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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August 6, 2012

For many families, it’s back-to-school time. So along with those camp friends and songs, encourage your camper-student to remember the skills he or she learned this summer. These skills are sure to get the school year started off right and help your child thrive all year long! 

  • Confidence — All through the camp experience, children and youth have tried new activities and been successful; they feel empowered.
  • Curiosity — Camp has given children and youth the chance to explore, study, and observe in an experiential learning environment.
  • Character — Camp has challenged children and youth to develop character — through fostering respect for each other, a sense of community, and the ability to solve problems.

Watch American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith explain the benefits of these camp-learned skills in the classroom!

Photo courtesy of Camp Doodles in San Francisco and Marin, California.

July 18, 2012

If you’re feeling the blues while your child is away at camp — or anticipating the day they leave for camp with a little sadness — you’re not alone. In fact, even President Obama feels this way about sending his daughters to camp!

Both First Daughters, Malia and Sasha, will be at overnight camp for a month this summer — adding President and Mrs. Obama to the millions of American parents who annually choose a summer camp experience for their children — even if it means being a little “kidsick” while the kids are away from home.

As Malia enjoys her second summer at camp, and Sasha becomes a new camper, the President recently admitted to feeling a little “depressed” while his girls are away. Camp professionals and child psychologists have described parents’ feelings when children leave as “kidsickness” — akin to the normal feelings of “homesickness” that a majority of children feel when leaving home. (Read more about coping with “kidsickness.”)

ACA offers parents strategies for coping with these emotions at www.CampParents.org — where they will also learn that overcoming separation anxiety is a healthy part of youth development and just one of the many benefits children gain with a summer camp experience.

“The Obamas’ decision to send Malia to camp again, and to send Sasha to camp for the first time, sends a very positive message to parents,” says American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith. “Camp is a safe and supportive environment where children can develop authentic relationships, unplug from technology, connect with nature, and participate in human-powered activities. Camp allows children to relax and enjoy just being kids. There is a camp experience for every child, whether they live in the White House or anywhere in America. More than 10 million children will attend camp this summer, and the ACA community of more than 9,000 members hopes that all parents will be inspired to learn more about camp and give their children the gift of camp.”
 

July 12, 2012

Guest post by Audrey Monke

“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
Michael Thompson, PhD, Homesick and Happy

Recently I spoke with a mom whose eleven-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list — so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.

Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and just yesterday had a CIT (Counselor in Training) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.

This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety. Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.

Without further ado, here are some messages to give to your anxious camper:

  • Let them know that missing home is okay.
    You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.

 

  • Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs.
    There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.

 

  • Talk with your child honestly about the importance of starting to develop some independence. In Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson writes, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life . . . If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
    Something along the lines of: It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.

 

  • Share the reality that many good things in life come with some pain and failure. If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share.
    Something along the lines of: Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!

 

  • Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.
    Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a knee board? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.

 

  • Let them know that you are confident in them.
    I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this. (If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.)

 

  • If your camper asks you if you will pick him up if he’s sad, you need to let him know that you are not going to pick him up early.
    Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.

I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages, but instead, choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child. What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience. These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.

I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings. Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer. Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp. If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.

Adapted from Audrey’s original blog post at Sunshine Parenting.

Audrey Monke and her husband Steve have owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-three years. They are raising their own five campers (ages 8–18) at home. Audrey writes about camp and parenting at sunshineparenting.wordpress.com.

June 19, 2012

At camp, some kids practice sports, some practice instruments, and some practice their belly flops. But one thing that ALL campers practice is independence!

Camp provides a nurturing and safe environment for kids to face challenges on their own, and that can be incredibly constructive to a child’s character.

In a recent Washington Post interview, author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, put it this way: “I think camp is the best emotional preparation for a successful college experience, because you practice being on your own, keeping track of your clothes; you practice living in a community and getting along with roommates you don’t love — all of the skills you need for true independence.”

And when kids have had the experience of overcoming a challenge on their own, it gives them a positive memory to draw from when facing future obstacles; say, preparing for that really big math test or interviewing for that first job.

This summer, campers will certainly have an experience that lasts a lifetime — discovering their own strength!

Read more from Michael Thompson in his recently released book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.

Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas.

May 31, 2012

Guest post by Missy Schenck       

The first time I went away to summer camp I had just finished the third grade. All first-year campers have nagging doubts about their summer away from home and I was no exception. 

I love sharing my very first summer camp experience (fifty years ago this summer) because I was so homesick that I thought I was going to die. It was entirely possible for me to average at least four good cries a day that first week or so. I’ve shared this story summer after summer with our homesick campers. 

When I was growing up, parents were not helicopter parents; in fact, they were quite the opposite. Children were put on trains and buses and sent to camp and we said good-bye at the station. Parents did not make our bunks or put away our clothes. Our counselors helped us. If we were homesick, parents were not so quick to come get us. The possibility of calling home was out of the question. We were at camp for the duration; in other words . . . SUCK IT UP!

My counselor’s name was Harriett, but I called her Rebecca. I thought she looked like a Rebecca, and I loved that name, so I called her Rebecca. Now that I know more about counselor duties, Harriett-Rebecca was a saint to have tolerated and survived my homesickness. I’m sure she had stories to tell throughout the summer. 

Homesickness can be unbearable! Raining every single day for two weeks makes it worse. It rained and it rained until I thought it could not possibly rain any more . . . and it did. The canvas roofs on the platform tents were sagging from the weight of the rain water and they began to leak. All of our clothes and bedding stayed damp. We could not put things on the clothes line because . . . it was raining. Trekking to the outhouse in the rain at night was not fun!

The arts and crafts supplies had not arrived in time for my session. Arts and crafts could have saved me — maybe — anything creative was fun for me (I even became an art major later), especially indoors on a rainy day. The swimming pool was closed because of the rain, thunder, and lightening. We played a lot of indoor games — we exhausted our counselors. We learned to cook; I learned to make one of my all time favorite trail snacks — a cored apple filled with peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisins.   Still love it! Nothing seemed to cure my homesickness . . . it just got worse as the days went on.

Excessive rain, thunder, and lightening yielded to extended rest hours . . . the worst thing in the world for a homesick camper.  Rest hour and bedtime are a big catalyst for homesickness and tears. It’s a time for reading, writing letters home, being quiet, and missing your parents. I wrote multiple letters a day to my parents and wrote AIR MAIL all over them. I was certain that this would ensure a speedy delivery for my letters to our home about fifty miles away. I knew once my parents got these letters they would come for me. WRONG!

Finally, after about a week and no word from my parents, I was convinced that I must have done something terrible to warrant this horrible punishment of summer camp or worse . . . something had happened to them! A week soon moved on to a second week and the rain continued. One day, I realized there were only about three days left in the camp session. The end was in sight.  WOW! I was surviving. I could make it to the end. I stopped crying. Three days was no time at all . . . I might as well have some fun . . . and I did. 

One of my bunk mates brought a baritone ukulele to camp with her. I listened to her play "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" over and over every day of camp. I knew all the words to the song. I loved to sing. I wanted to know how to play her ukulele, so I could sing and play one, too. I asked her if she would teach me, and she did. I was hooked!  

Oh, how sad it is to leave camp at the end of the session. The tears flowing at the last lakeside candlelight service is proof you are a dyed-in-the-wool camper for life. These tears are only matched by the ones shed as the bus pulls away from camp.  

For Christmas that year, I asked for a baritone ukulele. I thought I would just die if Santa did not bring me one. He did. I was determined to learn as many songs as I could, so I practiced and I practiced and I sang and I sang. I drove everyone in our household crazy with the exception of our maid, Irene, who loved me best of all and just told me to keep on singing and playing. 

Peter, Paul, and Mary led the top ten of my repertoire. I was destined for stardom . . . even better . . . I was destined to go back to summer camp and share this new talent of mine . . . and I did. I was never homesick again.  

Missy Schenk is the executive director of Green River Preserve in Cedar Mt., North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Camp Wawenock in Raymond, Maine.

May 23, 2012

Photo courtesy of Trailside Discovery Camp in Anchorage, Alaska.

Stargazing in the night sky, hiking in an ancient forest, even just feeling the breeze on a warm day — these simple things help kids find peace of mind, wonder, and a greater connection to the world. Camp is one of the best places (and in some cases, the only place) for kids to be nurtured by nature!

Time spent in nature — away from a screen — benefits kids in so many ways:

  • Mental: Studies have shown that time spent in nature improves cognitive functioning.
  • Physical: Playing outdoors gets kids off the couch and moving, helping them reach (and often exceed!) their recommended 60 minutes of activity time per day.
  • Emotional: Studies have shown that nature reduces stress, and it allows for opportunities of self-discovery.

(Read more about these benefits and others in “Nature, Childhood, Health and Life Pathways” by Jules Pretty, et al. — a 2009 report from University of Essex.)

Nature is also a great way to “come up for air” in our technology-saturated world. In a recent blog, bestselling author Richard Louv relates that while some aspects of technology can be fun and beneficial, recent studies show there are serious cognitive and emotional detriments to a world without nature!

There's no escaping some "screen time" in kids' lives, but here's the good news: Researchers have found that when children are exposed to free play in nature at a young age, they are likely to make a lifelong connection with the outdoors. Kids might think they are just having fun at the waterfront, under the trees, or on the hill — but they are really forming a bond with nature that will offer renewal and life skills for the rest of their lives!

Photo courtesy of Trailside Discovery Camp in Anchorage, Alaska.

May 14, 2012

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” — Dale Carnegie

Did you know that when your kids have the chance to engage in free, unstructured play, they’re actually developing skills that are vital to their success?

In a recent report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defended free and unstructured play as an essential piece of helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. The report also says that kids learn to manage stress and become more resilient through free play.

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, kids need strong foundations from which to solve problems, communicate effectively, and think innovatively. This summer, you can give your kids those developmental foundations while they are having fun — and because they are having fun — at camp!

Read more about learning that takes place outside the classroom in CEO Peg Smith's recent LA Family article.

Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua near Everett, Washington.

April 26, 2012

Guest post by Audrey Monke

In her best-selling book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel discusses the importance of letting kids take healthy risks and allowing them to experience failure. Camp offers a great opportunity for kids to do exactly what Mogel recommends.

When a camper says they “can’t” or “don’t want to” do an activity, counselors encourage them to give the activity a try. Following are three of the reasons why we believe campers benefit from trying their least favorite camp activity.

Previous Negative Experience

One reason a camper may not want to try an activity is because they’ve had a previous negative experience with the activity, usually not at camp and not with experienced instructors. Falling off a horse, being dragged behind a ski boat and not getting up, or going on an excessively long hike, are all examples of negative experiences that make a person naturally inclined not to want to try again. Trying the activity at camp could lead to either a changed mind (and a new activity they like), or, at the very least, a not-as-negative experience to remember.

Fear!

Fear of being humiliated. Fear of failure. Fear of heights. Fear of deep lake water. Fear of rocks. Fear of going to the bathroom in the woods. Fear of getting hurt. The list could go on.

If a camper doesn't want to do an activity because of fear, then trying the activity could be the most life-changing event that occurs for that camper during his or her camp stay. Overcoming fears, and challenging oneself to attempt something that seems impossible, can lead to great feelings of accomplishment and improved confidence. With the support and encouragement from cabin mates and counselors, campers feel on top of the world after successfully trying something they feared. The camp environment offers a supportive place for kids to learn how to overcome fears and accomplish things they didn't think were possible.

“I’m bad at that.”

Finally, another reason kids don't want to try an activity is because, based on their perception of themselves, they think they won't like it or be good at it.

A camper who sees himself as non-athletic and more adept at target sports may shy away from the more physical activities, yet trying and accomplishing them could change his perception of himself in a positive way. A camper who sees herself as a shopping-obsessed city girl and not an outdoorsy person may dread going on a backpacking trip. Yet, the experience of cooking and sleeping outdoors could lead to an appreciation for something new and a realization that she can have more than one aspect to her preferences and personality.

Sometimes, the activity a camper thought would be their least favorite becomes a favorite. So, when a camper tells us all the reasons why they "don't want to” or "can't" do an activity this summer, we will continue to encourage them to give it a try, because we know the hidden blessings in the least favorite activity.

Additional Resources:
"Camp Blessings" article by Wendy Mogel
“Kid Speak: What is Camp all About” on ACA's CampParents.org
Trying New Things, Psychology Today

Audrey Monke and her husband Steve have owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-three years.They are raising their own five campers (ages 8–18) at home. Audrey writes about camp and parenting at sunshineparenting.wordpress.com.

April 19, 2012

If you’ve got a multiple-kid household, you have a lot of choices when it comes to summer plans — including camp!

First, assess each individual child’s readiness for camp. Consider each child’s age, past experiences away from home, and expectations about camp. Read specific tips at The Right Time — Gauging Your Child’s Readiness for Camp. Make sure to talk through any decisions with your children as a family.

Camping Together?

If you do decide more than one of your children is ready for camp, consider whether they would thrive at the same camp or separate camps. Siblings who are close in age and interests and consistently get along with each other may find camp even more enjoyable if given the opportunity to experience it together. And when the camp experience is over, the siblings can reminisce and engage jointly in any new hobbies they picked up over the summer.

Keep in mind, however, that camp also helps attendees develop better social skills and encourages independence and healthy risk-taking. If your children are too focused on each other, they could miss the opportunity to make new friends and spread their wings.Also, if your children don’t get along, you might want to consider sending them to different camp — you don't want unhealthy competition to color what ought to be a fun-filled experience.

You may also choose a compromise. You can always send your children to the same camp so they know someone is there if needed, but request that they be placed in separate cabins and activity groups. That way, they can compare notes when they are back home, but each will have had their own unique and rewarding experience.

Is an older sibling going off to camp this summer and leaving a younger sibling at home? Learn what you can do to help a child that is really going to miss his or her older sibling!

Thanks to Camp Howe, in Goshen, Massachusetts for the photo!

April 10, 2012

The teen years see increasing growth in hypothetical reasoning skills, development of values, and future planning - so a positive camp experience is more important than ever! Teens especially will benefit from the positive peer and mentoring relationships developed during the camp experience.

ACA has a wide range of resources for families of teens who are thinking about a camp experience.

  • Developmental Milestones for early and middle adolescence help families understand what growth is taking place, and how teens can benefit from a camp experience.
  • Healthy Teens provides online articles that deal with teen-specific issues from expert resources.
  • Child/Adolescent Development provides articles on developmental issues - both physical and social.
  • Find a Camp helps families choose the perfect camp program for teens based on a variety of factors including region of the country, interest, budget, and, of course, age.

It's never too late to have a first camp experience. Visit CampParents.org and help your teen find the perfect camp experience today! 

March 28, 2012

It is not easy for parents to make the decision to send their child away into the waiting arms of strangers who promise to take care of them — people who promise to show them the wonders of nature, fun, new skills, and friendships. As a parent of two children, even I struggle with the idea, and I have been around summer camps my entire life.

The world needs the next generation to be more tolerant of each other’s views, ideology, and beliefs. Summer camp is an opportunity for children to be exposed to the best of human character. Carefully selected role models are dedicated to showing your child how to have fun, learn from others, and make friends in person rather than online. Camp allows kids to meet people from all over the world, every race, culture, and socioeconomic level. I still remember one of my counselors, Danny, from England, explaining to me, “The world is full of excuses. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what has happened to you. At the end of the day you choose how you treat others.”

There is something magical about a summer camp experience. Each and every camp in the world is different. Not merely because of geography or location, but because of the traditions and people who have touched the camp. Every camp has hidden treasures of history and traditions that give it character and identity. Even with agency camps like the YMCA where there is a common mission, every camp is unique in its style, program, games, geography, traditions, and experience.

Every staff member, alumni camper, and volunteer has memories associated with their time at their camp — memories that stay with them for their lifetime. Most people remember with fondness the counselors, cabins, camp food, camp outs, and special happenings of their time.

Camp is an independent experience that shapes one’s character and life — a controlled, safe environment where children and youth are able to make their own decisions about simple things (what activity they want to do, how many s’mores they want to make, or what clothes they are going to wear) and about important things (who they will hang out with . . . who will be their friends).

Camp is a place where kids interact with people face-to-face and, at the same time, learn about themselves and others around a camp fire, under the stars, or sitting around a dining hall table. Camp allows the idea of boarding the train to Hogwarts to go from fantasy to reality — children find a world filled with possibilities unavailable to them in everyday life.

Camps give kids a chance to practice being the best they can be. They experience a place designed to create happy memories and encourage self-expression. They have the opportunity to climb towers, ride horses, shoot an arrow, and even experience the success of winning the big game! It stays with them forever. Kids will learn from a full range of emotions and human experiences including homesickness, friendship, disagreements, teamwork, frustrations, jubilant success, and more.

As parents, our hopes and jobs are to ready our kids to be productive, independent, and capable people — to prepare them to thrive without us. Camp offers a way for kids to start developing those skills in the best possible environment. It makes me a bit sad every time my son runs off to join his cabin group without even a look back . . . and at the same time, I burst with pride watching him growing into a happy, independent, tolerant, open, confident, and capable person. I know that we will have plenty to talk about when he gets home from camp. I also know he will remember the trust and gift of his time at camp, and it will add to him for the rest of his life.

There is so much competition for our children’s time in the summer — sports practices, summer school, well-deserved vacations. But let’s not forget the value of a camp experience — camp is a gift we can give our children that they will benefit from and remember forever. If ever there was a time when the world needed a generation of future leaders who understood the intricacies of living in a community, having tolerance, and being open — that time is now.

Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, a branch of the Greater Dayton YMCA. He has been professionally involved with camping for over twenty years. He and his wife, Amy, met at camp, and have two children, Sydney and Luke.

March 22, 2012

Struggles over what our kids read during the summer are not new. I know this because I remember the summer my mom had to wrestle a battered paperback from my hands, saying, “We did not pay for a family vacation so that you could read Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade over and over again.” Which was news to me.

But what constitutes good summer reading? Some parents worry that their kids are not reading enough books. Others worry that the books their kids are reading aren’t good enough. And many worry about both.

One thing is clear: The summer reading slump definitely exists. “Research shows that struggling readers test higher on a standardized test at the beginning of summer than at the end of the vacation,” says John Martin, writer, teacher and founder of Boys Read, a Seattle-based organization that focuses on getting boys to read. “This is a skill that has atrophy.”

In other words, use it or lose it. As Martin notes, “The effect is cumulative: The more summers without reading, the wider the gap each year.”

Let kids choose their own books
The experts I talked with about summer reading all had the same two things to say. One: Do everything in your power to make sure your kids are reading over the summer. Two: Let them choose whatever kinds of things they want to read. In other words, if it’s Indiana Jones, even their third time through Indiana Jones, you’ve succeeded.

“Children’s librarians really promote free choice,” says Blythe Summers, a children’s librarian at the Seattle Public Library. “Kids get told what to read all year long. Summer is a chance to explore their own interests and find their own passions in reading.”

Summers says that the research supports this, showing that “choice is a factor in reading motivation” and that choice helps students develop a positive relationship with reading.

When you let your kids make reading choices, be sure to offer them a wide variety of options. “Often, reading gets associated with one format — usually fiction and chapter books,” says Summers. Some kids respond much better to other formats, such as magazines, nonfiction articles and even how-to manuals, she says.

Parents often undervalue comic books. “Kids improve their reading skills reading at their own level and even below their level,” says Summers. Although comic books contain less text, they keep the mind working, she notes. “The brain links one image with the next one, making the connections that create the story.” This, she says, is a good reading skill — and different from watching television, where everything happens for you.

Getting boys to read
Of course, the drive to get your child to read during the summer starts long before June 1. Michael Thompson, Ph.D., is a nationally known psychologist who has written several books on children, including It’s a Boy! (which sits on my nightstand and is consulted whenever my son does something I would rather he didn’t).

Everyone, Thompson says, knows to read aloud to their children when they are young. But even when kids can read books themselves, parents should keep reading to them. (Thompson suggests reading alternate pages of their child’s favorite books.) They should also keep reading next to them. “Modeling reading is important as kids get older,” says Thompson.

These days, getting boys to read is often a harder task than getting their female counterparts to do so. “You cannot have boys read while everyone in the family is watching television or playing on the computer — including dad,” says Thompson. “If you want your son to be reading this summer, you should be, too.”

He suggests giving older boys audiobooks at bedtime and allowing kids to control the players and listen as many times as they want. He even suggests going to the movies to see a film that also has a book version, so that boys can enjoy both adaptations of the story.

And summertime reading doesn’t have to happen in a hammock. Going to the grocery store? “Today’s ubiquitous car rides are another great time to introduce books,” says Thompson. “Listen to audiobooks and always have the Guinness Book of World Records or some comic books in the back seat, where the kids can reach them.”

Summer camp offers a solution for kids who can’t seem to kick the electronic habit, says Thompson. Camp can teach kids to “live without electronics” and provide a space for them to read during breaks when other friends at camp will be reading as well, he says.

Sharing books with other families
Martin stresses the importance of “having a literate family” and recommends that families regularly read together for 30 minutes to an hour a day.

I would go further and say that parents should consider reading the same books their kids are reading. Popular crossover books, such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, are not the only children’s literature that adults might like. Reading contemporary young adult books will give you a great glimpse into kids’ lives — one you might not get out of an otherwise laconic teen.

And if you read the same books, you can talk about them. Asking your fearful 10-year-old about the anxiety-prone Justin in Rachel Vail’s Justin Case might tell you a lot more about your own child than you were able to glean from more direct questioning.

A tween who doesn’t want to talk about her friends might engage in a game. Ask her, if she were a character in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, what kind of daemon would she have? And if your bored high school student has no desire to talk about her future, maybe she’d be willing to talk about washed-up prodigy Colin Singleton from John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. You might be able to gain a little insight from the way she talks about him.

In the end, it’s a balance. “Parents have to realize that you are doing your child a huge disservice if you allow their reading skills to atrophy during the summer,” says Martin.

On the other hand, you don’t need to be shoving literary masterpieces down your kids’ throats — unless, of course, that’s what they like. “Reading should be fun,” says Summers. “Reading is about getting in touch with your own interests and yourself, and having time to be thoughtful and grow emotionally.”

This post originally appeared at www.ParentMap.com. Wendy Lawrence is a longtime educator and former middle school head at Eastside Prep in Kirkland. Lawrence blogs about parenting and books at thefamilythatreadstogether.com.
 

March 20, 2012

Now is a great time for parents to arrange a tour of a local day camp.  Whether parents are looking for a camp for the first time for their child or thinking about switching camps, going on a tour of a few camps in your area is the best way to make the right decision for their child.

When you are on a tour, the following questions should be explored either with the camp director, to help narrow down your choices.

1.  How will my child be grouped (placed) or “bunked” with other campers? Factors such as grade, age, gender, and parent input all come together to play a role in placement. Generally though, campers are grouped by the same gender and age with approximately 10 to 16 campers per group depending on age.

2.  Who will be taking care of my child and what are their qualifications? Camps should have Counselors and Specialty staff complete an extensive application, submit 2 to 3 references from non-family members, retain a Child Abuse Clearance and a Criminal Background Check, and attend a personal interview. Day camp programs hire Junior Staff (those usually in high school) while Senior Staff can be college age or a teacher.

3.  What is the ratio of counselors to the group (bunk)? Generally, with the pre-k 3 to 4 year old campers, there are 3 counselors with 10 to 12 campers. The 5 to 7 year old campers also have 3 counselors with groups of 12 to 14 campers. Those campers entering 3rd grade and older, traditionally have 14 to 16 campers with 2 counselors.

4.  Does the camp provide (either included or as an option) transportation, and in what type of vehicle? Depending on the distance from your home as well as your work schedule, will determine whether transportation will be a requirement for your family. Will the vehicle be a bus or a van? Will it have seatbelts? Who will be the driver and what are their qualifications? Will it be door-to-door or central pick-up?

5.  Does the camp provide healthy snacks and lunch choices daily? Is lunch included in the tuition? Are there provisions made for children with allergies and other food related issues? Check out the camps choices by asking for a sample lunch menu.

6.  Is there a before and after the camp care service, and if so, is there a charge? For many working families, early and late camp care is a necessity. Find out what is the earliest time in the morning and the latest in the afternoon. Ask exactly what will take place during those times and who will be supervising the program.

By asking these questions, and others specific to your child, while on the tour of a camp, parents will learn about the camp philosophy and standards as well as find out about the type of program offered.

The blog was written by Howard Batterman and Steven Bernstein of the Diamond Ridge Camps.  You can get more information about Howard and Steven and the Diamond Ridge Camps at www.diamondridgecamps.com.

March 16, 2012

Camp is fun! As a parent or family member searching for a camp experience, there are a lot of things to consider. The best camp experiences are borne out of a partnership – where parents and camps work together to find the best possible fit for children, and one where parents are armed with information and able to make educated decisions about the camp experience.

If you are new to the camp search, worry not! The American Camp Association has an enormous amount of research and advice to help you — and it is all available online. CampParents.org, ACA’s family resource site, includes information on:

Fun and Safety
Questions to Ask a Camp Director
Child Protection
State Regulations for Camps

As you are searching for the perfect camp for your child, be sure to look for a camp that is ACA-accredited. ACA-accreditation means that your child’s camp cares enough to undergo a thorough review of its operation — from staff qualifications and training to emergency management. ACA collaborates with experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth-serving agencies to assure that current practices at your child’s camp reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation. Camps and ACA form a partnership that promotes growth and fun in a nurturing environment committed to safety.

When you are searching for a camp, be sure to ask if the camp is ACA-accredited. If not, ask why. This may give you some valuable insight into the camp’s approach to health and safety.

March 13, 2012

“Grace?” I knelt in front of her. She looked up at me, immediately sensing what I was going to say. A shadow fell over her eyes. “We’re going to go now.”

“What? Now?” Her face was stricken. We hadn’t talked about when we were going to go.

“Yes. Then you’ll have your swim test and start your afternoon with your friends.”

She threw her arms around me, beginning to cry. I looked up and met my husband’s eyes over her head and he motioned that we should leave. Still kneeling on the pool deck, I kissed her wet cheeks and looked her in the eye. “Grace. You know what?” I strained to keep the tears out of my voice. “I bet you anything that when we come back to get you, you will cry because you don’t want to leave.” She shook her head firmly, eyes closed. “Yes, you will. Now, it’s time for us to go. I love you, I will write to you, and I will be back before you know it. I promise.”

Then I stood up, turned, and walked away. The goodbye was hard, but I drew great comfort from the fact that Grace and Julia were bunkmates. Julia is the daughter of my best friend from camp, Jessica, from the very camp where we left our girls that morning, and it seemed like both yesterday and a lifetime ago that she and I had been the ones saying goodbye to our parents, walking across the bright green lawn in front of the Big House, feeling excitement and anxiety pulsing in our chests. Because of myriad reasons, chief among them my lifetime friendship with Jessica, I am a fierce believer in the power of the camp experience, and I was thrilled when Grace, at eight years old, wanted to experience it for herself.

My father always remarked that when I came home from camp, I’d grown up “years” in the weeks I’d been gone. I was prepared, therefore, to find a changed Grace when we arrived to pick her up ten days after our tearful goodbye. We parked in front of the familiar cabin and I jumped out of the car, excited to see my daughter again. She walked out of the cabin, surrounded by friends, oblivious to us, and I watched her for a second as she giggled with girls I’d never seen before. She looked totally comfortable, relaxed, and positively joyful. I was happy to see Julia right by her side, too. And then I called her name, she turned to me, and her face lit up. Our reunion was happy, but my prediction about her crying about leaving was spot on. Departing camp, her new friends, her cabin, and her counselors was difficult for Grace, and she cried on and off the whole way home.

Because of my own camp experience I viewed this as a huge positive. Several people remarked on how it must have made me sad or rejected to see her miss camp so much, and my response was always the same. “To the contrary,” I always said, “it delighted me.” She had had a wonderful time, and we had been right to send her.

The first few days after getting home were filled with a constant cascade of stories, snatches of songs, and photographs. I let the stream of her happy experience wash over me, startling when certain things — songs, in particular — were familiar from my own time at camp. There were new activities she had tried: archery, sailing, painting enamel pieces. She didn’t succeed at or love all of them, but she was cheerful about all of her experiences. I remembered how much of camp for me had been about learning to have a positive attitude no matter what.

More than any specific new capability or even any one story of a joyful experience, though, what Grace brought home from camp was an ineffable, hard-to-pinpoint sense of confidence. She had gone to sleepover camp, she had said goodbye to me, and she had loved it. A light cloak of self-assurance settled around her shoulders and permeated all of her dealings with the world. To watch this happen with my almost-tween made me incredibly glad. She doesn’t talk about camp a whole lot now, being more fully immersed in third grade. But she has already asked to go for three and a half weeks next summer.

Lindsey Mead lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and two children. She attended Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Massachusetts, for nine years while she was growing up, and it remains a very important place to her. She graduated from Princeton with a degree in English and received an MBA from Harvard. She works as an executive search consultant and also writes daily at her blog, A Design So Vast.

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