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Sparking Creativity Through Campfire

One of the most endearing and sacred parts of summer camp is the campfire.  More than just wood lit with a match, it’s an intimate part of the camping experience that goes far beyond simply sitting around a fire.  Each camp has a set of traditions uniquely connected to the campfire experience and, to campers, each tradition is significant, demanding reverence.  The campfire is the very place where many children recall the moment when their camp transformed from “a camp” to “their camp”, where fellow campers and counselors become family while singing songs, roasting s’mores, and engaging in campfire activities.  So intricate is the campfire to the summer camp experience that even former Disney CEO Michael Eisner has reflected on its importance in making him who he is:

“Simply consider the lessons I was taught by the campfire…every time the rich reward was the same as we simply sat and enjoyed our consuming creation. And, there was one aspect in particular that never failed to intrigue me, and that was the process of seeing the single small flame of the match spread to the kindling and then the twigs and then the smaller branches and finally the larger logs. It didn’t dawn on me until years later, but this was the perfect metaphor for the creative process…Years later, I found myself running a network television division and then a movie studio and now an entire entertainment company. But, much of the success I’ve achieved can be traced to the direct and metaphorical lessons I learned in building those campfires.”

To some, to assign such significance to fire may seem a bit of a stretch.  But to anyone who has attended camp, it’s not only believable but apt.  Beyond Eisner’s metaphor, the campfire is symbolic of camp, and represents the bonding between campers and nature.  Campfires instantly evoke feelings of togetherness and promote an atmosphere of being together in an intimate setting that is unique to the people who are present.  Many camps hold opening and closing campfires to welcome campers and immerse them in the camping experience and to help them say goodbye at the end of the summer.  At the beginning of the summer, the flames represent the birth of a new summer.  Opening campfires often include some sort of ritual that introduces an idea or process that can be re-visited throughout the summer, such as setting goals for the summer or some sort of introduction and bonding activity with camp “siblings”.  The meaning of the flames, however, transforms at the end of the summer. The burning of a closing campfire represents the end of the season.  It’s a way to give the summer a proper and respectful send off.  Campfires held throughout the summer supplement overnight camping trips and special events.

To say that the campfire breeds creativity is not only accurate, but understated.  The various representations and meanings that the actual fire itself takes on helps campers learn to look at the same thing from different angles, a crucial aspect of honing creative thought and learning to think “outside the box”, which is essential to developing good problem solving skills.  When considered from this perspective, it’s not at all difficult to imagine a CEO of one of the world’s largest companies crediting much of his success to his camp experiences, specifically to the campfire.  In fact, it provides insight about the significance of camp and how the lessons learned there can be carried throughout life.

Childhood Obesity Part II: Balancing Nutrition and a Healthy Lifestyle

In the first part of this blog series, we discussed the benefits of physical activity at camp.  There are underlying advantages to this that directly relate to nutritional habits.  Research shows that that the more time children spend doing passive activities such as watching television, sitting at a computer, or playing video games, the more likely they are to overeat.  The reason for this is simple.  A sedentary lifestyle leads to boredom.  Nutritionists assert that lack of activity mars a child’s ability to determine the difference between boredom and hunger.  Unfortunately, according to dietician Jennifer Thomas, the increased amount of free time and lack of structure that often comes with summer break makes children particularly vulnerable to tedium and excessive food consumption.  Says Thomas, “A child can pick up 5 to 10 pounds over the course of a summer, so it’s important to recognize the difference between boredom and hunger.”

Concern about the obesity crisis has sprung to the forefront of the camping industry.  Cedric Bryant, Ph.D. and Chief Scientist for The American Council on Excercise, was a keynote speaker at the 2011 American Camp Association’s (ACA) National Conference, attended by thousands of camp professionals.  In his address, Dr. Bryant discussed the growing issue of obesity and praised the ability of summer camp  to transform poor habits through exercise.  Most traditional summer camps offer children a healthy mix of hobbies and athletics.   Camp staff members encourage campers to participate in everything that’s offered to them, even that which they might not necessarily do or try at home.

There is also something to be said for the fact that many summer camp activities, including dining, are scheduled into a child’s day and carried out in a group setting.  Access to food is limited throughout campus, and eating is typically not permitted in bunks.  Quite simply, obtaining food at camp is not as easy as walking into the pantry or opening the refrigerator on a whim for lack of something better to do.  New research has established many benefits to family meals.  One potentially underrated advantage is that dining as a unit may keep consumption in check by limiting what nutritionists call the “eating area”, the combination of time and space in which eating occurs.  “This strategy can help determine if they [children] are really hungry or just bored,” says Thomas.  Meals at summer camp are held at specific times in a designated place—usually a dining or mess hall—and campers dine together, often with their bunkmates.  Counselors supervise, insuring that everyone receives food and reporting any changes in a camper’s eating patterns.

The four day 2011 ACA conference also featured  seminars that addressed issues such as how to  work together to improve the overall health and nutrition of campers, understanding the relationship between nutrition and wellness and using that knowledge to help campers be high achievers through healthy bodies and minds, and adding healthy options to dining room menus, particularly for those campers who require special diets.

Indeed, though many camps are constantly striving to improve in these areas, the notions  introduced in these seminars are not new.  Meals served by most summer camps are carefully planned and balanced in accordance with USDA recommendations.  Many camps also encourage their campers to make healthy choices at mealtimes by providing several fruit options in the morning and salad bars at lunch and dinner.  Vegetarian alternatives are typically available and, increasingly, more attention is being given to rising nutritional challenges such as diabetic or gluten free diets.
All of this is enough to make summer camp worth considering as a combatant to the type of lackadaisical lifestyle that leads to poor eating habits and, possibly, obesity.

The History of Camp

Bus to CampIn today’s hyper-fast, multi-tasking world, one of the great attractions of camp is tradition. Each camp passes down its own stories and lore. Campers appreciate that they’re enjoying some of the same activities, in the same way, as campers before them have done for generations.

But few people realize just how much history the camp industry embodies.

The Gunnery CampThe first camp – called the Gunnery – was founded in 1861 in Washington, Connecticut. That’s right — camping is as old as the Civil War, and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Early campers enjoyed boating, fishing and trapping. It’s pretty impressive that two of those activities survive at camps, a century and a half later.

An 1876 camp was created to take “weakly boys” into the woods. We wouldn’t use those terms today – but camps still serve all kinds of children, in all kinds of ways. And we’re still in the woods.

Dinning Hall - Camp AgawamThe first YMCA camp was Dudley, in 1885. It’s still around – the longest continually operating camp in the United States. Scores of other camps date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With over 100 camps – some dating back 100 years, welcoming scores of camping “generations” – Maine has long been one of camping’s most popular states.

Boasting crystal-clear lakes, pine forests, mountains and (don’t worry) moose, Maine is (like camping itself), “easy to get to, but very difficult to leave.”

Camping boomed nationally in the 1950s and 60s – along with much of post-war America. In 1948 the American Camping Association adopted Standards – the basis for ACA camp accreditation. There are currently 300 Standards for health, safety and programs. They’re recognized by courts and government regulators – a seal of approval for any camp to which parents entrust their most precious possessions.

Waterfront

The ACA was a pioneer in anti-discrimination resolutions. The first was adopted in 1950. Since then, the industry has continued to emphasize youth development. Camp directors constantly study research in areas like child and adolescent development, and risk prevention. They understand that positive experiences, strong relationships, challenging opportunities and solid personal values are vital to helping young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults.

Sailing

Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail might not have used terms like those 150 years ago, when they founded The Gunnery Camp. But they intuitively understood the many benefits that camping provided. All of us in this important industry proudly honor the traditions of the past.

My colleagues and I will not be here 150 years from now to carry them on.

But we’re confident our successors – and our camps – will.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey
Guest Blogger and former Maine camper and counselor

*Historical photos courtesy of the American Camp Association – www.acacamps.org

Summer Camp: Curbing Childhood Obesity

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that nearly 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese, it has become imperative that we, as parents, make as much effort to set our children up for success in establishing proper food habits, just as we would in other areas of their lives.  Three primary causes consistently cited for childhood obesity are lack of physical activity, an unbalanced diet and overeating.  An often overlooked benefit to summer camp is the significant impact it has in curbing childhood obesity by promoting an active lifestyle and healthy eating practices.  In this multi-part series, we will examine the efforts being made by summer camps to battle poor diet and exercise.

Part I.  Physical Activity
Beyond traditional summer camp sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, roller hockey and gymnastics, many camps are increasingly focusing on the development of extensive programs for such popular fitness activities as spin, running, weights, zumba, yoga and the martial arts.  The instant popularity of these programs suggests that children have a natural interest in exercise and will engage in it of their own accord in the absence of many of the daily distractions that promote a more lethargic lifestyle but are not readily available at summer camp, such as computers, video game systems and television.  The ability to participate in fitness programs as a form of fun also encourages campers to approach such activities with an open mind rather than as something forced on them and that is only done out of necessity.  

Some camps are also experimenting with nutrition programs that marry cooking activities with fitness. Such programs teach campers how to plan healthy meals and snacks and then prepare them.  Cooking programs are among the most popular at summer camp.  To merge them with nutrition is a clever way to demonstrate the importance of using discretion in choosing what we eat and consuming it in moderation.  In the past, the idea of “diet,” as in depriving oneself of necessary nutrients, has been cited as a contributing factor in the growth of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting.

For those who question the lasting effects of fitness and nutritional habits adapted at summer camp, statistics indicate that they won’t be going away anytime soon.  According to the American Camp Association, more than half of children who pursue a new interest at camp will continue pursuing that interest once they return home.

Up next, part II.  An Unbalanced Diet

Feeling Groovy at Camp–Now and Then!

When I think about “camp songs,” I immediately think about singing around campfires, but each year at camp also has a distinct popular music soundtrack. Recently, campers weighed in on Twitter about the tunes that remind them of past summers and that got me thinking about what the United States and camp was like in the 1960s and 1970s.

Hadley Hury remembers You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (1969) and Music Man and the Counselors’ Show from 1970. That’s also when Charlie Ziff was theater director, Hadley was assistant director and Jay Newman had the job of radio director for The Fantastiks. 1969 was the year that campers watched the moonwalk on television in the theater and there was lots of talk about some “big thing going on in some little town called Woodstock!”

Bobby Brickman says he has vivid memories that revolve around people who played lead roles in productions of Brigadoon in 1961, Carousel in 1963, and Bye Bye Birdie in 1963. It’s clear that for a very long time, camp has been the place to put creativity and passion into great performances!

Barbara Gough adds that when she hears the captivating bass line of Reach Out of the Darkness by Friend and Lover, she’s immediately transported back to 1968. Friend and Lover was a one hit wonder and their song ranked in the Top Ten during 1968, when Barbara says campers “danced to this playing on the jukebox in the Canteen all summer long!” The song embraced social change with lyrics like “I think it’s so groovy now/That people are finally getting together. . .Reach out in the darkness. . .And you may find a friend.”

Back then, while campers made friends and memories, things in the United States as a whole were not so peaceful. When students in California held a Selective Service sit-in, 3,000 of them were arrested and housed in the San Francisco 49ers’ old football stadium. A promo man got a sound truck and started broadcasting Reach Out of the Darkness towards the students. That’s what started the song’s rise up the charts—and why campers miles away listened to the hit that summer!

The historical events of those times grounded the more multicultural and open society we have today, but during the 1960s, many people felt uncertain as to what the future held. In 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Reach Out in the Darkness rocketed up the charts and like other big hits that year, captured the country’s changing mood. Songs that also ranked in 1968 include the Rascals’, People Got to Be Free,Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, The Beatles’ Hey Jude, James Brown’s Say It Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud ,and versions of I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye.

Summer camp is always a microcosm of our world-at-large, where campers practice and learn skills for negotiating the world, where assumptions can be challenged, and where diverse people find ways to celebrate community and appreciate each other. One great thing about camp is that for a few weeks, the world grows a little smaller and everyone listens to the same soundtrack. In a fast-paced and interconnected world, camp “sounds” like the perfect place for connecting with others and as Hadley says, every summer adds up to “good times for campers and staff.” It’s often only later that campers realize how much the experience has shaped them and the way they see the world–much like how hit songs can illuminate the past in retrospect. The music (and fashions) may change through the years, but the core camp experience never goes out of date.

We’d love to hear about how your time at camp contributed to your understanding about others as well as what you’re looking forward to most this summer!

Thanks for the image Cre8iveDoodles ~*~ New Beginnings!

Summer Camp: Rewind and Fast Forward

Moving from one year towards the next has me thinking about summer camp in the past and future. For over a century, summer camps in the United States have helped millions of American children develop and grow as well as start negotiating their worlds outside of immediate families and neighborhoods. At first, a small number of elite camps only served boys, and primarily Protestant boys at that — but by the time the prosperous years after World War II were in full swing, approximately one in six American children went to camp, usually for eight weeks at a time. Throughout the 20th century, camps changed to serve all children including varying camp lengths, welcoming girls, and opening their gates to all races.

As summer camps have become more inclusive, the world that children experience both in the United States and globally has also become very different. Many children have access to a much broader world through travel, moving images, or other technologies, but some things just haven’t changed. For instance, our pre-college age identities are still informed by interactions with peers and people connected to our individual worlds, directly translating to the people we make direct contact with. While community is still central to human development, many of our daily communities are no longer bound by neighborhood blocks tied to local shared institutions and celebrations. Our families and extended social circles filter across state, nation and even electronic borders.

SO, since children today live in this exciting world of shifting boundaries most months of the year, summer camp is the perfect environment to find time for nurturing our human need to create community. For the past century and through some necessary changes, the basic premise of summer camp has remained the same—camp is a designated, safe space dedicated to fostering and experiencing community life, personal development and skill-building. Each year as improvements are made to camp facilities and other choices, some things don’t change, like living in cabins or bunks, daily activities together, arts and crafts, hikes, water and land sports, singing camp songs and roasting marshmallows around campfires to name a few! Lessons learned at camp and friendships made there can provide the “glue” to help children become well-rounded adults in the future.

Past, present and future campers are all part of a lively and creative shared community where remembering a song, a person, an event, a skit, food or a poignant moment can instantly transport peers back to camp. So, what you would add to a time capsule to “capture” the timeless spirit of camp and why? We’d love to hear what alumni and present campers would include in an electronic time capsule, so get scanning or writing up those memories and lessons learned! If you’re not sure how to get started, ask questions in the comments below!

Emma

Thank to openDemocracy for the image.

The Road to Somewhere

Photo2You’ve probably heard of “Road to Nowhere.” The new documentary film’s theme is that today’s emphasis on tutoring, lessons and packed-to-the-gills days and nights may not produce perfect, healthy, high-achieving kids. The result could be unhealthy, disengaged, stressed-out youth.

Fortunately, the road to nowhere branches off to summer camp.

Camp is the antidote to – even the “anti” – modern kid’s world. For most of the year, today’s youngsters live regimented lives. They’re told what to study, and when. They take “lessons” – music, sports, art, dance – and then rush off to the next activity. There’s so much on their plates, it’s no wonder they multi-task like CEOs.

Then they go to camp.

Suddenly – the moment they say goodbye to their parents, meet their counselors and cabin mates, unpack and head somewhere cool and green – their world changes.

They slow down. They breathe deeply. They get in touch with their inner kid.

Camp is a different environment entirely. The communal living, extended “slumber party” and emphasis on living and working as a group allows kids to really get to know each other. It’s 24/7 of the great (and not-always-so-great) moments with a group of peers.

This immersion enables youngsters to really get to know each other. It allows boys and girls to develop compassion and understanding for their friends’ strengths and weaknesses.

Photo1And it lets kids live in an environment where taking safe risks is okay. There is truly nothing like a friendship that develops – and blossoms —at camp.

The adults are, for the most part, younger than the teachers (and parents!) children are so familiar with in school.

Camp is a place where kids are allowed – even encouraged – to take safe risks. They encounter new situations – games, activities, relationships – without old patterns or preconceptions to fall back on. They’re not always protected – but they are well cared for, and strongly loved.

In that challenging, supportive – and de-stressed – environment, they grow.

At camp, kids march boldly down the road to somewhere.

Dr. Bob
Psychologist, parent, former camper

Everything I Learned Outside. . .

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv retells a moment in a restaurant when his son asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv had been telling his 10-year old about how he caught crawdads by stringing bits of liver across a creek. When asked to explain, the son replied, “Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down by the swamp.” At first, Louv thought Matthew was irritated and owns up to the fact that like other parents, he can romanticize his own childhood at the expense of his children’s current experience. But Matthew really felt that he had missed out on something, and Louv realized that his own childhood had been different.

If you’re in Louv’s age bracket, you may also recall a childhood filled with a kind of free, natural play that today seems like an antique artifact compared to current kid’s lives. Lives filled with mobile devices, instant messaging, screen time, digital games and fears of “things” outside. In his book, Louv explores “the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, as well as the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” He discusses the accumulating research that implies that secure children (and adults for that matter) must connect with nature to fully develop. This need for contact with the natural world is as imperative as good nutrition and adequate sleep. So, while multiple reasons give us less and less time to connect outdoors, more and more studies suggest that embracing nature is a human necessity.

The ways in which children understand and experience nature has changed beyond recognition for Americans born during the last two decades. While children today may be more aware of the global threats to our larger environment, they are much less aware of their immediate natural surroundings. As children, Louv and his peers may not have discussed global warming, or holes in the ozone layer, but they loved “their woods” and fields intimately and felt connected to the people and their location in the world. They identified specific bends and crooks in creeks and holes in backyards—explored the woods in solitude, lay in fields listening to the wind and marveled at clouds shape-shifting overhead.

Louv discovered that many people yearn for what they have missed living in de-natured environments and they are consciously making choices and decisions to ensure that they will not be “the last children in the woods.” Families and intergenerational groups are finding ways to better live with nature and each other. Summer camp, for example, is one marvelous way for youngsters to make long-lasting memories and deep connections in natural surroundings. With easy access to the great outdoors and opportunities to develop self-reliance within a nurturing community, today’s campers will remember fun-filled childhoods unplugged from urban life—and share their unique memories with future generations.

How can you make sure that you and your kids don’t miss out on the benefits of exploring outdoors? (For the record, I’ve been known to insist that my children at least squish mud between their toes and jump in puddles!)

Emma, Guest Contributor

I can do it myself!

While no actual human being develops in the precise sequence of a child development chart, new parents quickly learn that children do go through dramatic stages. Like other skills, becoming self-reliant takes time and can only develop through real time.

To begin with, parents often track all the “firsts” that a child achieves on a daily basis but as the list grows longer we come to expect changes. The way that most young children acquire language and skills is so rapid that later—even when parents are getting a little more sleep—it becomes difficult to remain excited about each previous new word or action! However, there is one stage that most parents don’t forget and that’s when a child starts declaring, “I can do it myself.” All of a sudden, totally dependent infants morph into adamant creatures with distinct needs and wants. This exasperating but essential stage is filled with cute moments when children seem to hover between babyhood and childhood. But it can also be a difficult time for some parents if they fear that their child may not need them any longer.

As children mature, they continue to develop and require more experiences where they can make independent choices without parents. If parents don’t allow children to make decisions and do things on their own, they won’t develop confidence or realize that they are not just extensions of their caregivers. It’s a tricky line that parents walk! Sometimes giving children room to spread their wings seems counter intuitive, but in order to grow into a self-reliant adult, children need to struggle without the offer of a quick fix. Even when parents can take care of things, the better choice is to support a child through the process of working through and solving problems. Long after a problem has been forgotten, a self-reliant child will remember hearing, “Wow! You amaze me! You really worked hard to figure that out.”

A child who is self-reliant can think for themselves, trusts their own judgment and feels in control of their life. This leads to becoming more active, independent and competent adults and citizens. The child also develops skills to draw on inner resources and use coping mechanisms even when they feel things are not easy. Sending a child to camp is a perfect way for a child to further develop self-reliance in a nurturing, safe and supportive environment. The whole camp experience is designed to illustrate to the camper that becoming a successful person takes personal strength as well as playing a role in a larger group–with the emphasis always on FUN. I can’t think of a more wonderful childhood experience for facilitating such important life skills!

Of course, the process of becoming self-reliant is not easy, but that’s where camp staff and counselors are there to help your child adjust and learn. If you wonder how to help your child develop self-reliance, remember that each child comes to conclusions for themselves, so the only way to experience camp is to be a camper. They are building on early determination to “do it themselves,” and those first fierce moments of independence are precious. Camp offers a full range of fun, adventure, and opportunities to experience emotions with different adults and in new, safe situations. By the end of summer camp, campers bring a lot of stuff home. There’ll be great crafts, stories to tell and some inevitable laundry to wash—but every camper in the world—also brings home a new understanding of themselves.

How did you learn self-reliance at summer camp and what strategies helped you support your independence? Which experiences do you think especially helped kids develop inner strengths? We look forward to your stories too!

Emma, Guest Contributor

Thanks for the image AmberStrocel.

Building Community At and Beyond Camp

I don’t know about you, but a good number of my current communities are one step away from reality — they only exist online. I have a Facebook community, which includes a good number of friends-of-friends that I’ve never met in person. I visit a set list of blogs every day and have a great time interacting with the authors and the other readers. While our definition of community might be expanding, I don’t think any of us have lost sight of the importance of a good, old-fashioned in-person community though.

According to the American Camp Association, parents have identified the development of social skills/living in community (such as making new friends, getting along with others, becoming more responsible, and learning group-living skills) as one of the main reasons they send their children to camp. The owners, directors and staff at summer camp all understand the power of community and structure these skills into their programs in several areas.

1. Communal Living

I am an only child, and as such, I always had my own room when I was a child, so living in a camp cabin for the first time was a huge learning experience. For the first time, I had to be part of a community of people who were sharing space, delegating work and working, communally, to make things work. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of doing my part and see how even the most menial job — mine was taking out the trash – contributed to the health of the community.

Cabinmates must also learn how to navigate the waters of communal decisionmaking. They must work through the inevitable issues and conflicts that come up in cabin living — and they must learn to adapt and get along when things don’t go their way. They learn to live by the will of the majority, while at the same time respecting the needs of others who represent the minority. Again, according to the ACA, “small group living also provides the necessary intimacy for individuals to achieve a sense of belonging, explore a variety of group roles, cooperate and form relationships with others, and have input into the group’s activities.”

2. Eating and Singing Together

In the past few years there has been a large ad campaign promoting family dinners. Sitting around the dinner table sharing stories, concerns and the high and low points of your day with family members — or fellow campers — creates intimate bonds between all of the participants. Most camps have family-style meals and singing traditional camp songs together is often a ritual. Songs are always a founding piece of any culture and at camp, at the end of session when everyone knows the camp songs, they too become community bonds that live through the years.

3. Connections that Last

Although sometimes I am annoyed with how much of my life occurs online, there’s no arguing that modern social networking has helped nurture the lifelong friendships developed at camp. Now, instead of waiting days or week from a letter from a camp pen pal, you can send a text message, IM, or just nudge them on Facebook. Many camps have Facebook groups, some devoted exclusively to alumni from certain years, so the 50-somethings reminiscing about camp in the 70s can be a subgroup of a larger online camp community.

No matter how much time passes, the camp community lives on and on and on, especially through our Facebook page.

How did you experience community at camp? How have you sustained it since? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Olivia, Guest Contributor

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