Parents Place

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.

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June 24, 2014

Guest post by Diana K. Rice, RD, staff dietitian of The Kids Cook Monday.

As any parent knows, equipping kids with the life skills they’ll need to make good decisions and live independently is among the primary goals of parenting. But we usually think of this as a long-term goal instilled indirectly by our day-to-day actions. So in the hustle of preparing kids for a few weeks away at overnight camp — what to pack, how to stay in touch, what to do if they feel homesick — the realization that your child will need to rely on those good decision-making skills right now without you around can come as quite a jolt to many parents.

Of course, campers will still have their counselors to help guide their decisions and keep them safe. But what about that tricky buffet line that kids must navigate for themselves, often piled high with tempting options like chocolate chip pancakes, hot dogs, and chicken tenders? Surely summer camp is a time to allow your kids to let loose a bit and indulge in the occasional popsicle and s’more, but with a little planning — and a lot of open communication — you can also help your child make healthy food choices away from home.

Start by researching your camp’s food options. Many camps post a typical menu on their websites, but if you can’t find it there, call the camp and ask for a description of the offerings or sample menu. Then try these strategies:

  • Determine the “always” and “sometimes” foods. Sit down with your child to talk about the food options you’ve researched. Start by asking him what he’s excited about eating and how the experience will be different from eating at home. Overnight camp is a time for children to express their independence, so be careful not to emphasize that your child must follow exactly the same eating pattern your family does at home. If your camper has indicated that he’s excited about options that aren’t ideal for everyday consumption, work together to determine the “always” foods, such as fruit, vegetables, plain milk and yogurt, and baked chicken, as well as the “sometimes” foods: fried foods, desserts, and the like. Together, come up with a number of “sometimes” choices that you both feel is reasonable, be it once a day, three times a week, or “anything goes” Fridays.
  • Discuss balanced meals. Common offerings such as cereal, granola, or pancakes can all be healthy breakfast choices, but they don’t represent a balanced meal all by themselves. Use a tool such as MyPlate to discuss all the elements of a healthy meal, especially produce, grains, and protein. Then go back to your camp’s menu to see what combinations you and your child can come up with. Emphasize that choosing items from multiple food groups at each meal isn’t simply because it’s “healthy,” but rather because it will give your child the energy to engage in all of the fun activities the camp offers throughout the rest of the day.
  • Go for a practice run. Although many camps now offer well-stocked salad bars, children may shy away from this offering if they’ve never been tasked with preparing their own salad at home or school. Go on an outing to a local salad bar and put together your own balanced salad plates. Talk about healthy strategies such as including a rainbow of colors and using a light hand with “extras” such as cheese, croutons, dressing, and salted items.

In your communication with your child while she’s away, ask if she’s enjoying the food and whether she’s discovered any new favorites. And when your child returns home, keep the camp experience alive by maintaining at least one new food tradition from camp. If the camp your child attended offered cooking classes, such as those supported by the free resources The Kids Cook Monday provides to camps, be certain to keep that practice up at home, as cooking and dining with kids in the home environment provides a multitude of benefits. No cooking classes at your child’s camp? Ask her which foods she most enjoyed from the camp’s dining hall, then visit for a searchable collection of child-friendly recipes to cook together. Now breathe — I’m confident your little eater will do just fine this summer!

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.

June 10, 2014

Results from ACA’s latest Emerging Issues Survey are in!

The camp experience has been around for more than 150 years, and camps are constantly evolving to meet the needs of today’s kids and families. Check out what camps are doing to help today’s kids thrive!

Click to ​enlarge


May 28, 2014

Camp Echo

Guest post by Stacey Ebert

An event planner by day, I got a call to meet with the new executive director of my former sleep-away camp on planning events for its ninetieth anniversary. I couldn’t help but think of all of the people who have passed through the wooden doors of those cabins all those years. It’s May in New York and summer is on its way. Students are studying for finals, parents are making packing lists, staff members are connecting with friends on social media, all with one common thread . . . CAMP.

Ninety years. Visited a few times a year by school groups or conferences, those wooden cabins wait patiently and anxiously for the arrival of hundreds of boys and girls every summer. Do they know just how loved and revered they truly are? A staff member told me the new director is thinking of changing the color of the wood, and the first thing I thought of was, “You know you’ll cover over the sharpie makers of the names drawn each summer, right?”

Ninety years. It’s amazing to think of just how many people’s lives have been touched by the camp sitting along Sound Avenue in Riverhead, New York. In wanting to help with this reunion, I asked if they thought their alumni list was up to date. One quick blast on social media put out a request for details to be sent to the camp office. What happened next touched my heart. If only the cabins had a Facebook page.

Quickly, there were reposts on pages and sites I didn’t know existed. Names I’d never heard of clicked like and share because camp meant the same thing to them. They slept in those same cabins. They wrote on those same walls, and they tell stories that begin the same way. Song lyrics popped up with one person starting them and another finishing them because we all know the same words. People who were my counselors and bunkmates and even campers popped up with a “like” because someone they knew had passed it along. Too bad the cabins don’t have a Twitter feed.

Those timber walls on that piece of wooded land overlooking the Long Island Sound hold so many hearts. That place filled with spirit, love, teachings, laughter, and fun continues to make memories with campers and staff today. Those cabins that sit idle for ten months a year create a lifetime of memories in just a short two.

Ninety years of camp. Can you imagine just how many people that is? How many lives have been affected and just how many have been shaped by their time at camp? Todays fundraisers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, chefs, volunteers, travelers, and more were yesterdays campers. A reunion will bring back those who were there in camp’s heyday. They’ll come back to walk the paths, climb the beach stairs, eat in the lodge, squeeze hands at a friendship circle, and sing at a council fire. But where they’ll head first is to the cabins. To the place where so many memories were made and so many stories start. The post on Facebook may have gotten the addresses and raised some money, but people will come back for the memory of camp and for the love of the cabins of their youth.

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

Photo courtesy of Camp Echo, Burlingham, New York

May 15, 2014

Guest post by Katie Johnson

As a product of camp, I have always assumed to know a lot about kids, youth development, and, well — parenting. But then, it happened. I became a parent myself. Like most first time parents, I went into the experience with naïve theories on just about everything. The ideas of Richard Louv, Michael Thompson, and Wendy Mogul danced in my head — my child would be connected to nature, skinning his knee would not be an epic crisis, TV was not going to be his babysitter, and his time would not be consumed with structured activities and strictly-supervised schedules.

Fast-forward 5 years — 5 years of two parents working, juggling childcare, preschool, swim lessons, and travel schedules. Add in one-cross country move and the fact that we ARE actually living in the 21st century with e-cards, e-books, e-mail . . . e-everything. And, well, the truth is this: My child does watch TV. He knows how to work the iPad. At one point in time this past winter, schedules overlapped, and he was attending preschool, soccer, basketball, and swim lessons all within the same week. And the first time he skinned his knee, I was ready to call in for an air-lift to the local hospital.

And while I am confident that he does spend more time outside and has less screen time than the average 5 year old in the US, I find myself trying to justify my decision when I say “yes” to the TV or iPad, as if Richard Louv were standing in the room with me. But then I had a moment in which I realized it was all going to be okay. That perhaps I had been able to strike the balance between the e-world in which we live in and the connection to the outdoors that I so want my child to have.

While attending an event at his preschool, I turned and saw my son nestled under the branches of a giant Western Red Cedar with three other children, playing. Playing house, in fact. But there was no doll. The sticks were their props. They had created their own story, their own rules, and their own world. Through the sweeping branches of that cedar, a world had been created by this group of 4- and 5-year-olds that did not need adults. They played all day in this forested corner of the school. As I sat and watched from a distance, I smiled with pride, knowing that this was “it”. This is what we had been striving for. They were playing — pure and simple. No adults directing or structuring their activities, no electronics filling in the spaces for them. Turns out I had not destroyed my son’s young mind with television.

I was reminded at this moment that doing “nothing” is okay. That even though there is this unwritten pressure to structure our kids’ lives, to keep them at the head of the class or the best on the team, there also needs to be a balance of unstructured time. Because doing nothing allows the doors of creativity and imagination to open in a child’s mind. Paper towel tubes become marble tracks, cardboard boxes become the foundation of forts, and the space under a cedar tree becomes a family home.

Parenting is not a perfect science and no parent is perfect. But with everything in life, we must always strive to find balance and it is our role as parents to help our kids find that balance. So while my son will learn discipline and sportsmanship through team sports, he will also learn how to problem solve and collaborate through free, unstructured play. The value of free play has somehow been lost in this e-world, but it is just as important in the development of the 21st century child as anything else. Free, unstructured play allows for the development of creativity, imagination, visioning, independent thinking, collaboration with peers – and so much more. These are the qualities that we want to develop in our kids. So the next time your child says, “I’m bored”, challenge yourself to not turn on the TV or hand them the iPad — I know that I will. Send her outside or give him a cardboard box . . . and then step away and wait for the magic to begin.

Katie Johnson is the executive director of ACA, Southeastern.

Photo courtesy of Katie Johnson

April 9, 2014

Guest post by Brooke Cheley-Klebe

Cheley Colorado Camps

I love those rare moments of parenthood when I am not preparing for the next thing. Most of the time as a parent, I feel as if my day is full of getting something ready. Small things like breakfast, sack lunches, and backpacks. Big things like preparing my children to become productive adults. Our job as a parent is to prep!

It’s spring, and summer camp is on the horizon. Here are some things that you can do to prepare your camper and yourself for camp. 


  • Plan several sleep overs. Resist the urge to pack their bags for them or to check on them while there. If they have a phone, have them leave it at home. This is a good way to practice not having direct or constant contact. 
  • Have them write a good ol’ letter to someone. You will thank me when you receive a letter from camp!
  • Gear up physically. If you have purchased hiking boots, break them in with a long walk.
  • Especially for teenagers, have them take a mini-vacation from their devices. A couple of hours or a weekend.
  • Have them write a statement for their social media pages. “Peace out Facebook, I won’t be sharing my day-by-days with you, I will be at camp.” Your teenager may not post that, but maybe something like it. 
  • Have them write down their goals.
  • Make a homesick plan:
  1. Homesickness isn’t entirely bad. It’s great to love your home. It’s sometimes part of the process, and it’s a confidence booster when a camper gets through it.
  2. Make a happy place plan and write it down. This is an amazing opportunity to learn a life skill. Today’s youth go to technology to escape, and studies show this increases their stress. Some ideas might be: taking 10 deep breaths, traveling to a happy place in your mind, packing a certain stuffed animal, shooting hoops, or tossing a football. They are capable of this independence.
  3. Your plan should NOT be, “Give it a couple of days and if you don’t like it, we will come get you.” This will set them up to give it a couple of days and knock the confidence right out of them.
  4. Let your camper know what to expect with correspondence. You don’t need to write everyday, but let them know what to expect.


  • You are giving your child an incredible gift. I cannot promise you that they won’t lose some socks, that they will love every meal or activity, and that they will adore every counselor. But you are preparing them for college and beyond; you are giving them the freedom to gain confidence, independence, and leadership skills; and you are instilling in them that they can do it.
  • What do YOU want during their time at camp? Think about a vacation, time to organize, time to have one-on-one time with your other children, or some “date nights” with your spouse or friends. 
  • If you have apprehensions, work to resolve them. If you are worried that your camper is not going to know anyone, set up a pre-camp get-together. If you are worried about your camper’s medical needs, become friendly with the camp nurse. If you are anxious about their food allergies, talk to the camp’s head cook. Make a camper-sick plan for yourself. :) Make sure there is only excitement and optimism coming from you, and share your anxiety with another adult.
  • Pack self-addressed envelopes in their luggage.
  • Whether they are flying or driving, refrain from bawling until they can’t see you. Take a deep breath, trust, and remind yourself that you are giving them an awesome gift.

Brooke Cheley-Klebe is the 4th generation to operate Cheley Colorado Camps. She is the proud mom of three girls, Ellie, Kate, and Samantha, and loves being involved in the camp industry.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado

March 21, 2014

Here’s how to choose the right fit and get your child excited about the adventure.

Guest post by Katie Bugbee, Senior Managing Editor,

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado

Overnight camp can be an incredible growing experience for your child. Maybe you went yourself – or you wish you had. But for whatever reason, you just know your child will thrive in cabin-sleepover-living. Now, you need to make sure your child feels the same way.

Making new friends, trying different things, and being independent can seem daunting to some, but preparation can make all the difference. It’ll be a team effort, and yes, there still might be tears at drop-off no matter how prepped you both are. But, these tips can help ensure your child is the one wiping your eyes — instead of the other way around.

  1. Research and Choose a Camp Together
    Talk to your child about what his or her ideal camp would be. Is it focused around one particular interest (soccer, arts, etc.), or a more general experience that caters toward a bunch of activities– as well as introducing new ones (archery, anyone?)? There is also an option of choosing a girls- or boys-only camp, which is perfect for some kids. The more you talk about the idea, the more control over the decision your child will feel, and he or she will be happier with the final decision.

  2. Tour the Camp, in Person or Online
    Camps often post pictures and videos throughout the summer to keep families connected with their children while they're away. Use this as a first look into what activities the camp offers and what the culture looks like. Some camps also offer a longer video of the previous summer to remind campers of good memories and give prospective families a preview of camp life.

    You can schedule an in-person visit at most camps before you make a decision. A staff member will show you around the campus and answer any questions you may have. If your child is nervous about sleeping in a strange place, this is a great opportunity to help them feel comfortable and introduce them to the staff.

  3. Stay Positive and Informed
    As summer gets closer, your child's excitement (and, possibly, anxiety) will grow. Be sure to stay positive about camp and address any concerns immediately, before they become big problems. Check out the camp’s Facebook page if it has one. You'll be able to see campers posting about how excited they are for the upcoming season and you can stay up to date on camp news. This will help your child feel more included in the community before they leave home.
  4. Set Goals of Meeting New People and Trying New Things
    Camp is a time to expand social circles and try new things. Even if your child is timid, they will find themselves stepping out of their comfort zone without even trying. Set some goals together around meeting new people and trying new activities. One example could be "I want to be friendly with everyone in my cabin group" or "I want to swim in the lake." Write these ideas down in a notebook that your child will take to camp so they can be reminded of their goals throughout the summer. And let them know that it’s okay to change these goals mid-way through.

    Also, encourage your child to sign up for activities they know they already love (write these in the notebook too). This will spark friendships with other campers who share the same interests.

  5. Go over the “What-Ifs”
    Chances are your child will experience at least one speed bump in their camp experience. Homesickness is extremely common in the first few weeks and should be discussed beforehand. Write a special note in your child's camp notebook reminding them that you are excited to hear all about their camp adventures when they get home. This lets them know that home is waiting for them at the end of the session and to have fun while they're away. Calling home should always be the last choice since it can make homesickness worse.

    What else can you put in the notebook? Write down solutions to certain problems: getting hurt, feeling sick, having friend trouble. Giving your child written advice on how to navigate potential problems will give them a level of support even if you're not around.

  6. Create Ways to Communicate
    Writing letters home is usually required at most overnight camps. Buy some fun envelopes and stamps to send with your child so they can write home whenever they want. Calling or emailing might be allowed at some camps, but most camps limit phone and computer time to preserve the screen-less environment, especially in the first few weeks.

    If your child is staying for more than two weeks, you might consider sending them a care package with some of their favorite things. Magazines, a craft project, a Mad Libs-type activity book or a new sweatshirt all make great surprises. Check with the camp about sending snack items, though. Most don't allow it because it attracts wildlife to the cabins.

  7. Pack Together
    This is the fun part. Make sure your child brings a few favorite things from home to help get comfortable in their new environment. Then, check the camp website for the packing list which will tell you exactly what your child will need during their stay. Make sure to write your last name on everything you bring. Camp lost-and-founds are overflowing by the end of the summer!

    Another good tip is to write down everything you pack in your camp notebook. That way your child can easily check off items when they pack up to come home. And, don’t forget to pack some waterproof rain gear, warm comfy clothes for campfires, and extra batteries for the flashlight.

Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident global parenting expert of A busy working mother of two, she's an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.

Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado

March 14, 2014

Guest post by Tamsin Andrews

Send your kids to camp.

For your benefit. For theirs.

For the camp and for the campers there.

Send your kids to camp.

At camp, they’ll be a part of a community all their own. They’ll become emotionally attached to burnt rope on their wrist, and have a song for any occasion on cue, and forget how to shower or flush, and think sunscreen is moisturizer. And they won’t bat an eye at the thought that it’s weird.

They’ll fight over who gets to set the table, and 7:00 a.m. no longer sounds absurd to wake up to on a summer morning. They’ll learn to do things on their own, and they’ll learn to rely on others. They’ll learn how to survive on their own for two weeks, and they’ll learn how to help each other through it.

They’ll grow up on summers away from TV, and forget Facebook exists. They’ll relish the joy of sleeping outside, swatting mosquitoes at campfire, swimming everyday. They’ll savor the feeling of pushing water behind them with a paddle, the curl of earth under their feet as they scale a mountain, the whoosh of air behind the tail of an arrow as they fire. They’ll forget about appearances, relish tan lines, recognize the beauty of a smile over anything else.

They’ll strive for a job that fulfills them and pushes them over the final paycheck. Or maybe they’ll labor all June for money to balance the counselor job. Or they’ll leave the camp behind with a heavy heart. Either way, they’ll learn to pick a job they love over the paycheck they want.

They’ll branch out further in life, used to leaving home. They’ll know how to lose track of time, knowing time only by activity change. They’ll appreciate downtime, but love flurries of activity. They’ll be there for one week, two weeks, a month, but it’ll end up influencing their lives.

So send your kids to camp. Send them so they’ll learn to set tables and make beds and wake early. Send them so they’ll know how to be a leader, paddle a canoe, weave a bracelet, and sing as loud as they can. Send your kids to camp so they’ll learn to love, learn to love themselves, and learn to love others. Send your kids to camp because they’ll realize who they are, or who they want to be.

And prepare yourselves for a year of camp stories, and for a flurry of songs. Prepare to learn names of kids you’ve never met. And for your kids to have a need for sunshine, a need for campfires and companionship.

Because camp is an infectious melody, and a life-changing time, and a crazy, indescribable summer.

Send your kids to camp.

For your benefit, for theirs.

Please, send your kids to camp.

Your friendly neighborhood camp kid

Tamsin Andrews has been a camp kid for as long as she can remember. She spends her summers working at Long Bay Camp in Westport, Ontario, and has been attending sleep-away camps since the age of seven. She is currently studying English and creative writing at Dalhousie University, where camp continues to influence her pieces of fiction.

Photo courtesy of Camp Balcones Springs, Marble Falls, Texas

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!

3. Play

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 or

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.,

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 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

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.

3. Empathize
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

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

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

Guest post from Green River Preserve in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. Read the original at

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

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