Pay Attention!

Posted: February 06, 2012

I was rereading “That’s the Way We (Used to) Do things Around Here,” by Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick, a article published in February 2011. Because ACA’s Director of Research, Deb Bialeschki, and I often talk about mindfulness, self-regulation, and reflection, a couple of sentences in the article caught my eye:

“The kind of mindfulness that accomplishes this [change] combines metacognition (thinking about what you are thinking) and meta-awareness (moment-by-moment awareness of where your attention is focused). Adam Smith, the 18th-century philosopher, understood this. He described self-directed reflections as an ‘impartial spectator’ . . . .”

We train counselors each year to do what neuroscience has described as “attention density.” Pay attention, be in the moment, and respond to the current environment — not just habitual patterns. We help them refocus their behaviors to be aligned with the positive outcomes we all desire for our campers. We are grooming future leaders, and we understand that leadership demands a high level of self-awareness. Our efforts are two-fold: camper and counselor development.



Could there be a better reason?

A steady crowd passed my table at Dulles Town Center in Northern Virginia over the weekend of February 25th and 26th where I participated in the Camp and Summer Fun Expo hosted by the Washington Parent Magazine. A retro tablecloth graced my table. A tall vase of daisies flanked the corner. A few copies of my book, "Memory Lake, the forever friendships of summer," were propped beside an array of colorful bookmarks. Adding a bit of nature to the event, I had clipped boughs of pine needles from the white pine in my front yard; a transplant from Northern Michigan where "Memory Lake" is set. I poked a hole at the top of each bookmark, inserted a stem of greenery, and taped the back. This tactile give-away drew curious children to my table. The soft clumps of needles protruded from each marker like a lush, green brush. The children would cup the cardboard and wave the pine needles, brushing them delightedly against their chins. "What's this?" they would ask. "They are clippings from a pine tree," I would reply. Few understood. Most of them remained confused and had to ask, "What's a pine tree?" Could there be a better reason to send a child to camp?

Parents studied my sign, thinking I represented a camp. "'Memory Lake' is a book about sleep-over camp," I declared. Some parents nodded and smiled enthusiastically, being well acquainted with the joys, challenges and opportunities for growth from a prolonged stay in an idyllic setting away from mom and dad. Many more parents appeared puzzled. I explained the difference between day camps, specialty camps, and traditional sleep-over camps. The child at their side always brightened to imagine canoeing, archery, sailing, water-skiing, camping, and the freedom to explore nature among other children. His or her smile would fade to see Mom shaking her head, stiffening uncomfortably, backing away from the table and saying, "No. I can't send my child away." Could there be a better reason to send a child to camp?

"Children always return changed," I would explain. "For the better. They are more introspective, thankful, and confident. Eleven and twelve years of age is not too young. The benefits of sending your child for three, four, even seven weeks will last a lifetime. Personally, camp changed the course and direction of my life. 'Memory Lake' is my tribute to this experience. It has taken an entire novel to adequately describe the unique experience. Imagine the benefits of your child spending time along the shores of a beautiful lake, surrounded by nature and supportive friends! "They will learn to soar beyond limitations, to dream the future, and to gain the strength to carry it out."

"Well, maybe when they are older," these skeptical parents would reply. I urged them along at this point, quite confident they would find a wonderful day camp among the stellar participants. But, I compelled them to stop and visit with representatives from Camp Rim Rock, Camp Roanoke, Shenandoah Summer Camp, Camp Friendship, Camp Hidden Meadows, Camp Tall Timbers, Camp Twin Creeks, Camp Horizons, Sheridan Mountain Camps, and Skyland Camp. I had milled around and met these representatives. I knew they provided the quintessential camp experience, preserving a tradition and atmosphere that would foster independent, responsible, and successful adults. Day camps are a necessary stepping stone. I'd like to think because the Washington Parent Magazine organized the Camp and Summer Fun Expo, a few more parents will brave the leap of faith to pack their child, a footlocker and a duffel, and drive into the beautiful mountains to leave their child for a few weeks in the safe, loving hands of camp professionals sanctioned by the American Camp Association. So when their child sees a pine needle in a mall, he or she will know from whence it comes.
Nancy S. Kyme