There was a very interesting New York Times article last week that has been making the rounds amongst our leadership team. It's titled "What Colleges Want In An Applicant (Everything)". It details the many frustrations of parents and high achieving students as they try to navigate the college admissions process, especially considering how hard it is to discern what truly will help a high school senior stand out. Is it grades? Is it standardized tests or extra-curriculars? How about AP classes and community service projects? The article shows how opaque the process can be, and how varied it is from school to school.
As a community our mission is to enrich our campers’ summers with experiences that go beyond just having fun. We try to help them learn to be more creative, more effective leaders, better problem solvers and better at working through adversity. Tonight, during our evening activities, this was on full display.
There are times when I'm talking about our summer camp community that people give me a look that says "but realistically, could your campers really that nice to each other?" Sometimes they even come out and say "just because you tell them to care about the other members of the community doesn't mean they actually do it". During these conversations I wish I could show them moments like I saw yesterday at our New Camper Party in the Boston area. In such a short time we were already seeing how effectively our staff can teach a group of kids be more empathetic.
As I mentioned earlier in the week, much of the Camp Office team was recently in Beijing. We went to see our returning campers and host a camp reunion, but we were also in China to take part in the 2nd China Camp Education Conference as guest speakers.
More than once this summer I've written that at its core our overnight camp in NH is about taking part in things that you wouldn't normally do at home. It's why our days are filled with jumping off of zip lines, tubing around our beautiful lake, and learning how to make our own furniture (while also playing lots of sports and making a ton of camp friends). This drive to do the exciting and unusual was on display from morning to night today.
It occurred to me that I didn't write that much about this year's staff training. It being the cornerstone of how we create summers of fun and learning for our campers, I thought that I might want to remedy this.
Starting June 12th each of our coaches, teachers, activity heads and group leaders arrived for two weeks of learning how to be an exceptional child development professional. During their training we offered seminars on every aspect of being a camp counselor, from how to run the most fun and engaging sports and arts activities possible to how to keep each of our campers physically and emotionally safe.
So here's my favorite story of the day: At breakfast this morning one of our newest, youngest campers from Westchester, NY turned to his counselor and said "I just want to go home". The counselor was completely caught off guard by this, and with a sinking feeling in his chest gingerly asked "what do you mean?" The young man replied "you know, the bunk. Where we live. Can we go back there now? I like it there".
Almost 10 years ago, Scott Brody, the owner/director of our brother-sister summer camp in NH, spotted a growing national trend: some of our education leaders and the heads Fortune 500 companies were starting to speak publicly about a massive skills gap in our young people. In what was a surprise to many, the issue wasn't about our young people's STEM skills, but rather, that our high schools and universities were producing graduates unable to think on their own, lead in a group, or be responsible for their own actions. They were lacking in the sort of soft skills that are crucial in today's workplaces: the ability to effectively communicate, to work well with others, to think creatively, and to be positve leaders. These traits were eventually gathered together under a single heading and given the name 21st century skills, with educators and CEO's identifying them as the necessary skills and dispositions young people will need to succeed in the 21st century global economy.
Every now and then I read an article and say to myself "why did I not think to write that?!" Today was one of those days. In today's Boston Parents Paper Lucy Norvell published a piece called "Here’s why you can sleep soundly while your kid’s at a sleepaway camp". As I read each paragraph I kept saying outloud at my desk "she gets it! This brilliant woman gets it!"
When you are a part of our summer camp community, your camp friends are everywhere! No matter where you go there's a good chance you'll see a friend you made during your 7 weeks at our brother-sister summer camp in NH.
I saw this really interesting article on Today.com earlier this week. It was written by Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University. For more than a decade she watched incredibly bright, accomplished young people arrive utterly unprepared for life outside of their nurturing homes. She saw some of our best former high school students go on to completely fail at college because of their lack of independence, resilience, and other 21st century skills. Based on her breadth of experience, she suggested that there are 8 life skills that all young people should have as they leave home and enter college:
Being away from home and at summer camp for 7 weeks teaches you a lot of life skills. Simply by being away from your parent(s) you become more independent, more resilient, and more responsible for your own life. One of our long-time camp counselors recently wrote this essay about how he uses something as simple as a gas grill and a box of hamburger patties to bond with his 12-year-old campers, and help teach them some important 21st century skills.
Over the past few years Scott and I have written a lot about how our summer camp in NH is an amazing place for children to develop their 21st century skills. It's a core component of what we teach during our 7-week camp season. Like all summer camps we want our children to have fun and to make life-long friendships, but we also want them to return home having grown as leaders, as critical thinkers, and as innovators. We want them to experience the challenges of living away from home as opportunities to be more independent and resilient young people. We want them not just to play on traveling sports teams or perform in a musical but gain insight into how to collaborate with others on shared goals. These are the skills that will help our children to be truly college and career ready, and will give them the tools and talents to lead fulfilling lives. They are the essential skills of tomorrow's workforce
You may have noticed that there was no blog yesterday. Sadly, as Color War broke out for each of our brother-sister summer camps I was starting to not feel very well. I ended up needing to recoup for a while. Thankfully, I'm back and on my way to 100%. I also have two videos to post today. I hope that you enjoy them both!
Earlier in the summer I used our blog to answer an important question: so what do you guys do at your overnight camp when it rains? The short answer is that in the absence of thunder and lightning we play outside, and it's fabulous fun. But there are moments in the summer when the sky rumbles off in the distance, and we have a totally different set of protocols. Tonight was one of those nights, and it helped us have a fantastic, memorable evening.
I've written more than once this summer that at its core our overnight camp in NH is about helping our campers be their best selves. That was evident in just about every moment of today. This was our 5th Saturday of the summer, which is when we host our annual music festival called Hollowpallooza. It's one of our camp's most popular special events. For many reasons this is one night that I will remember for years to come.
Let’s be real: winning is usually more fun than losing. Our campers participate in a whole lot of traveling team sports tournaments during the summer, and it would be great if they won every single game and match, but that’s not particularly realistic. We often play in tournaments with seven or eight camps, and one can reasonably assume that while we will win some we’ll lose some others.
I spent a lot of my day asking campers questions about their summers. It helps give me lots of individual data points about life here, and also helps me gets a sense of how the entire community feels about life at our brother-sister overnight camp. This year one of the responses I have heard most often it “the evening activities are amazing!” As a camp director, that makes me really happy.
On this 4th Saturday of the summer our brother-sister summer camps slept in. We like to let our campers and counselors recharge their batteries on the weekend, so everyone slept an hour late.
After a great weekend of a Spirit Day Intercamp competition and an amazing Oddlympics today it was time to get back to our regular schedule. We awoke to a breathtakingly beautiful morning at our overnight camp in NH. Just after breakfast we had Evergreen girls leaving for an all day lacrosse tournament and a swim meet. As they boarded the bus they were all a buzz with talk about the fun they were going to have today playing team sports against other camps. Kenwood's 12 and Under Baseball team played their second game of the summer as well.
I started my morning at this Evergreen Junior Soccer period. A number of these girls play on competitive teams at home, but just as many do not. Their coach had them involved in this great drill where groups of 3 had to pass the ball from one end of the field to the other, and then try to score on her (the coach was in goal). Some of the teams completed the task quickly, while others struggled to maintain control of the ball, or shoot cleanly on goal. What did our girls who had finished first do with that free time? They stood to the side and cheered on their friends. Relentlessly. And when each group had completed the task, they took a break (not for water or rest) but to do a silly dance. How often in life do you see a group of 12-year old girls behave so supportively, while not worrying about their place in some social hierarchy?
It was a really fun, gorgeous day at our overnight camp in New Hampshire today. Or, at least, it was gorgeous for most of the day. Wherever I walked around campers were having a fantastic time at our activities. In the wood shop our Freshman boys had decided that they wanted to create wooden boats. Counselor Mike showed them a template and how to use it to measure the necessary pieces of wood. Then they spent the period cutting and sanding each piece. This is a long-term project that they are all really excited about. Once completed they plan to have a race down at the water front!
Sunday's are an important day at our brother-sister overnight camp. After recharging our batteries by sleeping a little late, our campers then spend the morning working together in their cabins. First, everyone changes their sheets, and then we hold bunk meetings. These meetings are a time for each person living in the bunk to share their thoughts on the week. Our counselors, who have been trained to facilitate these conversations, asked each camper their opinion on the week. They used phrasing that hangs all around our community: What Went Well...Even Better If. The idea behind this is to help them frame their thoughts constructively, either identifiying what went well this week (so that it can continue) or articulating that something would be even better if it changed in a particular way. As a summer camp that teaches children 21st century skills like collaboration, effective communication and creative problem solving, these meetings are at the core of how we help our children learn and grow.
While Camp doesn't officially start until June 27th, for us the summer of 2015 began this past weekend with our two incredible camp events: the Junior Counselor Training Weekend, and our New Camper Party in Westchester, NY. Both are designed to help our community members prepare for a new adventure, and decrease any nervousness that they might have about their upcoming trip to Wilmot, NH in June. More on the New Camper Party later in the week, but today and tomorrow I'll be writing about the JC Weekend.
Camp is less than 90 days away, and we just could not be more excited. Invitations for the May 17th New Camper Party in New Rochelle will be going out later this week, and the phones are ringing every day with new parents calling with really good, important questions about this summer. Just a reminder, in the past few weeks we have posted these blogs designed to help our newest campers and parents know the in's and out's of life at our brother-sister summer camp in New Hampshire. If you have not yet shared these with your new camper please consider doing so this week, as each of them has been designed to help them feel more prepared -- and less anxious -- for their upcoming summer adventure.
It's almost time! The start of the summer of 2015 is just over 100 days away, and we cannot wait. We have so many exciting plans for this summer, and will be sharing many of them in this blog over the coming weeks.
In yesterday’s blog I wrote about what is, for most of our campers, the most popular time of each camp day: Free Play. As the name implies, it’s a daily block of time when campers are able to choose just about anything we offer in our program, from team and individual sports to visual and performing arts to hanging out with friends and counselors. It’s an amazing time in each Camp day for having fun, pursuing your passions, and learning to how use free time.
I’ve written before in this blog about how popular and important Free Play time is in our camp community. Every night of the summer, directly after dinner, campers have over an hour to do something rare in modern childhood: whatever they want. Some campers use this time to practice a sport, while others work on completing an art project. Many others use the time to sit with friends on one of our beautiful grassy areas to talk, giggle, play a card game, roll down a hill, and enjoy each other’s company. Each night you can hear campers using their Free Play time to jam in the music building, play some gaga ball, kick a soccer ball around, cut and drill lumber in the wood shop, or just hang out with friends and counselors.
We had a whole lot of kids at our house last night for a sleepover, and we decided to try out a new activity that I've been working on for Camp for this summer. My goal was to make a game that was a ton of silly fun, unlike anything our kids had participated in before, and something that actually helped them work on developing their 21st century skills (vital skills like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and leadership). I call this game "Silly String Castle Siege".
It’s vacation week here in MA, and yesterday morning I picked my kids up from a sleepover at a friend’s house. When I asked my youngest how it went he waivered, and then said in a defeated tone “not good”. Now I know my youngest very well, and I’ve learned over time that there are always important nuances to understanding how he experienced a moment. As child development expert Dr. Michael Thompson has written about, as a concerned parent it's all too easy to "interview for pain" in a moment like this, and immediately have heard my child's discomfort as a chance to become alarmed. So fighting the intense urge to freak out and rescue him I responded with “Tell me more, buddy…” Here’s as close to a verbatim transcript as I can come up with, having been driving when it took place:
Every summer parents and campers tell us that our counselors are part of what makes our overnight camp such an incredible experience. In particular, they mention the teaching and coaching of our specialty counselors. Specialty counselors run and coach sports activities, teach visual and performing arts, and instruct at our waterfront and outdoor adventure areas. Each fall and winter members of our administrative team travel throughout the United States and across the world interviewing adults who understand how to teach their activity area to Kenwood and Evergreen’s campers, while also helping our children gain technical proficiency in vital 21st century skills – skills like critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, creativity, resilience, and collaboration.
In recent blogs I've written profiles about our heads of Tennis, Basketball, Soccer, Ropes, Film Making, Ceramics, Music and more. This week it is my pleasure to introduce you to Sarah Valacer, the head of our Girls' Lacrosse program. Sarah is a deeply dedicated member of our team, and we are so fortunate to have her as a part of our Camp family. Below are Sarah's thoughts on working in our intentional summer camp environment, and how she uses lacrosse as a tool for teaching 21st century skills to our campers.
I love how much fun our summer camp in NH has together, even when we are hundreds of miles a part. With the start of Camp 150 days away, and with a massive snowstorm bearing down on much of the northeast, many of our campers, parents, counselors and alumni spent Tuesday connecting with us online for some virtual snow day fun.
Over the past few months I have been profiling some of our very talented coaches and teachers at our summer camp in New Hampshire. Our staff do an incredible job simultaneously teaching both the hard skills -- like how to swim the front crawl, throw a fast ball or build your own furniture in our wood shop -- and vital non-cognitive soft skills like adaptability, critical thinking, and resilience. To understand our summer camp you really need to understand how they foster such incredible outcomes. If you missed any of them, here are some of the more recent staff profiles:
On Tuesdays we like to profile our summer camp’s talented coaches and teachers. During our 7-week program each summer they not only help our campers acquire new activity skills (e.g., learning to catch and throw a baseball; fashioning a dovetail in the wood shop; becoming a better point guard), but also help them further develop their non-cognitive/21st century skills. These skills include creativity, follow through, leadership, independence, effective communication, problem solving, and the ability to collaborate in groups. Our summer camp in New Hampshire focuses on teaching these skills because business leaders and researchers across the globe recognize them as the key character traits young people will need to become leaders and innovators in the 21st century.
So how exactly do we teach children to not give up on a task, and instead be resilient? What do our counselors do each day to help our campers learn to be creative thinkers and self-directed problem solvers? Over the past few months I have shared in this blog some of the teaching methods that our amazing specialty staff use to create these important outcomes.
As I promised in yesterday’s blog, today I will elaborate on the second aspect of Scott’s trip to China. Yesterday, he spoke at Beijing Academy about the importance of young people becoming more educated in 21st century skills (also called "non-cognitive skills). Beijin Academy is the leading new education reform focused school in all of China. Scott was not the only speaker featured at this incredible event. The list included Richard Elmore from Harvard University (a leading expert in education policy and research), Ron Beghetto from the University of Connecticut (considered by some to be the leading expert in the US on creativity), Yong Zhao (professor at the University of Oregon, and the world’s leading expert on education in China), and education thought leaders from the UK and Australia. As Scott said to me when we were chatting this morning “it was pretty surreal to share a stage with them”.
Many of you may not know that Scott is in China right now. Less than 24 hours after the Boston Area Camp Reunion he hopped on a plane and flew about 20 hours to Beijing. So what is he doing there? He’s working on a couple of very exciting projects. First, and most importantly, he’s actually visiting the campers and families in China who joined our camp family in 2014.