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Welcome to ACA's Parents Place blog! A new and exciting resource for families, the Parents Place blog will feature tips, information, and advice from ACA, as well as other guest bloggers, on child and youth development, health and safety, and of course - camp.
February 24, 2014
By Peg Smith & Andy Pritikin
What an amazing world we live in, with more information and connections at our fingertips than we could ever imagine. This brave new world has come with a price, though, as we’ve gradually replaced human interaction with technological interaction. We have many young people who are not fully equipped for college, the workforce, or adult life. While the US has the highest percentage of graduating seniors choosing to attend colleges or universities, we also have the highest percentage of first-year collegians that drop out. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a nonprofit comprised of the top corporations and forward-thinking educators, has done research showing a big gap in our education system between the “3 Rs” and what employers are truly looking for with their new hires.
Every parent wants what is best for his or her children, though. And the antidote to many of the issues created by modern society — a supplement to what kids learn in schools — might be found right down the road at CAMP!
1. Brain-Based Learning
Camp is an excellent place for children’s developing brains. The character traits that parents wish for their kids — independence, confidence, friendship-building, resilience, character, grit, etc. — are real outcomes for kids who have quality camp experiences. These traits come from the middle prefrontal cortex, which gives us the ability to do important things like regulate our body and emotions, have insight into ourselves and others, feel empathy, communicate in an attuned way, bounce back after failure, adapt to new situations, make thoughtful choices, and overcome fear. That’s a pretty good list of what’s needed for a successful life with good emotional and mental health, meaningful relationships, and the conscientiousness to make an impact on the world (Bryson, 2013).
The brain grows and strengthens when it is used. So, when kids have camp experiences that require them to take risks, be flexible, handle their emotions (especially away from their parents), be persistent to master something, build relationships, and so on, it strengthens this important part of the brain for life. At camp, kids usually feel safe and secure, and the setting is so fun that kids are willing to work harder and tolerate more frustration and setbacks because they’re having such a good time doing it! This builds character, and helps them for the rest of their lives.
2. Nature and the Out-of-Doors Experience
Today’s youth suffer from an alarmingly limited access to or interest in the natural world. We can look at the 18 percent obesity rate of children alone and realize physical activity and access to the outdoors have been drastically altered.
Activity has also been modified by the number of hours young people spend in front of screens — an average of seven and a half hours a day. Sadly, our time spent out of doors has decreased by 50 percent in the last two decades, and the benefits of nature and the outdoors go well beyond physical well-being. Direct experience in nature is important to a child’s intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical development (Kellert, 2005). Most traditional summer camps are based outside and require that children explore, enjoy, and resiliently persevere in the elements! At Liberty Lake, when parents ask, “What do you do when it rains?” I answer first that we call it “liquid sunshine,” and that often we’ll actually sing, dance, and jump in puddles in the rain. It’s good old-fashioned fun, which kids thoroughly enjoy!
This is not a bad four-letter word. Yet, modern society has severely marginalized play, which denies a rite of passage — childhood! We have unfortunately witnessed a 25 percent decline in play in our lifetime. Play is a normal developmental process. Children (and adults) who are not allowed or encouraged to play have less energy, less interest, and less enthusiasm about life. And we’re not talking about playing video games in the basement against friends sitting in their basements! We’re talking about hand-to-hand, face-to-face, old school, getting dirty, scraping your knee, hurting your feelings, REAL stuff that helped shape us into the adults that we are today.
Play at camp is a critical stage of learning. It is a learning process that is experiential and active. Play allows young people to practice “how” to survive and thrive in a community. It teaches young people “how” to learn, gaining the skills of persistence, grit, participation, failure, encouragement, and perseverance.
There’s a Place I Know . . .
Activities that strengthen the brain, being outside in nature, and physically “playing” with others are things that took place naturally in our neighborhoods for centuries, but in today’s modern society, one of the best environments for this all to happen is at summer camp. In the past few decades, many parents have focused their responsibilities on building their children’s resumes, over-programming, and not letting them just be kids, the way kids have been for centuries. From what I’ve seen recently, though, the pendulum is slowly swinging back! Parents don’t want their adult children living with them. They want their kids away from screens and out of the air conditioning, as they recall the challenges of their own childhoods with newfound reverence and now seek for the same for their children.
We all know where kids go to receive “academic” equipment for life, but there is a special place each summer where they can go to receive critical social and emotional readiness equipment. Where they can intern for life — at SUMMER CAMP!
Peg Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA). ACA is the champion of better tomorrows — providing resources, research, and support for developmentally appropriate camp experiences. Learn more at www.CampParents.org or www.ACAcamps.org.
Andy Pritikin is the owner/director/founder of Liberty Lake Day Camp, in Columbus, New Jersey, and the incoming president of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. www.LibertyLakeDayCamp.com, www.ACA-NYNJ.org
Bryson, T.P. (2014). Bunks are good for brains: The neuroscience of sleepaway camp: Camping Magazine. American Camp Association
Kellert, S. (2005). Building for life: Designing and understanding the human-nature connection. Island Press: Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc, Meridian, Texas
January 29, 2014
Guest post by Diana K. Rice, RD
As a registered dietitian and staff member of The Kids Cook Monday, I’ve seen firsthand how efforts to involve children in food production and preparation can influence them to make healthy choices. Much of my work involves school-based efforts to teach these skills, but with all of the other academic learning objectives students must meet, I know that it can be difficult to find time during the school day to give kids truly enriching food-related experiences.
Camp, on the other hand, provides an ideal setting for the full farm-to-table (or campfire!) experience. I fondly recall cooking “stone soup” over the fire as a young camper and later, as a counselor. These experiences undoubtedly contributed to my current passion for home cooking, so I’ve been thrilled to discover the in-depth cooking and gardening experiences many camps currently offer to help children develop an appreciation for the food they eat every day. As one camper told Grant Bullard, the owner and director of Gwynn Valley Camp, “I never realized how much energy goes into making food!”
Located in Brevard, North Carolina, Gwynn Valley offers an array of unique food-related experiences to their overnight campers. “Campers who sign up for the farm activity help milk a cow or goat, pick and harvest a bounty of different vegetables, feed animals, and develop a sense of ownership that translates from farm to table,” Bullard says. Cooking is an integral part of the experience, as well. “There is no greater joy than to share a meal where you've had a part in its preparation,” Bullard says. “Campers can go by the farm the day of their camp out and pick items that they might want to include in their camp out meal.”
Bullard knows that providing his campers with these experiences does more than just fill their days. “Campers who have participated in food production and preparation develop an entirely different attitude,” he says. “We have many campers try their first green bean, tomato, or broccoli at camp simply because they spent time harvesting that food earlier in the day. As one mother wrote, ‘My children now want broccoli for dinner because they have seen it grow and they have picked it for their dinner at Gwynn Valley.’”
Stacey Antine, a registered dietitian who founded the organization HealthBarn USA, has noticed the same trend. “I started HealthBarn in 2005 as a call to action to the downward trend of children’s health based on lifestyle,” Antine says. HealthBarn offers year-round “farm-to-fork” programming, including summer camps at Abma’s Farm in Wyckoff, New Jersey and Hilltop Hanover Farm & Environmental Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. “I believe that hands-on education is an important part of the solution, and a farm is a great place to learn about how to live healthy and create the skills to sustain it!” Antine says.
Antine, who also offers Kids Cook Monday classes at HealthBarn during the school year, has her campers spend just as much time in the kitchen as they do in the garden. “All healthy recipes are family-friendly and kid-approved even for the pickiest of eaters,” she says. Through her programs, she’s noticed the same results as Bullard: “One mother told me, ‘I don’t know what you did, but my daughter is the worst eater. She only eats chicken nuggets and boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, but after your camp she’s making homemade raviolis!’”
Gwynn Valley and HealthBarn both operate on farms, but camps without farmland access can still offer their campers similar growing and cooking experiences. Ferncliff Camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, decided to implement a garden program in 2011. They cut costs and made the space environmentally friendly by using scrap materials to build it. Now, the garden is among the most enriching experiences they offer. “Seeing the wonder on a kid’s face when they pull a giant carrot out of the ground is priceless,” says associate director Joel Gill. “The food produced in the garden supplements our dining hall and there is a taste table where campers can taste what has been harvested each day.” Ferncliff campers also have the opportunity to cook muffins in solar ovens using eggs gathered from the property’s hen houses.
Some camps have even taken the initiative to offer their campers in-depth culinary programs. At Camp Towanda, an overnight camp located in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, campers can sign up for a variety of cooking classes, many of which use Kids Cook Monday recipes. “Our classes range from basic cooking, kitchen etiquette and safety to worldwide ethnic dishes,” says Mitch Reiter, the camp’s owner and director. “[We cover] yields, recipes, inventory control, logistics and of course, the joy of cooking. We have been told by our friends in the culinary world how impressed they are with our program!”
I believe any day a camper spends engaged in activities like these is a day well spent, but ultimately, the camp experience is about instilling children with lifelong passions and skills in a way that no other setting can. For a child who has come to know the joys and rewards of cooking at camp – or perhaps, for a child who may be in store such adventures this summer – it’s important for parents to demonstrate that these skills and experiences are integral to everyday life. Cooking dinner with your children at least once a week provides an ever-renewing opportunity to reinforce the connection between food, community and health they’ve discovered at camp. Visit TheKidsCookMonday.org for recipes and resources tailored to family cooking today!
Diana K. Rice is a registered dietitian on staff with The Kids Cook Monday, a project of The Monday Campaigns, an ACA Educational Ally. She credits her interest in food and cooking in part to the summers she spent at Camp Brighton Woods in Brookeville, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of HealthBarn USA, Wyckoff, New Jersey
January 23, 2014
Guest blog by Anne Archer Yetsko
When I Googled the phrase “middle school,” two of the top hits were “Middle school survival” and “Middle school: the worst years of my life.” I found that to be a pretty good depiction of how most people feel about this slightly (or not so slightly) traumatizing and awkward period of life. There are a few key aspects of the camp experience that are really beneficial for this age group.
Camp gives your middle schooler:
1. An Identity: Kids need an identity. Middle schoolers are defined by their looks, material stuff (cool shoes, backpack, gaming devices), parents, grades, and their athleticism. Camp allows kids to be known for being a great archer, team player, cannonball jumper, friend, kayaker, s’more maker, table setter, frog catcher, and much more. This list is endless. When a kid walks onto a camp property they get to choose their identity. WOW! Where else in life does that happen? A few years ago we had a girl come to camp who decided she wanted to go by “Phyllis” at camp. She had always liked the name and she wanted people to call her Phyllis. Camp even allows you to change your name if you want to!
2. An Emotionally Safe Environment: Our middle schoolers need a supportive environment where they can mess up and it's ok. They need somewhere they can miss the bulls-eye and no one laughs. Instead, their friends give them pointers on how to do better next time. Camp provides this.
3. A Chance to Be a Kid: We live in a world that forces children to grow up entirely too fast. Our kids need a chance to be kids. They need to make s’mores, ride horses, shoot a bow and arrow, dress silly, eat candy, paint pictures, play games, and go on adventures.
4. An Opportunity to Be Outside: Our kids live in a world where they never have to go outside, and that world scares me. Our kids need to get dirty, make forts, swim in lakes, and catch fireflies. There are hundreds of articles and books out there about “the nature deficit” in children. To grow emotionally, physically, and mentally, kids need time outside. As our addiction to phones, computers, tablets, and video games grows, it has never been more important for kids to have substantial time away from these things.
5. True Friends: There is something about people living together, working together, playing together, and overcoming challenges together that creates friendships that are intense and long lasting. They are also different from school friendships that can often end on a whim and are just as often filled with drama. Knowing they have a safety net of “camp friends” makes the emotional rollercoaster of middle school more bearable.
6. Mentors: Kids need people other than their parents to invest in them. They need positive role models to look up to. Camp provides children with amazing, college-age students who truly care about them and want them to be the best version of themselves. Kids need people to teach them how to make friends, how to handle conflict, and how to be a good sport. They also need to know that there are other people out there who struggled through middle school who are now thriving. When their counselor tells them that seventh grade was also a really hard year for them, it gives them hope that life will not always be as difficult as it is in seventh grade.
7. A Bigger Picture: Our preteens need to know that the world is bigger than their middle school, hometown, or even state. They need to know that when it feels like their world is crumbing around them in the halls of their school that their life is not limited to that place. They have friends in Florida and Louisiana, and counselors in Georgia and New York, and a camp in the mountains of western North Carolina.
I believe that kids today need camp more than ever, especially middle school kids. These preteens and newly-teens need to learn who they are and what they are great at in an emotionally safe and supportive environment that pushes them to play outside and grows their sense of adventure.
Anne Archer Yetsko is the associate director of Camp Merri-Mac in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She has worked for Merri-Mac for twelve years and is also a recent graduate Touro University’s Camp Administration and Leadership Master’s Program. This blog was originally posted at www.merri-mac.com/2014/01/7-reasons-middle-schooler-needs-camp/.
Photo courtesy of Camp Merri-Mac, Black Mountain, North Carolina
December 19, 2013
Guest blog by Stacey Ebert
For sleep-away campers, the end of June brought endless smiles. School closed for two whole months and our second family greeted us with open arms. Mornings were spent with sleepy-eyed bunkmates and nights came alive with laughter. Days were filled with friends, canteen, and food-fights in the lodge, and countless memories were made.
Ask those of us who went to camp and no matter how long ago it was, we can still sing our favorite song, tell you about our beloved counselors and share our fond camp memories. Those who went to camp were guaranteed to have their life enriched. Maybe you learned to swim or that you loved chicken barbecues. Or maybe that one special staff member helped you see something in yourself you never knew was there. There’s wisdom in summer camp and it seems that it’s not until we leave that we realize the weight of so very many of its gifts.
1. Build Relationships
Friendships forged at sleep-away camp are some of the best I know. My three best friends from camp have been there for me for the last thirty years. These relationships are true to the core and have helped me grow in ways I cannot count. Camp teaches you to meet people and get to know one another. The gifts in return are endless. We’ve been there for the happy and the sad, both around the corner and across the globe. Today we may “Facebook” and text, but these friendships stand the test of time, and when I forget how a story ends, these are the people I can count on to finish it.
2. Believe in Yourself
Every June I remerged as my “summer self.” Camp provided an opportunity to try new things (like riding a horse) or things not available in my everyday circumstances (like silk screening). Staff members believed in me and often saw something I didn’t. There’s something special about camp friends and counselors who are with you every waking minute of the day. Even in the world as a grown-up, you may not see those friends or counselors anymore, but somehow you just know that they’re there cheering for you as always. And if you harness that feeling enough, you just might start to believe it, too.
At camp, I met people who were different from me. It was one of the first times I realized that everyone’s story is his or her own and that often what I thought was “a huge deal” is nothing in comparison. Perspective took shape. For two weeks each summer, there were kids living in foster care in New York City who came to camp. For many it was the first time they saw a large body of water or worked on a farm. One girl in my bunk had a very difficult upbringing. But for those two weeks, we all had a fabulous time at camp, just like any other two weeks. Camp allowed relationships to flourish and stories to be shared. The stories were varied, and I learned they all deserved respect, kindness, and sensitivity.
4. Embrace Diversity
I grew up on Long Island in New York. The majority of people in my school had similar ethnic backgrounds. Diversity was minimal at best. At camp, I met counselors from across the world. Accents and histories different from mine instantly became an interest. My friends all had different religions and came from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. One camper came from out-of-state for the summer since her parents were traveling Europe, and others came on scholarship having truly been given the gift of camp. Ideas were shared, new foods were introduced, and friendships grew. Character is what truly mattered.
5. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
Whatever it was that seemed different, terrifying, or impossible was achievable at camp. A leap is a leap, no matter how small — and for some, even spending the entire summer in nature is a big one. Dealing with spiders, raccoons, and no electricity took getting used to, but for me, they’re some of the best parts of camp memories. I do recall what at first seemed scary; but what I truly remember is the adrenaline-filled delight that resulted from facing my fears. I learned to swim at camp and later became a lifeguard and aquatics director. I was petrified of spiders and have subsequently gone bush camping in sub-Saharan Africa. Leaving home was difficult that first time, but it made college easier. I have since traveled around the world knowing that although experiences may be a bit “sticky” at the start, what you get when you reach the other side of that fear is priceless!
Stacey Ebert is a camper at heart who has spent over twenty-five years in the camping industry. She has a love of the beach, travel, and anything chocolate. Follow her at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.
Photo courtesy of Camp Kupugani, Leaf River, Illinois
December 5, 2013
Guest post by Scott Brody
American fifteen year olds are lagging behind students from other nations in math and science, according to the results of an international assessment exam called PISA. Though we'd like to think of ourselves as an educated nation, these results point to some glaring deficiencies in the way that we educate our children. For the record, our shortcomings are not limited to children from lower income families; students from wealthy American families fared no better in the results when compared to similarly well-off peers in other countries.
What is hidden behind these results, however, is an even more unsettling insight. The PISA test, unlike the standardized tests that are administered in most American schools, assesses older students in mathematics literacy and science literacy — or how well they can apply their knowledge and skills to problems set in real-world contexts. Most standardized tests that are used in the U.S. measure only content knowledge. The newest U.S. assessments now being piloted, PARCC and SBAC, which are aligned to the new "common core" standards, measure some of the cognitive skills linked to that content. They are a step forward, but they don't really assess the skills that are needed for college and career readiness. In other words, it is not what our kids know that is really important, it is whether they can apply that knowledge to real-world problems and new situations.
The PISA test does measure some of those college and career readiness skills, and the mediocre performance of our high school freshmen in these important measures should raise some pretty serious concerns among our local, state, and national leaders. We assume that Americans will always be able to innovate, to invent the future. But if these tests are any measure, our ability to think critically, to problem-solve, and to adapt our knowledge to new and novel situations is truly in doubt.
It is for this reason that a number of camps have chosen to focus on the teaching and strengthening of these essential 21st-century skills. They consider it their mission to teach their campers the skills that they will need to be successful and fulfilled in the world they will enter when they join the workforce. If our schools are unable to teach these skills right now, then it is incumbent upon all of us who work with children during out-of-school time to do this important work. Free of the constraints of funding streams and the politics of assessment, camps can do all that they can to ensure that all children are college and career ready, with the skills to innovate and invent the future.
Scott Brody is the owner/director of Camps Kenwood and Evergreen and founder of Everwood Day Camp. Read his recent Camping Magazine article, “Teaching the Skills That Children Need to Succeed.”
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
November 18, 2013
Guest post by Lydia Pettis
When I was eight years old I spent four weeks at a summer camp for girls in West Virginia. My mother grew up in this camp, and I imagine she hoped I would grow to love it as she did. Nestled in a corner of the Shenandoah valley, surrounded by mountains, the camp provided wide-ranging activities. Best of all, it had horses, and we rode several times a week. Four weeks, however, was a very long time for a little girl's first adventure away from home. Every day I received a warm, newsy letter from mom or dad, and every day I wrote the same thing... "I miss you. I am homesick. I want to come home." This was followed by a list of all of the activities and adventures that had taken place in the last day or two. Looking back on this time it is clear that I was generally recognized by camp staff as the most homesick camper that season. Special attention was given to me in many ways, such as being chosen to be the Indian princess for one of the camp tribes.
When the last day of camp and my parents arrived, I ran and threw myself at my mother in relief. There were a number of Parent's Day activities to be endured. After a humiliating showing in the horse show (I was given Haymaker, and he made some hay) I insisted that we leave right now. And we did. I still remember sitting in the back seat of the car wheeling out of the camp. On some level that experience had been a trial and a burden to me and I was relieved to be headed for home and safety.
That said, it may be a surprise to learn that I spent the next twenty summers at camp. Closer to home initially, for shorter periods of time. As I got older I was a counselor-in-training, then a counselor, then a camp director. And as I got older I longed for camp as I had once longed for home. Longed for the outdoor living, the meaningful relationships, and the freedom to be a different "me" at camp. It has been many years now since I have been at camp, but every spring I start thinking about heading off on another adventure, and camp songs haunt me throughout the summer.
Today, at 62, I again hear myself repeating the same refrain: "I want to go home. I want to go home." In this voice I recognize the longing for relief, comfort and safety. A longing for something beyond our daily life. A spiritual yearning for those still and exultant magical moments that I most often experience in the out-of-doors. This longing often takes me out of the present moment. I don't want to be here, I want to be there. And yet, as I finally came to recognize camp as home, it seems as if the little girl longing for home might have been at home all along. Perhaps our fears and insecurities, our uncertainties and worries, drop a veil in front of our eyes and keep us from seeing that we are always home, always held in a loving heart.
Leaving camp early that day more than fifty years ago meant that I missed the final council fire. Seasoned campers cherish the memories of the ceremony that brings closure to the camp experience. It is one of the few places where the ritual of saying goodbye, of remembering and honoring our time together, is enacted. Next year I will be returning to my mother's and my camp to attend the closing council fire and finally complete the summer of my eighth year. I am going home.
Lydia Pettis is an imagery guide, life coach, and creativity consultant. This post was originally published on her blog at http://lydiapettis.blogspot.com/.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado
September 11, 2013
This blog from ACA’s Educational Ally The Monday Campaigns is designed to help you keep those healthy camp habits alive at the start of school! Some of these tips your child might have learned at camp; others might be fresh ideas! Bon appetit!
We all know that “Monday morning” feeling. We wake up early to find that a weekend full of lax routine and play has left our brains in need of a reboot. Mondays can be especially tough for school kids who may have stayed up late and taken “brain breaks” all weekend. Why not give your kids a healthy start for the week by offering food that is helpful for their minds? On behalf of Kids Cook Monday, Allison Righter, registered dietitian and program officer for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers these tasty tips.
Full Bellies, Alert Minds
Keep kids’ bellies full and their minds free of distraction by offering hearty whole grains for breakfast. Oatmeal, for example, is a great brain-awakening breakfast that provides enough fiber and protein to keep kids satiated until lunchtime. Oatmeal is also a good source of iron, which supports healthy brain development. Tip: Steer clear of sugary instant oatmeal packets — sugar gives kids quick energy but will inevitably lead to a pre-lunch crash. Spruce up plain oatmeal by adding natural and nutrient-rich sweeteners and flavors like applesauce, banana,s and cinnamon.
The Power of Purple
Purple foods may be especially beneficial for the brain thanks to the memory-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins, the phytochemical that give food that bluish-purple hue. Seek out fruits like blackberries, blueberries, grapes, and plums, and vegetables like eggplant and purple cabbage. Tip: Add some natural color to breakfast by letting your kids garnish their oatmeal with purple fruit, or have some fun with a scavenger hunt at the grocery store and farmers’ market with your kids to find more unusual purple veggies like purple carrots, asparagus, and peppers.
The Brilliant Egg
An egg provides a protein punch in addition to many important nutrients, such as choline, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are all essential for maximizing cognitive capabilities. With their versatility, eggs can be a part of a mind refreshing meal or snack any time of the day. Tip: Get your kids’ brains working by engaging them in the cooking process! Ask your kids to help crack the eggs for a quick veggie omelet in the morning, or to help prepare hard-boiled eggs ahead of time for a convenient high-energy snack or for making healthy egg salad sandwiches.
Monday Brain Smoothies
Running late on Monday morning? Blend frozen purple fruit, oats, and some low-fat plain yogurt together for a brain boosting breakfast on the go. Don’t forget to make one for yourself! Smoothies also make for great after-school snacks and are a fun, easy, and refreshing way to get more fruit (and even veggies!) into your child’s diet. Tip: If you’re feeling creative on Sunday night, pour the smoothies into popsicle molds to enjoy a prep-free breakfast, snack, or even dessert!
For Sharp Minds, Think Dark Green
Green leafy vegetables, especially darker varieties such as spinach, kale, and collards, are nutritional powerhouses rich in many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to help grow and maintain strong brains as well as bodies. Tip: Try adding spinach to fruit smoothies for a green energy booster, mixing greens into pasta dishes, or having your kids create their own leafy veggie salad masterpiece.
Water = Concentration
Dehydration can lead to poor concentration as well as fatigue. Providing your kids with constant access to filtered water will reduce the risk of dehydration and its consequences. Water-rich snacks like cucumber and watermelon will also aid in hydration. Warn your kids about sugary drinks — they may hydrate, but they come with empty calories and a sugar crash at homework time. Tip: Increase the appeal of plain water by adding slices of lemon, lime, or cucumber, or a sprig of fresh mint.
Developing healthy eating habits from a young age is crucial for optimizing and maintaining cognitive function and overall health for a lifetime. For this new school year, pledge to start adopting these tips into your weekly Monday routine to help your child reach his/her full potential!
The Kids Cook Monday, a project of The Monday Campaigns, is a nonprofit organization associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse universities. Kids Cook Monday provides a weekly opportunity for parents and kids to cook and eat together. Its Web site and social media program feature weekly kid-friendly recipes and tips for parents, as well as comprehensive resources for educators developed with the help of Columbia Teacher’s College in New York.
Photo courtesy of Pali Adventures, Running Springs, California
August 28, 2013
As you get back into the routine of the school year, of driving morning carpools and coordinating afternoon extracurriculars and homework, you will likely continue to hear “At camp, we . . . ” stories trickling into conversation at the dinner table or in the car. The reality is that it can take months for a child (and the staff, too!) to truly process the effects and experience of summer camp. Children process experiences using many different techniques and almost every technique utilizes some form of communication.
Perhaps your children like to draw and you find they are drawing more pictures of plants, animals, and other natural features.
Perhaps your children are writers and you find they are spending more time with their journals writing stories, poems, and plays using words like “Coolsville,” “waste not, want not,” and “seefar.”
Maybe your child is a performer and he continues to act like characters that sound a lot like Ortman, Scruffy, Selena, and Dr. Dodo.
If your child is a musician, you may have heard her endlessly plucking away at the piano or guitar trying to figure out the chords to “Wagon Wheel” or “Paradise” or “Mud.”
For the children who are analytical thinkers, you may find them withdrawing to a corner of nature in the yard or neighborhood to simply feel the familiarity of the sense of place and connection to the earth.
For the children that are talkers, you wonder how it is even possible for your child to still have new stories to tell about camp or how she is still glowing when she tells that same story from when she took a leap off the swim dock to catch a frisbee.
One of the special aspects of camp is that children have their own world and experiences that you, as a parent, only get to see through the child’s point of view. And though their camp experience may be incredibly personal to them, they often desperately want you to approve of their experiences and to share their many accomplishments with you. There may be no photograph of your child going off the zip-line; however, their recollection of it is clearer in their mind than any hi-definition, Go-Pro footage that could have possibly captured it. Your child wants you to SEE that incredible picture he paints with his words. The best ways to validate their explanations and stories are to a) ask questions about their experiences and b) simply repeat what they said.
What kind of questions should I ask?
How did it feel? Who shared this experience with you? What did you need to accomplish that goal/have that experience? What did your counselors say? What did your friends say? What did you tell your friends? Would you do that again? How would you do it differently next time? Share with me more about this.
Simply repeat what they said?
Yes, that’s right! Simply repeat what they said. Your child is telling you about the salamander she painted on the new bus. After she has finished her story you say, “So you are saying that you used red and black paint to create a salamander that is going to be on the bus forever?” Children often find that adults do not completely listen to what they say, so by repeating — almost word for word — what they just heard, it communicates that you value their story, so much so that it was worthy of repeating. (And children, believe it or not, value repetition — thus why the “knock, knock, who is there, banana” joke is a classic!) From there you can ask leading questions that accentuate the value of the experience they have shared with you, “So does that mean that campers that come after you will get to see YOUR creativity with YOUR salamander?”
Another strategy for repeating what they have said is the DLP method. Define the behavior (repeat what they said), label it (say what character/personality trait it displays) and praise the behavior. “You painted a salamander on the bus. That must have required creativity and attention to detail. Those are wonderful traits for you to have.”
The more your children feel that you “get” what they are telling you, the more they will share with you.
Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc, Meridian, Texas
July 21, 2013
One of the greatest treasures of a camp experience is the bond formed between campers and their counselors. Not only do campers receive a bounty of fun times and memories with their favorite counselor, but they also take steps on a developmental path that leads to a healthy, happy future.
Research from school psychologist and adolescent counselor Stephen Wallace, MS Ed, shows the importance of role model and mentor relationships:
- 46 percent of teens with a mentor reported a high "sense of self," versus 25 percent of teens without a mentor.
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Learning from Experience
According to author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, in his New York Times online article, “Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents”:
- Children love to learn but get tired of being taught by adults.
- Children want to learn from older children —older campers, C.I.T.’s (counselors in training) and camp counselors.
- In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where kids can really do this.
Comfort Relying on Other Adults
Author and psychologist Madeline Levine, PhD, says:
- At camp, kids learn the value of relying on adults other than their parents.
- Having “go-to” people out in the world can broaden a child’s horizons.
- Kids who are capable of relying on other adults find success when away from home — for example, going to college.
July 11, 2013
Kids come home from camp with lots of stories — games they played, meals they ate, and, most importantly, friendships they formed. Often times, the relationships formed at camp have a lifelong impact on a camper’s life. Having special camp friends is not only fun and eye-opening for campers, but it’s also critical to their well-being. According to psychologist Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, “a person’s happiness is best predicted by the breadth and the depth of their social connections — their ties to other people. Camp gives kids a wonderfully rich opportunity to extend both the breadth and depth of their relationships.”
ACA research supports the idea that campers extend their connections at camp. 96 percent of campers say, “camp helped me make new friends,” and 94 percent say, “camp helped me get to know other campers who were different from me.” Quality camp providers set the stage for intentionally increasing friendship skills in their campers by ensuring staff manage group dynamics, form unique relationships with each camper, and encourage a positive environment.
The concept of the camp experience — where campers are away from the regular social structures of school and home life — enables campers to be who they truly are, contributing to the authenticity of their relationships. Also, being away from parents and finding role models in older campers and counselors is an incredibly identity-forming experience. When campers share that amazing experience with the other kids in their community, it’s no wonder camp friendships often have such a lasting and meaningful place in campers’ hearts!
For more on friendship outcomes of the camp experience:
- What Is It about Camp Friendships?
- Camper Outcomes Increase Regardless of Session Length: Beyond Anecdotal Evidence of Increased Competence, Independence, and Friendship Skills
- Directions: Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience
- Research Notes: Facilitating the Art of Friendship
Photo courtesy of Camp Courageous, Monticello, Iowa
June 30, 2013
In the heat of summer, camps are accustomed to taking precautions to ensure the safety and comfort of campers when temperatures get extreme. Drinking plenty of water, moving more “active” programming to times when it is cooler, encouraging use of sunscreen, and training staff to recognize signs of heat-related illness are ways that camps make sure that kids are having fun while in the sun.
You can partner with camps during times of extreme heat by talking about the following CDC recommendations with your camper before camp:
- Drink Plenty of Fluids — When weather is especially hot, increasing fluid intake is essential, regardless of your activity level. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16–32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. This does not include liquids that contain large amounts of sugar — these actually cause the loss of more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen — Lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing is ideal. Sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids, not to mention can cause discomfort! When outdoors, wear SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.
Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California
June 14, 2013
ACA recently teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in an effort to keep getting more kids outdoors, reaping the benefits of nature experiences.
Camp is one of the best places for kids to experience nature, and a whopping 71 percent of camps intentionally target programs to connect children with nature and the outdoors (ACA's 2011 Sites, Facilities, and Programs Report). Time in the outdoors is great for unstructured, creative play and discovery opportunities, as well as moments to unwind and de-stress away from a screen. (Read more about the benefits of nature here.)
This June 22, the whole family can enjoy an outdoor experience by participating in NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout. When you register for free, you’ll receive instant access to NWF’s brand-new Camping Guide, chock-full of fun activities, great recipes, camping tips, and more!
ACA camps across the country are also registering for the Campout — so join the outdoor movement today and enjoy a night under the stars with your family!
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado.
May 30, 2013
Summer Learning Day is Friday, June 21, 2013! Sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), Summer Learning Day is a national advocacy day to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth in helping close the achievement gap and support healthy development in communities across the country.
Camp is the most comprehensive summer learning environment there is! Kids enjoy healthy doses of: experiential learning, inquiry, activity and nutritious meals, skill acquisition, relationship building, and more — all while having fun!
The following are some summer learning facts from NSLA. Your child can make the most of summer by enjoying a camp experience, and there is a camp for every child and every budget. For ACA’s Find a Camp database, expert advice, planning tips, and more, visit CampParents.org.
- It is important for every child to learn during summer to avoid losing skills they have gained during the school year.
- There are free or low-cost resources available for summer learning any family can use — check out NSLA's Summer Learning Day for Families Resources.
- High-quality summer programs can help disadvantaged children avoid summer learning loss and even register gains that will keep them on track for high-school graduation and productive careers.
- Summer is also a time that puts nutrition at risk for disadvantaged children. They are more likely to gain weight during summer without structured activity and balanced meals.
- Many of the school children who qualify for federally funded meals during the school year do not have access to those meals in summer.
- Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
- Summer learning programs are a cost-effective vehicle for boosting school-year achievement that school districts can accomplish at a high level in a variety of ways, even in a very tight economy.
- Summer learning programs will be instrumental in building a competitive 21st century economy.
- Summer is an untapped space for instructional innovation that can transform teaching and learning all year and help prepare all students for both the Common Core standards and college.
- As more children than ever slide into poverty, summer learning programs are an important link in the safety net, supporting their development with healthy meals and physical activity that in turn increases their readiness to learn.
Photo courtesy of Tom Sawyer Camps, Altadena, California
May 24, 2013
Before summer starts, make sure your camper is geared up — literally! — for all the fun activities at camp. Here are some tips when it comes to packing:
- Pack Light — Remember your camper will be living out of a duffel bag, trunk, or suitcase for the duration. Packing light helps campers keep track of items and guarantees that they can handle their own luggage at camp.
- Check Camp Packing Lists — Individual camps should provide a recommended camp packing list, complete with any required equipment, preferred footwear, etc. Be sure to carefully review what is needed, paying special attention to those items that may not be permitted at camp.
- Label, Label, Label — Laundry pens, iron-on labels, and press and stick labels will distinguish your camper’s belongings from those of other cabin or tent mates. Most camps ask that you label each item, including clothing, personal items, and toiletries. Make sure that your child can identify the label used.
- Wear Those Shoes! — Make sure that your child’s clothing and footwear are comfortable and appropriate. Sending a camper in brand-new hiking boots can result in sore feet and time spent sitting out of exciting activities.
- Plan Together — Decisions about camp, like what to pack, should be made together. The more ownership your camper has in these decisions, the easier the adjustment and transition to camp will be.
Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina
May 20, 2013
You’ve done your research, worked as a family to find the right camp for your child’s experience, and signed up your camper for the experience of a lifetime! Naturally, leading up to the big “First Day of Camp,” he or she might have questions, just like the first day of school. Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings, and use this guide for talking about camp with your first-time camper!
Who will be my friends?
Reassure your camper that camp is all about making new friends! Some campers know each other from past summers or from school, but many come to camp in order to meet new friends. Camp counselors will help him or her make friends the very first day of camp. It's nice to have winter friends and summer friends — other kids with whom your camper shares special experiences.
Who will help me have fun at camp? How do they know how to care for me?
Group or bunk counselors are selected because they love working with kids. In fact, counselors are one of the best parts of camp! They are trained before camp begins to help campers have a good time, make new friends, and enjoy a variety of activities. Their job is to help campers have fun, be safe, and know their limits. They spend a lot of time before camp learning to do all these things for campers. And they love to have fun, too!
What if I have a problem?
There are lots of people at camp, besides counselors, to help take care of campers, depending on what they need. Let campers know that there is a nurse or a doctor if they don't feel well, and a special place, sometimes called a health center, to rest until they are better. Campers can count on the grownups that are at camp to help them with any problem they may have.
Will I be alright while I’m away from home?
Remind your camper of other times in his or her life that were spent away from home — sleepovers, a weekend a grandma’s, or even class trips. There’s no pressure to be anything but yourself at camp! The main point is just to relax and have fun. Remember to stay excited and positive about the camp experience. Talking at length about how much you will miss your camper can increase his or her anxiety. BONUS: Send a familiar object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, with your camper. Send a letter or card in advance for your child to have the first day of camp.
For more tips on preparing for camp, visit www.CampParents.org.
Photo courtesy of Camp Kupugani, Leaf River, Illinois