Catch the Dream of Camping: Does Camp Enhance Self-esteem?

by Marla Coleman

Three keynote speakers will converge in Albuquerque next month where, in the spirit of the Lakota legend of the dream catcher, they will spin a web of insight into the future of the camp experience. The "Past and Future" theme and the image of the dream catcher symbolize the intricate and interwoven threads that we weave as we celebrate past traditions, integrate present trends, and anticipate operating our camps in the next millennium.

As the spiritual leader lktomi decreed, "The web is a perfect circle but there is a hole in the center . . . the web will catch your good dreams and ideas and the bad ones will go through the hole. Use the web to help yourself and your people to reach your goals and make good use of your people’s ideas, dreams, and visions."

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, child development expert Cynthia Tobias, and futurist Ira Blumenthal will share their visions so we can sift our own outlooks. Collectively, they will spin a dream catcher for camp directors by sharing their passions, their perspectives, and their wisdoms, shaping a dream net for tomorrow that is built upon by the traditions of yesterday.

Bill McKibben, Environmentalist
In sharp contrast to the rituals of Native American lore, today we live in the first moment when humans receive more of their information secondhand than first. While the elder leaders passed on their ancient stories face to face, depending principally on contact with each other, "we rely primarily on the pre-chewed, on someone else’s experience," remarks Bill McKibben, author of The Age of Missing Information and The End of Nature who will talk at the ACA National Conference about "Welcoming Kids to the Real World."

What does that message have to do with camp? "Camp is sublime . . . weeks in the summer when kids are free of most of the negative forces of the culture . . . weeks when they can’t buy anything!" McKibben says. Citing his own daughter’s camp experiences, McKibben adds that during camp, children "spend their lives in contact with each other and with the natural world, learning the pleasures of living more simply and more directly than they do at home."

The environmentalist insists that the work of introducing children to the outdoors is the most important responsibility an educator has today. He says, "In a world dominated by secondhand experience — a world where kids spend most of their time in front of screens of various kinds — there is something deeply powerful about showing them the world as it really is."

Camp provides an arena for city, suburban, and even rural children — who according to McKibben often live their "mental lives in the generic nowhere that flows through the tube . . . in the climate-controlled world of the car and the mall" — to be grounded in the natural world. He explains that children today are growing up in a consumer culture with the idea that they are the center of the universe — an unhealthy and incorrect message. At camp, children can develop an appreciation of their place in a much larger world, where they are a contributing member with responsibilities and accountability, and a respect for all living things.

The speaker provides us with a compelling reason to reaffirm a connection with the world around us. "There has never been a period with more skilled and committed outdoor educators, people able to help kids have deep, sustained, rich experiences with the natural world," McKibben says. He suggests that kids thrive on the challenges: tough climbs, cold or hot weather, situations where they can test themselves.

Indeed, Bill McKibben sees camp as a unique and ideal environment for children to take healthy risks with the guidance of trained, caring counselors in a hands-on setting where they can reinvent themselves. In this technosphere, the importance of a camp experience is underscored. We, as camp professionals, can plant the seeds of caring, of nurturing, of sharing — helping children develop values, rooted in the outdoors, that will guide them to a lifetime of harmony and peace.

This keynoter’s advice to camp directors is to model pleasure. He says, "Show kids that it is more fun to live in a direct, primary, real way. In a world where you can have anything, the only way to be subversive is to have more fun than someone else." 

Cynthia Tobias, Educator
Cynthia Tobias, an educator and author, focuses on learning styles as the key to teaching children about the world around them. It is important to understand how we learn and to recognize that we each learn differently.

The author of titles such as The Way They Learn: How to Discover and Teach to Your Child’s Strengths and Every Child Can Succeed: Making the Most of Your Child’s Learning Style examines environmental preferences, cognitive and mind styles, and different modalities.

Tobias points out that we can have great lessons to impart to others, but if we do not take into account the best way for them to receive this information and apply it, our lessons are lost. If we wish to build upon the heritage of the past to be better prepared for the future, we must develop critical thinking skills to solve problems and to work with others. The community of camp, which caters to helping children practice growing up, becomes the ideal platform for personalizing instruction and for framing learning opportunities.

As the president of Learning Styles Unlimited, Tobias heightens awareness about the personal learning styles we each embrace. How do you remember — are you an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner? How do you interact with information — are you analytic or global in your orientation? How do you show you are smart — is your strength linguistic, logical, spatial, musical, or kinesthetic? Do you respond best to interpersonal or intrapersonal relationships? How do you communicate what you know — do you take information in a concrete style (using the five senses) or are you more abstract (using intuition and/or imagination)? How do you order information in your life — are you sequential (step by step) or do you respond randomly, i.e., in chunks, with no particular order?

Building upon the research and theory of education but framing the content in everyday stories, she will help us understand how we learn and then how to recognize how others learn. With these insights, we can coach children’s physical and emotional skills to help them grow into successful adults. 

Ira Blumenthal, Futurist
Ira Blumenthal, founder and president of CO-OPPORTUNITIES, brings perspective to Albuquerque, offering insight on how to assimilate the rich history of camp and its inherent values into the electronic world of today. "Change is Inevitable: Growth is Optional" will be the topic of discussion for this keynoter, who is a former camper and counselor.

The world is clearly changing. And while we have all been dealing with that change for years, there is a major challenge today: it is not that change is new but rather the speed at which it occurs. In that context, Blumenthal suggests that we must raise the bar to achieve a new level of performance in programming and productivity. He cites the example that in five years there will be a method to download movies, because people will not want to go to the store to pick them up.

The futurist explains that today we have more to share with children than when he was a camper. Issues such as health and well-ness, empathy, life lessons, sympathy, and family values must be woven into traditional camp programming. "Kids are more savvy and technologically smart. We must be more creative in delivering our message to youth," he opines.

In his keynote address, Blumenthal will address the fourteen basic myths in business as they directly relate to camp. "Bigger is better," "close enough is good enough," and "it won’t happen here" are on Blumenthal’s list, which discredits conventional business wisdom. The author of Ready, Blame, Fire! (Myths and Misses in Marketing) will explain why there are many very successful small, profitable camps with repeat business, why in today’s technological age there is no reason that we cannot deliver laser beam perfect services that meet campers’ needs, and that past success in camp does not guarantee future success.

This trio of speakers — consultants, writers, visionaries, educators, and entrepreneurs — stand ready to help lead us forward so that we can make our dreams for our camps and our campers come true. They have the credentials to guide us as we bridge the cultural gap from weaving the "web" of storytelling rituals to maneuvering through the "Web" of an electronic society.

Marla Coleman is the owner/director of Coleman Country Day Camp in Merrick, New York, and a member of the ACA Public Awareness Committee.

 

Originally published in the 2000 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

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