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In preparing for summer camp, parents ask a lot of questions – as they should.  What happens when a child get homesick?  What kind of activities will my child be able to participate in?  How will your staff help my child make friends?

All of these are good, valid concerns.  But my favorite question, hands down, is “How far away is too far away to send a child to summer camp?”

How Far is Too Far for Summer Camp?

If you are a reader who likes his or her answer up front, let me satisfy your curiousity immediately with a 2 part response:

  1. It depends on the child attending camp.
  2. It depends on the parent who is sending the child to camp.

Now its perfectly clear, right?  Perhaps not.  But it was helpful, right?  Again, perhaps not.

This summer, I ran a poll on LinkedIn  and asked adults this very question (http://linkd.in/mMvo0b).  With a few votes shy of 200 responses, my results are less than definitive, but the comments were pure gold.  I simply asked, “If you were sending a 10 year-old to sleep-away camp, what is a comfortable distance?” 

When framing my responses, I used times (less than 1 hour away, 1-2 hours away, 2-4 hours away, anywhere in the country, and anywhere in the world), but I did not define how a camper might be travelling.  In my opinion, once campers are travelling more than 4 hours away (by car, boat, train, or plane), they are too far away for parents to rush to their aid in the same day.  When campers are 4 or more hours away, they are “beyond reach.”  Coincidentally, this is how I picked a college.  I wanted a school that my parents could not easily visit.  I chose Grinnell College in Iowa, a full 16 hour drive from my home in Pennsylvania. 

As you might expect, responses to this simple question were all over the map (pun intended).

  1. 21% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp less than 1 hour from home.
  2. 34% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp 1-2 hours away.
  3. 27% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp 2-4 hours from home.
  4. 9% of respondents were comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in their home country.
  5. 9% of respondents felt comfortable with their child attending camp anywhere in the world.

If you take the time to review the results in more detail, you would find a trend towards older parents feeling more comfortable with their children traveling further from home than younger parents.  You wouldn’t see significant differences between men and women.

My Advice to ParentsThe perfect camp will be where you and your child’s comfort levels intersect.  Some kids are ready at 7 to fly across the country.  Some parents will never be ready for their children to be an hour away from them.  As my father is fond of saying, “moderation in all things.”  Look for the compromise. 

Look for the point at which your comfort and your child's comfort intersect.

Please keep this in mind:  Your goal should be to challenge your child and push her a step beyond her comfort level.  If you keep her too close, she may not feel challenged and/or independent.  If you push her too far out of her comfort zone, she may not benefit from the experience.  The same thing goes for you as a parent.  If you’re a parent who believes you can’t live without your child sleeping in the next room, look for the camp that is an hour away or less.  Don’t immediately send your camper across the country.  Moderation.

My Advice to Camp Directors:  “What?” you may wonder, “What does this post have to do with the art of camp management?”  Well, it should impact how you look at your marketing work.  Most parents responding to this poll, 55%, are comfortable sending their child to a camp less than 2 hours away.  82% of all parents who responded to the survey are looking for a camp that is less than 4 hours away from their home.  So, if you are on a limited marketing budget, focus on promotional events and ads that are within 2 hours drive of your camp.  Half of all parents looking for sleep-away camp next summer will be comfortable with your location.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp program (YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser and Bynden Wood), The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

 

Things have changed since I was a kid – and I’m not that old!  Well, I don’t feel all that old.  I may only be 37, but I guess I did attend summer camp last century.  I hope that was easier for you to read than it was for me to write.  Here’s the thing, though, I don’t need a calendar to mark the passage of time.  I just need to think about how human interaction has evolved over the past three decades.

Whether you are aware of it or not, the way youth development professionals interact with the children they work with has changed dramatically.  If you are over 30, you may remember a soccer coach driving you home after practice.  You probably recall a favorite teacher or the director of your school play taking a little extra time after school to work with you one-on-one.  If you grew up going to camp, you may even remember reading a letter from your summer camp counselor during the winter.  If you are a child growing up in America today, chances are you will never experience any of these things.  Times have changed.

Every youth-serving agency in the country struggles to find the balance between appropriate child protection and delivering quality, impactful programs.  If you work for, or volunteer in, the YMCA, you have probably signed a code of conduct that prohibits you from transporting a minor to or from a program in your personal vehicle.  That same code would prohibit you from contacting a child or teen outside of the defined parameters of the program you are running.  It would ask that you agree to never babysit a child you meet through a YMCA program.  It would prohibit you from ever being alone with a child.  Not one of these statements should sound unreasonable – they are for the protection of the children with which we work.  Here, in America, we take the care of our children very seriously.  As a dad, I am grateful for that. 

In summer camp, one of the topics covered in a good staff training involves appropriate counselor/camper contact after the summer camp season ends.  Why is this a topic?  Quite honestly, if the camp and its counselors are good at what they do, your child will want to continue to interact with them throughout the year. 

There was a fad among YMCA camps several years ago.  Instead of giving staff a traditional “staff shirt,” YMCA directors were handing out “Professional Role Model” shirts.  While this may have become a cliché, it was a slogan for a reason.  As camp directors, we want our staff to be role models for the kids we work with.  Kids get attached to good, charismatic staff, and they want to keep the relationships going.  Thirty years ago, that wouldn’t have been a problem.

Through the 1980s the camping industry and society at large didn’t have a problem with kids reaching out to their summer camp counselors after the summer ended via the U.S. Postal Service.  At that time, the potential for contact between people not living in the same community was limited to snail mail and the phone.  Now when we think about camper/counselor contact, we have to consider cell phones, smart phones, texts, email, instant messages, Facebook, My Space, chat rooms, discussion groups, digital photos, video – and the U.S. Postal Service.  With increased opportunity for online interaction comes increased risk.  Camps have responded appropriately.

So what is “appropriate” contact between summer camp counselors and the children with which they work?  The short answer is (drumroll, please), whatever your camp says it is.

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My Advice for Parents:

Read your camp’s materials.  They should have a section on counselor/camper contact after the camp season.  Most camp’s prohibit phone calls, emails, and social networking site interaction between your child and camp staff.  That does become difficult to enforce since most camp staff are seasonal (they are only employeed by the camp for the summer).  This puts the onus back on parents to monitor who their kids are interacting with online.  Check out your child’s “friends” on Facebook and My Space.  Read the posts.  Stay involved.

Most camps have an “official” Facebook and/or My Space page.  These sites are generally monitored on a daily basis, but you will want to check with the camp.  Again, if your child is “friending” the camp, you may want to consider doing the same. 

Know that not all camps have identical counselor/camper contact policies.  Some programs encourage letter writing between staff and campers throughout the year.  Some camps publish yearbooks or calendars that print all the camper addresses.  Other camps have middle-of-the-road approaches that allow campers to mail letters to counselors via the camp address.  Likewise, when counselors write the camper back, the letter should pass through the camp office and then be forwarded on.  Some camps have strict “no contact” policies. 

If you suspect a former camp counselor is contacting your child inappropriately (innocently or not), contact the camp.  I have no doubt that the camp professionals will work with you to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. 

My Advice to Camp Professionals:

Know your policy.  Know why it was instituted.  Know what the intent of the policy was when it was written.  In a world where on-line interactions are evolving daily, the intent of your policy is probably more important than the actual language.

Educate your young, college-age staff.  They need to know the intent of your policy, as well, so they can make good decisions in ambiguous situations.  Also, educate them about privacy settings on social networking sites – as well as why that privacy is important for their future.

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The relationship between a counselor and her summer campers is paramount to the camp experience.  A good counselor can positively change the life of a child.  As parents, and camp professionals, we have to respect the power of that relationship while drawing clear boundaries that we can share with our children and our young staff.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

  

Here at Camp Conrad Weiser and the Bynden Wood Day Camp (South Mountain YMCA, www.smymca.org), we have crossed the halfway point and are staring down the end of our summer season.  Campers have gained independence, developed positive self-esteem, made friends, and even learned a few new skills along the way.  They have also ruined at least one t-shirt climbing the high ropes course or mountain biking through the mud.  The 18-22 year-old counselors have all decided there is no better summer job.  By this point, they have also realized they can wait a few more years until they become parents.  And we all need a new pair of sneakers or sandals. 

By any measure of success, it has been a good summer so far with many good times yet to come. 

Is every moment perfect?  Absolutely not.  As in parenting, we have highs and lows.  We can look at conversations we’ve had with kids and identify better ways to frame things.  We have examined games from the first half of the summer and made adjustments for the second half of the summer that improve them (safety, timing, fun, etc.).  Running a summer camp, like parenting, is a process of constant improvement. 

YMCA Camp Conrad Weiser

 

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More than a decade ago, I was approached by a parent at the end of a day camp day.  We had been enjoying a successful, safe summer and I was proud of our accomplishments.  I was bullet-proof, impervious to criticism, and ready for anything – except for a parent with a legitimate point.  Imagine a day camp at your local park.  The program runs from 9 am-4 pm.  You can drop your kids off as early as 8:30 and can pick them up as late as 4:30.  But the camp day is 9-4.  What happens for that first and last half hour?  When I was in my early 20s, long before I dreamed of becoming a parent myself, I looked at moments like this in a camp day differently than I do now.  That first half hour seemed an impossibility to program.  Counselor groups couldn’t function because kids were coming or going.  Games like soccer would completely break down because the camper population was in flux.  Instead, I treated those first or last 30 minutes of the day as “free time.” 

And then a mother, with a mother’s eye, called out the weakness of my camp’s design.  She wrote me a letter about the lack of program in the closing 30 minutes.  She noted that kids were sitting in the shade, not engaged by staff, simply waiting.  She saw counselors circling up around the picnic table with their clip boards.  In short, she saw the worst part of our day.  Every parent that encountered us saw us at our worst.  And I did this by design. 

At first, I tried to explain it away.  In my ridiculous 22 year-old pride, I tried to tell this mother that the campers were active all day.  My campers spent hours swimming, playing, creating, and teambuilding – sometimes kids just needed time to be – not do.  I’m not exaggerating.  I actually wrote that to a mom.  It’s embarrassing.  

The truth is, and was, that those two, half-hour periods in my day were weak.  Terrifyingly, these were the two times of the day that parents were able to see our program.  Parents did not experience our teambuilding sessions.  They did not see our crafts class.  They did not take our nature walks.  They did not watch our talent show.  Parents saw us at our worst.  It was a summer camp slip.  The mom who brought it to my attention was correct.  I needed to make a change. 

That summer, back in 1997, we did change our program.  It was humbling.  We ensured that there were structured activitiess during the 30 minutes of parent sign-in.  We designed 4 structured programs our campers could choose from each afternoon during sign-out.  We began to invite parents to our our talent shows (which we transformed into Parent Shows) each Friday at 4 p.m. – immediately before sign-out.  We got better.  

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Every summer camp will slip this season.  Sometimes we slip when parents can see it, sometimes not.  The true mark of a great summer camp and a capable director is the ability to admit the error and address it.  When you, as a parent, see something “not right” in your child’s camp this summer, bring it to the director.  Be patient, you may have to explain it to us twice.  If we respond, make adjustments, and follow-up with you – you’ve found a good program.  

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan

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

If you don’t care about basketball or LeBron James, no worries.  I won’t write about him very much.  I will use this high-profile job change as a backdrop upon which we can project a few life lessons that could be beneficial for our children.         

Let me start this post by saying that my family and I lived in Akron when I worked with the Akron YMCA up until last November.  I marveled at how the community revered this 25 year-old man – how they (we) expected him to carry our hopes and dreams on his shoulders.  I watched him accept that responsibility.  This young athlete grew up in the same community in which he played basketball as a professional.  It was a rare treat to live in Ohio and watch this incredible transition.  He and his foundation ran the King for Kids Bike-a-thon for young people in Akron.  This event gave away 100 bikes to deserving kids each year.  LeBron and friends (including Dwayne Wade) rode bikes in the event, talked to kids, shook hands, and posed for photos.  Money from his events benefited the YMCA, the Urban League, and now the Boys & Girls Club.  He tried to raise the community up.  He did this from age 18 to 25.  I am embarrassed when I think about what I spent my free time on when I was in my early 20s.          

Now, for this first time in his 25 years on earth, this young man is leaving his hometown to try life in another community, and it hurts those he has left behind.  He knew it would.  And I’m confident that made his decision much more difficult.         

Lebron James

 

Last night and this morning I watched the Facebook status updates from Ohio and beyond (the first one below is from Britain).  They were hard to read, but I wanted to share some of the comments:       

  1. “Lebron is a greedy wanker!”
  2. “Welcome to Wade’s team – not yours!”
  3. “How do I teach my children loyalty?”

If your children are aware of this mayhem, what do you talk about?  Even if your children are not aware of LeBron, there will be obvious parallels in your family’s life.  Imagine a beloved teacher taking another job and moving on.  We’ve all seen families separate and suffer through the transition.  In today’s world, people are coming into the lives of our children – and then moving on – regularly.  We are a society in flux.        

I picked these three comments above because they are a great launching point for this conversation.        

Let’s start with greed.  In short, Lebron didn’t move on for cash.  He took a pay cut to join the Heat in Miami.  We often berate our celebrity athletes for choosing the larger contract over a winning team.  This young man did not.  He is seeking the win, the championship.  This might really be a great lesson for kids.        

Forget about James for a moment.  How many times have you left one job for another because of a larger salary?  Generally, this is one of the accepted reasons for pursuing a new employment opportunity.  If you switch jobs, and it impacts your family, what do you tell your children?  I am confident you don’t say you are moving your family across the country because you are a “greedy wanker.”  You would look your child in the eye and tell her that you have a great opportunity in a new town.  This new job will allow your family to live in a nicer house, or attend a better school district, or be closer to your extended family.        

The second comment I posted read, “Welcome to Wade’s team – not yours!”  Here is a great lesson for kids.  Lebron James, sports icon at 25, made a decision that forces him to be a team player.  He will join a team with multiple superstars that share a common goal – winning a championship.  I am hard pressed to say that this is anything but virtuous.  Even if he doesn’t ever win a championship in Miami, he put his principles (pursuit of winning) ahead of personal fame or increased fortune.  He has chosen a team and shared purpose or his individual identity.        

How do I teach my children about loyalty?”  In our short memories, perhaps we’ve forgotten that Lebron James already had the opportunity to move on to another team prior to this.  He “re-upped” his contract and gave his hometown team a total of 7 years.  I think that shows loyalty.  Is it the same committment Cal Ripken made to the Orioles?  Of course not, but Cal was raised in a different era, a less immediate era without the internet, Twitter, and Facebook.        

We switch schools.  We switch jobs.  We switch careers.  We even switch families.  Are we disloyal?  I hope not.        

Are there lessons to be learned from the LeBron-a-thon of the last several weeks?  Absolutely.  But, please, do not mistake the teachable moment to the gain or loss of a role model found in celebrity athletes.  Perhaps we ought to spend more time talking about the hows-and-whys we observe in celebrity behavior, and less time idolizing these people or expecting them to be the role models in our children’s lives.  I suspect the best role model in your child’s life is you – and I doubt you will ever give him or her a reason to question your loyalty or motivations.  As the CEO of the Akron YMCA, Doug Kohl, is fond of saying, “love your children until they ask you why.”  I think if you can do that, athletes switching teams and towns is a pretty small deal.        

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Last night, waiting to read about Lebron James’ decision (I don’t have ESPN :-)), I was sick to my stomach for Cleveland.  As much as any town in America, it could benefit from a championship sports team to lift it up.  At the same time, I was excited for a new opportunity for a young man that has already accomplished so much.  I hope he continues to support his hometown in any way he can, and I hope his hometown values those efforts, but like any breakup it will take effort on everyone’s part to mend the hurt feelings.  It will take humility and grace to continue to recognize a hometown hero, even if his success comes in Florida instead of Ohio.   

Let me end with this with a quote from a reasonable man I respect:        

“Good luck LeBron, make us proud for putting winning above money.  ‘Individuals are superstars, teams win championships.  I want to be a champion.’  Good luck LeBron.  I hope Akron still welcomes you home, you have done a lot for this area!”          

Thank you, Bob B. for articulating that sentiment so well – and thank you Lebron.  Congratulations on raising $5,000,000 for the Boys & Girls Club through your announcement last night.  Hopefully when this all shakes out, we can remember the good things you’ve done for Ohio as well as the pain we’ve felt in watching you move on.    

We’ll see you at Camp!       

Nathan

I wish summer camp were free.

I would like every child to attend one of the many excellent summer camps around the world for two weeks each summer, but the fees can be a barrier for families.  I live and work in eastern Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia in the old mountains above the City of Reading.  In preparing this post, I decided to look into the fees at camps within a couple of hours of my location.  In an hour of research, I located 27 YMCA camps in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The prices range from $250 per week of resident camp to $800 per week.  These camps offered 1 Week, 2 Week, 4 Week, and 8 Week sessions.  They offered programs ranging from arts to archery and trips to target sports.  They are situated in State Parks, on thousands of acres in upstate New York, on the Chesapeake Bay, just off the Appalachian Trail, and right next to suburban neighborhoods.  It is dizzying – and these are just YMCA camps.

In simply looking at the fees, any reasonably intelligent person would ask, “why the disparity?”

Here’s the skinny:  It’s not about staff.  We all pay about the same rates for our American and international staff.  We pay the same food companies the same prices on food.  As YMCAs, our facilities have been built by capital donations – so, generally, we carry very little debt.  Largely, it comes down to operational costs.  I will try and explain this without getting technical.  If you are looking at a 2 camps – one that is $250 per week and one that is $750 per week – there are a few differences you may not notice at first glance.  Both camps have archery.  Both camps boast a climbing tower.  So here’s the difference:

  1. Your cheaper program carries fewer year-round staff.  The more expensive program is putting money into year-round staff because they believe it is important for program planning and quality, staff recruitment and training, and camper contact and recruitment.
  2. The more expensive program will have more facilities and program that must be maintained year-round.  I worked at a camp that cost $250 a week and it only had 22 buildings and a climbing tower to maintain.  I worked at a camp that cost $400 per week and it had 46 buildings to maintain, a climbing tower, a ropes course, and horses to feed year-round.  I currently work with Camp Conrad Weiser which costs $685 per week.  Conrad Weiser maintains 96 buildings, a climbing tower, a ropes course, a pool, horses, and much more.  The cost of camp goes up with the cost of maintaining the facility.
  3. Market.  The $250 camp is recruiting local campers – possibly from rural or suburban regions where the average household income for residents is modest at best.  The $750 camp draws from urban areas with significantly higher average household incomes.

My adviceVisit the camps you are researching.  There will be noticeable differences between the $250 and $750 programs – if you visit and poke around a bit.  Both programs should have quality staffs (although one camp may simply have more people on its team).  Both programs should offer safe and engaging programs (although the more expensive camp may have more).  Both programs should put your child’s needs first.

If you decide on a more expensive camp, one that may normally be out of your price range, call the camp and ask about variable pricing options.  Ask about scholarships.  Ask about payment plans.  Ask about tier pricing.  Particularly if it is a YMCA camp, the staff will be motivated to help.

I would like every child to have the opportunity to attend a good, quality summer camp for two weeks each summer – and that is why I work for a YMCA camp as opposed to a “for profit” camping enterprise.  Working at the South Mountain YMCA (www.smymca.org) allows me to guarantee that every child can attend my camps, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.  If you are interested in camps providing scholarships, income-based price structures, or other variable pricing options, look no further than your local YMCA camp (http://www.ymca.net/find_ymca_camps/).

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

Nathan

I believe in the “teachable moment.”

A good summer camp (or school), creates an environment in which a child learns by doing.  We sometimes refer to learning-by-doing as experiential learning, and a week away at camp provides ample opportunities for this kind of education.  Rock climbing can teach us about our limits, our tolerance for risk, and our trust in others.  Horseback riding can teach us about our balance, managing risk, and empathy for other living creatures.  In my experience, the greatest lessons learned at camp involve the things children learn about one another.

Growing up at YMCA Camp Thompson, I was exposed to people who looked different from me, ate different foods than I did, and prayed in different houses of worship than I did.  I was raised in a rural community where diversity meant that some folks were Chevy people and others were Ford.  Were it not for summer camp, I may not have seen meaningful diversity until college.  Summer camp broadened my horizons and changed the way I saw my place in the world.  In the 1970s and 80s, diversity at Camp Thompson was restricted to race and religion, and that was a lot for me to absorb.  My how things have changed.

At the South Mountain YMCA, we have children from 6-10 different countries and staff from all over the world.   Children attending Camp Conrad Weiser come with a variety of medical diagnoses, abilities, and behavioral challenges.  Though we are a YMCA Camp, we welcome children with a stunning variety of faiths and religious traditions – and we welcome those children who have no religious background at all.  Our campers come from families that could buy our 600 mountaintop acres, and they also come from families that may not be able to afford a loaf of bread.  That is why I work for the YMCA – we do our best to provide programs that are available for all.

As a parent, I see this intentional work toward inclusion as a positive trend.  I want my daughters to benefit from the rich mosaic of human experience a program like ours has to offer.  Rather than worrying about our family’s values being diluted in multitude of belief systems we welcome into our camping programs, I hope that my children see their values defined against the backdrop of all that diversity.  I want my girls to see there is more than one way to succeed in this world – more than one way to live.

Inclusion may be the ultimate teachable moment in our summer camp this summer, but like all teachable moments it must be intentionally facilitated for it to succeed.  I am no longer a cock-eyed optimist, give-peace-a-chance, neo-hippy type.  I know that inclusion does not come without bumps in the road.  In my camping programs, we don’t travel down this road without a good map.  Bringing a diverse group of campers together is facilitated – it is guided by staff trained to accomplish that goal and balance the many needs of our participants.  It is good work – work to be proud of – but it is never easy. 

I hope you and your family have the chance to travel this interesting road.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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

  

As is my wont, I started writing about summer camp.  In fact, I was going to tell you about the first time I went to camp, but this post went off on a tangent.  Enjoy. 

As the oldest child, I was the “test case” for all my parents’ best intentions.  This is not my opinion.  Both my mother and father have told me this on numerous occasions.  I was the first of their 3 children to hit the water at the Carlisle Family YMCA for “Diaper Dip.”  Diaper Dip was a 1970s ritual in which well-meaning parents tried to drown their infants at the local pool.  Despite the trauma, I grew up to love swimming – but my parents did not repeat Diaper Dip with my brother or sister.  My mother drug me along to her Girl Scout campouts – regardless my obvious gender differences with her troop.  And despite that early, awkward introduction to hiking and camping, I love both activities to this day.  I was also the first of their children to attend sleep-away camp.  More on that experience later. 

There has to be a first.  Without a first there is no second.  There is no progress.  This immutable law of nature does not make it any less difficult for the first born in any family – or their parents.  Of the many things I have learned in my 4 plus years of parenthood, I am most proud of my increased tolerance for screwing up.  I apologize to my oldest daughter on a weekly – if not daily – basis for all the instances of poor judgement I exhibit.  I want to share with you one such example. 

My 4 year-old daughter is very, very bright.  A trait that I am pleased to say she inherited from her mother.  She also got her good looks from her mother.  If you’re keeping score at home, she is 2 for 2.  Unfortunately, my eldest daughter inherited many of my personality flaws which notably include a ridiculous sense of humor (shared by no one else on the continent) and an irrepressible drive to say outrageous things.  I delight in both of these traits, and I weep for her social future.  Thank God she is both smart and pretty. 

My first-born. Apologies, dear daughter.

 

At her age, she is limited in the topics she can use to exercise her outrageous behavior, but she has discovered that the word “poop” annoys her mother to no end.  She uses it endlessly.  If her mother, my sainted wife, is doing flashcards with our youngest daughter, my outrageous offspring will find a way to work poop into the conversation: 

My wife:  What other words begin with the letter D? 

My oldest:  Dog begins with D. 

My wife:  Very good.  Dog does begin with D. 

My oldest:  Mom, you know that dogs poop, right? 

After my wife puts her in a time-out for saying “poop” for the 107th time that hour, she skips back to the flash card game which usually evolves into a rhyming game.  You can see it coming, can’t you? 

My wife:  What word rhymes with scoop, girls? 

My oldest:  Poop!  Poop rhymes with scoop! 

My wife:  You will have another time-out. 

My oldest:  Why?  They rhyme.  Poop certainly rhymes with scoop.  I am just answering your question.  I’m not using “poop” in a bad way.  I didn’t call anyone a poopy-head. 

This conversation would continue as my wife walks my daughter back to the hall for yet another time-out.  Here’s the thing.  I know why my daughter says outrageous things.  I say outrageous things.  It is compulsive.  We crave the reaction we get from being outrageous.  We like to make people laugh with our outrageous thoughts.  I made my father and brother laugh throughout my childhood.  The feeling of their laughter was better than ice cream, better than staying up late, better than any punishment was bad.  I assume my daughter feels the same way, and like my father I do laugh

I want to help my daughter.  I know that this desire to outrage people into laughter does not play so well in school.  It rarely plays well with peers.  So I sat down with my beautiful 4 year-old daughter and laid it out.  I told her that I understand why she likes to say “poop” and make people laugh.  I told her that I think it’s funny, too, and that I delight in her sense of humor.  I also explained, as best I could, that most people (including her mother) will not ever laugh.  They will be upset.  I told my oldest daughter that she could say all the outrageous things she wished to me.  Just spare everyone else, sweet girl.  I had the best intentions.  My oldest girl is my test case.  She is my first. 

This week I was sitting on the couch with my babies on my lap before work.  We were playing and tickling and enjoying the day.  My wife was making waffles and getting the table ready.  It was traditional domestic bliss.  Out of nowhere (so it seemed) my oldest squealed in joy and yelled “I love you poopy-head,” giving me a big hug.  My wife reacted predictably, scolding my sweet girl and directing her to take another time-out.  She looked at me with heart-broken eyes and said, “but poppa, I said “poopy-head” to you, not momma.  Why do I have to do a time-out?” 

She heard me.  She understood what I asked of her.  I just did a very poor job explaining my new “outrageous behavior” rule.  I was definitely a poopy-head. 

And now back to summer camp.  My parents, who had done church camps and Scouts in the 50s, believed the experience a week away at camp provided was an important step in child development.  Did I mention that I am the product of two MSWs (Masters of Social Work)?  They did not have websites or blogs or camp professionals to provide them with advice on “camper readiness.”  They just went with their guts – and I went away for a week of camp at age 7.  I can hear moms cringing across the web. 

I hated camp.  I got poison ivy so bad I required shots.  It was in my eyes, my throat, between my fingers and toes.  I didn’t shower or brush my teeth for a week (which was a positive in my mind).  I didn’t make any friends.  To top it off, the little YMCA camp I attended had an “eat-everything-on-your-plate” rule.  It seemed there were green beans served at every meal.  I did not like green beans.  I spent hours after meal times sitting alone in the dining hall staring at plates of green beans.  Come to think of it, I still don’t like green beans.  Go figure.  

It was a terrible first experience.  Truth to tell, I probably was not ready to go to camp at age 7.  My younger brother was (having seen me do it), as was my little sister, but I was not.  My parents listened to my tales of culinary abuse and sent me back the next year.  Developmentally, I was more ready that second year.  I enjoyed camp.  I made friends.  I even made it a career. 

I was my parents’ test case, as my daughter is for me.  As parents we make mistakes.  Good parents try and correct them, not by overreacting to the negative, but by looking for the positive and amplifying it.  Good parents tweak the rules when they find out they don’t work quite right.  Good parents learn that because their child wasn’t ready this year does not mean he or she won’t be ready next year.  Good parents try again. 

We’ll see you at Camp! 

Nathan

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

I am proud to work with the South Mountain YMCA’s camping programs (Bynden Wood Day Camp & Camp Conrad Weser).  As the CEO of a small non-profit, I am able to have my hand in a lot of pies.  I am fortunate to raise funds to make sure every child can attend camp.  I develop staff with an eye on the next step in their careers.  I play guitar at campfires.  I sing at chapel.  I even get to attend camp fairs, local festivals, and other events that we participate in to meet families and promote our programs.

Today I wanted to talk about those promotional opportunities I mentioned.  When I have attended camp fairs with 100 other camps and 600 parents, I have noticed a change over the last 10 years.  More and more parents are asking about day camp.  Fewer and fewer parents “are ready” to send their children to resident camp.  In the camp community, we have referred to these protective folks as “helicopter parents.”   More on these well-intentioned parents later on in the post.

So, walk with me on this one – you will need to picture this scene in your head.  Nice camp directors from all over the country are talking to moms and dads.  The exhibition hall is full.  Guitars are playing.  Kids are running.  Camp videos are on strategically placed screens.  There is excitement in the air.  This is a typical conversation.

Me:  “So, what are you hoping your child will get out of her summer camp experience this year?” 

Parent:  “Well, we just don’t want her too far from home.”

Me:  “So you’re looking for a resident camp experience close to home?”

Parent:  “Oh, heavens no.  Our daughter is only 14.  We’re just looking for day camps.  She’s far too young to go away over night.”

If this exchange makes you chuckle, go read another blog.  If this conversation sounds perfectly reasonable to you, please hang in there with me and keep reading.   

When I mentioned helicopter parents earlier, I am referring to moms and dads that are convinced they would be “bad parents” if there child is out of their sight.  These parents are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives to an extent that may seem suffocating to the casual observer (and probably the over-protected child).  There is a cost to this style of parenting, and it was laid out in an article on MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37493795/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/).  Let’s sum it up.  Young adults that are overly sheltered as children and teens tend to be:

  1. less open to new ideas
  2. more vulnerable emotionally
  3. anxious
  4. self-consciousness

No one wants to see their children grow up into a neurotic, insecure adult.  So what is the solution?  If you are worried you are a helicopter parent, and you are concerned with the impact it may have on your child, I have a couple of recommendations.  Please be open-minded with this one.  Take a deep breath.

  1. Admit to yourself that this is your challenge, not your child’s.  Chances are your child’s behavior had not forced you into this style of parenting.  Chances are the world is less dangerous than you perceive it.  Chances are your child would be fine living away from your for a week.  It is for your peace of mind that you want your child near your 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  2. Take small steps.  Identify opportunities for your child to express his or her independence.  It will be good for both of you.  I can’t begin to imagine what that small step may look like for you and your family.  You know how close you keep your child, reel him out a little at a time – and start when their toddlers, please.  Don’t wait for their teen years.  In our house, my wife and I have different comfort levels with our children playing outside.  My wife wants to be there with them at every moment, I don’t mind if they take off around the house.  In a relationship (spousal or parent/child), you find a comfortable compromise.
  3. Identify safe, developmentally appropriate, structured opportunities for your child to learn about themselves – on their own.  I am an advocate for summer camp.  I hope you will choose a sleep-away summer camp experience for your child to establish herself as an individual.  I passionately believe that no other experience better prepares a child to 1) lead, 2) be a responsible member of a group being led, 3) be an independent adult, 4) engage in self-directed learning, 4) make new friends, and 5) learn how to identify and manage the many risks this world offers.  Let’s talk about developmentally appropriate camp experiences for a moment.  If you look at camp literature, you will find that different programs have different age ranges listed.  For example, a 4-week canoe trip programs might not start a child until she is 10.  A traditional 1-week summer camp may start children when they are 7.  They are designed and marketed this way for a reason.  I am often asked what age is appropriate  for a child to start sleep-away camps.  The truth is that every child is different.  When your child thinks he or she is ready to go away to camp, they are probably ready to go away to camp.

If you are a protective parent, know it is ok.  Camp professionals understand it.  You can call and check-in every day.  You can write emails.  You can send letters.  You can remind your child each day how much you care.  But don’t worry, I bet they already know it.  🙂

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

To learn more about my camps, Bynden Wood Day Camp and Camp Conrad Weiser, visit us at www.smymca.org or call our offices at 61-670-2267.

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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.

Thank you for participating in the poll that made this post possible. 

As the camping industry has grown more sophisticated (and it has, check our websites), we have realized that there is a disparity between what our families perceive as risks in our summer programs and what we perceive as our actual risks.  In preparing this post, I expected that gap.  What I did not expect was that my own perception of the risks associated with summer camp would be different from folks in the insurance industry.

In the last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to talk with two very helpful insurance professionals.  Many thanks to Morris Gold of Sobel Affiliates, A Division of Brown & Brown, whose company specializes in summer camp among other things.  I also need to thank Howard Longino (@h2lifesaver for those of you in Twitterland) who works with the Redwoods Group, a company specializing in camps, YMCAs, JCCs, and other organizations.  In the interest of disclosure, Sobel Affiliates is my insurance provider with the South Mountain YMCA and Camp Conrad Weiser.  The Redwoods Group insured the Akron YMCA and Camp Y-Noah when I worked with those organizations in Ohio.

In the poll I placed on my LinkedIn page for parents, I asked the following question:

Assuming all equipment is in good repair and staff are well-trained, identify the riskiest activity for a child.

  1. High Ropes / Climbing Towers
  2. Swimming (in a pool)
  3. Horseback Riding
  4. Field Games
  5. Swimming (in “open” water like a river, lake, or ocean)

Parents responded by saying that they perceived Open Water Swimming as the most risky activity on the list (50%), followed by Horseback Riding (23%), High Ropes/Climbing Towers (13%), Swimming in Pools (6%), and Field Games (6%).  For those of you that participated in the poll, congratulations!  You correctly identified the number one concern of both camping programs and those that insure them. 

For both of the insurance industry professionals I spoke to, Aquatics is the #1 risk in summer camp programs.  Surprising to me (and apparently to those who responded to the poll), the industry does not generally draw a distinction between open water scenarios and pools.  As Howard Longino put it, aquatic programs and camper transportation are both huge areas of exposure because they “provide a significant potential for fatality.”  When you take a step back, this shouldn’t surprise you.  While we, as Americans, have accepted the risks associated with automobile travel, we are still aware of the possible consequences.  Likewise, I think we understand that there is rarely a minor injury associated with water.  The good new is that your camp is aware of these risks, too.

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), they spend a lot of time training and testing staff for both transportation and aquatics programs. They know how to keep children safe in these areas.  The same can be said for high ropes and climbing tower programs.

Horses.  Anyone who works extensively with horses has a healthy respect for programs that mix people and large animals.  Your camps believe this is a program with real risk – and they respond accordingly.  In my conversations with insurance industry professionals, neither mentioned equestrian activities as an area of concern. 

Keeping your Kids Safe this Summer:  If your camp is providing equestrian programs, make sure they are ACA and Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) accredited.  Again, accreditation by these organizations means the staff has been trained and the facility and program have been reviewed by someone other than the camp staff.

Field Games.  Brace yourself.  According to industry experts, this is where your child is most likely to be injured this summer.  No kidding.  The most common injuries in camping are foot and knee problems that occur in court and field sports.  But, PLEASE, don’t keep your child off the playing field this summer – childhood obesity as a result of inactivity is a far greater, life-changing problem than a sprained ankle.  Keep your kids active.

Keeping your Kids Safe this SummerAs Howard Longino points out, “it’s an issue of hazards to the activity like improper footwear.”  Your kids want flip-flops, and that will be fine at the pool, but send them to camp in sneakers so they are prepared to play.

Both Morris and Howard stressed a risk that did not appear on my original poll – bullying & abuse.  Your summer camp is aware of these risks, and they screen, background check, and train their staff accordingly.  Next week I’ll share some resources that can help you talk to your child about these problems.  Often the best thing we can do for our kids is keep open lines of communication.

Please remember that each day we choose to step outside our doors and wander into the wider world, we are exposed to risk.  I think that Camp can help.  I think a good camp program can teach your child how to identify and manage risk.  Those skills are essential to raising an independent, creative child in today’s world – and camps are good at it.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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