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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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., 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, 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 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).  

January 26, 2012

Speaking of camp, it's not too early to start planning for exciting summer adventures. Visit ACA's Ultimate Camp Planner for information on choosing a camp, questions to ask a camp director, keeping camp costs budget friendly, and gauging readiness for the camp experience.

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