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I believe in the power of summer camp.  There, I said it.  My name is Nathan Brant and I am a summer camp believer. 

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I may, however, be part of a dwindling number of believers.  In this era of specialization, the value of a traditional summer camp experience with archery, canoeing, campfires, nature walks, horseback rides and rock climbing is more difficult to explain to perspective families, foundations, and educators.  Traditional Day & Resident Camps are like liberal arts colleges.  We teach behavior before skill – we teach how learn and interact successfully in groups.  More and more, society seems to turn away from the notion of liberal arts and the well-rounded individual.  We are witnessing an unprecedented growth in technical or magnate schools at all levels, and the same thing is happening with summer camps.

Now everyone has gotten in on the Camp Game.  Museums, churches, schools, YMCAs, YWCAs, Scouts, community foundations, state parks, and conservancy groups are all running camps.  We have soccer camp, art camp, dance camp, eco-camp, robotics camp, swim camp, lacrosse camp, and many more.  Each of these programs teaches a skill.  They teach kids to be a better soccer player, a better inventor, a better artist, or a better swimmer.  Meanwhile, traditional summer camp programs continue with their less glamorous work – teaching kids how to be better people.

In my summer camps, Bynden Wood YMCA Day Camp & YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser (www.smymca.org), we strive to help our campers develop into successful adults.  Regardless of the camp activity, we teach our kids the lessons of leadership.  Whether on horseback, the archery ranges, or the climbing tower, we intentionally work to improve a young person’s communication skills, we focus on the development of interpersonal trust, and we provide opportunities for problem-solving.  When a young person leaves our program, we know he or she is better prepared to serve as a leader, or be a responsible member of a group being led.

Being a great soccer player may be important through high school or college.  Being a great leader is important for life

My name is Nathan Brant, and I am a summer camp believer.  Perhaps there is a support group for people like me . . . .

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

For more information on the relevance of summer camp, check out the American Camp Association’s article, “An American Tradition – Camp,” at http://www.campparents.org/American-Tradition.

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I am such a fan of alliteration.  I really can’t help myself.

Yesterday I was part of a podcast run by Travis Allison at www.CampHacker.org.  There were a number of great topics, but one stuck out in my mind:  Camp Staff Attitude Toward Working With Parents

Here’s the thing:  Some camp directors and staff (mostly folks who have been doing this a while in remote locations), view parent calls, requests, and visits as intrusive.  For camp professionals, and most parents, part of the overnight camp experience is that children spend time away from their parents and siblings to discover who they are outside of the family bubble.  This opportunity for self-discovery is truly powerful – even life-changing – but that doesn’t mean parents don’t have a place in camp.

Of course Parents have a place in camp!

A good camp (in my opinion), will look for opportunities to partner with parents.  From a camp perspective, there is a lot parents can contribute to my program that I could not accomplish without them.  Let’s face it, who’s better recruiting new campers?  It’s not me.  Most research will tell you camp’s rely on word-of-mouth to grow their program.  Parents (and campers) recruit new families to our program every day.  Here’s my Top 5 List on Partnering with Parents (Camp Perspective):

  1. Marketing:  I said it at the top.  Camps know that their best marketing tool is word-of-mouth.  We count on families referring families.  I recommend that camps engage their families to actively help market their program. 
  2. Program Development:  Camps are constantly looking for ways to improve their program, their customer service, their marketing, or their registration process.  Why not ask parents?  After all, kids come to camp, but parents pay for it.  I recommend camps hold 2 focus groups each year to collect parent input.  There is no downside to hearing what your families think about your camp.
  3. Service Project Volunteers:  Like marketing, many camps already partner with families to complete service projects on their behalf.  Whether you are building a playground, raking leaves, recruiting board members, or raising funds for a capital campaign, call your families and ask them to help.  If you are a non-profit and rely on the generous contributions of donors to fulfill your charitable mission, there is good research that suggests that people who simply consider volunteering their time to your organization will increase their financial contribution (http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/marketing/faculty/MarketingCamp/aaker_jennifer.pdf).
  4. Camper Behavior Management:  When a camper has behavioral problems at camp, who are the best people to recommend strategies for that child?  The Parents!  I hope all camps utilize family input to help their campers have a successful session of camp.
  5. Marketing:  Yes.  It is so important I said it twice.

So what can parents get out of this partnership?  Good question – and I am prepared to answer.  Here’s my Top 3 List on Partnering with Parents (Parent Perspective):

  1. Camp Staff as a Resource:  Parents, you have a year-round resource when you partner with your summer camp.  Are you looking for a great game idea or your child’s next birthday parts?  Call Camp.  Have a question about your child’s participation/obsession with Facebook?  Call Camp.  Looking for a year-round leadership program that you child can participate in?  Call Camp.  Your camp staff know kids.  They know kids programs and how to find them.  Use their expertise!
  2. Camp Facility as a Resource:  Looking for an affordable location for your next family reunion, birthday party or corporate conference?  Call Camp!  Your camp probably has what you need, and if they don’t, I bet they can help you find a good alternative.
  3. Camp for Resume Building:  Need something new on your resume or just looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity?  Ask Camp.  Most camps, private and non-profit, utilize volunteers for everything from improving their grounds and setting their policies.  Join the board of directors or plant flowers.  Either way, your camp will appreciate your service.

My Advice for Camps:  Determine what level of parent involvement would be beneficial to your program – and then solicit that involvement.  Family engagement in your program is a long-term investment – but it can pay long-term dividends, as well. 

My Advice for Parents:  Talk to your camp director before registering your child to attend camp.  Learn his or her attitude toward parent involvement in summer camp and select a camp program and leader that matches your needs.  If you’re looking for a camp you can be involved with – on any level – put your summer camp director on the spot and tell her how you can contribute.  Dare her to take you up on it.  The camp will be better for your input. 

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

FORGET PHONES – IT’S TIME TO TALK TABLETS

Yesterday afternoon I was talking to my Summer Camps Director about our upcoming season.  She recently attended a conference and was visibly relieved that a pair of speakers at the event spoke about society’s impending retreat from technology.  The speakers believed, as many camp professionals may hope, that our inexorable march toward increased connectivity and information technology would reverse.

My thought:  Dream on.

Since the invention of the printing press, society has walked a straight line toward a future of increased information sharing.  While there were detractors of the first telephones, every household in America eventually had a landline.  There were detractors of cell phones – still are, in fact – but society has embraced them.

Last year I wrote about the place cell phones have in summer camp.  For parents, I recommended they call the camp before sending their child to make sure they understood the organization’s cell phone policy.  For camps, I asked them to review their policies annually to know where they stand in relation to society.

But talking about cell phones was not looking forward; it was looking 10 years back and trying to catch up.  Today, I want to look to the future and a few short months away.

As I write this on Thanksgiving Eve, 2010, I know of 9 alternatives to the iPad device that Apple launched this year (http://mashable.com/2010/01/27/9-upcoming-tablet-alternatives-to-the-apple-ipad/).  These tablets are miraculous devices that allow a user to read a blog, watch a movie, surf the web, or read a book.  There are literally thousands of apps for each device, but I want to focus on just two – music and reading.

By next summer, campers will be asking their parents if they can take their tablet device to camp.  As a parent or camp professional, you should know how you will respond.  First imagine the device, due to a lack of 3G/4G coverage or WiFi, will be unable to surf the web.  Would you allow the device to be brought to camp so a child or teen can read their downloaded literary content?  Can a camper pack his or her iPad to listen to Taio Cruz while reading Moby Dick?

While we all discourage campers from packing expensive items that could be lost, broken or even stolen from a camp environment, most camps do allow kids to pack their MP-3 players and whatever book they may be reading at the moment.  So, will you deny them their iPad?

On principle, it would seem odd to deny them the device – at least for the reading or music functionality – simply because we, as adults, are not used to consuming our media in this fashion.  Despite my love of hardback books, I have to accept the fact that my children may never crack the spine of War and Peace.  Instead, my precious girls may read literary masterpieces on small, hand-held screens.

Take this a step further.  You’ve come this far with me; walk a little longer down this path to next summer.  Imagine your camp does have WiFi or 3G service.  What will you do about tablet devices in this scenario?  In such an environment, the full functionality of such a device would be brought to bear:  email, Facebook, Twitter, movies, tv, books, blogs, and much more.

This is the moment at which even the most tech savvy parents and camp professionals cringe.  We don’t want to picture our kids in the dining hall or walking down a mountain path reading about Katy Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand.

My Untested Advice?  1)  Don’t allow electronic devices in camp, OR  2)  If you don’t operate in the stone age and desire to stay relevant, allow the tablets in for music and books.  Make sure both parents and campers understand that these devices could be lost or broken and that the camp is not responsible, but allow them.  Draw up some clear guidelines about appropriate times for use and make sure these guidelines are shared with parents and campers.  Ask that all devices have their networked connections turned off and make it clear that staff may periodically check them.  If you are a camp professional, make sure your WiFi connections are password protected and that you do your best to keep kids off the internet during their camp experience (unless, of course, your camp is a computer/web/gaming camp).

I qualified the previous paragraph saying that it was untested advice.  Someone smarter than me will come up with better plans (please share them in the comments section of this blog), and ultimately the tech will continue to evolve.  We will continue to evolve in response to that tech.

There will be times next summer you will long for the days before all this tech, but let it go.  That ship has sailed. 

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

I was checking out some parent blogs last night on summer camp (I wanted to know what people were talking about), and was shocked to find that the most discussed topic was tipping.  Shocked.  I expected to find that it was a more contentious issue like “bullying,” “sunscreen application,” or “cellphones.”  Tipping.  I am a flexible person.  We’ll talk tipping.

My resume is heavily weighted towards YMCA Camping programs.  I have worked with Y Camps as a camp counselor, volunteer, and director in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  Looking at the list, certainly the regions I have served in have skewed towards a “Midwest Mentality.”  With that disclaimer, I can safely say that tipping was the last thing on our minds.

As a counselor (15-20 years ago), there were parents that tried to tip me.  I had parents bake me cookies, give me cards (and later gift cards), present me with clothing or care packages, and occasionally slip me a $20.  When I was 18, YMCA Camp Thompson’s policy was to thank the parent and decline cash gifts.  At YMCA Camp Y-Noah we trained staff to decline cash gifts, but redirect parent generosity to our “scholarship fund” or our “counselor appreciation fund.”  The latter served to pay for the staff banquet at the end of the summer.

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My Advice:

No two camping programs are identical – and tipping philosophies are very different from camp to camp.  In checking websites last night, I found that most private camps encourage tipping and take the time explain the practice in their parent information.  If your child is attending camp this summer, check the camp policies before tipping your counselor.  If you can’t find this information in your parent handbook, call the camp and ask.  This will save you an awkward good-bye on the last day of camp.

As far as non-cash gifts, I don’t know of a camp in the country that will instruct a counselor to decline a plate of cookies or a gift basket of sunscreen, frisbees, and silly string.  This is a safe way to show your gratitude.

Finally, if the camp has a scholarship fund or a counselor appreciation fund, consider showing your appreciation through a donation.  Obviously, I am a fan of sharing-the-gift-of-camp with deserving children who may not be able to afford it otherwise.  I hope you consider going that route.  However, camps do great things with counselor appreciation funds (CAF).  Camps use CAF donations to purchase tvs, dvd players, game systems, and computers for the counselors’ lounge.  Camps use CAF donations to pay for staff banquets and end-of-year gifts for counselors.  These are a good way to show your appreciation.    

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

For more information on the South Mountain YMCA Camps, visit www.smymca.org.

 

I have vivid memories of my dad at family events, and I bet my siblings and cousins do, too.  My dad was the guy on all fours in the middle of the living room floor wrestling 7 kids at once.  He was the center of the wild laughter.  At times he was a bull.  At times he was “Dr. Dan the Medicine Man,” a name coined by my older cousin, Steve.  My dad is not a doctor, but the name fits.  He was probably making us all a little healthier.  He was on our level.  He was facilitating and monitoring rough play between 7 kids at once and making sure that no one got hurt.  Perhaps most importantly, he showed us all we were important to him.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I spend a few paragraphs considering the impact of dads on the development of their children.  My wife sent me an article last week and I thought it was worth sharing with you entitled “Dads Empower Kids to take Chances”:  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37741738/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/).  This article references research that lauds the benefits of dad time.  It boils down to this:  in playtime facilitated by dads, kids are often encouraged to take risks.  There is a great anecdote in the article about parents and toddlers.  Toys were placed at the top of a flight of steps and each parent, in turn, supervised the toddler climbing the stairs to get the toys.  Moms followed the kids up every step, hand on the back (you can picture that, right?).  Dads stayed several steps behind the toddlers.  I can picture this in my home.  If you have kids, I bet you can, too.

My 4 year-old loves for me to tell her stories about when she was “little.”  One of her favorites (mine, too), is about the special relationship she and a pet cat had with the forest near our house.  At the time, we were living outside of Akron at YMCA Camp Y-Noah.  My daughter, Annalee, and her guardian angel, Horatio, would hike off into the woods on their own.  The trail they preferred was about 3/4 of a mile and led to my office in the camp.  Horatio was a big cat, my wife’s cat, but he protected our little girls like they were his own.  Annalee, from the time she was able to walk, loved hiking that trail, and Horatio would walk with us.  Sometimes, when Annalee and I were playing in the backyard, she would point at the trailhead and yell “trail” or “hike”.  Off she would go, Horatio at her side.  I would follow her, usually 25 to 50 yards behind, mostly out of curiosity.  I wanted to see how far she would go into the forest without her mother or me.  I didn’t want her to see me so I would walk quietly and hide behind trees.  You can picture that, too, can’t you?  Annalee would hike about 400 yards before she would turn around and come home.  Remember, she was probably 14-18 months old at this point.  On her return trip I would magically appear and walk home with her.  I have always wondered if she knew I was there.  My guess is that have Horatio was all she needed.  I didn’t think of myself as encouraging her to take risks or develop a sense of independence.  I was more curious about what her limits were.  I wanted to know how far she would go on her own.

Another interesting study referenced in the “Dads Encourage Kids to Take Chances,” involved rough play.  In the old days, we assumed that kids who played rough with their dads or siblings developed a disruptive level of aggression.  Nay, nay says the research.  Play rough, dads!  Play rough.  Current research seems to indicate that rough play with dad encourages the development of empathy.

Sometimes its fun watching history repeat itself.  The other weekend, my brother and I took turns being the focus of the four cousins wrestling on the floor.  My daughters, niece, and nephew squeal with delight as we roll around, give horse-rides, and tickle to our hearts content.  As a kid, I thought all the thanks was owed to my dad for those memories.  As an adult, I know the moms had to have lot of patience to let Dr. Dan do his important work.

Thank you, Dad, for playing.  Thank you, Mom, for letting us.

Happy Fathers Day to Dads Everywhere.  We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

So your kids have been pestering you to have a campout out in the backyard?  Mine have – and they are only 2 and 4.  My wife got them a ladybug tent a year ago.  My mother got them sleeping bags.  I have been promising to build a fire and roast marshmallows since April.  Pretty soon I will have to give in. 

Get Outside, Do "The Great American Campout"

 

But I don’t have to do it alone.  The National Wildlife Federation is promoting its annaul “Great American Backyard Campout”  (http://online.nwf.org/site/PageNavigator/gabc_2010_home) again this year.  I don’t care if you live in Center City, Philadelphia or Grinnell, Iowa.  There is a Campout event being hosted in a park near year.  Visit the website I included above and get yourself registered.  After you sign up, a world of activities to do with your kids will be yours for the taking.  Do something different with your kids this summer.  Get outside with your family.  Camp. 

Camp – but start small.  Please don’t go to a box store and buy two backpacks with the intent of hitting the Appalachian Trail with your 7 year-old.  Build up to that kind of campout.  Start small with an experience you know will be successful.  Start in your backyard. 

Why is this so important?  And if you’re a concrete kid yourself who did not have a lot of exposure to the great outdoors, this is a legitimate question.  Last month I posted a blog on why your kids, and you, need the great outdoors (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/why-kids-and-you-need-the-great-outdoors/).  Instead of rehashing that, I wanted to share a couple of points that the National Wildlife Federation included on their site promoting the Campout event. 

Beyond the obvious benefit of spending time with your kids, the National Wildlife Federation points to the following benefits: 

  1. Creativity:  Kids who spend time outdoors are more likely to use their imagination.
  2. Eyesight:  Kids who spend time outdoors have less nearsightedness
  3. Friendships:  Outdoor kids do better relating directly to one another
  4. Healthy:  More sun = more vitamin D.  More outdoor play (1 hour a day) = less obesity.  Greater health = better grades in school.  Good Stuff!

Do you need more convincing?  I hope not.  Campout in the backyard with your kids this summer.  Tell stories.  Roast marshmallows.  Look at stars.  Build a stronger family.  You’ll be happy that you did. 

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

So you’re looking for something new this year – something to do with your family that will cost less than a trip to the beach or Disney World?  I am willing to bet your local camp has a program for you.

Family Camp           

I cannot count the number of times moms and dads have told me they wished that they could go to camp like their kids.  You can!  Most camps around the country offer sessions for families.  Depending on the organization, Family Camp programs may be a weekend or an entire week.  Regardless, it is an experience your family will remember for their entire lives.

When I worked in Ohio at YMCA Camp Y-Noah, our Family Camps were Friday night to Sunday morning on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Halloween weekends (for more information on Camp Y-Noah visit www.gotcamp.org or read about the program at http://blog.cleveland.com/travel/2008/05/summer_camps_are_making_room_f.html).  Cabins were reserved for a single family and deposits were often paid a year in advance to “hold a spot.”  These programs fill, and for good reason.  You have the benefit of a camping experience with the added bonus of letting the camp take care of the food, lodging, and programs.   

Now that I work with the South Mountain YMCA and Camp Conrad Weiser in Pennsylvania, we offer a program that runs from Friday night to Monday morning on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.  The added day allows for more programming and a relaxed schedule.  Families enjoy themed dinners and activities in addition to climbing, canoeing, target sports, trail rides, movie nights, and much more.  For more information on the South Mountain YMCA’s Family Camp, visit us at www.smymca.org.

 

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Parent-Child Weekends       

In the YMCA, when we say “Parent-Child Weekends” we are often referring to a weekend retreat for the old Indian Guide/Princess programs.  In the modern Y, these programs are referred to as Adventure Guides, but the format is unchanged.  Dads or moms and their sons and daughters enjoy a weekend of traditional camp activities, campfires, and challenges.

Beyond the YMCA, camps are offering mother-daughter weekends, father-son weekends, and grandparent-grandchild campouts.  There are a lot of opportunities out there.

Adult Retreats                     

Women’s Wellness Weekends.  Men’s Retreats.  Singles Campouts.  You name, somebody is doing it.  Find a program and a location that appeals to you and get out there!

Camp is not just for kids.  If you’re looking for a quality program for yourself or your family, call your local camp.  Chances are you have one in your backyard.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

It’s a summer tradition and a rite of passage, but why do send our children into the woods each summer armed with their sleeping bags, sunscreen, and two extra pairs of socks?

In 1979, my parents took me to a little YMCA camp on the South Mountain in Pennsylvania. They were well-adjusted, happily married, middle-class people who loved their 3 children, but they dropped their oldest son off at a camp at the tender age of 7. They had never visited the camp, had not gone to it themselves, and knew none of the staff working in the program. What were they thinking?

I hated my first camp experience. I was slow to make friends as a child – particularly that first summer – and had not benefited from watching an older sibling make his or her way through the world. I didn’t understand that every family, school, or house of worship had their own traditions and customs that were different from mine. It was intimidating. I won’t even get into the camp food. I left on Saturday morning with an awful case of poison ivy swearing I would never return. To my parents’ credit, they just smiled and said “we’ll talk about it later.” The next summer, they pushed me to go back. Their philosophy was that any experience could go wrong once – give it a second try and then make your decision on whether or not to return.

As an adult now working in camping, I asked my parents why they sent me, and in later summers my brother and sister, to Camp Thompson. In various ways, they told me that they hoped we would get a better “sense of ourselves”. They felt a sleep-away camp offered us the opportunity to grow as individuals while learning about others in an intimate setting that can only be created by living with 8-10 other children for a week. 30 years later, are we different from our parents?

Recently I posted a poll on LinkedIn that asked parents what they hoped their children would get from their summer camp experience. 47% of the parents responding indicated that they wanted their campers to Gain Independence. 30% responded with the hope their children would Gain Self-Esteem. 15% wanted their campers to Make New Friends. Only 5% indicated that they wanted their children to Learn Traditional Values or a New Skill.

Perhaps our reasons for sending our children away to camp have not changed that much in 30 years, even as society and technology have rapidly evolved. Perhaps we all hope our children will make their annual summer sojourn into the woods and return knowing a little more about themselves.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan