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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.
July 22, 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.
Please note that the image above is best viewed on Chrome/Firefox.
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 12, 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
July 1, 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
May 8, 2013
ACA and the National Research Center for College & University Admissions™ (NRCCUA®) are collaborating to serve the needs of campers, staff, and their families, especially those interested in college who might otherwise be missed. The NRCCUA is a nonprofit educational research organization that, for forty years, has conducted the largest nationwide survey of high school students and serves as a communications link between college-bound high school students and public and private colleges and universities.
Through this alliance, youth campers and staff who are interested in college planning resources can create their very own online college profiles. This simple two-step process is:
- STEP 1: Complete this brief survey.
- STEP 2: Sign on to MyCollegeOptions.org and access your college planning profile. (You will be given access to your profile after you complete the survey.)
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
April 19, 2013
Guest post by Megan Lawrence, director, Camp Wawayanda
Darkness. The sun has shone in the past couple days . . . but I can’t remember it. Why? Why can’t I remember the warmth of the sun and the music of the spring birds? I swear I remember seeing sunshine on the weather report for this week. How come it is so hard to place my finger on all of the good things that have happened?
Weeks like this make me feel like the sun has forgotten me, that there is very little left in this world to hope for-to believe in. Death and destruction fill our news feeds, prayers and sorrow inundate our lives 140 characters at a time. Pictures and messages are shared and passed at the click of a button. Something about how quickly sorrow spreads and penetrates our lives makes it feel less human.
My mind trails back to another dark week, one in 1995 — I was eight years old, waiting to walk to school, sitting at a neighbor’s house. We must have been watching morning cartoons . . . breaking news, a bomb had gone off somewhere far away. In the days following there was a picture on the front of our news paper that will be burned into my mind for years to come — a firefighter carrying a child. I’m sure I wept — scared, I don’t remember for certain — but I will never forget how dark that week was. That darkness didn’t last.
Fast forward four years. I was twelve. I don’t remember much about this week except racing home to watch TRL only to find breaking news being reported that there has been a horrific shooting at a school in Colorado. A school. Students — like me. In the days that followed this event adults talked to us about safety and school — I remember a tension in the air, convinced I would be scared forever that this could happen to me. That dark week ended though . . . we carried on.
I could easily comment on the days leading up to and following that awful day in September. Despite being old enough to understand the weight and the magnitude of the horror and devastation of that event — I was old enough to talk about it, and to reflect on it, and to try my very best to wrap my almost adult brain around it. The events above are burned into my brain because I was just a child.
We can’t protect youth from these dark weeks, when someone steals away the good and the warmth — our sunshine. These weeks are sadly going to happen. I think the adults in my life at the time did everything they could to shield me from the horrors of the Oklahoma City bombing and the school shooting in Colorado. I am lucky that the memories I have are limited to a few disturbing images and details of the events.
When the events of this week began to unfold and millions of statuses were filling news feeds across this world, a need to say something haunted me. But what was there say? How do we make sense of things that just don’t make sense?
After a few days of reflection and prayer I have determined that the only thing left is to continue to reflect and pray. Here lies my reflection and also my worry. I worry that in the stress and the sorrow and the darkness of this week we are leaving children exposed to images and details that will haunt their developing minds. The images and details are haunting me — an adult.
It isn’t just about shielding children — there is more. This week nearly stripped me of my optimism. I had forgotten how to hope but was reminded that truly all is lost when the adults of this world forget this essential skill. We are responsible for teaching hope and optimism and during dark weeks like this . . . it isn’t easy.
So then we teach our children how to mourn for our neighbors, and grieve for someone we’ve never met. We teach them how to pray or send positive vibes and energy — we teach them how to love. We teach them how to help people in need, we teach them how to be brave, and in the end — we do every.thing.in.our.power to restore their optimism and resilience because without these things moving forward is nearly impossible. We teach them how to hope and to appreciate the sunny days, because in the end it is the hope and the sun that gets us through these dark weeks.
Megan Lawrence grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan and has nine years of experience working with youth in the camping field. Megan has been a part of the Frost Valley Summer Camp Team since 2008, acting as the assistant program director for two summers, as program director for one summer, and, now as the Wawayanda director. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in Natural Resource Based Recreation from Michigan State University and is currently working to complete her masters in Youth Development Leadership through Clemson University. See the original post on Lawrence’s blog, I was the last child . . . .
Photo courtesy of Camp Pathway, Macon, Georgia
January 28, 2013
Many parents are starting the search for their child’s perfect summer camp experience NOW. With over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps nationwide, parents have many options. Along with choices like location, session-length, and budget, here are a few things to consider as you make an informed decision:
- Philosophy and Program Emphasis —Ask questions about learning approaches, how behavioral and disciplinary problems are addressed, and how adjustment issues are handled.
- Training and Education — Don’t be shy about asking for the education and background of the camp director and staff. At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision. Families should ask about camper-to-staff ratios and supervision in cabins and for various activities, like swimming and athletics.
- Special Needs — For a child with special requirements, parents should ask the camp director about needed provisions and facilities, nursing staff, the storage of medicines, and special dietary needs.
- References — Asking for references is generally one of the best ways to check a camp's reputation and service record. Ask if the camp is accredited. If not, ask why. ACA accreditation is the best evidence parents have of a camp's commitment to the health and safety of campers.
- Involve the Camper —The more involved children are in the process, the more ownership they feel. This helps ease concerns about camp, and can ultimately help make a child’s camp experience more successful.
Ultimately, it is important for families to remember that they know their child best, and are best able to determine which camp experience is right. By visiting ACA’s family resource site, www.CampParents.org, families have access to the Find a Camp search, tips for planning a camp experience, expert advice, and research.
Photo courtesy of Skyline Camp and Retreat Center, Almont, Michigan
December 17, 2012
In her latest blog post, with the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy fresh on her mind and heart, American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith asks herself, "Am I doing enough?" to create a world that fosters community and values learning about and understanding others. Smith shares her thoughts on creating a world of humility, civility, and human connection by demonstrating those very traits.
December 11, 2012
Give the gift of camp! A quality camp experience is a real-life version of what kids want from video games and toys — fun, adventure, excitement — and so much more!
Character and Developmental Skills
Camp is an experience that will last a lifetime — from memories to friendships to newfound hobbies. Kids certainly learn a lot about themselves while at camp, and according to research, they also gain critical social, emotional, resiliency, and teamwork skills:
- 96% of campers said: “Camp helped me make new friends.”
- 93% of campers said: “Camp helped me to get to know kids who are different than me.”
- 92% of campers said: “The people at camp helped me feel good about myself.”
- 74% of campers said: “At camp, I did things I was afraid to do at first.”
Campers also come away with powerful lessons in self-awareness, citizenship, responsible decision making, leadership skills, and developing health and wellness behaviors.
Grit: The Skill for Success
Did you know that studies have shown “grit” — tenacity and stick-to-itiveness — to be the leading predicator of achieving success at the highest levels? Camp is one of the best places on earth to learn “grit”! In experiential learning environments like camp, where kids take action, are challenged, and are supported in their efforts to “try, try again,” they learn what it takes to succeed.
This holiday season, give the gift of camp to your child, grandchild, or a deserving child who might not otherwise be able to afford it (through ACA’s Send a Child to Camp Fund). When you do, you’ll really be giving the gift of fun, character, and success.
Visit ACA’s Find a Camp database to search for the perfect camp experience.
Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina
October 5, 2012
Health and safety at camp has always been a top priority for the American Camp Association (ACA). Recently, ACA's Healthy Camp Study, which monitored injuries and illnesses at camp — and developed prevention strategies for injury/illness occurances — was recognized by the Center for Association Leadership's 2012 Summit Award.
Watch the video below to learn more!
About the Healthy Camp Study
In 2006, ACA partnered with Markel Insurance Company to embark on a five-year surveillance project to benchmark camp-related injury and illness in U.S. camps. Over 200 day and resident camps were involved in this project — the most comprehensive study of camper and staff injury and illness ever conducted. The results of this study are summarized in the Healthy Camp Study Impact Report. (Strategies for injury and illness prevention in camps are highlighted beginning on page 24.)
September 11, 2012
Many campers have returned home for the remainder of summer, and you may have noticed something about their behavior — their manners!
The entire camp experience is made of teachable moments, and perhaps one of the biggest is how to live with a group of people. Campers learn to pick up after themselves, respect each other’s property, and say “Please” and “Thank You.”
Keep your camper’s good habits alive long after the summer is over:
- Remember to Remind — When campers come home, they often keep the spirit of camp alive for a week or two, and then things trail off. Use positive reinforcement to remind campers that you appreciate the positive attitude and willingness to help that they developed at camp.
- Become Camp-Like — Families can set the example by demonstrating a willingness to change something at home in order to sustain some of the changes campers have made. Bob Ditter, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, suggests: "Parents have to make a decision. Are they willing to change something in their practice at home in order to sustain some of the changes their kids have made, such as having a job wheel that you put up on the wall outlining chores?"
- Everyone Gets a Say — At camp, children help determine how their day is spent. Their advice is actively sought, and they feel like equal players. Emulating this environment at home allows them to continue to stand up for themselves and feel like a contributing member of the household.
- Avoid the Negative Compliment — Don't inadvertently sabotage efforts by pointing out differences in behavior. Instead of saying, "you never did this before," praise the behaviors in a genuine way. For example, "I noticed how patient you were with your little brother."
Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children will be celebrated nationwide on Monday, September 24. Take the opportunity to sit down with the whole family and reinforce your child’s good camp habits during the meal:
- Let your child help choose what’s for dinner (something healthy, maybe even a favorite meal from camp!)
- Ask your child to help set the table and clear the dishes — and ask them how the camp handled these tasks
- Use the meal time interaction to talk about favorite camps stories, songs, friends, and even plans for next summer
- Thank your child for helping with the dinner, and compliment his or her responsible habits
Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua near Everett, Washington
August 13, 2012
In today’s world, parents can feel external pressure to make sure children are involved in the “right” activities, get into the “right” schools or classes, and — oh yeah — that they’re having fun, too!
But what if there is a way to instill independence and ownership in children — not to mention, resiliency — so that they want to achieve their own brand of success and navigate an ever-changing world? Camp experiences are excellent ways for children to learn these skills.
And those same experiences — where children learn to take healthy risks, make friends, and live as their own individuals within a supportive community — benefit parents, too! When children are at camp, new parenting perspectives abound.
In a recent interview for TIME’s Healthland, author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, says that for parents who feel they must be “constantly supervising and monitoring," sending a child to camp "throws you up against your own philosophy and habits of constant supervision and control. When you send your child to camp, you have to give that up.”
New studies are finding that intensive parenting — defined as “being involved in every aspect of a child’s life” and always putting your child's needs before your own — can be detrimental to the mental health of parents, specifically mothers.
But when children are at camp, knowing they’re in a developmentally appropriate setting and thriving all on their own alleviates the pressure many parents may feel to be overly involved.
It’s time to add parents to the list of those who gain positive development from a camp experience — a win/win for parents and children!
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado