Delta Airlines loves me. No, I won’t make it into their in-flight magazine anytime soon but I’ve flown so much in the past few years that I fear my car can just about steer itself to the airport.
While I don’t care for airport food, my ‘off season’ travel is certainly worth it. The planes and the people who fly them get me to where I REALLY like being: in the home of a family interested in Weequahic.
Of all the off season duties, home visits are easily my favorite. The time spent with families in their homes is invaluable. First of all, the nervous excitement of the kids is endearing. “Who is this guy with the picture book and why is he asking me to sit next to him?” they wonder. By the end of our time together, I hope they get a better idea of who I am and what the camp is all about.
Their parents also have their own questions. I know every parent I meet as I walk in their door is thinking “Can I trust this guy? Will he keep my child safe? Will he be honest with me?” They are very large questions that have to be answered. I admit I really enjoy answering all of them.
Home visits usually happen at the kitchen table or the living room couch. (That said, I’ve also met at roof top restaurants, soccer games, and the occasional Starbucks.) Seeing everyone in the family, including the pets, gives me a good snapshot of the child. Are there musical instruments lying around? Sport equipment? Is she wearing a dance uniform? Does that shirt means he’s a Jets fan? What are the siblings like? Is the child leading the conversation or nervous as can be? Every bit of information I can get is useful.
Why do I visit the homes? There are a couple of reasons. First, I’d want to know who the person in charge of my child’s community is before I send them off for 3 or 6 weeks. Building trust with the family, both initially and over time, represents one of my major goals.
Secondly, I need to know as much as I can about our new camp families, especially the camper. Since I personally build every bunk community at Weequahic, knowing who a child is and in what situation he or she would thrive in is essential. Additionally, learning more about the parents – whether they have camp experience themselves, their major concerns, etc. – allows me to tailor each visit and relationship.
Third, there is no better medium in which to answer questions about the camp. Sure, I’m happy to speak on the phone and we’ve got lots answers on our website. However, getting together, face to face, allows the questions to flow more effectively. (I’ve even written about a few questions that might help!)
Finally, I want the camper to know someone when they get off the bus. That first day of camp is incredibly exciting and satisfying to me. Seeing the campers get off the bus with their wide eyes, nervous grins, and (hopefully small) knot of nervousness in their stomach is simply a wonderful experience for me. I’ll be there greeting them all day!
So, if you are thinking about a home visit, please call or write. I’d be thrilled to meet you and answer any questions I can. See you soon!
We are proud of our ‘no tech’ policy at camp. It allows our campers and staff to focus what’s important – the interactions with each other that can only happen at camp. That said, tech is certainly not all bad.
Believe it or not, camp doesn’t end with the buses heading home on August 10th. Sure, there won’t be 300 Weequahic maniacs enjoying Olympics, roasting marshmallows, or singing (shouting, really) songs for another 10 months in Lakewood, PA. But, thanks to modern tech, the Weequahic community continues to thrive throughout the year.
I’ve just enjoyed four reunions in Florida (Hollywood, Palm Beach Gardens, Orlando, and Boca). As I type this out, I’m on a plane headed to Los Angeles, CA to have a reunion and meet new families. We’ve got more get togethers coming up in New York and New Jersey soon as well.
The phone has certainly been useful in getting these events up and running but the internet has really made it easier. We’ve started to build a thriving Facebook community with parents and our older campers. Twitter has also been useful, especially when I visit areas around the country. This blog is helpful in spreading the major messages of Weequahic: gratitude, courage, and great staff, among others.
The get togethers are certainly not just ‘camp created.’ I often hear of our younger campers getting together with others in the local area for playdays. Some are even teammates on soccer teams. At the Boca Raton ice cream reunion, I heard all about the plans of some of New Jersey and New York campers to come down to visit south Florida. One of our Boca Raton CITs is actually heading up to NY in December (and I don’t think it’s to see the snow….)
A final way we keep campers, parents and staff up to date with news from their friends is through our newsletters. We collect a lot of great information – such as Miss Katz making it to the cheerleading national championships a few weeks ago! Keep an eye out for the next one in January, everyone. (And keep us posted with news!!)
We do everything we can to keep our community tight, exciting, engaging, and fun throughout the year. Thankfully, with a great collection of nice kids from all over the planet (and a little help from technology), it’s easier to do than ever before. See you next summer!
As parents, we are always on the lookout for experiences that help our children learn new skills. We enroll them in music lessons, martial arts, sports, theatre, choir and, of course, summer camps. But we all know that the best programs (and the best educational experiences) are ones that go beyond the basics of teaching skills to help develop our children’s character. The basics of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — are all essential ingredients in summer camp experiences.
“Camp teaches values such as self-esteem, teamwork, and caring — areas where traditional schools sometimes cause more detriment than good. And camp allows everyone, not just the top student and the best athlete, to thrive and enjoy the process of learning,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA).
Everything we’ve written about on this blog so far — being ready for camp, unplugging from the digital world, traveling to camp, developing interpersonal communication skills, interacting with camp counselors, participating in camp traditions, and learning new sports and skills all contribute to building character.
When mom Martha realized that her son Jaden had come home with crucial life skills — taking care of himself and making good choices — she knew that camp had served a crucial role in his life.
“I felt like they were living a free life,” she says. The rules were there, just not stressful. This kind of independence creates the necessary space for the foundations of character to blossom. “I could not believe the person he had become – just a new person – totally confident in himself,” she says.
It’s no surprise, really. Camp activities, to be successful, require all the participants to have self-discipline and an unselfish sense of camaraderie. “There is just something about living with a group of boys,” mom Wendy says after sending her only son Justin to camp for the first time. Living communally in cabins and bunks requires teamwork, creativity and a willingness to work together.
The camp directors, staff and counselors deserve much of the credit for the character development Martha and Wendy saw in their sons after just a few weeks at camp. They work hard to develop programs that bring a diverse community together around common values and goals, and everyone benefits – campers, parents and staff, and the world they come back to each fall, bringing their good character with them. Camp is about educating the whole child and allowing them to flourish, so that we all as a society may do so.
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!)
How would you describe the essential elements of a summer camp? Do the adventures of spending days with peers, learning new skills, trying new activities, bonfires and skits, great counselors— all the fun of the whole experience— first come to mind? These are definitely important elements of summer camp from a camper’s perspective, but there are a lot of other elements that have to be in place for a camp to be successful year after year. Have you ever wondered what it takes to set the scene and develop communities where good times can take place? I have.
The camp experience is part of the heritage and culture of the United States, and for generations, American families have sent their children to camp—about 10 million children last year alone! As you can guess, each camp has it’s own story and distinct cultural and physical environment, so each camp experience is unique.
The ACA is the professional organization tThe American Camp Association (ACA) is the professional organization that educates camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. The ACA also establishes guidelines for policies, procedures, and practices when running a camp. Of course, Camp Weequahic is a fully accredited member of the ACA. Each year, camp professionals gather for a national conference to discuss their work. Last year’s conference title alone, 20/20 Toolbox: Tomorrow’s Camps, Today’s Realities illustrates how camps are focused on creating the very best experiences for today and also into the future.
The staff at Camp Weequahic works all year to make sure that facilities are maintained and prepared for when camp is in session. There are so many details to take care of— from making sure that buildings are cared for, to improving camp facilities, adding or updating equipment and ensuring that health and safety codes are met. Camp owners and managers also have to keep up with changing demographics and expectations from their clientele. So long before campers arrive, camp staff are learning about new practices, meeting up to date regulations, putting current ideas into practice and working towards providing the best of the best. There are activities and events to plan, qualified counselors to recruit, ideas for even more fun than last year to implement and new campers to meet around the country. As camper’s needs and tastes change over the years, camp staff are dedicated to making each year as special as the last–and while traditions are an important part of camp life there is lots of room for fresh programs too.
At Camp Weequahic, we have instituted a Total Choice Program, allowing our campers to develop their own individual summer experiences. Our motto: Your Summer. Your Choice! Each Weequahic day will provide a balance of program periods where campers have the opportunity to explore their own interests through daily choices. This exciting approach to daily programming will make it more interesting for our campers and allow for even better skill instruction led by top NCAA former athletes and current coaches. In addition to the exciting program changes, we have renovated our bunks with new bathrooms and new beds and cubbies. Our facility has also been expanded with the addition of a new Skate Park. It’s out-of-sight!!
Three or six weeks is really not a lot of time to impress life lessons into children (or staff for that matter). Therefore, we do our best to keep it simple at Weequahic. I’ve already written about gratitude as a core value. Today I’d like to touch on another of our core values: Choice.
While campers have a lot of choice in daily program at Weequahic, that is not the aspect of choice on which I mean. Rather, I’d like to focus on the more global meaning of the word.
Campers who attend a Friday night non-denominational service or just sit around for a chat with me will notice I often bring up the idea of choice. How do they choose to react to a situation? What are they choosing to say to themselves and to others?
Many young people don’t think about their choices, much less that they have control over them. I know didn’t really think about it until college. That is when I heard about William James and his very simple but profoundly important conclusion: We are the only ones who have control over our thoughts.
Simple, right? For anyone who has ever thought about it, it makes absolute sense. However, we rarely think about this most fundamental choice. Rather, we simply glide along reacting from habit or the way ‘crowd’ might expect.
A mentor of mine recently told a story of doctor who works with people with difficult injuries and afflictions. Rather than ask his patients “How are you feeling today?”, the doctor always asked “What are your plans for the day?” Do you see the difference?
The first question makes you react to your situation, whatever that may be. The patient would focus on their ailment or pain. The second question prompts the patient to think about the choices that lay ahead of them. It also reminds them that they are in control of those choices.
Seth Godin, one of my favorite thinkers and this year’s keynote speaker at the ACA Tri-State Conference, recently wrote about choices a person chooses to make. Choices, and their consequences, are even a mantra in the recent thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Choices abound in our incredible society. We are fortunate to have protected choices of religion, action, and thoughts. It’s vitally important that we think about these choices and there consequences and teach young people the power they have over their own choices.
In an earlier blog we wrote about how to judge whether or not your child is ready to go to camp and pointed out that it really depends on your unique child and their level of maturity. One mother, Christine, puts it this way, “each kid is different…each mum is different …so I do not feel I can really give blanket advice. . .” However, Christine’s 12 year-old son was ready to go to camp—so ready that last summer he came to Camp Weequahic from Switzerland and arrived without knowing a single other camper!
Nicolas had mostly attended an international school and studied English in Switzerland, so his communication skills were well developed and he felt comfortable with the prospect of adjusting to a new culture. He had also previously visited the United States and after switching to Swiss school last year, his mother wanted him to retain his fluency in English, learn about American culture first hand, and make American friends. Christine says there are a number of American camps that promote their programs in Switzerland but she avoided their outreach since she “did not want to send Nicolas to the United States just to meet other French guys!!!”
Christine decided instead to look for a “really American camp” on the internet and spent a lot of time researching and comparing her options. What guided her final choice was the Camp Weequahic website with its video clips, and she was drawn to the camp’s obviously family atmosphere. After all, she was sending him a long way to try different things and have new experiences! Since Nicolas travelled from Europe, a three-week session seemed the perfect fit—two weeks seemed too short and four weeks seemed too long for a first time camp experience across the Atlantic.
Christine’s nieces both had a wonderful camp experience in the United States, but Christine felt that Nicolas would be more open to forging friendships and getting to know American kids, if he ventured on his own—and every mother understands that each child is different! Nicolas completely agreed about coming to camp on his own and since he was a little familiar with American culture and speaks English, that’s what worked for him.
In Geneva, Nicolas has developed friendships with students from all over the world and his mother’s commitment to raising a globally-aware child was well under way, but coming to the United States added a whole new level of intercultural awareness. For example, camp gave Nicolas time to develop deeper relationships with Americans his own age and broaden his knowledge about the game and traditions of baseball. He also experienced cultural details that a tourist might miss. Nicolas loved Camp Weequahic so much that he wants to return and is now dreaming of coming back as a CIT (Counselor in Training). His younger brother has also caught camp fever and wants his turn as a camper too!
No matter how many miles a camper literally travels to camp, the adventure stretches them in many ways and contributes to measurable personal development. Campers return changed from both travel and their personal journey–and in Nicolas’ case, even more fluent in American English! Have you sent your child on a long distance to camp? How did the experience help your child develop self-reliance and skills? How did you decide what your child could handle?
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Christine and Nicolas!
Thanks for the image JacobEnos.In an earlier post, we discussed one of the primary concerns parents have about summer camp – will my child be safe? This week, we wanted to talk about the people who care for our kids at camp and keep them safe; how they are chosen and trained to do their jobs. When you’re putting the care of your children into other people’s hands, it’s important to have confidence in their caretakers. At Weequahic, not only does every person who works at camp have to love working with kids, they all also have to be good at it and have the skills to be a success.
Building a good staff begins with selecting the right personnel. We focus year round on finding, recruiting, and selecting the best qualified counselors to live and work with the children. Most of our head counselors, group leaders, campus leaders and department heads have been with their camps at least five years, and some have returned every summer for 20 years! All are professionally-trained educators and coaches who have proven their ability to instruct a particular activity. The counselors, who have the most direct contact with your camper, have all completed at least their first year of college (with many further on), and go through a rigorous interview and selection process, and reference and background checks. We recruit counselors from over 100 different colleges around the country and many fine universities throughout the world. Just over half of the counselors return from year to year, with many only ending their counseling careers when they graduate college and move on to real-world schedules (no more free summers!)
Of course, selecting the right people is only the beginning of the process of creating a successful staff. The counselors must also be trained and oriented to the camp’s particular processes, schedules and procedures. To do so, all staff must complete a week-long Orientation. We are especially lucky to have large groups of former campers who return to be counselors. They know the camp traditions and songs, and, more importantly, they remember what camp looks like from the point of view of the campers. At Orientation, they can share their experiences with new staff members and serve as ambassadors for our particular mission and traditions.
The seven-day day Orientation is filled with training in individual responsibilities, working with the campers, and of course, health, safety, and emergency procedures. Such intensive training ensures that counselors aren’t just up to speed with the programs but also child development and the best techniques for working with kids in the cabins. We bring in outside speakers to provide info on contemporary issues for schools and homes as well as advanced skills for working with other people’s children and those responsibilities.We also meet with counselors and go over each individual child’s information and specific issues that might arise over the course of the summer. By the time the campers arrive, the counselors have a great understanding of every child in their care, gleaned from information from the director’s meetings with parents, the camper’s profile information forms, and past years’ knowledge of returning campers. Even the group and campus leaders know the children well, since they are mostly veterans who watch the children grow over time. Orientation is fun, and the trainers work hard to create a feeling of unity and team amongst the staff.
Beyond the formal week long Orientation, over half of the individual activity instructors (waterfront, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc.) come to camp early, with key staff and counselors often training three weeks prior to Orientation. Counselors who are responsible for specific program areas are also trained to write lesson plans and taught how to execute a fun and instructional activity period. Each attends an entire training day devoted to teaching kids their particular activities and making it fun. Finally, every camp staff member is well-trained in general safety procedures and first aid, with additional courses and certifications dependent on counselor responsibilities.
All this training and teamwork that begins in Orientation quickly spills over into a great summer for the kids. But the seven days of Orientation before camp starts is just the beginning. Camp staff attend weekly meetings and trainings, and everyone receives ongoing support from their supervisors on a daily basis. Without a well-trained staff, no camp can have a successful season. The right people – people who love children and are good at working with them – create the foundation for a terrific summer of experiences and memories for the most important people on campus, your children.
Even when you are right there next to your child to offer comfort, care and treatment, accidents and injuries can be difficult to deal with. So as we prepare our kids to go to summer camp, it is important to ask some questions of the camp and prepare our children well. That way, everyone can rest assured they are having a summer of fun and making memories to last a lifetime in a safe environment.
We’ve discussed many issues parents need to consider when choosing a camp, enrolling their child and sending them on their way on this blog. As parents are making decisions on sending their children to camp next year, here is a list of things to ensure are in place as you get your family ready for a summer away:
Camp has emergency contact information for your child.
Camp has been notified of any medical conditions and/or allergies your child has. Be sure to be specific when you communicate with the staff. Let the camp know the specific name of the condition as well as warning signs and steps to take to help your child. Click here for an ACA article on administering medications at camp.
Camp has provided written health protocols and policies.
Beyond physical safety concerns, ask how the camp deals with homesickness. We’ve talked about that topic on this blog as well and will also be discussing staying connected in an upcoming post.
Just as the camp can have multiple safety policies and procedures for kids, it is also important for our young ones to learn how to stay safe independently. So take the time (repeatedly) to ensure that you and your child
Know what’s safe and what isn’t. Review the camp’s handbooks for rules of conduct for campers. Review these with your child before he or she leaves for camp.
Understand which kinds of behavior are acceptable and which aren’t. Breaking the rules can put others in dangerous situations.
Have good hygiene practices. Cover sneezes and coughs with their elbows (not their hands) and wash hands frequently.
Know when to notify a staff member and ask for help. Not every bump and bruise requires medical attention – make sure you and your child knows which is which. Camp Weequahic has a health center with nurses present and a doctor that is on campus or visits daily.
These are all fairly simple ideas to keep families safe and camp is no different. If, as parents, we do our research, read the parent handbooks and camper manuals, ask all the right questions and talk with our children, everyone spends the summer relaxing, being cared for and as safe as possible. For more information, visit the ACA website and read more about this and other camp topics on their parent pages.