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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.

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.

 

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.

 

There are days when the best thing I can recommend is to read the writings of someone else.  Today is such a day.  When I got to the office this morning, I was alerted to a blog post entitled “Camp is for the Camper”, written by a family who had just picked their 9 year-old son up from his week at summer camp.

Take the time to read this:  http://ht.ly/2gxW7

This post is a nice complement to 2 previous posts I made earlier this summer.  Enjoy!

  1. Summer Camp:  The Practical Solution for Today’s Helicopter Parents  (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/summer-camp-the-practical-solution-for-todays-helicopter-parents/)
  2. Expect More From Your Summer Camp  (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/expect-more-from-your-summer-camp/)

  

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.

For the past 15-20 years, I have heard creative managers, professors, directors, teachers and writers tell us that we need to “get out of the box” to find better solutions.  As a Gen-Xer, I think “out-of-the-box-thinking” may be my generation’s’ credo.  If that is the case, I will spend the rest of this post arguing against the prevailing zeitgeist.  My sainted mother has always believed me to be a contrary soul, and I would hate to disappoint her now.  I’d like to argue that you, and those your are responsible for developing, must get back in the box.

Get Back in the Box!

Walk with me on this one.

It seems to me that the moment a thought becomes cliché, it becomes unmoored from the shipyard that built it in the first place.  Take the phrase in question:  “Think outside the box.”  According to Paul Muchinsky, this phrase was coined by a funeral director when suggesting to a grieving widow that she consider cremation and an urn for her husband’s remains over traditional burial and coffin (http://www.siop.org/tip/backissues/April%2004/pdf/414_116to119.pdf).  Let’s spend a moment thinking about “the box” in question.  In this case, we’re considering a coffin.  Without the traditional  solution (i.e. a coffin), the new solution (the urn) makes no sense.  We need the traditional solution to launch the new idea.  In some ways, our thinking requires a framework from which to launch the original, or groundbreaking idea.

Now consider how we encourage out-of-the-box thinking in our children and those we work with.  In the last few years, I have watched intelligent leaders fail to train those that work for them in the name of letting their staff think-outside-the-box or “make a program their own.”  This doesn’t end well.  And how could it?  Without some structure, framework, skeleton, or history to use as a foundation, an individual has nothing to build upon – no means of launching a new idea.  There is no reference point.  No context in which the new idea can be planted.  The cliché has taken over.  It overwhelms its own history making it irrelevant.

So how does this apply to kids and summer?  After all, that is what I write about.  Thanks for traveling this far with me, we are almost home.

Kids need structure (another cliché, I know).  More broadly, most people thrive in a situation that provides some amount of structure.  I believe that in order for an individual to reach her potential, she must begin with a framework – a grid of understanding.  As she masters the frame, her development requires that we show her which boxes to break in that framework.   Eventually, she will choose which boxes to break and which to retain to find unique and creative solutions to our world’s problems.

If you want your child to succeed, begin by building him a box.  Share your values, encouraging traditional learning (reading, writing, etc.), and then allow for opportunities to break that box.  Summer is a great time to give your children a chance to pursue new ideas, creative projects, and new boxes to break.  But don’t forget to build the box!

We’ll see you at Camp!

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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