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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.
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:
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.
March 9, 2012
It's amazing how quickly children grow! One minute they are tiny and totally dependent on families for every need, and the next they are gaining independence by leaps and bounds. Each stage of a child's life is unique - bringing new milestones, relationship developments, and yes, even new ways to maximize the camp experience.
ACA offers a helpful guide of these stages to help families not only choose the best camp experience, but also to help them better understand what is happening developmentally as their tiny tot turns into a big kid, or even into a young adult.
Choose an Age Group today and start learning how to help your child make the most of this critical development and growth.
March 6, 2012
Choosing a camp, especially for first-timers, is a serious undertaking. Questions about camp programs and philosophies are important and help families determine which camp experience is right for their child. At local camp fairs, families are given the opportunity to get answers to these critical questions.
Camp fairs are held nationwide and are open to the public. Typically, camp fairs are scheduled on weekends allowing families to attend together. Each camp fair is made up of a variety of camps that provide literature and information on their programming and activities. In addition, participating camps bring knowledgeable staff who can answer questions and provide additional information specific to that camp.
CampParents.org, the ACA family resource site, offers the ultimate camp planner, complete with questions to ask the camp director, preparing for camp, and a listing of camp fairs by state. For families who are unable to attend a camp fair, CampParents.org offers a new and improved Find A Camp – with more detailed information, and a great selection of camp programs. Families can search for a camp by location, religious or cultural affiliation, specialization, cost, age, gender, or special needs.
March 2, 2012
The camp experience can be life-changing - developing independence, self-esteem, problem-solving skills, and a whole host of life skills needed to be successful in today's (and tomorrow's) world. For first time camp families, one very common question is how to determine when a child is ready for camp. Ultimately, families know their child best, and are best able to determine when and if they are ready, however ACA suggests that families also ask the following questions when considering if this is the summer for camp:
- What is your child's age? Children under age 7 may not adjust easily to being away from home. Consider the day camp experience to prepare them for future overnight camp.
- How did your child become interested in camp? Does your child talk about camp and camp activities on a sustained basis? How much persuasion is necessary from you?
- Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home? Visiting relatives or friends? Were these separations easy or difficult?
- What does your child expect to do at camp? Learning about the camp experience ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.
- Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp? Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious.
February 27, 2012
Camp has become a staple of the summer season. Each year, millions of children, youth, and adults head to the hills, lakes, valleys, and parks to participate in the time-honored tradition of camp. And, while most people easily conjure up images of campfires and canoes, there is a lot more to the camp experience. Here are ten of the things you may not have known about the camp experience.
10. Camp is older than dirt, almost literally. Started in 1861, the camp experience turned an impressive 150 years young in 2011. The secret behind the longevity? “Camps are constantly adapting to meet the changing needs of today’s families,” said Peg Smith, chief executive officer for the American Camp Association® (ACA). “And yet, in essentials, camp is very much the same as it was 150 years ago – kids still have authentic, life-changing experiences.”
9. Camp is worth its weight in gold, and then some! The camp experience is life-changing – developing friendships and memories that last well beyond the final campfire. And, there is a camp for literally every budget. Often camps offer special pricing or financial assistance, and some camp experiences qualify for tax credits or for payment with pre-tax dollars. Visit www.CampParents.org/affording-camp for more information.
8. Green is “zen.” Research shows that first-hand experience with nature, like those at camp, reduce stress in children and help them better handle stress in the future. In addition to teaching children how to be good stewards of the environment, camps are teaching children how to enjoy the world around them and take a minute to breathe deep and feel the nature, which ultimately teaches them how to de-stress the natural way.
7. Mommies and Daddies do it too. Camp is not just for children and youth. There are family camp experiences, and camps for single adults, senior adults, and any adult that wants to relax and enjoy all camp has to offer. Adults benefit from the same sense of community, authentic relationships, and self-discovery that children do. Camp is an excellent vacation option, allowing adults to try a variety of new activities in a safe and fun environment.
6. Try this on for size! Camp is a great place to try new activities and hobbies. Afraid of rock walls? According to ACA research, 74 percent of campers reported that they tried new activities at camp that they were afraid to do at first. And, those activities often leave lasting impressions. In the same survey, 63 percent of parents reported that their child continued new activities from camp after returning home.
5. Manners matter, and often linger. The camp experience teaches more than just archery or lanyard making. The entire experience is made of teachable moments, 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 to say “Please” and “Thank You.”
4. Veggies taste better with friends. Hollywood and fictional novels may have given camp food a bad reputation, but in truth, camps are constantly exploring healthy food options, and often are at the forefront of things like allergy specific diets, healthy snack options, and vegetarian meals. According to ACA’s 2011 Emerging Issues survey, 90.7 percent of responding camps indicated that healthy eating and physical activity was an important or very important issue.
3. If everyone else went to camp, maybe there’s something to it! Camp has played an important role in the lives of some of the most talented people in history. ACA’s family resource site offers a list of notable campers – including business professionals, celebrities, artists, and great thinkers.
2. Camp gets those neurons pumping! Education reform debate and concern over summer learning loss have pushed academic achievement into the spotlight. Research shows that participation in intentional programs, like camp, during summer months helps stem summer learning loss. In addition, camp provides ample opportunity for developmental growth, which is a precursor to academic achievement. And, because of the “hands-on” nature of camp, often children who struggle in traditional education settings do well at camp.
1. Camp builds leaders for the 21st century and beyond! Independence, resiliency, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and the ability to relate to other people — these are the skills that tomorrow’s leaders will need, and the skills camp has been adept at building for 150 years. “Tomorrow’s leaders will not be those who can type or text with lightning speed, they will be those who can have a face-to-face conversation and articulate their thoughts, ideas, and values,” said Smith. “Tomorrow’s leaders will be able to relate globally and find common ground with people who are vastly different from themselves — people from different backgrounds and cultures. Tomorrow’s leaders will be made and educated by experiences like camp."
February 23, 2012
“To be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition.”
— John Dewey, How We Think
It seems that everywhere I turn I find someone discussing 21st Century skills. The discussions sound important and serious, and the skills they describe are often mysterious and misunderstood. For instance, I worry that for some parents, if you were to say that the camp experience provides 21st Century skills, it would sound like an oxymoron. These two concepts sharing the same space may, for some, defy traditional logic and be reduced to the simplicity of an either/or choice.
Decades ago many parents viewed childcare as a basic function - having no educational or developmental value. When research surfaced supporting early childhood development, it helped us understand the critical stages of childhood, and how they are sustained and facilitated by a child’s most important work – play.
As present-day parents, we clamor to get positive, legitimate early childhood experiences for our children, knowing that early intervention and programming will only help their future success. We help young people make mental connections between what they are hearing, seeing, feeling, experiencing, and reading. We know that the dynamic processes we provide develop attention, knowledge, and helps young people make sense of what otherwise may seem abstract and unrelated. We understand that these days, generative experiences help young people develop concepts, interpretations, and even applications for new ways of thinking, being, and working.
Today, both as a parent and a professional, I have had to identify what the pertinent 21st Century skills are, and how that impacts and influences my work with children and youth, today.
There has been much written about this subject, but I feel that there are three primary C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Creativity. At first, one could challenge that we have always needed people who had these competencies in order to be a successful nation. However, I do appreciate the fact that today’s world is different — it is global, fast-paced, and continuously undergoing change at an unprecedented rate. Within that context, the 3 C’s are increasingly important. Without a doubt, we need citizens who think in optimal ways — producing original concepts, processes, and changes that will enhance a future beyond what we have experienced in the last century.
We need those same individuals to be able to work with others to discover shared goals, to develop ways of shared work and living, and to cultivate a global vision for the greater good while honoring America’s heritage of individualism. All of this will require an innate ability to transcend the comforts of what has been traditional and risk originality.
As I gain a greater appreciation and understanding of these crucial 21st Century skills, I have to ask how the camp community embraces, supports, and facilitates the acquisition of such skills. I believe we need to witness a transformation in our educational systems if we hope to be successful. There are certain precursors that need to be in place to grow a new generation of leaders. Skills like curiosity — one’s drive to know, sense of wonder, and ability to stand in awe — needs to be embraced and not squashed by premature demands for compliance. Imagination must be protected and encouraged. The desire to investigate, inquire, question, and study will need to be valued, both at work and home. These precursors will be critical to our future success as individuals, communities, and a country. And, they can all be found in a quality camp experience.
I believe there might be a fourth C – courage. There is a tsunami of fear about proper education and increased academics that is causing us to consider keeping our young people in academic institutions for extended periods of time. As adults, we need the intellectual and moral courage to ensure our efforts to support the growth and development of our young people includes comprehensive systems that facilitate innovation and challenge. It will take these C’s to ensure that outcome is achieved. I believe that it will also take a fifth C – it will take camp.
So, are the camp experience and 21st Century skills an oxymoron? Is it an either/or choice? No. There is a great deal of research that validates the educational, social, and emotional impacts of a positive camp experience — impacts that address the precursors needed as well as the 21st Century skills required for success.
The camp experience is an essential opportunity for young people in the comprehensive system of society that is charged with the care, development, and education of positive, productive citizens. The camp experience is a viable, generative process that recognizes the individual, sees the value of small groups, creates community, and teaches lessons that are transferable to the 21st Century global community. All of this is happening in a natural learning environment supported by research and camp professionals. No, it is not an oxymoron. But if we are not careful, it is camp’s profound simplicity — the easiness of the experience — that may cause it to be missed.
With nearly three decades of experience working with children, youth, and families, Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA).