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Here at Camp Conrad Weiser and the Bynden Wood Day Camp (South Mountain YMCA,, 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



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.  


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! 


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at



This has been a big week for the Y (  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 (  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 (  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.” 

For me, camping has been the YMCA at its best.  Given tonight’s YMCA National Campfire event (, 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! 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at


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! 


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

What does Summer Camp do for a child?  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Expect More from your Summer Camp,” (, and discussed the benefits of a well-designed summer camp program.  The post, and the research presented, focused on the individual child’s development (esteem, skills, friends).  Today I would like you to consider a different kind of benefit, one that is much harder to quantify and measure.  Today I would like you to think about the value of being part of something greater than oneself – the value of community.

When I speak to staff working on their summer camp plans, there are a few things I want every child to learn from his or her experience.  I want campers to discover:

  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. The intrinsic joy in doing good for others

I believe that a good summer camp can accomplish half of these – a GREAT summer camp should aim for all of these.  Research shows that camps are great at helping kids make new friends, introducing campers to children that are different than themselves, reinforcing positive self-esteem, and encouraging kids to try things they were scared to do at first (see

But there are greater challenges for camps – challenges that camps are uniquely positioned to address.  As the American Camp Association points out, summer camps across the camps can still develop in the following areas:

  • Involving campers in meaningful roles with responsibility
  • Using camper input in decision-making
  • Providing opportunities for camper leadership
  • Instilling a sense of belonging

I titled this post “C.A.M.P.:  Creating Altruism through Meaningful Play” because I believe great camps accomplish this.  Webster’s New World Dictionary defines altruism as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others,” and, yes, I have a dictionary on my desk.  Can unselfish concern for others be taught?  Probably not.  Can it be demonstrated?  Yes.  Can it be encouraged?  Yes.  Can it be planned?  Yes.

A great summer camp program utilizes meaningful play.  It has staff that teach rather than preach.  A great summer camp designs programs that are fun and engaging while developing leadership skills, decision-making skill, communication skill, and community building.  It gives kids a chance to “do right” by others and recognizes young people when they live up to those extraordinary expectations.  A great summer camp lets kids live values that they may only have read about without the chance to practice them.

In my experience a great camp, an intentional camp, accomplishes these aims.  If you’re looking for a program that can do this for your child this summer, ask the director about their goals for the campers – and then ask her how those goals are taught to staff during training and how they are measured at the end of the season in campers.  Ask the director how she defines success.

We’ll see you at C.A.M.P.!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

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

Family Camp           

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

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

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


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Parent-Child Weekends       

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

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

Adult Retreats                     

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

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

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

Let’s cut to it.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone.  Grandmothers have cell phones.  Grandkids have cell phones.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Are we clear?

Now let’s talk about summer camp.  Like your child’s school administrators, your summer camp leadership has debated the place of cell phones in their program every season for the last 10 years.  In 2004, 45% of young people 12-17 had cell phones.  By 2008 it had climbed to 71% (–Teens-and-Mobile-Phones-Data-Memo.aspx).  You can bet it has continued to rise the last 2 years.  So, do they belong in summer camp?

Your camp director doesn’t think so.  Neither do I.  And I’ll bet, if you think about, you don’t either. 

A few months ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people what they hoped their child would gain from a summer experience.  Let me share the results with you:

  • 47% of respondents hoped a child would gain Independence
  • 30% of respondents hoped a child would gain Self-Esteem
  • 15% hoped the camper made New Friends
  • 5% of respondents hoped a child gained New Skills or learned Traditional Values

If the majority of parents want their children to gain Independence, Self-Esteem, and New Friends from a summer camp experience, does a cell phone help or hinder that process?  In my estimation, cell phones in camp prevent these goals. 

Let’s start with Independence.  If you send your child to a week of camp (or a day of camp) with a cell phone, you are preventing your child from developing independence.  I dare you to disagree with me.  For those of you keeping score, point 1 in this debate goes to the anti-cell team. 

If you are hoping your child develops Self-Esteem, does the cell phone help?  Honestly, I can’t imagine how a cell helps.  I can picture scenarios in which a cell phone is used to bully another child.  Imagine one camper sending negative texts about another camper to friends.  Imagine a bully taking a picture of another child in the bathroom, at the pool, or in another compromising position – and then sending it out to My Space, Facebook, or to their friends as a text.  You can’t argue that these scenarios would negatively impact the self-esteem of a camper.  Point 2 goes to the anti-cell contingent.

Now we can consider Making Friends.  If a camper is spending her day texting existing friends rather than making new ones, the child is not getting everything out of the experience she could.  Point 3 goes against cell phones, too.

Over the past 10 years, I have heard a handful of parents argue for their child to carry a cell.  Know this, in every case the cell phone was for the parent – not the child.  If we expect a week of summer camp to help a child develop independence, self-esteem, and new friends, we have to give them the room to take those steps on their own.

But don’t fret.  Most camp professionals understand a parent’s need to check-in on their children.  As camp professionals, we will go and check on your child when you call the office for an update.  We’ll talk to you every day if need be.  Many overnight camps allow parents to send emails to their children in addition to traditional snail mail.  Camp photos and videos are provided through most camp websites.  Some camps have live web cams so you can see day-to-day activities at camp. 

My Advice:  If you have concerns about staying connected to your camper this summer, talk to your summer camp before the first day of camp.  Learn their policies on communication between parents and campers.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a compromise on that policy.  If the camp’s communication policy is a deal breaker for your family, it’s better that you know it now.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

Kids need outdoor play.  Let me preface this essay by saying,  “Don’t take my word for it, listen to Richard.”

Richard Louv wrote the book on children and nature.  Actually, he wrote several and they were all good.  Good enough for me to tell you about his most recognized book, Last Child in the Woods.  If you are a parent buy this book – and then share it with another parent who needs it (

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv brings our attention to a number of benefits children derive from time in nature.  All quotes in this post are taken from Richard Louv’s 2005 book.  Let’s travel from most to least obvious:

  • Childhood Obesity.  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  This is not news.  More time indoors means less physical activity and a greater proximity to the refrigerator and cupboards.
  • Stress.  Nancy Wells, with the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell noted that “our study finds that life’s stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in high-nature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions,” (p. 49).
  • Social Interaction.  Emotional benefits derived from social interactions are impacted by green space.  A Swedish study cited by Louv “shows that children and parents who live in places that allow for outdoor access have twice as many friends as those who have restricted outdoor access due to traffic,” (p. 49).
  • ADHD.  I will quote directly, “more time in nature – combined with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings – may go a long was toward reducing attention deficits in children,” (p. 107).  There is a lot of research to support this notion.  I will let you discover it on your own.
  • Miscellaneous.  Creativity, cognitive-flexibility, problem-solving ability, self-esteem, and self-discipline all benefit from unstructured play time in a natural setting. 

I am 37 years old.  I grew up during the 70s and 80s.  My brother and I played Atari.  The first computer my family owned was a Texas Instrument TI99.  I had email when I went to college at Grinnell in 1991.  When I graduated in 1995, there were only 23,500 websites.  According to, there were 6,598,697 by 1999.  My generation has lived through the transition from analog to digital.  We are the bridge.

So when I read the work of Richard Louv, who longs for “the good old’ days” when kids grew up running in the neighborhood until mom called them in for dinner, I don’t go misty-eyed.  I understand that times have changed.  I can see that my parents grew up being sent outside for the day, and I understand why my peers feel safer when their kids are inside on the X-Box or playing in an organized sports league.  This post is for my peers, my fellow parents, who are trying to sort out where they stand on the bridge between digital and analog, online and offline, indoors and outdoors.  My father taught me that “moderation in all things” is a healthy way to live life.  I believe that saying.  I try and live it.

I also believe we need time in natural settings.  I know I feel better after a hike in the woods or paddling down a river.  I also believe that the world has changed and that our children need skills acquired on computers and from other indoor pursuits.  For the sake of your children, find the balance. 

 Good Luck!

 We’ll see you at Camp!


I am assuming that every parent or guardian will begin by asking for price, hours of operation, and location without any prompting.  I am also making the assumption that you have already spoken with your child about interest in a specific program, camp, or camps.

Before we get into this, you should know that I have broken this into two sections:  one for Resident or Sleep-Away Camps, and one for Day Camps.  If you are looking into sending your child to a sports-focused or academic program you will need to ask additional questions that apply to the given activity. 

We’ll cover Resident Camp questions today and Day Camp questions on Monday.  They are different!

For Resident or Sleep-Away Camps

  1. What are your program’s goals for my child?
  2. Will there always be a staff person in the cabin with my child at night?
  3. What is the staff/camper ratio?  Is that consistent all day, or might it change for certain programs (i.e. swimming)?
  4. Is the camp schedule primarily pre-designed by a director, or do the campers make significant choices about the activities they participate in each day?
  5. Is my child allowed to contact me if they want to?  How can I stay in contact with my child?  What is appropriate contact?
  6. What is the average age of your campers?
  7. Where are the other campers from?
  8. Are all people on site background checked?  How?
  9. Who is your camp affiliated with?  YMCA?  A specific church?  A college?
  10. Are you accredited by the American Camp Association (

For every program, you should know the goals they have for their campers.  Make sure they match your goals for your child. 

Every camp has a different philosophy about ensuring a camp staff person is on duty in every cabin all night long.  Some camps require a staff person monitor 4-6 cabin while the counselors have time off in the evening.  Some programs don’t permit staff or volunteers to sleep in the same room as campers.  Each program has a reason for their rules.  Ask.  With the widespread concern about bullying in camps and schools, this is something you should ask a potential camp. 

Ask about camper to staff ratios.  I think this one is self-evident, but don’t forget to ask the follow-up questions.  Some camps count all their staff in this ratio (the office staff, the maintenance staff, the kitchen staff, etc.).  Additionally, probe to see if that “direct supervision” ratio is in play all day.  Do counselors have break-time while the campers swim (which places 100 campers with 6 life guards)? 

Know what kind of choices campers may have each day in the program and then match that to the needs of your child.  In my opinion, young children need more scheduled programs and teens need more opportunities for free choice.

Learn about the camp’s policy on parent-child contact.  I cannot stress this enough – for you and your camper.  There are plenty of programs that feel very strongly that a child can only develop their full potential by “making it on their own” with no home contact beyond letter writing.  There are also camps with more open policies that allow emailing or even post webcams around camp so parents can view daily activities.  Very few programs allow cell phones.  You know how much of a distraction cell & smart phones are at home and in school – camps feel the same way.  Most camps utilize technology that allows them to post photos and/or videos from camp on a daily basis.  Going a step further, I have been at camps that have allowed parents to come for lunch.  Having seen it, I don’t recommend it.  If you are looking into a camp where a session lasts for multiple weeks, most have a day set aside for parent visits. 

Do not ask this question:  “What age-range of campers do you accept?”  What you really need to know is the average age of campers in the program.  If the average age is 12, there may not be many 7 year-olds or 15 year-olds in the camp, regardless of the age-range advertised on the website or in the glossy brochure.  You want your child at a camp where they have peers to bond with.

You also want to find out where the campers come from – geographically.  If you value diversity and cultural competence, a program that boasts staff and campers from around the world is a real plus.  If you are hoping your child makes friends they can visit with all year-round, you may place more value on a camp with lots of children from your neighborhood.

Ask about background checks.  Know if every person who could come in contact with your child has been run through the sex offender database.  Know if staff and volunteers are drug tested.  Camps have different policies about background checks, training, and drug testing.  Learn why they do what they do and decide what you are comfortable with.

Find out what, if any, affiliations the camp has with national organizations, churches, or other institutions.  An affiliation with a national organization like the YMCA, Boy Scouts of America, or Girl Scouts of America will let you know that there are different resources and support available to the camp than if it is a “stand-alone” organization.  Likewise, it may give you insight into the organization’s values or goals.  In the interest of disclosure, I am partial to YMCA camps . . . .

Finally, determine if the program is accredited by the American Camp Association.  While I think it is important for both Day and Resident Camp programs, I think it is critical for Resident Camps.  ACA accreditation means that the camp operates at a minimum set of industry standards.  It means that the camp leadership has worked through facility, program, safety, and hr concerns – and much more.  ACA accreditation means the camp has invested in their craft.  A good camp is art.

If you have any questions about this post, please email me or share your comments and I will do my level best to answer them for you.  Good Luck!

We’ll see you at Camp!


Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at

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 ( 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!


Summer Camp Source: Nathan Scott Brant