe what they hope their children and the new work force will be able to achieve — but it is the same as what we do. So we need to step out, step up,  and get in the game — start the chatter — and be ready to knock it out of the park!

April 9, 2012
Promoting Self Control

Have any of you read Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky? This is another fascinating read.

Are you not both challenged and validated by any number of frameworks currently being promoted that all resonate with the value of the camp experience? Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner, 21st century skills, Mind in the Making, teen brain research, and others all are converging around similar concepts of innovation, creativity, global respect and understanding, ethical communication, critical thinking and problem solving, synthesizing, assimilating, and adaptation — to name a few.

This same convergence of research and thought leaders took place 20 years ago around the field of early childhood development. As a result, parents today sign up their children for preschool often immediately following birth, if not before. They do so because they now understand the value of early stimulation and that “play” is not frivolous.

We are talking about the human journey and the essential role we play in that development. How do we (the entire community of practice) provide children and youth the passport from one learning platform to the next to ensure safe and productive travels?

How are you talking to parents about the importance of what you do and enabling children to learn and manage self-control? Adele Diamond from the University of British Columbia says that more and more evidence is revealing that executive function skills including self-control “actually predict success better than IQ tests.”

How are you explaining to parents that physical games and experiences are a better use of time than sitting for long hours? Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, authors of Welcome to Your Child’s Brain, write: “Though parents often worry that physical education takes time away from the classroom, an analysis of multiple studies instead found strong evidence that physical activity improved academic performance.”

Visit ACA’s research Web page, and you will find a plethora of evidence informed value that supports the importance of the camp experience. If a parent desires their child to be healthy and productive in the 21st century, there is a significant case to be made for the camp experience as an essential component in that journey.

What is your message?

Image courtesy of Camp Eagle Ridge in Mellen, Wisconsin.

April 2, 2012

In this week's blog, Peg shares the "back porch inspiration" that came to her this weekend — children and nature belong together!

March 26, 2012

It seems everywhere I go, the camp community is struggling to articulate its value proposition in today’s world. There are so many constructs: recreation related to physical well-being and fighting obesity; youth development and its relationship to what we know about adolescent teen brain development and 21st century skills; and work development and its relationship to 21st century skills and the completion of school.

In many respects, regardless of how you enter the conversation, one can find intersections within and across all three constructs. Perhaps, rather than one construct being “right” or “wrong,” each construct offers an opportunity to legitimately customize your message to your specific marketplace and program.

All of this said, I was recently reading Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner. It gave me yet another way to consider how the camp experience adds value to the future of our campers. He talks about five minds that will need to be mastered in order to contribute (and work) in the future.

Disciplined Mind: This mind knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding – if one does not have such discipline, “they are destined to march to someone else’s tune.”

Synthesizing Mind: This mind takes “information from disparate sources, understands and evaluate that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons.” In today’s world of ever growing information and knowledge, this will be an enviable skill.

Creating Mind: This mind “puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, [and] arrives at unexpected answers.”

Respectful Mind: This mind “notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these ‘others,’ and seeks to work effectively with them.” A tremendous skill for the global community.

Ethical Mind: This mind “conceptualizes how work can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how members of society can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.”

I have witnessed these minds being built and exercised in every camp that I have visited. How does this happen at your camp? Do you witness such growth? How do you articulate value?

March 19, 2012

This week’s post is contributed by Deb Bialeschki, ACA’s director of research. Peg and Deb have a spirited habit of exchanging meaningful quotes, which sparked this post. Look for more guest contributors in the future, as Peg continues to share her latest thoughts and invite others to join the conversation.

Many people lament the rudeness, bad manners and behaviors, and lack of respect we see around us every day — and it’s not just in kids! We see it in our media “stars,” public officials, coaches, youth leaders — even our own neighbors and families! Many folks believe that bad manners can be attributed to our increasing use of technology, lax standards, and a general lack of respect. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially in our youth programs! What better place to practice civility (by both staff and campers) than in our camp community?

Civility is more than just being courteous — it is about living respectfully. Some people would go so far as to suggest that civility is the glue that holds a community together. Civility is about compassion, respect, generosity, and kindness. It is about “doing the right thing” — even when there is no spotlight to highlight your good behavior. So what can a caring camp professional do? Here are four easy-to-practice “habits” for you to explore with your staff and young people!

  1. Make the practice of kindness, generosity, gratitude, and respect a HABIT! You’re never too young (or too old) to start — and the research supports that you will live longer, happier, and healthier if you do!
  2. In this time of “technologically-aided communication,” nurture your social relationships with more personal forms of communication. While we won’t give up our smart phones or internet connections, take a break from them occasionally (like at camp), sit with another staff member or some campers, and have a meaningful conversation without a screen or buttons. Seeing a real smile on a face is much better than the smiley face emoticon! 
  3. Seize “teachable moments” with your staff and campers! Remember, just because you like them doesn’t mean you have to like their bad behaviors. Child development experts have commented on how we have stopped teaching kids manners, respect, and empathy for others. In fact, several studies have reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. Focus on teaching good interpersonal skills and developing positive relationships, and be sure to share WHY these skills are important!
  4. Practice decency and civility every day in every way! Discuss with your staff and campers ways to model respect, caring, and good behavior toward ALL living things. Then design and post your own “Civil Camp Community” expectations.

The cultural shift around civility has to start somewhere — why not plant the seeds in our programs, even if it is one child or staff person at a time? Please share your thoughts and ideas or tips that you use at your camp to promote civility!

Tips and Resources


  • Good, T.L. & Nichols, S.L. (2001). School outcomes: Cognitive function, achievements, social skills, and values. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 13583-13589.
  • Agostin, T.M. & Bain, S.K. (1997). Predicting early school success with developmental and social skills screeners. Psychology in Schools, 34(3), 219-228.
  • Weeks, L. (March 14, 2012) Please read this story, thank you. NPR
March 12, 2012

It seems the more unpredictable the world becomes, the more rampant our fervor to predict. I'm in the process of reading Jim Collins' new book, Great by Choice, and I found this line intriguing: “It is about channeling your ambition into the cause, company, or association and whatever will ultimately make it successful.” 

He speaks of disciplined creativity based on empirical experience and data. It causes me to consider that ACA’s research environment is firmly embedded in "evidence informed" research. It resonates with the parent and is applicable to the professional.

As we all attempt to determine the next trend or predict the future, maybe there is something first to be reminded of in terms of our "cause" — because I am confident that our relevance today and tomorrow can be supported by both disciplined and empirical creativity for our cause and the intentional management of our future.

Peter Drucker once said, “The best way — the only way — to predict the future is to create it.” Or if you prefer a sport’s analogy, Wayne Gretzky said, “Good hockey players play where the puck is. Great hockey players play where the puck is going to be.” I am sure a hockey player’s ability to "predict" is based on empirical creativity.

March 6, 2012

It was nearing the close of my day and I leaned back to reflect. I suddenly found myself focused on several sayings that I had posted on the wall in front of my desk. I started rereading them and found myself asking why these statements had resonated with me. Why had I saved them? I began to chuckle to myself because they were all related to change and the human condition.

  • “People exposed to the same information can often interpret it differently.”
  • “Integrative thinking can resolve tension between opposing ideas and generate new alternative solutions.”
  • “The edge is not the abyss. It’s the sweet spot for productive change.”
  • “Explore the possibilities of opposition — the tension between the two can create superior ideas.”
  • “Collaboration is an unnatural act committed by non-consenting adults.”
  • And finally, “Humility makes it possible for us listen to others.”

I realized I had saved the sayings to help me understand change; appreciate the value of opposition and tension; find humor even in the struggle; and recognize that I had to let go of hubris and embrace humility if true, positive outcomes were more important than winning.


February 14, 2012

Recently I picked up the book True North, written by Bill George with Doug Baker. Released in September 2011, the book centers around leadership development. I found these words inspiring for camp counselors: “The missing link in leadership development is having a safe place where people can share their experiences, challenges, and frustrations, and receive honest feedback.”

A young adult wanting to develop real-world experiences, receive immediate and relevant reflection and feedback designed to ensure success (not punitive), and learn to work in groups sharing interactions and problem solving should seriously consider becoming a camp counselor. A camp counselor receives personal value while offering social and educational value to others. Such a deal!

February 6, 2012

I was rereading “That’s the Way We (Used to) Do things Around Here,” by Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick, a article published in February 2011. Because ACA’s Director of Research, Deb Bialeschki, and I often talk about mindfulness, self-regulation, and reflection, a couple of sentences in the article caught my eye:

“The kind of mindfulness that accomplishes this [change] combines metacognition (thinking about what you are thinking) and meta-awareness (moment-by-moment awareness of where your attention is focused). Adam Smith, the 18th-century philosopher, understood this. He described self-directed reflections as an ‘impartial spectator’ . . . .”

We train counselors each year to do what neuroscience has described as “attention density.” Pay attention, be in the moment, and respond to the current environment — not just habitual patterns. We help them refocus their behaviors to be aligned with the positive outcomes we all desire for our campers. We are grooming future leaders, and we understand that leadership demands a high level of self-awareness. Our efforts are two-fold: camper and counselor development.


January 31, 2012

A couple of weekends ago, I had the honor of spending some time with members of the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors during their Research Symposium. They gave me a one-day remedial pass. But I digress . . . .

In one of the discussions, we started talking about generative outcomes. It really excited me because I believe that is where we (the outdoor and camp community) really add value to the overall, comprehensive education and development of children and youth. It legitimizes our contribution to the overall formula that we should appreciate and respect as human development.

Think about it — Positive human development is the precursor to academic excellence, is it not? We need to be able to understand the camp experience as a generative process in and of itself. Add intentionality to that environment, and you have put magic on steroids!

We help young people make mental connections between what they are hearing, seeing, feeling, experiencing, and reading. The dynamic processes we provide develop attention and knowledge — and help young people make meaning from what otherwise may seem abstract and unrelated. Suddenly, the generative experiences help young people develop concepts, interpretations, and even applications for new ways of thinking, being, and working.

This generative process is experienced individually, in small groups, and as a community, making all lessons transferable to the 21st century global community! And all of this is happening in a natural learning environment — the richness of the simplicity is easily missed.

January 23, 2012

As we each initiate or continue to sustain our life’s work, I feel that today our personal brand is nearly as important as our resume.  How are we unique and distinct? Is it the collective list of skills, education, and job experiences that will make you stand-out? Maybe — but only for a nano-second, because whether we are cognizant of it or not, today people are searching for deeper meaning, purpose, and translation of your collective resume fodder. 

My suggestion is we give equal consideration and articulation to our own personal operating principles. What drives our decisions about how we use our time, and what causes us to act, or not? Can you describe your ability to be adaptive, deal with ambiguity, or remain alert? 

With the plethora of distractions and chaos, how do you remain present and ready to make meaning? Maybe it isn’t as much about the three "R's" as it is the three "A's": adaptive, ambiguity-able, and alert. What are your operating principles?

Learn more about a series of free career development webinars ACA is offering over the next few weeks, including "Developing Your Brand Identity" on February 8.

January 17, 2012

Sometimes in life one is blessed with an “out of the blue” moment. It is when something or someone comes to you that is unexpected and initially appears to be unrelated to everything else that may be going on but provides a tremendous profit in spirit or support. If one pays attention, one realizes its import and critical value to not only that moment in time but, if treasured, many moments yet to occur.

Out of the blue moments are often gifts of the greatest nature. Today, unexpectedly, I received a package. I have been blessed a number of times in my life with notes or phone calls offering out of the blue inspiration and support. The package received recently from Norman Friedman was another such moment — out of the blue. I admire Norman for all that he has done in his life to protect children and youth, and I feel honored to consider him a friend.

But why the out of the blue package? I have to believe that he knew it was going to be important to me. I doubt that he knew how or why, but there it was. Norman sent me a small book called The Dash, Making a Difference with Your Life by Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson. I sat back in my chair and paused to glance through the book. It caused me to take a calm moment — important in and of itself considering the day. When I got to page 55, there it was — just what I needed. How did Norman know? Do any of us know just how important out of the blue moments may be to someone?

But there was the quote by Nelson Henderson on page 55: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” I suddenly realized that I have been planting trees each summer on my property for nearly two decades. Yet, the last two years as I did so, I realized I might not see those trees mature. I didn’t stop planting — instead, I recognized it did not matter because my children or others would one day enjoy the shade of the trees I was planting. My enthusiasm about the trees did not diminish but actually grew with the thought.

When I read that quote I was reminded of those thoughts but realized something else — the camp community each year plants seeds in the hearts and minds of millions of children. We may never personally see those seeds flourish, but without question others enjoy the “shade.” We make our world better for tomorrow. Plant a tree this summer.

Syndicate content