Archive for November, 2016

The Beauty of Camp Weequahic

Monday, November 28th, 2016

 

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Chelsea takes the subway to school every morning.  Justin spends his weekends hanging out downtown with his buddies. Evan can walk to movie theaters, restaurants, and museums from the apartment where he lives. These city kids spend most of their year surrounded by concrete, honking horns and tall buildings. And that is why they, like so many other kids from big cities, really look forward to coming to camp for a change in their environment.

 

Camp Weequahic is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Tucked away amongst tall trees, gorgeous lakes and on acres and acres of sprawling green fields, this camp is the definition of natural beauty. When you’re here, you can really connect with nature and breathe in the fresh mountain air.

 

The lakes are a cool and refreshing place to spend the summer, whether is it fishing, swimming, stand up paddleboarding, water skiing or sailing. The view of the lake changes throughout the day and gives off a different feeling depending on when you are there. In the morning, the lake is a quiet and peaceful place to wake up to. In the afternoons, it is an exciting, water playground where campers jump, splash and play all day. And then in the evenings, the lake is a quiet and peaceful place to reflect and unwind. City kids may not get to experience such natural beauty in their everyday lives, making the beauty of camp even more special for kids who don’t get to see it very often.

 

Waking up to a view of tall forest trees and the mountains is a nice change for kids who are used to the hustle and bustle of a big city.  The natural beauty of camp makes for the perfect backdrop to pictures that campers are sure to treasure forever. Waking up each morning and breathing in the crisp mountain air is good for the heart, mind, and soul!

 

Being immersed in the beauty of the mountains is a welcome and unique experience for many campers.  Spending the summer learning to appreciate the outdoors helps campers do the same when they return home. Instead of coming home from school and sitting in front of a computer screen or TV, campers head outside to enjoy nature just like they did at camp.  They learn that they don’t need to be attached to phone, TV or computer to have a good time and that real relationships trump online relationships every time.

 

Being in the middle of the woods exposes campers, especially those who have grown up in big cities, to things they normally wouldn’t see and experience back home. They learn to find excitement and joy in nature, and it awakens something in them that the city just can’t.

 

Kids like Chelsea, Justin and Evan benefit greatly from a change of scenery and the chance to connect with nature. Spending time outside has been proven to improve vision, encourages social skills, reduce stress and give kids the vitamin D that they need. Who knew spending all day outside at camp is actually good for kids?!

 

Whether they grew up in the suburbs or in the middle of Times Square, kids love escaping to the mountains, and spending their summers on the lake, in the mountains and surrounded by nature.

 

Boundary Lessons

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

While living in Athens, GA during the ‘off-season’ keeps me a little warmer, it also makes for a lot of travel. When I can, I make a trip up to Camp Weequahic to check on our winter projects and spend time with our maintenance team. It’s a treat to see the guys and think about all the new projects we preparing for the kids.

My most recent trip to camp reminded me of an important lesson.

The Snow Drive

Let’s the set the scene: it was a dark and very stormy night. I mean that literally – snow was img_7926plummeting down driven by a hard, gusty wind late in the evening.

A trip that normally takes two and a half hours from NYC was stretching into it’s fourth hour. And, those normally dark country roads were all the more interesting because of the unplowed snow. Because of all the snow, I could not see the edge of the road – on either side!

With six miles to go to get Weequahic, I was running out of mental gas. Then, something great happened. My tires found the center lane ‘boundary bumps.’

These marks are regular gouges taken out of the exact middle of the road. If you accidentally stray toward the opposite lane, your tire makes a very distinct rumbling sound. It wakes you up quickly to the mistake and reminds you to get back to your side.

This was exactly what I needed. Since there were no other cars on the road and I was traveling way under the speed limit, I put my left tires on those boundary bumps. After 20 minutes of a slightly loud and bumpy ride, I made it safely to camp.

The Need for Boundaries

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Yes, boundaries include putting on your helmets and guards!

Boundaries are important. They keep us safe and point us in the direction we need to move. While they are important for adults, they are even more important for young people.

Some families are concerned about that our choice-based program is too open, too free. When it’s explained that girls are playing only with other girls in their same age group while the boys are doing the same elsewhere, they start to see the boundaries. When we explain that each kid is individually tracked throughout the day, families get more comfortable.

We believe in boundaries at Weequahic, ‘walls’ if you want to call them that. But, they are walls of a playground. And, we spend an enormous amount of time choosing and training the staff who mentor and re-direct our campers who need it.

Whether it’s teaching someone how to recognize the effects of their actions, opening up to new friendships, or being grateful, our boundaries help to guide and instruct. The result of these thoughtful and firm boundaries is a community that is kind, open, and engaged.

The Take Away

You’ve got boundaries in your life. Some are really useful like the bumps needed to make it safely toScreen Shot 2015-10-26 at 2.50.36 PM home or guidance that patiently and kindly directs you to better action. Some boundaries, which keep you from reaching your full potential or dampen your creativity, are not good and need to be battled with courage.

Learn to question the boundaries around you and take stock of their true meaning for your life. If you want a life without limit, make sure to mind the right boundaries and break through the bad ones. Have a great weekend!

The Importance of Play-Based Learning at Camp

Monday, November 21st, 2016

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With hundreds of different activities, sports, events and things to do at Camp Weequahic, it is no surprise that campers spend a large portion of their day at play. Whether you’re playing on the soccer field, on the lake, on the stage or in the pool, there is never a shortage of playtime at camp. But there is more to play than just having a good time. When kids play, they learn, and when they learn, they grow. For campers, it may feel like a summer free from learning or education, but they are learning a lot while they play.

 

Studies show that when young children play, whether it is with blocks, cars, on the playground or in a sport, they are doing a lot more than having fun. Play sparks their imaginations, which helps to improve their problem solving skills and encourages creativity. Being able to play alone helps kids feel independent, while playing in a group helps kids with important values such as sharing, compromise, taking turns, patience and flexibility. More physical play, like running, jumping or dancing helps kids with their balance and coordination, and boosts their confidence. Play is the main way that kids explore the world, and is essential in their social and emotional development.

 

At camp, kids spend all summer playing, and therefore spend all summer learning. They may not realize that participating in crafts is teaching patience, hand-eye coordination and appreciation for the arts, and they may not realize that team sports is teaching them cooperation and communication. It may not be until they get home and others begin to see a change in their personality or character that they realized they learned a lot at camp. They may search their brains trying to pinpoint a moment when they learned a certain thing, and most won’t be able to. Learning through play can be a subtle process, which is also why is it so effective.

 

Play based learning is just as important as academic learning. Kids spend all year behind a desk, looking up at a teacher who is spitting out information. If they are lucky, they will get one or two teachers to use a more hands on approach to learning, but as the students get older, play and exploratory learning becomes less and less common. After spending all year filling their brains with facts and figures, a summer of play is something most kids look forward to. Some will spend their summers in front of a mind numbing computer screen or watching endless hours of TV, which does nothing for their developing minds. Kids who spend their summers running, jumping, trying, failing, laughing, communicating, climbing, making, singing and exploring learn so much more than those in front of a screen. They learn about the world around them, about their peers, and most importantly, about themselves.

 

The importance of play cannot be stressed enough when it comes to the growing minds of kids. Young kids are like sponges, and soak in information from all areas of their lives. Spending the summer at camp gives them a chance to learn differently than they do all year, and studies show that what kids learn during play may stick with them longer than listening to the same information through a lecture. When they do it themselves, when they touch and see and feel and experience something, they will remember it.

Campers play all day, which is why they love being at camp. While they are playing, they are also learning, which is why parents love summer camp. Academic learning is a vital part of childhood development, but play works on a child’s brain like nothing else can, and the best part: they don’t even know it’s happening.

Give Me a ‘G!’ Gratitude at Camp Weequahic

Friday, November 18th, 2016

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”Marcel Proust

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 3.14.34 PM We are heading closer and closer to Thanksgiving. That means it’s time to be thankful for all around us and, especially, for those who brighten our lives.

Being Grateful

Who is the most grateful person you know? By that, I mean, who seems to be thankful for all of their situations, no matter what is going on around them. Mine was my grandmother who we all called ‘Munner.’

No matter what was going on, Munner had a smile for you, a thoughtful word, and a laugh. And, she loved to play cards. Loved it. She was always especially thankful when we made a discard mistake on which she could pounce. (Munner was always grateful and a little competitive….)

She did not have much. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize just had little she had. However, it was always more than enough for her and she was thankful for every bit. She was so thankful for what she had that she gave a good deal of it away.

Munner always seemed to live this quote:

“Gratitude takes nothing for granted. It shines a spotlight on all that is good, amplifying its presence, all while putting your ‘problems’ into perspective and emboldening you with the courage you need to respond to them more constructively, less resentfully; more graciously, less begrudgingly.”

Becoming Grateful

We all need a bit of help in this light. It’s one of the reasons we picked ‘gratitude’ as a core Weeuquahic value. People who are grateful feel full, no matter how much or little the have at that Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.25.32 AMmoment. And, they are more courageous in new or difficult situations.

That is why we ask our potential staff members about their approach to gratitude. It’s why we educate about its importance. And, it’s why we do our best to model it every day in a myriad of ways.

We hope you spend a few moments this Thanksgiving holiday thinking about the people in your life and then giving them specific thanks. More importantly, act thankfully. While thankful words are important, living those words is even more so.

Have a wonderful great weekend and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Kids Don’t Remember the Best Day of Television…They Will Remember Their Favorite Day of Camp

Monday, November 14th, 2016

 

weeq1Sitting on fences is not safe. If your kid was sitting on a fence, you’d tell them to get off before they fell backward and hurt themselves. But there you are, sitting on the metaphorical fence, hemming-and-hawing about whether or not to give your kid the best summer on the planet.

 

If your kids don’t go to camp this year, they’ll survive. They’ll watch some a lot of TV, sleep in, eat whatever they can find in the pantry, hang out with their friends (probably in your living room, with their smelly, teenage socks all over your couch) maybe visit grandma, do some swimming, and complain on day 5 of vacation that they are bored. You know it’s true because it has happened every single summer since they started kindergarten.  And now, for one reason or another, they have been begging and begging to go to summer camp and you keep telling them you need time to think about it.  At the end of summer, is it going to warm your heart to listen to them brag about how they binge-watched Netflix all summer, or would you rather hear them gush about the new friend they made, the sports they tried and experiences they will never forget?  It’s time to get off the fence.

 

Instead of watching TV all summer, your child could spend weeks in the mountain, hanging around campfires, making new friends, sailing and fishing and swimming and creating memories of a lifetime.  Instead of you having to yell at them to clean their room or find something to do, you would be reading letters about how they faced their fears and tried something new  at camp.  Instead of struggling to find something for them to do every day of the summer, you could have a little R&R yourself, knowing your kid is having a blast.  Instead of eating junk all day and sleeping in until noon, they could be filling their bellies with nutritious lunches, and waking up early to start their day of fun.  Instead of having a plain old boring summer, they could go back to school with story after story about hiking adventures, zip lines, smores under the stars and inside jokes with all of their new friends.

 

They spend the entire school year sitting down. They sit in their classes, they sit at lunchtime, and they come home and sit and do homework, and they sit and eat dinner and then they sit and watch TV and then they go to bed. And they wake up and do it all again the next day and the next day and the next day. So when summer comes along, why not reward them by giving them a chance to run, play, stretch and really be kids? Summer camp is the best place to do that.  Another great benefit of camp is all of the growing and learning that is done, most of the time without them even knowing it. They learn to compromise and communicate and learn self-discipline and self-confidence, things they definitely don’t learn sitting home in front of the TV all day.

 

If you’re really still on the fence about sending and your kid to camp, think about this: they won’t remember their favorite day of watching TV all day, but they will remember the lifetime memories made every day at camp.

Thank You for Your Service

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Today, our nation celebrates Veteran’s Day – a day set aside to honor all those who honorably dsc_0081-5served in our nation’s military. These men and women came from a multitude of backgrounds.However, despite this diversity, all are bonded by one overriding purpose. To show this commitment, each individual took and lived the following oath:

“I, _______, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Their decision to live this oath made each person a part of something larger than themselves. They served and we, as a nation, are better for it.

Service at Camp

The young women and men who choose to serve as mentors, coaches and counselors do so with lots of other opportunities back home. Rather than spend time with their buddies or do less demanding work, they choose to serve our campers and each other.ac9u6433

Our staff members’ commitment to Weequahic’s mission of “creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage” makes for an incredible community.

But service does not stop with our staff. We are so pleased to see our CITs, Super Seniors and Seniors get into the action as well. Whether serving as a Big Brother/Sister, a bunk buddy, or serving at the local Ronald McDonald House, they give back in many ways. We are excited to offer new opportunities for Seniors to serve during Summer ’17. They’ll earn both community service hours but also the respect and admiration of the younger campers.

Thank you

We are so thankful for those who have served to help make our country great. We gain so much from them – safety, inspiration, and resolve. They show us that when we give ourselves over to a purpose larger than our own needs, we begin to act as heroes.

So, take a page from those who have supported this nation for so long: go out and serve. You’ll find yourself happier and your world a better place.

PS – A special thanks goes to those men and women who have served both at Weequahic staff and also in military service. You all rock!

What Do You Say?

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Did you know body language – the positioning of your body, expression of your face, and movement of your limbs – communicates more of your intended meaning than your words?

It’s true and you’ve seen it before. You’ve seen someone walk into a bunk for the first time with a smile on their face. The concern in their eyes, shoulders, and arms, though, were screaming out. Our counselors are really good at seeing this and helping that camper get comfortable.  Once they’ve built friendships, the camper opens up to who he or she really is.

The Power of Body Language

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Camp Mom Judy – the queen of welcoming kids to camp!

Your body language has a huge effect on how others judge you how you judge yourself. If you are open, friendly, and interested, you are more likely 1) to be judged as a friendly person, 2) more likely to have those around you mirror your actions, and 3) more likely to see yourself as a friendly person.

On the other hand, if your body language shows you as intimidating, uninterested, or rude, you’ll be marked as an unfriendly person to be avoided. And, just as in the above example, the people around you are likely to offer the same type communication to you or simply leave.

Now, we’ve all had moments in our lives when our bodies are giving off messages we don’t intend to show. We are really upset about something totally unrelated but make a friend feel we are mad at them. Or, we are deep in thought about something and don’t pay attention to those around us. It makes them feel ignored or left out.

(Aside: The middle school years for many of our kids are full of these moments. So much is being thrown at them in the forms of academic, social, and outside demands. It’s overloading their ability to manage. This creates interactions that adults sometimes view as… unpleasant. We are lucky that camp creates a community that mitigates most of those concerns. Instead, our campers get to drop everything and just be their happy selves.)

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Um… guys? Not too inviting, there….

Those moments of negative body language are ok. One moment does not define you as a person. Rather, it’s the long arc of your actions that make the biggest impact. If you decide to consistently show yourself as a trust worthy friend, a person who is excited to see those around you, and polite to everyone you meet, a few moments of not-so-great body language will be forgiven or forgotten.

A Real World Lesson

Here’s the good part: what you say with your body is your choice. You get to decide in every situation. You simply have to 1) understand the power of your body to convey meaning and 2) learn how to manage that ‘language’ through practice.

I learned this lesson very early on in my camping career. At 27 years old and running a camp for the first time with over 250 girls, I was totally out of my depth. Masking my anxiety from the kids and parents had been working but it did not have the same effect with our staff.ac9u7079

One team member was brave enough to call me out on it. (Thankfully, Flick did it in a private and thoughtful way.) After spending some time monitoring myself and asking others, I realized she was completely right. So, I decided to change.  Rather than seeing myself as a harried, in-over-his-head camp director, I started to act like I knew what I was doing and smiling a lot more for everyone.

It worked. I believe that lesson in body language has made me a better camp director, mentor, and father. It’s something I continually practice and ask our staff to do the same.

So, what are you saying to those around you? Are you friendly, open, and trustworthy to everyone? Do you help to light up a room when you enter with a smile, looking people in the eye? From what I’ve seen at camp, you are ALL able to be great at this. It’s your choice.

Have a great weekend.