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Dec. 10th, 2011 | 05:26 pm

I've pretty much resurrected this blog and gained the help of my good camp friend Goose to create On The Loose. I'm not even sure if anyone is still reading this one or not, but it's there if you're interested.

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water balloon battleship

May. 2nd, 2011 | 03:57 pm

This is from the Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Camp Business magazine. Check it out and grab your free subscription.

You Sunk My Battleship!

Our Leaders in Training (LITs) create a new evening activity each year. Three summers ago, the all-camp activity was Water Balloon Battleship, and campers have loved to participate in it ever since. They hang black plastic about 6 feet high down the middle of a sports field.

Camper-sized grids are placed on the ground with string so that each camper can stand in a separate box. Five 5′ x 5′ boxes are on each side so all 10 cabins can play at the same time. The campers are lined up in battle groups of three, four or five—like the ships in the board game in their cabin grid. The idea is the same—trying to eliminate the other side’s ships/campers, but by splashing them with water balloons. The opposing sides cannot see each other’s grid so on a specific count, everyone throws their water balloon over, with the sides taking turns. One is eliminated by catching or touching a water balloon, or the balloon hitting inside a square. Everyone has to pay attention, and campers make some crazy “matrix” moves not to get hit by the balloon. Once a team is eliminated, it waits for the other teams to finish and then everyone on one side of the tarp rotates to the left, giving them the opportunity to play another round with a different opponent.We usually play three to four rounds, depending on the number of balloons and the daylight available. The LITs spend about a week prepping about 3,500 water balloons for game night.

Every camper and cabin leader need to be inside their grid square and cannot move out of it once the game has started. One side of the tarp throws balloons, and once it is done throwing, the opposite side gets to throw. Teams take turns until one team is eliminated.When throwing the water balloon,
a camper must throw from where he or she is standing in the square on the grid. A camper needs to dodge the balloon without moving from the square in the grid. Balloons are thrown on a count from the leader. After a round is over, pieces of the balloons are thrown in the trash. Another round begins.

30 water balloons per camper (10 water balloons per round) 10 5-gallon buckets to hold the balloons in front of cabin grids and as many containers to hold the number of balloons needed (We use clean trash cans, ice chests and anything else that can hold water and balloons.) Plastic tarps and lots of string 12 LITs lead the activity, making sure each cabin has balloons and trash buckets nearby. (We end up using the 5-gallon water balloon buckets, and keeping everyone engaged.)


Get wet! Have fun!

I need to do this this summer.

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Jan. 29th, 2011 | 03:18 pm

If anyone reading this trade Girl Scout or other Camp patches, or any sort of patches, please check out my blogspot blog!

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Apr. 12th, 2009 | 11:55 am

I will now distract you with pictures of a baby deer and OMG WHAT IS THAT?! GET AWAY FROM MY NOMS, YOU CRAZY FURRY, FLOPPY THING!

One of three babies my mother watched while she was hunting this year, and a woodchuck. No, she did not kill any them.

It just occurred to me that my birthday is coming up. huh. I never contemplated birthdays after 21, so i don't really know what to do with myself now.

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Apr. 9th, 2009 | 03:09 pm

Ticks creep me the eff out. And leeches. Pretty much anything attempting to suck my blood and/or insert it's entire head into my skin is a no-no in my world. The last tick I caught I found on my upper thigh, nearing my butt. Needless to say, I felt violated by the little guy who crawled down my pants. Thankfully, I found him before he got in too deep.
Anyway, I freak out over ticks, even if I am big and macho about everything else at camp. Rattlesnake in my cabin, Ok I can deal with that until he goes away. Tick? Hell No, all bets are off.

Tick Prevention Tips
A hike brings the chance of exposure to deer ticks which carry Lyme disease. Deer ticks hide in shady, moist ground litter and also cling to tall grass, brush, shrubs, and low tree branches. People and animals acquire ticks only by direct contact. When hiking, follow these precautions to prevent exposure:
  • Wear light-colored clothing so you can more easily see ticks.
  • Wear long sleeves buttoned at the wrist and long pants tucked into socks. Take a hat to protect your head.
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid brushing up against dense vegetation where ticks hide. Avoid sitting directly on the ground, use a blanket or towel.
  • Do a tick check every few hours or more often if in heavily infested areas. Visually check clothing and exposed skin. At the end of the day, do a final, full-body tick check.
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET. Lightly spray clothing, especially children's, and avoid direct contact with skin.
  • Remove ticks as soon as you detect them. Do not touch them directly, use a tweezers or tissue and do not crush the insect until it is separated from the skin and placed in a disposable container.

Tick Alert!

What does a bumper crop of acorns have to do with the deer tick population? According to researchers at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, plenty. Researchers at the institute have discovered that a large acorn crop correlates to an increased deer tick density. It seems the acorn crop attracts a large number of white-tailed deer, the feeding and mating grounds of adult deer ticks, and mice, which carry the Lyme disease bacterium and serve as hosts for young deer ticks, and thus leads to an increase in the tick population. The cycle takes two years.
Many oak forests in the eastern United States experienced bumper acorn crops in 1998, meaning the tick population in these forests may be especially bad this year.
Originally published in the 2000 May/June of Camping Magazine.

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Seven Habits of Highly Effective Camps

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 12:55 am

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Camps

Christopher A. Thurber, Ph.D.

Rebuild or Reload?

Highly effective camps establish more than a healthy culture. They incorporate habits that keep the camping fundamentals solid and that afford them the luxury of fine-tuning the delivery of their stated mission. Such camps can elevate a simple kickball game into a classroom for teamwork and sportsmanship — without the campers ever knowing. They can nurture the strengths that individual campers and cabin leaders possess, thus increasing the likelihood they will return the following season. And, because highly effective camps are not overwhelmed with struggling to meet their basic needs, they can fine-tune their responses to feedback from campers, staff, and parents, thus setting themselves on a course of perpetual self-improvement. In summary, these camps do not rebuild each season — they reload.

Seven Habits and Their Benefits

Good camps have an explicit and thoughtful mission statement. Great camps succeed at actually delivering that mission. In my experience, such highly effective camps share seven habits that are essential elements of success.

  1. Internal leadership development
  2. Explicit expectations for staff
  3. Ample camper preparation
  4. Personal relationships
  5. Supervisors-in-residence
  6. Bi-directional communication flow
  7. Commitment to self-improvement

Incorporating these habits has three key outcomes for directors, staff, front-line cabin leaders, and campers:

  1. deep satisfaction;
  2. enriched learning; and
  3. increased tenure.

If asked, “Will you come back?” on closing day, children and employees at highly effective camps relate simple and beautiful words that go something like this — “I love this place; I learned a lot; and I’ll be back next year.” All three key outcomes are there — satisfaction, learning, and tenure.

Practicing these seven habits is a prodigious task that requires energy, vigilance, and patience. “No rest for the weary” is the rule of thumb at highly effective camps. But to those who have seen the benefits of their labor, no work could be more gratifying. The sections that follow describe the seven habits seen at highly effective camps, the benefits of their practice, and an action plan for adopting each one. (See chart for a summary.)

Internal leadership development
Internal leadership development (ILD) is a process of promoting and training your own campers to become junior leaders, leaders-in-training, and eventually full-fledged cabin leaders and senior staff. (See Camping Magazine, Vol. 74, November/December 2001, pp. 24-29 for detailed guidelines on designing an ILD system that works for your camp.) Having an ILD system at your camp means first having a clear idea of the qualities you seek in cabin leaders — such as enthusiasm, unselfishness, initiative, integrity, and a love of camp. You must then have a process of selecting, from among the ranks of your oldest campers, those who demonstrate trainable leadership qualities. Over the next two or three seasons of experiential learning, these young men and women will become your next generation of cabin leaders. ILD systems work best under the direction of experienced senior staff who can mentor and evaluate up-and-coming leaders. Some camps even have a designated leadership director, whose primary job is to coordinate the ILD system. New ILD systems take about five years to bear fruit and about ten years to perfect.

The benefits of ILD are manifold, but the best part is that your cabin leaders — those who deal most directly with your campers — have not a week of training, but two summers’ worth. There is truly no comparison between a first-time hire with no previous camp experience and someone who has grown up in your camp and then been mentored for two summers. Both will participate in staff training week, but your new hires will know roughly 10 percent of what they need to do their job well. By contrast, your homegrown leaders already understand and live the camp’s culture, know your policies and schedule logistics like the back of their hands, and have infinitely more experience working with your camper population.

What does that mean for you, the director? It means that during staff training week, you can fine-tune. You can focus on advanced leadership techniques, review the mistakes made in the previous season, and solidify bonds of friendship. Little of this precious time will be spent teaching camp songs, explaining the daily schedule, or praying that all those new hires will obey the rules and not quit before mid-season. Although painstaking to establish, ILD saves you time in the long run, provides multi-year training, and gives you peace of mind.

Explicit expectations
All of your employees, from the freshest junior leader to the most seasoned senior staff, will be better prepared to do their jobs when you’ve taken time to make your expectations explicit. This means spelling out, in great detail, each person’s job description. Don’t assume they know what you want, and don’t assume they will read lengthy written material. Clearly tell them, in face-to-face meetings, what you expect from them, what specifically is forbidden, and what the consequences are of breaking major rules.

If most of your staff are former campers, stating explicit expectations is a straightforward task. For external hires, you must be especially careful — in both interviews and on-site training — to make your expectations explicit. If you’ll be asking your archery program head to help lifeguard, be sure she knows that ahead of time. If you allot your staff one weeknight off per week, make that clear, so they’re not disappointed on Saturday night. Also be sure you accurately describe your camp to prospective hires in all interviews you conduct. Describe your camp’s culture, traditions, daily schedule, spiritual and religious customs, work ethic, time-off policies, pay scale, and grounds for termination.

The central benefit of stating expectations explicitly is that you’ll never hear complaints that begin with “No one ever told me I had to . . . .” Most disgruntled staff would have been happy to do what their directors requested if they knew about it when they were hired. Disgruntled staff, of course, foment discontent among all but the most resilient and devoted staff. In so doing, they destroy morale.

Camper preparation
Campers, especially first-year campers, need coaching on how to get the most out of your camp. For starters, they need to know what to bring (and what not to bring!); how to prevent severe homesickness; which behaviors are encouraged and which are unacceptable; and what is included in the daily schedule. Campers’ parents also need lots of coaching on what to do with their own anxiety. Each summer, thousands of campers struggle with severe homesickness because their parents have made “pick-up deals” with them. Parents promise, “If you feel homesick, I’ll come and get you.” Such well-intentioned but ignorant remarks sabotage a child’s confidence and dramatically increase the likelihood that such a child will become severely homesick.

The benefits of proper camper preparation include both reduced homesickness and better camper behavior overall. Moreover, families with adequate preparation — those who have “bought in” to your camp’s rules, regulations, and behavioral standards — are far less likely to bring contraband to camp, argue with your discipline system, or complain about your policies. Providing ample camper preparation is the cornerstone of partnering with parents.

Personal relationships
Management experts and camp consultants alike emphasize the importance of directors establishing an authoritative leadership relationship with their staff. Cabin leaders are also urged to establish this type of relationship with their campers. Unfortunately, what sometimes occurs out of a misguided attempt to keep “professional distance” is that directors and senior staff fail to develop personal relationships with their front-line cabin leaders. Or, cabin leaders fail to develop a personal relationship with their campers. The solution? Directors and senior staff must learn each cabin leader’s name, know something about each one, and touch base with each one during the course of the summer to convey what is being done well and what needs improvement. For their part, cabin leaders must learn their campers’ names, know what they like and dislike, empathize with their emotional experiences, and guide them.

Some personal attention must also be paid to camper families, especially in pre-season. If you have a couple hundred camper families, you can actually get to know something about each one. If you have more, then your personal touch might come in the form of a signed holiday letter, photos posted on your camp’s Web site, or a camp news bulletin sent to each family.

Loyalty is the key benefit of establishing personal relationships with staff, campers, and camper families. Establishing personal relationships pays dividends simply because people enjoy recognition. They want you to know their name, something about their personal history, and something about what they do at camp. Only then will they be willing to respond to feedback. Staff and campers also want genuine, specific praise. Delivering this will make staff want to work twice as hard for you and will boost camper return rates.

When cabin leaders feel that their direct supervisors are out of touch with camper demographics, cabin dynamics, and specific camper issues, they become frustrated. Who wants to take orders or advice from supervisors who don’t live what they teach? Of course, every camp has some out-of-cabin senior staff positions — such as your program director. That’s a good thing, given the responsibilities and schedules of these folks. But what highly effective camps also have are some unit leaders or division heads who live in cabins with campers. In the camp’s management structure, these are essential players because they see, first-hand, what goes on. They are therefore in the best position to mentor younger cabin leaders and update the director about emerging problems.

There are several obvious benefits to having key leaders living in cabins. They know what’s really going on in your camp, which makes them seem approachable to your cabin leaders. Cabin leaders are also more willing to listen to feedback from someone who walks the walk. Best of all, having key leaders live in cabins helps nip most leadership and camper behavior problems in the bud before they become large enough to demand your precious time.

Bi-directional communication flow
Communication happens at all camps, including camps that struggle to deliver their mission. What makes a highly effective camp stand out is bi-directional communication flow — messages and feedback travel smoothly up and down the management tree. At all camps, employees at the bottom of the hierarchy receive messages from above. At highly effective camps, messages are also sent in the other direction, so that directors and senior staff receive frequent reports from the front lines.

This is not to say that the upper management of camp needs to be informed every time a camper burps, but they should know about such things as severe homesickness, enuresis, and aggression. The benefits of bi-directional communication flow are similar to those of having supervisors-in-residence, with two added benefits. First, armed with accurate information about noteworthy campers, directors are in a better position to handle phone calls from anxious parents. Second, directors can be assured that the information they share with division heads and unit leaders gets disseminated. Few things make cabin leaders feel less important than finding out details of important camp events at the last minute…or worse yet, finding out from their campers. At highly effective camps, every employee feels both responsible (they are entrusted with information) and responsive (they entrust others with information).

Commitment to self-improvement
A genuine commitment to perpetual self-improvement dovetails with the preceding six habits and is the lifeblood of highly effective camps. Establishing or enhancing your internal leadership development, explicit expectations, camper preparation, personal relationships, supervisors-in-residence, and bi-directional communication flow will require careful self-examination. Living each of these habits demands that you and your staff decide what your camp is meant to do. If you are a force for change in the universe, what do you seek to change and how? If you represent certain values, what vehicles do you use to communicate those values and how do you measure their effects?

No source of information is more valuable than empirical data. Gut feelings and anecdotes have tremendous value, but are less reliable than information derived from the scheduled administration of well-designed questionnaires or from structured feedback sessions. You need not conduct major research at your camp each season, but it is worthwhile to gather data regularly from campers, parents, and staff in a way that tells you whether you are actually delivering your stated mission. Humility is only half of the self-improvement equation. You must also gather hard data to see where you may be falling short of your stated goals. Many camp consultants offer research services and can provide objective feedback on your camp’s strengths, as well as ideas for remedying weaknesses.

Besides professional consultation, other essential sources of data include: regularly scheduled full-staff meetings, ACA standards visitors, state inspectors, and structured reports from all levels of your leadership. Finally, to disseminate what you learn from all these data, it’s imperative to learn and teach how to give and receive feedback. Many camps falter not at the data-gathering phase of self-improvement, but at the implementation phase.

Mission-driven or Market-driven?

These seven habits of highly effective camps are certainly practical — in the sense of being useful and realistic — but only to a mission-driven camp. Are you mission-driven or market-driven?

For mission-driven camps, the ends justify the means. For example, if part of such a camp’s mission is to instill a sense of personal responsibility in its campers, the cabin leaders and campers might clean the cabin each morning and complete camp duties each day. If parents and campers complain “we didn’t pay good money to clean like slaves each day,” a mission-driven camp will politely suggest the names of other camps, but will not succumb to such complaints. If such a camp sticks to its principles, all the bunks will eventually be filled with children whose parents respect the notion that a sense of personal responsibility is earned through hard work and accountability. Ultimately, a mission-driven camp’s integrity pays dividends. Bunks are full and children are absorbing the camp’s mission.

By contrast, a market-driven camp will adjust the means, even if it entails compromising the ends. For example, a market-driven camp might respond to parent and camper complaints of “slave labor” by making the cabin leaders clean the cabins alone or by hiring a custodial staff to perform camp duties. Market-driven camps seek to please their customers without educating them. They are more concerned with giving campers what they want than giving them what they need to absorb the camp’s mission.

As you strive to make your camp even more effective, examine the ways in which you are mission-driven and market-driven. The more mission-driven you are, the more easily you will adopt these seven habits. And the more you adopt these seven habits, the more campers will take home your mission.

Christopher A. Thurber, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, camp consultant, and coauthor of The Summer Camp Handbook. For questions about this article suggestions for related readings or to inquire about staff training at your camp, send an e-mail to chris@campspirit.com.


Originally published in the 2002 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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Metamorphosis: My First Summer at Camp

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 12:54 am

Metamorphosis: My First Summer at Camp
Stories from Camp

by Stefanie Klaus

When a caterpillar reaches a point of imminent metamorphosis, it enters another world, a fleeting but fundamental microcosm of its everyday life of tree branches and windowpanes. The caterpillar is meek and inexperienced to the sights, sounds, scents, and tastes of life. It is restricted to the narrow confines of its own eyes, having no wings to fly to other destinations and see its peripheral sights in full view. When it enters its chrysalis, it is sequestered in a setting that still encloses it from reality; however, unbeknownst to the caterpillar, this setting is the spring for a new tide of understanding. Paradoxically, it is when the caterpillar is the most removed from the real world that it undergoes the most remarkable growth. After a month-long evolution, the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly, an enlightened form of its past self. True, the metaphorical use of a caterpillar's transformation is clichéd, but this is not a metaphor. I really did live in a Cocoon for a month.

It was with apprehension, even dread, that I approached my first summer at Camp Kamaji, an all-girls camp in northern Minnesota. Despite my dad's romanticized stories about his boyhood camp days, a Kamaji video for prospective campers that promised nothing but fun, and my own futile attempts at self-assurance, I couldn't allay my fears. What if nobody liked me? What if I got made fun of for not knowing how to sweep a cabin or do laundry? I had seen African American girls in the Kamaji video from the previous year, and what if I lived with one of them?

Surely I wouldn't be able to relate. In my hometown of Hudson, Ohio, an affluent suburb where I had lived my whole life, homogeny was the standard, and although I would never admit to having any qualms with other races, I was tentative to live with people who just seemed so different. Moreover, I was worried that I wouldn't be accepted. My best friend in fifth grade was extremely domineering and that combined with the emergence of classroom cliques really lowered my feeling of self-worth. How could I be liked by the fun, exuberant girls in the Kamaji video? They would snub me because I was a picky eater and couldn't braid my own hair; at the very least, my timidity would prevent me from forming any bonds deeper than acquaintanceships.

My worries encumbered me all the way to The Dirt Road, the landmark signifying to returning campers that Kamaji was less than a game of Crazy Eights away. As the veteran campers erupted in cheers of excitement, their infectious laughter temporarily muffled the disquiet in my mind. The bus passed the "Welcome to Camp Kamaji" sign, revealing an idyllic setting beyond a pine tree-lined gravel path. Golden sunlight illuminated the campgrounds like a treasure trove bearing childhood jewels: tetherball courts, emerald-green trees, and throngs of waving counselors. The closest thing to industry was the cylindrical gas tank painted like a pig.

Floating through the sea of elated reunions, I made my way to the lodge, where campers were being directed to find out our cabin placement. I sat on the dusty oak floor with my new friend Becca, a fellow newcomer from Cleveland with whom I engaged in nervous chatter on the bus. A stuffed caribou head mounted on a stone fireplace oversaw the activity, watching its silent winter sanctuary awaken with life. Mike Jay, the camp owner, brought the happy din to a murmur by beginning the announcement of cabin placements.

"…And in the Cabin Cocoon, we have . . . ." Mike rattled off names in his trademark jovial bellow, ". . . and Stefanie Klaus!"
On tremulous legs like those of a newborn calf struggling to find its footing, I made my way over to the group of eight other campers and three counselors. Three girls seemed to know each other from home, as did another two, and two of the girls were black and clearly from the city. I smiled, hoping that my positive veneer would convince my cabinmates, my counselors, and myself that everything was fine.

That night, I shuffled my spaghetti around on my plate; it wasn't the way Mommy would have made it. I silently cried myself to sleep the first few nights, deeply inhaling the scent redolent of home on the pillowcase that soaked up my tears. My role in the cabin was that of the sweet, quiet girl, and although everyone liked me, I knew that my cordial façade was a white picket fence, a euphemistic barrier between me and the world.

And then, about a week and a half into the summer, something changed. It was not a marked event that brought on a sudden epiphany, nor was it a conscious process of small steps towards a desired goal. I just came alive. Perhaps it was the nightly Evening Programs, like All-Camp Gladiator Night, Disco Dance Party Night, and Country Club Night (in which the male staff members painted our nails and gave us oatmeal "face masks") that released my inhibitions and allowed me to relish my silliness. Perhaps it was the harmonious laughter of my fellow campers, the exhilaration of learning new skills, and the delectable Toothpaste (mint) Brownies that overpowered my unease. Perhaps it was a seemingly simple compliment, invitation to play, or word of encouragement that subconsciously instilled in me a sense of validity. Perhaps it was my observance of nascent friendships between girls of all different backgrounds, races, and camp experiences.

Whatever it was, something told me that it was okay to be myself, to take risks, and to meet challenges with temerity. As the remaining weeks at Kamaji progressed, I continued to develop within my Cocoon, finding solace in what used to be sources of intimidation. In the initial weeks of the session, I had restrained my offbeat sense of humor for fear of ridicule. By camp's end, I was hosting a nightly "Comedy Hour with Stefanie Klaus" at the relentless requests of my cabinmates, giving a ten-year-old's lampoon of everything from the leeches in the lake to the hot commodity of pocket-sized fans. Whereas at first I was lacking in confidence, I finished camp with a euphoric sense of achievement that only subsequent camp experiences have rivaled. Not only did I conquer the feats of sweeping and bed making, but I also learned how to water ski, sail, windsurf, and myriad other skills that helped shape me into an adventurous and well-rounded individual.

I returned home a virtual fountain of information, eagerly telling my parents about, among other things, how to rig a sailboat, how to tie figure-eight and square knots, and how to tie-dye a T-shirt. Far more significant than my knowledge of pitching a tent, however, was my expanded insight into acceptance and human relationships. Gina and Charity, the two girls from inner-city Chicago who I had immediately judged based on our separate backgrounds, became two of my closest friends. Beyond face value, we shared genuine similarities that far surpassed our differences.

During my initial time home in 1996 and every year thereafter, I desperately wanted to entwine camp within the real world. I wanted to hold onto that place where the most consequential wars were over who got the last Rice Krispies® Treat, and the greatest disappointment of the day was not receiving mail. I wanted to believe that I could carry on that life void of cynicism and superficiality beyond the cozy confines of my cabin. However, it was within a few weeks that I realized my friends at home didn't share my enthusiasm for table-pounding games and camp colloquialisms. They rolled their eyes and didn't understand; they couldn't understand. Despite my valiant attempts to extend my Kamaji persona to home life and bring utopia to suburbia, the two worlds inevitably collided. Kamaji mimics the good of the real world while providing asylum from the bad. Camp both imitates and diverges from life, but perhaps life should imitate camp.

The summer of 1996 ended with poignant goodbyes and wonderful memories. Since then, Camp Kamaji has encapsulated my processes of both realizing youth and growing up. I returned as a camper through the summer of 2000, during which I further honed my water skiing, windsurfing, sailing, and canoeing skills, developed an ever-growing nucleus of friends from across socioeconomic and ethnic spectrums, and earned a role as "the comedian" among those friends. Charity and I maintained a deep bond throughout our years as campers; when it was her fifth year at camp, myself and another close friend presented her with a miniature canoe paddle and a speech about our friendship, a traditional rite of passage for those who reach the half-decade mark. Unfortunately, we have since lost touch, but I know that if we ever reunite, we will share the same uncontrollable giggles that reverberated throughout our cabin and across Big Wolf Lake.

As for myself, I was a counselor in 2001 and 2003, and I will return this June for my eighth summer. As a counselor, Kamaji is a crystallization of my childhood and adulthood. I now have the privilege of watching other young girls during their own metamorphoses. For the life lessons I have reaped from my summers at Camp Kamaji, I am grateful beyond words.

After the butterfly has emerged from its chrysalis, it may glance back to see the shell of its former self, the caterpillar tensed with insecurity

as it approached the Cocoon. The butterfly may reminisce of its life as a caterpillar, only able to discern things such as tree branches and windowpanes, thoughts of a world beyond its visual scope unfathomable. It will have some fond memories of its life as a caterpillar, but it will not miss it. Being a butterfly is so much better.

Stefanie Klaus is a former camper and current staff member of Camp Kamaji for Girls.

Originally published in the 2004 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.

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Teaching Campers to be Stewards of the Environment

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 12:52 am

Teaching Campers to be Stewards of the Environment 

by Ben Lawhon

1861 — The Gunnery Camp is founded — The Gunnery Camp is considered the first organized American camp. Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail operated a home school for boys in Washington, Connecticut. In 1861, they took the whole school on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing, and trapping. The trip was so successful that the Gunns continued the tradition for twelve years.

For more than 140 years, since the Gunnery Camp was founded, the tradition of camps in America has grown exponentially. The American Camp Association (ACA) estimates that nearly three million children attend ACA camps each year. That is a lot of footprints, campsites, campfires, and potentially a significant impact to the land. However, it also presents one of the greatest opportunities ever to teach the youth of today how to be stewards of the environment and guarantee the future protection of the natural areas we all cherish.

Leave No Trace is a cooperative education program that teaches outdoor enthusiasts how to protect the places they love. It is not about rules and regulations. The principles of Leave No Trace originated out of a need to protect backcountry and wilderness areas from human-caused recreational impacts.

The Leave No Trace program is managed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center), based in Boulder, Colorado. The mission of the Center is to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research, and partnerships. The Center is the headquarters for the national education and training program and unites land management agencies, manufacturers, outdoor retailers, media, conservation groups, recreation groups, organizations, clubs, outdoor educators, and individuals who share a commitment to maintaining, preserving, and protecting our lands.

Leave No Trace information is rooted in scientific studies and common sense. The message is framed under Seven Principles:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

However, the application of this educational program extends far beyond these areas. From attending trainings to utilizing educational and training resources to simply teaching campers about the environment, Leave No Trace offers a variety of programs specifically geared to youth — whether they are on a day hike at camp or a month-long mountaineering expedition.

Reaching Out to Kids — The PEAK Program

The PEAK program, based on the seven Leave No Trace principles, aims to teach minimum-impact, outdoor skills to children between the ages of six and twelve. Incorporating elements of experiential and environmental education, the program includes four lessons — each with activities designed for different age groups.

Components of the PEAK program feature a variety of fun and colorful illustrated characters, such as Trek & Track (pair of hiking boots), Zoom (binoculars), Digger (shovel), Flash (camera), Pointer (compass), Sparks (camp stove) and Pitch (tent). Coupled with hands-on activities and interactive games, the program engages children with important environmental messages in an entertaining manner.

The primary educational tool for the PEAK program is the PEAK Day Pack, an easy-to-use resource for educating children. The PEAK Day Pack contains four fun activities, including teaching tips and support materials, which can each be delivered in thirty to sixty minutes. The PEAK program provides an easy way to help campers become more environmentally aware.

The PEAK program has three primary goals:

  • Increase children's awareness of Leave No Trace.
  • Promote the stewardship of public lands.
  • Meet the demands of diverse youth populations.

Intended learning outcomes of the PEAK program are to:

  • Develop a sense of stewardship for the natural world.
  • Understand how to be safe and prepared for adventures in the outdoors.
  • Understand how to minimize impact on the environment when recreating.
  • Be able to make responsible decisions about impacts during outdoor activities.
  • Share the message of Leave No Trace with others.

Learning and Teaching Environmental Awareness

One poorly located campsite or campfire may have little significance, but thousands of such instances can seriously degrade natural resources and recreation experiences. Camp is the ideal setting to teach campers to protect natural resources, take the responsibility to educate others, and practice the skills and ethics necessary to preserve the environment.

The Leave No Trace program serves as one tool camp staff can use to teach essential environmental ethics. Its courses function like a pyramid. Master Courses are at the top of the pyramid, and train people to become comprehensive Leave No Trace educators, known as Master Educators. Master Educators, in turn, teach the second level, the Trainer Course, to people who become Leave No Trace Trainers. Trainers are then able to conduct the third level of training called Awareness Workshops, which are designed for the general public (including youth) to promote the environmental stewardship principles of Leave No Trace. Through this structure, camp staff and even campers can easily be trained.

Course Descriptions

Master Educator Courses
A Master Educator Course is typically five days in length and designed for people who are actively teaching others outdoor skills or providing recreation information to the public. Currently, there are sixteen hundred Leave No Trace Master Educators worldwide representing nine countries and forty-five U.S. states. The Master Course is a great option for training camp staff as Leave No Trace Trainers — e.g., send one staff member to a Master Course and then have them train the rest of the staff as Leave No Trace Trainers.

Trainer Courses
Leave No Trace Trainer courses are typically two-day trainings facilitated in an outdoor setting by Master Educators. Trainer courses are designed to help participants better understand and teach Leave No Trace skills and ethics. This level of training is most appropriate for camp staff and older campers.

Awareness Workshops
Awareness Workshops involve any type of Leave No Trace training that is one-day or less in length. These presentations can be thirty-minute chats about the Leave No Trace principles or full-day workshops. Because these workshops can be offered by Master Educators, Trainers, or anyone who is well-versed in Leave No Trace, they are an excellent option for campers or even camp staff. Additionally, Awareness Workshops can easily be tailored to meet camp-specific needs, regardless of where the camp is located or what kinds of activities the camp offers.

Traveling Trainers Visit Camps

The Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer program is in its sixth year of operation. This unique program involves two teams of professional outdoor educators, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers, who have educated millions of individuals nationwide. With one team traveling the West Coast and one team traveling the East the Traveling Trainers are able to bring training, education, and outreach right to camp. The teams visit a variety of venues including outdoor retail stores, national parks and forests, day camps, elementary/middle/high schools, and festivals like National Public Lands Day. Generally, visits from the Traveling Trainers are free of charge and involve fun, interactive, hands-on learning. The teams are able to provide many types of outreach and custom tailor their presentations to the unique needs of each audience.

Moving Forward

The youth of today are the environmental stewards of tomorrow. Camps' ability to promote sound environmental stewardship is far reaching, whether the camp is a day, resident, offsite, or onsite program. Programs such as Leave No Trace, which promotes responsible outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship, and the ACA's Outdoor Living Skills program, which teaches participants the skills to live comfortably and responsibly in the outdoors, are the vehicles that can be used to create a lasting impact on youth served by camps. By teaching children the environmental conservation message now, we can collectively ensure enjoyment, respect, and protection of our shared recreational resources and the natural lands we all value.

Ben Lawhon, a natural resources management graduate of the University of Tennessee, joined the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics staff in May 2001, where he serves as the education director. His current responsibilities include curriculum development, management of national education and training programs, and coordinating general outreach efforts. For information on training and education opportunities for Leave No Trace, please visit www.lnt.org/training/index.html.

Originally published in the 2005 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.

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Nature IS the Program

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 12:50 am

Nature IS the Program

by Virginia D. Bourdeau

The question, "What do I need to teach nature programs at camp?" is generally followed by a statement like (panic rising), "I can't afford to buy a whole bunch of stuff!" As an extension 4-H specialist for natural science programs, I get this type of inquiry from new nature program counselors and colleagues in the camp community at least once a year. For some reason, their first vision of a camp nature program is a lab filled with microscopes and equipment. Is that the nature program you remember from your first camp experience? Was the focus inside in a "lab" or outside in nature?

Here are some steps to consider for creating or revitalizing a nature program.

STEP 1 Review Your Camp's Mission Statement

Your executive director, board of directors, staff, and other stakeholders spent a great deal of time developing your organization's mission statement. Here is a chance to put it into action. The broad goals of the nature experience may include teaching stewardship of resources, respect for nature, and respect for the camp family or our human place in nature. For some camps, it could include a religious message. For others, that isn't appropriate. How can your organization's mission statement assist you in selecting camper outcomes for your nature program?

STEP 2 Know Your Campers

During pre-camp staff training, you receive information about the demographics of the audience the camp serves. Directors also provide specific information about individual campers with special needs. In planning and leading a camp nature program, additional information will be helpful and it can come directly from your campers. On the first day of the nature program, ask your groups the following questions:

  • Have you been camping (or to this camp) before?
  • What do know about nature (or a specific topic)?
  • What do you want to know?
  • What don't you like or fear?
  • What have you seen so far that is interesting?

A flexible nature program will take the answers to these questions into consideration to make the experience successful and meaningful for all campers.

STEP 3 Inventory Your Resources

If your camp scored a "Yes" on ACA Standards PD-2 Outdoor Opportunities and PD-3 Environmental Practices, you have the basic resources you need for a nature program. It is not necessary for nature program leaders to know the name of every plant, bird, and animal at camp. You can increase the sense of discovery with campers by showing them you are learning and building a relationship with nature as well.

Focus programs on the variety of natural areas available. If your camp is in a forested area, it may seem that you should teach forestry. Classic forestry programs have included measuring a tree's height with a forester's stick and then calculating the number of boards which can be cut from the harvested tree. This is certainly an option if it fits with your mission.

Forests are diverse places. Different species of trees and plants may grow on slopes which face different directions. Meadows and marshes are found near lakes. Visit the possible program areas at your camp, and inventory the natural resources each provides. Be aware of the sights, smells, sounds, and temperature and humidity differences in each area. How are the areas different at different times of the day? Are there plants and trees that were or are used by Native Americans? Does the osprey look for fish over the lake before breakfast? Is there a place on the rocky slope where lizards bask at midday? Do bats swoop for insects in the evening twilight? Are animal tracks left in the mud by the stream? How might these opportunities contribute to a camper's nature experience?

Urban camps have opportunities, too. A site with garden areas can include worm bins for composting meal wastes and the study of insects and birds. Pollinators like bees and butterflies are at work, lady bugs or praying mantids are on patrol, and water features draw in birds to view. A whole ecosystem is available for discovery!

In addition to the natural resources of the site, it is helpful to have some equipment. Your camp may have a well-stocked nature shack full of field guides, nets, binoculars, and hand lenses. You may have a budget to purchase some equipment. Or you may have none of these.

Using equipment can be fun. It can also get in the way of a quality nature experience. An example is aquatic nets. In the hands of campers they become frog catchers. If the campers' focus at the pond session becomes the number of frogs they can catch, it is unlikely other outcomes will be achieved. Choose equipment that will enhance the experience, and be clear about the rules for use before arriving at the activity site.

STEP 4 Be Intentional About Your Program Themes and Outcomes

Nature program time should change campers, not just fill up time on the daily schedule.

You must begin with what the campers already know or have experienced to design a meaningful learning experience. You will need to use the information from Step 2 to answer the question, "What are campers like today?"

Now ask yourself, "How do I want campers to be different after they have participated in the nature program?" and "How will I help campers have a personal experience with nature?" You will identify specific outcomes you want your campers to achieve in your nature program by answering these questions.

It is helpful to focus the nature program by choosing a few specific themes. But what is a theme? A theme is not a topic. A topic is forests or birds. A theme about forests could be, "Forests are diverse places," or "Birds' bodies reflect their habitat." This theme begins the story you will tell campers. What message or moral will your story teach about forest diversity?

Planned outcomes for a forest diversity lesson could include campers' abilities to:

  • recognize the diverse plant communities at camp;
  • explain the different survival needs of some plants and animals; and
  • understand how diversity makes both the forest and human community stronger.

STEP 5 Create Teachable Moments

Teachable moments are generally defined as unplanned happenings that provide a teacher the opportunity to make a personal connection between learners and the experience. Learners are more receptive to learning because of the experience. Teachable moments in nature foster a relationship with nature. It is the "Oh!" you hear from chilly campers when the osprey dives, then rises from the lake with a fish in its talons.

Use your knowledge of your campers and your inventory of the camp's natural resources to place your campers where the action is, where teachable moments happen.

STEP 6 Live Your Message

The nature experience doesn't need to begin and end with the nature program. The whole camp experience can contribute to campers developing a relationship with nature. If the themes and outcomes of the nature program are based on the camp's mission, these can easily be taken up in other program areas. Arts and crafts programs can incorporate a respect for nature in the projects and materials chosen. Recreation programs at the waterfront can protect frogs and other wildlife from splashing canoe paddles and thrown rocks. Horse programs can clean stalls and store manure properly to avoid contaminating surface water. Food service and maintenance departments can ensure that waste is minimized and recyclable materials are recycled. Office managers can contribute to recycling too.

Nature Treasure Bottles
Developing a respect for nature requires building a relationship with nature. This is best done outside, experiencing nature. While specialized equipment and books can enrich program delivery it is not essential to learning about nature. A tool I particularly like is to have campers create Nature Treasure Bottles. These are "baby soda bottles" campers wear on a yarn string around their necks. Baby soda bottles are 2-liter soda bottles which have not been inflated. They resemble test tubes with screw-on lids, but their walls are thick enough to withstand being dropped a time or two. Campers write their names on the lid with a permanent marker. Variously colored pony beads are added to the string each day of nature study to indicate the sessions campers have completed. For example, they add a blue bead after the water study activity and a green bead after the forest activity.

During the camp program, campers collect and preserve memories of their experiences with nature in their Nature Treasure Bottles. These may be drawings of leaves or bark rubbings from a nature session. They may be items found at other times such as an acorn, an empty snail shell, or a feather. Live plant or animal materials are not to be collected. Each Nature Treasure Bottle is a personal expression of a camper's experience. When you see the Treasure Bottles being created and worn by your campers you will know they have achieved the outcomes of your nature program. Nature is the program.

Virginia D. Bourdeau is an extension specialist with the Oregon State University Department of 4-H Youth Development. She is responsible for state-wide leadership of the 4-H natural science, camping, and horticulture programs and has authored or co-authored five 4-H leader publications. Bourdeau has worked in the camp profession for twenty-six years — for the last nineteen years at the Oregon 4-H Education Center. Her e-mail is mombear@proaxis.com.

Originally published in the 2005 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.

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Seven Absolutes of Camp Counseling

Mar. 19th, 2009 | 12:46 am

Seven Absolutes of Camp Counseling

by Jeffrey Leiken, M.A.

Those who have tracked my work over the years might be asking what in the world I would be doing making a list of seven absolute anythings when it comes to working with youth. I have always maintained there is no simple formula for working with humans because they are both dynamic (ever changing) and primarily emotional (not rational). While I've always understood the appeal of lists like these, counseling work is just not that simple.

What then is different about this list? When you read it, you will find statements so specific that they will in fact generalize to what could be considered universal truths. If embodied and impeccably practiced, they would have a significant positive impact on your camp culture and the lives of those in it. In reverse, when you consider things that didn't go right in the past, note how many of them would have been avoided had these "absolutes" been followed.

This is designed to share with your staff during orientation, even to put it in your handbook. I suggest coming back and revisiting the list several times throughout the summer. When you read them, you'll understand why!

Never assume your playful sarcasm, especially use of nicknames, will be taken as you intend it.

In fact, assume that at some point it will be taken so wrong that you will deeply regret it. Sense of humor is much more cultural and personal — than it is universal — yet few people realize how true this is. Many males, in particular, have grown so accustomed to the endless ribbing that they forget there was a point where they learned to shut themselves off emotionally from the sting that is felt when on the receiving end of a put down. This is not a good thing. It is a survival mechanism response, and it makes it harder to be at ease opening up and trusting others. Most children haven't reached this point, and with your help, hopefully they'll never have to. Your best bet is to keep it positive and model for your campers how to relate without the constant "jokes." It will take some work, but the benefits will make it all worth it!

Always follow through on what you say you'll do. Never promise what you can't deliver.

Only make commitments you are 100 percent certain you will keep — this goes for anything and everything, not just rewards and consequences. It is easy in a moment of inspiration to make a promise with the best intentions, only to find that when the time comes to deliver, other things get in the way. This is particularly true when it comes to doling out consequences, especially in an emotionally charged moment.

Kids have the most amazing way of remembering the intricate details of what adults tell them. Not following through diminishes credibility, and credibility is a hard thing to regain once it is lost. Inconsistency in adults is one of the most common things children encounter, so the opposite is also true. Being the kind of person who always follows through on what you say, elevates your status in the eyes of your campers immeasurably. This is, in fact, one of the most common qualities kids talk about when they speak about the adults whom they trust the most. It is a simple point, yet it can make all the difference.

Always intervene when you hear campers put each other down. Never believe a camper who says, "It doesn't bother me."

In our lives we are either growing into the people we can become or putting energy into protecting who we are. We can't have both simultaneously. Camp is one of the few places where we can control the external environment enough to give children an extended opportunity to grow.

Too many stories of kids who wind up in great trouble start with the innocent name calling and the adults who ignored it when they had the chance to do something about it. Letting it slide by — even once — sends a message that you condone the behavior, or at the least that you'll only respond when it is extreme. It truly doesn't matter how skilled a counselor you are at intervening, just saying something about it being "not okay" or "un-cool" is enough to disrupt the flow of what is going on. Intervene consistently, and you'll establish a culture that does not permit this negative behavior. Who knows, doing so may also save a life someday.

Check in with every one of your campers every day, and make certain to ask the right questions.

With the number of events and interactions in a typical camp day, more goes on than any one person can possibly stay on top of. Even counselors with a small group of eight to twelve kids have everything they can do to keep up with things. It can be easy to let several days go by without spending one-on-one time with every camper, especially when they seem to be having fun and doing fine.

To counter this, make it a point to sit next to different campers at each meal, do individual activities with your campers during rest hour, and ask each of them to speak about their day at bedtime each night. Make a nightly ritual of asking each camper to take a minute and answer questions like, "What was the best part of your day?" and "What was the most challenging part of your day, and what did you learn from it?" You'll be amazed by the things you'll learn and what it tells you about what matters to your campers. Most importantly, you'll be prepared to address all concerns without anything or anyone "slipping through the cracks." The essential thing is to do this every day, without fail, no excuses!

Make something special out of unstructured time — especially bedtimes.

Many of the best camper-counselor moments happen during unstructured times like free play, rest hour, and bedtimes. This is also the time that many counselors spend the least amount of their times with their campers — choosing instead to take breaks or rush to get their evening time off. If you spend time with your campers during these times, you will truly discover the magic of camp and the camper-counselor relationship.

The value of creating nighttime rituals is immeasurable. In particular, the tradition of story telling is as old as human history. There is a powerful bonding that happens when elders gather with the young and tell stories that lead them on journeys of their imagination. Contrary to what many people believe, story telling is not something that gets "graded" by your campers. Telling any story that is appropriate for someone their age is enough to generate the bond and make your campers feel more connected with you. The effort you put in at night will pay great dividends in terms of the respect and closeness they feel with you during the day. It might just provide the best memories you have of your summer, as well.

When in doubt, don't!

Every time your campers ask you if they can do something that you do not already know with 100 percent certainty is okay to do, stop, pause, and consider carefully before answering. The most essential responsibility you'll be asked to fulfill as a camp counselor is to keep your campers safe. Most accidents in camp happen because of careless errors that could easily have been prevented. Often times it is violating the simple rules that young counselors do not think are that important — things like not running on the dock or allowing campers to run around barefoot where they are not supposed to. The rules are often a result of having learned from past mistakes. Follow them, and you can benefit from their misfortunes in the past, and not make them yours.

Many other troubles arise when counselors make decisions to allow spontaneous mayhem to occur — things like "raids," pranks, and even pillow fights. There are ways to let mayhem happen in a controlled way, and there are ways that result in a serious loss of control. Remember that kids are much more driven by the emotional rush of the fun they are having in a moment than by considerations of safety. In fact, you can assume that at some point you will have to say "no" to something they just can't understand. It may not make you popular in that moment, but it will keep them healthy for when they bounce back, as they always do.

It is always better to be thought of as a great counselor by your director, than to be thought of as a cool one by your campers.

The vast majority of your time this summer will be spent with people younger than you. For most counselors, this is a new and unusual experience. It is not always easy to maintain the proper boundaries, especially if you get tired and fatigued. Veteran camp staff members have their stories of the times they slipped and took something personally or found themselves getting drawn into behaving on their campers' level — and regretting it afterwards!

Working with children should be fun, and being able to access your playfulness in order to connect with your campers is essential to your success. Just make certain that you always remember that you are the adult and that you are hired to be professional in all your decision making. Just think about the adults who played the most positive roles in your life growing up. While they may have been "cool" at times, they always kept your best interest in mind. Though they are always on your side, this certainly doesn't mean they always take your side. Take this approach with your campers and you too will have the same kind of positive impact on their lives as those people have on yours. Your value to the camp will skyrocket as well!

As with any list of this sort, it is never complete. However, if you follow through with these seven absolutes, you will minimize the lows and maximize the highs . . . and what else would you want? Summer is too short for it to be anything less than fantastic.

Jeffrey Leiken, M.A., is a professional counselor who travels internationally training organizations who work with children and has worked with over one hundred summer camps. For more information, visit his Web site, www.MentorCounselor.com, or contact him at 415-441-8218 or by e-mail at Jleiken@MentorCounselor.com.

Originally published in the 2006 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.

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