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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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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/)

  

This has been a big week for the Y (https://nsbrant.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/brave-new-y-the-ymca-announces-rebranding/).  Looking towards its future, the organization has finished its rebranding process announcing a new logo and a renewed focus on Youth Development, Healthy Lifestyles, and Social Responsibility (www.ymca.net).  As a movement, we are also celebrating our past this week.  On July 14th, YMCA Camps and their alumni will be sharing a National Campfire to celebrate the our 125th year of summer camp programs. 

Your eyes did not deceive you.  The YMCA has been offering summer camp programs since 1885 when Sumner Dudley and a small group of youth headed to Orange Lake, New York, for the summer.  Since then, approximately 350 YMCA camps grace the shores, forests, and fields of this beautiful country (http://www.ymca.net/find-a-y-camp/).  The Y also operates more than 2000 day camps nationally.  In total, 1.5 million people participate in YMCA summer camping programs, conference centers, outdoor education classes, and family camps. 

Summer Camp at the South Mountain YMCA

 

I began this post with the Y’s renewed  focus on 1) Youth Development, 2) Healthy Lifestyles, and 3) Social Responsibility.  This has always been part of the fabric of Y Camping programs.  I want to take a few paragraphs to share exactly how our camps accomplish these lofty goals.  

Youth Development.  As I have mentioned in other posts, I strongly believe in the power of summer camp to positively impact the development of a young person.  When Y camping is at its best, it teaches campers: 

  1. How to lead and how to be a responsible member of a group being led
  2. The character required to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat
  3. How to identify and safely manage risk
  4. Who they are beyond the established perceptions of their families and peers back home
  5. The independence associated with living beyond a parental safety net
  6. How to live with others, build consensus, and share their time, space, and thoughts
  7. To celebrate the differences that make us unique, as well as those things that unite us
  8. The intrinsic joy in doing good for others

This list could go on, but we’ve all got work to do today.  I will leave it to others to add to this humble start. 

Healthy Lifestyles.  In a society where we struggle with childhood obesity, diabetes, and depression, we have all heard the message that our children need to be active for at least an hour a day.  This is not something we worry about in camping.  We worry about scheduling in a “rest hour” each day so our campers can gather themselves to run-all-out for another 6 hours before bed.  At camp, kids may walk a couple hundred yards to the bathroom, they make travel a 1/2 mile to eat breakfast in the dining hall.  For 12-14 hours a day, kids are engaged and active.  Kids play.  More importantly, campers learn outdoor pursuits they can continue to enjoy long after they graduate from high school and college.  A child may never play field hockey after high school, but she can certainly continue to kayak or rock climb.  A young man may be done with football after college, but he can still go camping or play frisbee golf.  I learned to play guitar at summer camp – I still play today.   

Social Responsibility.   There are some amazing things happening in your Y camps this summer.  Kids are cleaning their cabins, making their beds, and sweeping the floor – things they may never do at home.  So why do they do it at camp?  Because it matters to their peers – there is a level of responsiblity to the campers in your cabin.  This is because camps recognize the cleanest cabin – not the cleanest single bunk.  Many camps around the country require campers to participate in the care and upkeep of the facility they all share.  Campers maintain the volleyball courts, clean up the sports fields, and may even work on the bathrooms.  These are just the basics. 

Our camps offer Leaders-In-Training programs (LIT) and Counselors-In-Training sessions (CIT).  We teach leadership.  We teach how to care for others.  We build the foundations of positive communities through our programs.  Finally, if you have less familiarity the YMCA Camping history, you may be unaware of the Raggers & Leathers program.  It began almost 100 years ago and helps young people focus on personal goals throughout the year – beyond summer camp – and to live for others.  I love this program. 

“This program is designed to help people take a closer look at  themselves in relationship to their own strengths and weaknesses, religious beliefs and relationships that surround them. It provides an opportunity to promote positive growth.  YMCA’s use the Rag / Leather Program as a tool to encourage quality time between staff and members, counselors, and campers.  Growth in spirit, mind and body is incorporated into the program. This program also follows in line with what YMCA’s strive to accomplish through their mission.  Each Rag and Leather has a specific challenge and is accompanied by a personal goal developed by the individual.  Participation in  the program is enhanced by the use of tradition, resource materials and one-on-one sharing sessions.”  http://christianleadershipconf.org/ 

For me, camping has been the YMCA at its best.  Given tonight’s YMCA National Campfire event (http://www.ymca.net/news-releases/20100511-camping-anniversary.html), I wanted to take a few moments and honor our history and our accomplishments.  For 125 years, Y Camps have provided positive experiences that last a lifetime.  May that good work continue for another 125 years. 

Camp Conrad Weiser's Opening Campfire

 

Tonight, on July 14th, light a fire and share the stories of summers-gone-by with your friends and families.  Roast a marshmallow, sing a song, and marvel at what it means that Y Camping has been part of our culture for 125 years. 

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

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.

Every camp professional will tell you that they do not offer summer “babysitting” or “childcare” – they provide a summer camp experience.  So, hold them to it and expect more from your summer camp.

As parents, we assume that our children will be taken care of physically and emotionally when we enroll them in a summer program.  In fact, I know parents that care much more about the emotional safety of their children than physical health. 

Last year in a parent panel I facilitated for new camp counselors, one parent shared that he expected cuts, bruises and sunburns at summer camp.  The physical injuries were simply part of the package when a child is active in the summer.  What he would not tolerate was the emotional injury that results from bullying in a cabin group or the actions of a neglectful or callous counselor.  As a dad, I can get behind that sentiment.  That is our minimum expectation, and I would argue we are setting the bar pretty low.

In 2005, the American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org) produced a study with Philliber Research Associates to determine the impact of camp on a child.  This study surveyed campers, parents, and camp staff from across the United States.  There were some tremendous results:

  1. 96% of campers reported that Camp helped them make new friends.
  2. 94% of campers said that Camp helped them get to know other campers who were “different from me.”
  3. 92% of campers reported that Camp helped them feel good about themselves.
  4. 74% of campers said that they did things they were afraid to try at first.

Need more convincing?  Take a look at what parents reported:

  1. 70% of parents reported that their child gained self-confidence as a direct result of their camp experience.
  2. 63% of parents responded that their child continued to participate in activities they learned at Camp.
  3. 69% of parents said that their children remained in contact with friends they made at Camp.

I think you ought to expect these results from your summer camp this year.  I think that beyond health and safety, parents should be able to count on their summer camp providing results like those above to every camper they come in contact with.

Tomorrow, I’ll post an article on the 10 questions you should ask a summer camp before you enroll your child.

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan