Camp Champions Blog
Monday, April 29, 2013 @ 11:17 am | (0) Comments
At this moment, I am airborne on my way to Chicago for the board meeting of the American Camp Association (ACA).
I am particularly excited about this meeting because it gives me a chance to honor Scott Brody. Scott is a fellow camp director and my best friend in the world of summer camp.
He and I both started in the professional worlds – he as a lawyer and me as an investment banker. Our friendship, however, stems not from our background. Instead, we have discovered that we are perhaps the two most ardent “Camp Geeks” around. [Note: Susie Ma’am says that it is not even close – we are WAAAY geeky!] By Camp Geek, I mean that we not only love our own camps, but we also spend our volunteer time either working with the ACA or with projects to increase the diversity of camps. We also think it is fun to visit camps, meet other camp directors and study the history of camps. Perhaps most geeky is the fact that we actually enjoy ready books and research about Youth Development, Education, Parenting and Cognitive Development.
Yep, pretty geeky.
But I think I must concede that Scott might be Geek Numero Uno. Or, more accurately, the Lead Geek. He has helped recruit me for many of the volunteer projects I have done. He chaired the Tri-State Camp Conference (the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world) for 3 years and persuaded me to join the program committee. He would later persuade me to follow in his footsteps and serve as Chair myself. After my stint there, he pulled me onto the national board of the ACA. We now both serve on its Executive Committee.
At least, we will serve on it until he steps down this week.
He has served for 9 years on the board and consistently brought passion and insight to every meeting. He has helped us better understand the impact of a quality camp experience.
Worry not, he is not fading in his projects. We are part of a group of camp professionals who are studying the impact of camp on 1) college readiness, 2) character development and 3) workplace development. OK, that sounds boring, but trust me – we are really excited about the upcoming projects. I will share more about each later, but know that they are pretty cool.
I share this with you simply because I think we often take excellence for granted. Also, we are too slow to publicly thank those who do extraordinary work.
I have always loved rehearsal dinners for weddings. They are a time that we consciously tell people who we love that they are special to us and celebrate their gifts. This blog is simply an effort to do that for my friend.
Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 4:03 pm | (2) Comments
“My parents aren’t cool!” – Liam Baskin
Every now and then, you get a comment from your children than makes you think you are doing something right.
At first glance, the above comment does not seem to fall into this category, but it does when you hear the rest of the quote. He was talking to a woman from California who had moved to Cambodia during our recent trip there. She had told Liam that he thought he was lucky to have cool parents. He responded quickly,
“My parents are not cool. They are interesting, but not cool. They do not want to be cool in the eyes of teens. They want to be parents.”
This is exactly what we want, but we did not think a 15 year-old would notice.
One of the parenting trends we see as camp professionals is the desire to be friends with children. Such a parent often wants to appear tuned into the culture of their children, even listening to the same music and wearing similar clothes.
Even before we had children, the Silver Fox (my wise mother) shared a thought with me. “Your children will have many friends, they will have only 2 parents. You must be the adult and set the limits even if you are disliked or derided.”
This advice has found its way into our camp lexicon. We often tell counselors that there is something a little pathetic about a college student that needs to feel “cool” in the eyes of a 10 year-old. [Note: the more you understand what a 10 year-old boy thinks is cool, the more you wonder why anyone - including a 10 year-old boy - would want to be cool.] They also have many friends. They do not have enough heroes and role models. Also, if you (still talking to the counselors) are simply yourself and engaged with the campers, they will admire you and want to be like you. You will redefine what “cool” is: confident, caring and compassionate.
As parents, we have strived to follow the Silver Fox’s advice. It is not always easy, but it is important.
Children crave limits. They will say differently (“everyone else gets to . . . “), but limits provide structure and security. The world is a big and chaotic place. It is immensely difficult to process the world as a child. Limits put order in the world. They also send the non-verbal, but undeniable, message that they are protected.
Ironically, some parents set unnecessary limits in some areas (my child cannot go to summer camp), but none in more critical areas (no limits of TV or internet time). Finding right balance is one of the great challenges for parents. When do we say no and when do we stretch our children? Clearly, my family’s trip to Asia for 14 weeks is an effort to stretch our children. Sending each of them out of state for at least a month to camp is another. But we also set limits concerning the amount of time they are connected to the “technological tether”.
They do not always appreciate our efforts. They still share one mobile phone between the four of them (we have it for our convenience, not their amusement) and virtually all of their friends have their own. [Note: please do not read into this a criticism of parents that provide phones to their children. If we lived in a major city with activities occurring at multiple locations, we would certainly have provided our children with individual phones. Our hometown of Marble Falls, however, is sufficiently small and all their activities have readily available phones. In the rare circumstance where one of them will be away from us and without a phone, we give him or her the "kids' phone". With this set of facts, giving them their own phones would simply be tools for texting. I have no doubt that my children will eventually be facile with texts, but we prefer to tweak them in the direction of eye-to-eye communication as much as possible.]
As we strive for this balance, we focus on the goal of “preparing our children for the road and not the road for our children” (as psychologist Wendy Mogel cleverly put it). We want each of them to be caring and confident. We want them to be resilient and optimistic. We want them to be independent. We do not want them living in the house when they are 30.
Susie likes to talk about “letting out the umbilical rope”. By this she means the following. Each baby starts literally connected to the mother by an umbilical cord. Eventually, they will grow into contributing and successful adults that do not require any help from the parents at all (once again, hopefully before they are 30). In between these two extremes, parents reduce their level of protection and involvement and the child/teen/young adult increases independence. In her mind, it is like letting out a little more rope each month until it is now longer connected. She does not mean disconnected, but truly independent.
I am not sure how that analogy works for you, but I like it. I have met many parents who want to protect their 12 year-old like he is a 5 year-old. Yet I have not yet met the parent that hopes to be roommates with their children at college (or, at least, I have not met one that will admit it). When I ask them how their child will develop the independence, confidence, risk-assessment skills needed to succeed in college, they often have no answer. If the parents do all the risk-assessment, the child is left under-skilled in this area when she is a freshman, without any limits on curfews, activities or behaviors.
But being a parent is not easy. Heck, I like to be liked; especially by the four young people I love the most. Setting limits takes effort, especially when the children have inherited their father’s stubborn streak
Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 2:50 pm | (0) Comments
When I started my career as a camp director in 1993, my mother (the “Silver Fox”) shared the following thought with me: “summer camp is like college, but just a little bit early”.
Being a strong believer in my mother’s wisdom, I found myself thinking about this statement fairly often. Summer camp had been a huge part of my personal development as a young man, and had even found its way into my college and graduate school applications. Yet the idea that “camp was like college” did not seem to make sense to me at the time.
Over the past 16 years, I have found that this idea is actually a profound one.
Three years ago, we were talking with a friend whose daughter was in her first year at college. Both mother and daughter had struggled mightily with the separation. “During the first semester, we would talk everyday, sometimes 5 or 6 times. She was so sad and uncomfortable away from home. It really affected her grades and social life. She is better in her second semester, and she only calls once or twice a day. I still worry about her though.”
This conversation reminded me of a speech I heard by Dr Wendy Mogel a few years ago. Dr Mogel is a nationally-known clinical psychologist and educator who wrote the best-seller parenting book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee”. She shared a story about a good friend of hers whose daughter was a freshman at college at Sarah Lawrence.
Unlike my friend, this woman’s daughter thrived in her first semester in college. She earned exceptional marks (making the Dean’s List) and she became president of the freshman class. During Parents weekend, her mother met the mother of a senior who was president of the entire student body and was weighing various job offers. The two mothers were sharing stories about their daughter’s college experience when the mother of the senior shared an unexpected thought:
“I bet your daughter went to overnight summer camp.”
“She did, but what makes you say that?”
“I am not surprised. I have noticed that my daughter’s friends who had strong freshman years all went to overnight camp at some point. The ones that really struggled did not.”
The contrast of these two freshman experiences (our friends and Wendy’s) compelled me to think about why this might be true. Here is what I came up with.
Going to college presents many challenges, three of which jump out at me:
- Increased academic rigor (college work is simply harder than high school work)
- Being away from home and your traditional support system (family, friends, familiar places)
- Dealing with large amounts of uncertainty (what will classes require, how will I fit in socially, can I deal with this new roommate)
Of course, overnight camp does little to deal with the first challenge of academic rigor, but it helps substantially with both of the other challenges.
Camp helps students adjust to being away-from-home by giving them practice being away-from-home. Campers coming to camp (often as young as Kindergarten or 1st grade) get to experience being separated from home successfully. Certainly, most campers have some homesickness, but the supportive camp community and the fun activities help ease them through this initial challenge. Homesickness is natural. Children will miss their parents.
Further, we live in a society that sometimes suggests to children that they are only safe within eyeshot of their parents. Yet, we parents want our children to grow in confidence and independence so that they can live productive, fulfilling and joyous lives. Camp enables children to experience successful independence. Like college, they are away-from-home. Unlike college, they are in a community committed to their physical and emotional safety.
Camp also helps campers deal with uncertainty. The first week of camp is full of uncertainty: Who are these counselors? What are these traditions? Where do I go? Who will be my friends? Will I be successful? Just like college, there is schedule-related uncertainty (where to go and when) and social uncertainty (who, among this group of relative strangers, will be my friend).
The camper gets to experience overcoming this uncertainty. I like to think of it as strengthening the “resilience muscle.” Having done so, the next experience of uncertainty is easier to handle. The camper who comes to camp for several years gets multiple opportunities to strengthen his or her resilience muscle. By the time they go to college, they are much more confident and resilient.
So the former summer camper arriving at college as a Freshman can focus his or her energy on the challenges of academic rigor, but not worry about being away from home and the uncertainty of a newenvironment. Other students face all three challenges. Seen this way, it is not hard to understand how camp can help later with college.
Last summer, a long-time camp mom shared her thoughts about her oldest son going out-of-state to college. I asked her how she felt. “I’m going to miss him.”
“Are you worried about his first semester?”
“No way. He has already gone to camp for 9 years, so I know he will be fine. He is so excited to face this challenge. Camp has also helped me – I have had practice being separated from him. He is going to shine at school!”
Later that evening, my wife and I agreed on three things: First, this was one of the nicest endorsements of camp we had heard. Second, we are so happy to think that the campers who have become such an important part of our lives will have an advantage in college. Finally, the “Silver Fox,” once again, was right.
Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 2:42 pm | (0) Comments
This is one of my most recent blogs for Psychology Today.
Our nation values leadership, but we do not teach it well.
Colleges place a strong emphasis on leadership, as any high school senior who is filling out applications can tell you. We watch movies and read books about leaders. It borders on a national obsession.
Yet employers see a gaping deficit. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21.org) interviewed thousands of the world’s most respected employers and asked two questions: 1) what are the skills critical to success in the modern workplace and 2) what skills do new hires lack. Of the roughly 100 skills surveyed, “leadership” ranked in the top 10. It also showed the second greatest skill deficit in recent college graduates (second only to “written communication”). Roughly 28% of graduates are described as “deficient” with only a small fraction deemed highly skilled.
If we value and respect leadership so much and it correlates with success in the workplace, why then do we see such a gaping deficit?
The answer is actually fairly simple. Leadership requires practice and there are very few opportunities for young people to practice leading.
Some of the challenge is simply structural. Since only one person can “lead” at a time, it is difficult to create opportunities for every young person in a group to practice the skills. Doing so would require vast effort and programmatic intentionality. Teachers and coaches have plenty to do without adding this additional challenge to their responsibilities.
Also, many people see leadership as an inherent trait rather than a series of skills. In this case, the same children tend to become the leaders, be it through assignment, volunteering or peer vote. People call them “born leaders”, thus suggesting that other children are “born followers.”
I disagree with this assessment.
Leading is more about learning specific skills than possessing inherent qualities. In this way, being a leader is like being an athlete. Certainly, some children are born with attributes that aid in athletics, such as size and quick reflexes. But success in athletics requires thousands of hours of practice to acquire the skills needed for success. Regardless ofgenetics, there is no substitute for practicing forehands and backhands if one wishes to excel at tennis. Ultimately, success has much more to do with the skills honed through practice than genetics.
Similarly, some individuals have innate attributes that help them lead, such as extroversion or height, but once again they are only a small part of the equation. Much more important are a set of skills that can be learned and practiced. These include listening skills, oral communication, collaborative skills, empathy and posture.
But where do we practice leadership? How can we create groups for a nascent leader to develop these important skills?
Summer camp is certainly one exceptional place to practice leadership. Let me describe how camps teach and develop leadership skills. I will then suggest ways beyond summer camp where teens can hone these skills.
At camp, teens are often counselors or counselors in training (CITs). As such, they enjoy several unusual advantages. First, they get intentional training on how to lead from camp professionals that have years of experience. Success in camping is a function of the success of the counselors and CITs, so virtually all camps have invested a great deal of time in teaching effective leadership skills.
Second (and perhaps most important), camps provide teens and college students with groups on which to practice their developing skills. You might see a cabin of 12 8-year-olds, but I see a perfect laboratory for leadership experimentation. Success is instantly rewarded with happy children working together. Failure also provides immediate feedback in the form of late arrivals, failed cabin inspections and cabin dissention.
Third, counselors and CITs are observing each other and exchanging ideas. Since everyone is experiencing similar challenges, they share what they have learned with each other.
A counselor or CIT that works a three week session will get over 250 hours of leadership practice. Over the course of this time, you can see progress on almost a daily basis. The posture becomes more confident and effective; word selection improves; interpersonal interactions become fluid and subtle.
Meanwhile, their peers at home, who have been working as interns, playing sports or just “hanging out” have been getting little to no practice in leadership skills.
After the summer, our counselors and CITs report back to me that they find themselves the de facto leaders of their organizations. Each seems to find this surprising even though we told them it would happen. But it is no more surprising than to find that a musician that practiced for 4 hours a day for a summer would “suddenly” be better than another player that did not pick up his instrument during the same period.
If we want to confer meaningful advantage on our teens, teaching them to be effective leaders is an area of great opportunity.
Of course, one option is to work at a camp. If, however, this is not possible, here are a few potential substitutes for teenagers:
- Volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club
- Volunteer to coach a sports team of younger children
- Help with the younger children at a church, synagogue or mosque (if applicable).
The key to any opportunity is to have a group of younger children. The age disparity between the leader and the children provides some (though not complete) authority at the outset that makes leading more possible.
When possible, teens should seek out effective older leaders to partner with and carefully observe what they do when they interact with the children.
In short, leadership is important, it involves a series of skills and these skills require practice. Teens who wish to develop and hone their leadership acumen should seek out opportunities to work with groups of younger children to get this practice. If they do so, they’ll be pleased to learn how easily these skills can be transferred to leadership in all areas of their lives.
Thursday, September 27, 2012 @ 10:09 am | (0) Comments
We are very excited to announce that Camp Champions will sponsor a series of youth development seminars this November featuring renowned child psychologist Michael Thompson. Dr. Thompson is the author of New York Times bestseller Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and is recognized as an international expert and speaker on children’s social and emotional growth. Through his work, Dr. Thompson has also become an unapologetic admirer of summer camps!
In May Dr. Thompson released his newest book, Homesick and Happy, which details how time spent away from parents and specifically time spent at summer camps is a developmentally critical step for building confidence, independence, and maturity. Dr. Thompson will speak about his research on summer camps and the important role that he believes summer camps play in raising happy and successful young people. We would like to invite our camp families in Austin, Dallas, and Houston to attend and to bring friends who may be interested in learning about how their kids may benefit from attending summer camp!
These are the dates and locations, also available on our website.
Sunday, November 11th. @ the Dell JCC from 4-5pm.
Monday, November 12th. @ the Episcopal School of Dallas from 7-8pm.
Tuesday, November 13th. @ the Kinkaid School from 7-8pm.
For those in Dallas, Steve Sir will also be speaking on Tuesday, October 23rd at the Parish Episcopal School (Pearlman Center) from 6:30-7:30 on “creating advantage through summer camp” by building skills critical for success in the 21st century. We would love to have you and your friends here as well!
Please contact us with any questions!