Archive for May, 2017

21st Century Skills at Weequahic

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

As a parent, I find myself falling into the trap of wanting my kids to “grow up” too quickly. In my more impatient moments, I find myself thinking, “Why can’t they make/do/think/etc. like I can?” Why can’t they grow up?

 

And then I see one of the greatest coaches of all time talk about the importance of attitude and joy and the consequences of college kids acting like 12 year olds.

 

Which reminds me – my boys are young! And, while I’ve taught them what it means to make good decisions, treat others kind, be thoughtful of others feelings, know and how to stand up for what’s important, they are still kids and they are supposed to make mistakes.

 

They aren’t grown ups and that’s a good thing. A very sweet story from Fredrik Backman illustrates this point beautifully:

 

“Tell me about school, Noahnoah,” Grandpa asks.

 

He always wants to know everything about school, but not like other adults who want to know if Noah is behaving. Grandpa wants to know if the school is behaving. It hardly ever is.

 

“Our teacher made us write a story about what we want to be when we’re big,” Noah tells him.

 

 “What did you write?”

 

“I wrote that I wanted to concentrate on being little first.”

 

I like that. And, it helps me explain the gift of camp. We want our kids to concentrate on being kids before anything else. They’ll grow up soon enough and we’ll have done our part in equipping them for that growth.

 

But what does that mean? At Weequahic, we think it means:

 

Play

Our campers get to play. They turn off, unplug, and engage with other kids who want to do the same. The get to explore with no expectations other than their safety, adventure without knowing the end result, and laugh without a care.

 

This leads to….

 

Experiential Learning

These big words really just means ‘figuring things out.’ You get your hands dirty. You sweat. You get confused and then break it apart and try again. Then, you figure it out and that knowledge is yours… forever. And, it not just about doing things – its about emotions and handling missing home and everything else. (This is where independence starts to blossom.)

 

This is helps and is helped by….

 

Making new friends

The more our campers get excited about something, the more likely they are to get connected with kids doing the same thing – they want to learn together. They want to build community. They want to reach out and trust and explore with others who feel the same. PLUS, they are surrounded by mentors excited to guide, prod, and team along the way.

 

This leads to….

 

Building Courage

Here’s the thing we don’t realize all the time: Courage is a muscle that is built with use. It’s not about being ‘unafraid.’ Being uncomfortable is the only time we can practice courage. And, the more friends/support we have around us, the easier it is to build those courage muscles.

 

Higher levels of personal courage allows us to be a peace with ourselves, more comfortable in our own skin.

 

This leads to…

 

Practicing Gratitude

It’s pretty simple: grateful people are happier people. And, it actually takes some courage to express gratitude since it might make you feel awkward the first time or two you do it. It takes even more courage to live by those grateful words. But the more we do, the more we get to experience….

 

Wonder and Joy

This is the final step in that ‘what do we campers out of camp’ chain. If they’ve played, learned without knowing it, made some friends, built their courage, and started practicing a grateful outlook, the are MUCH more likely to live with wonder and joy.

 

So, are these 21st Century Skills? Well, I think they are. We’ll still need to be able to cook our meals, change a tire, etc. But, with the rise of automation and technology, we’ll need to prepare our kids to become adults with these important skills. And, to me, camp is a great place to get them rolling.

 

Can’t wait to get everyone to camp! With GAC,
Cole

 

Staff Training

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Each summer, over two hundred men and women arrive at Camp Weequahic to prepare for an incredible experience. Hailing from literally around the world (17 countries and 22 US states at last count), these mostly college aged adults have chosen to spend their summer doing something different differently.

 

Let me explain….

 

What we do is pretty simple to explain: we run a residential summer camp for girls and boys ages 7 to 16.

 

How do we do it? That’s an easy but more involved conversation. The answer involves our structured-choice program for the kids, the way we interview, hire, and train our team, the great traditions and Evening Activities, the Dining Hall experience, what to do on trips off camp, and so much more.

 

We have a team of eight people who work for 10 months planning a 2 month party and then take another 10 days to get everyone else up to speed. It’s not rocket science but it’s pretty involved.

 

Why do we do it? Well… that’s the special answer. And, it’s the answer we delve into from the first moment of our 10-day staff orientation. It’s also the answer we finish with the night before the kids arrive. It’s the most important thing to clarify and embrace as it is at the core of everything we do.

 

What’s the answer, you ask? You’ll have to be a staff member to find out. But, I’ll give you a hint: it has a lot to do with creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude and courage….

 

Getting Ready for Orientation

Team members should arrive with an ‘open for anything’ type attitude ready to be challenged and engaged. We put our newest team members into odd situations, fun situations, hard situations and everything in between.

 

We focus on the ‘why’, teach our expectations and policies, practice those in real world situations, and laugh a lot together. We help each staff member ‘sharpen their own saw’ and then work with everyone to create a community that is supportive, friendly, fun, safe, and adventurous.

 

What we are preparing for?

The kids! (And, frankly, each other!)

 

We have 450 campers from all over the US and larger world arriving at camp on June 24th. Two thirds will be heading home on July 15th and the next awesome batch of 250 kids arriving on July 17th.

We want our campers to be surrounded by people who will, first off, keep them safe both physically and emotionally and secondly, who are excited to show them how much fun can be enjoyed in our community.

 

The better a community we create with one another as a team, the better an experience we can provide to our campers, their families back home, and our team at camp.

 

Sure, it’s fun and it’s usually the most challenging job anyone has ever had. The more we work together and support one another, the easier and more fulfilling it becomes.

 

The End Result

Remember when I said our staff arrive ready to do something different differently? Spending your summer caring for, teaching, and leading young people changes our team members. It requires selfless action and that’s not something that gets celebrated a lot any more. That’s why it’s different.

 

Camp impacts our staff just as much as our kids. It opens up their world, shows them the enormous influence they can provide, and reinforces the notion that happiness comes from serving others.

 

What does ‘differently’ mean? That’s the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ that we’ll teach you at Weequahic. We can’t wait to show you!
Let me be the first to welcome our Summer Staff of 2017. Travel safely to camp and get ready for AMAZING!

It’s Natural! A Note to Nervous Campers

Monday, May 8th, 2017

I enjoyed a great visit with one of our returning campers yesterday. This camper had ton of fun at camp, loved his counselors, made a bunch of friends, and was really nervous about coming back to camp for a second summer.

 

Why? You probably can guess it – our returning camper remembers missing parents and it seemed to dwarf everything else. The family was surprised as every word out about camp was ‘I had SO much fun! There are so many great things to do!’

 

This is not uncommon at all. It’s actually pretty normal. In fact, I believe it’s built into us from our lives thousands of years ago. Let me explain….

 

Many, many thousands of years ago, we humans led a pretty precarious existence. There were lots of things in our world that were bigger, faster, stronger, and meaner than us. We had little in the way of natural defensive or offensive weapons – our hands and arms are not very strong compared to a gorilla, our skin not nearly as tough as a rhinos, and our teeth and speed paled in comparison to sabre tooth tigers.

 

The difference – that which kept us alive and thriving when the physical odds were stacked against us – is that thing between your ears.

 

Our brains allowed us to recognize danger quickly and figure out ways to get out of trouble and fast! This ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in our brain, combined with our ability communicate and coordinate better than any other species, kept us going when we probably should have been a blip in the historical record.

 

Umm… And this relates to camp how?

 

Don’t worry – I’m getting there.

 

Ok, so our brains got really good at recognizing and avoiding danger. But sabre tooth tigers and most other major dangers we used to face are no longer issues for us in today’s world.

 

But, while we’ve made the environment around us safer, our brains have not changed much at all. Our brain still puts a great deal more focus (three times as much) on situations it feels are dangerous or scary over. situations that are perceived as fun.

 

What this means for us at camp

 

When a camper misses home – which 99% of campers and staff do at some point in the summer – their brain records it as a threatening experience and weighs it a lot more heavily (300% more!) than all the good stuff.

 

AND, if a person has not yet come to realize that they have a great deal of control on how they react to things and what they focus on, they can very easily fall into focusing on the negative rather than the positive.

 

Courage and Gratitude to the Rescue!

This is why courage is so important. Courage is a like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. And, you do need to demonstrate courage when facing those negative emotions.

 

You’ve got to recognize your feelings and then think, “Okay, does it make sense to be really that concerned about this?” If it’s a sabre tooth tiger, then absolutely! But, if it was remembering those 5-10 minutes of missing your parents after reading a note from home?

 

It’s a lot easier to battle the negative feelings when you combine courage with its best friend, gratitude. When you are remembering a negative part of an experience, you’ll need to balance it with at least three things you are grateful about concerning that same experience.

 

In the case of camp, when you feel a bit down or nervous about returning, you could think about all those new friends you’ve made, how you’d never get to play shaving cream whiffle ball at home (or something just as whacky and fun), and that a s’more with your fun counselors from Oregon and New Zealand are just better at camp.

 

At Weequahic, we are lucky to build dozens and dozens of great memories each day. All you have to do is start creating a highlight reel in your head to keep for those “rainy day” moments.

 

Final Thought

 

So, remember – those nervous feelings are totally natural and totally normal. They are an echo of what allowed our ancestors to keep going each day. BUT, if you start building your gratitude and courage muscles, you can overcome the feelings that are holding you back from enjoying the most out of each day.

 

We are excited to help along the way! Can’t wait for camp,

 

Cole

 

PS – One more point on this topic. Many of our campers, especially the boys, have a hard time reaching out for help when feeling a bit down at camp. The common thought is ‘It would be too embarrassing to talk about it with my counselor.”

 

I get that and felt the same way when I was there age.

 

Luckily for me, I have always been a really bad actor. Good friends recognize things quickly and help me when it’s obvious I need a pep talk. The hard part comes when the kiddo in question is a really good actor for those few moments when a ‘stiff upper lip’ may seem necessary.

 

Let’s dispel that myth with two questions and two facts. Question #1 for our campers:

 

“Do you like feeling like a hero?”

 

I have to imagine your answer is a resounding ‘yes!’ Ok, it may be a, ‘Um, yes – why do you ask? This seems a little off base.’

 

Either way, yes, you like feeling like a hero! Which leads to the first fact:

 

So do your counselors.

 

Question #2: “Is it fun to help another person feel like a hero?” Of course it does! Which then leads to the second fact:

 

When you open up to your counselors about missing home or some other concern you have at camp, they are so appreciative. Then, when you let them help get you back to those wide-open, holy-moly, “this is amazing stuff” feelings about your day, they are going to feel like a hero.

 

And, it’ll be due to you showing the courage to share your thoughts and let them help. So, be hero by sharing and help your counselors be a hero by helping you!

The Value of Communal Living at a Young Age

Monday, May 1st, 2017

 

We’ve all heard horror stories of terrible college roommates; the ones who are dirty or irresponsible or rude or have no self-awareness. It raises the question, if these people would have been exposed to more communal living experiences growing up, would they be better roommates as an adult? Living with others is a skill that many children only learn from living with their families. Many children never share a room or living spaces with people other than their family until they go away to college. So it’s no surprise that these children struggle when it comes to etiquette and social norms that come with communal living.

Spending a summer at camp is a great way to prepare your child for the realities of living with other people in their adulthood. It helps them become aware of their surroundings and the way they impact the space that they share with others.

Early risers learn to occupy their time quietly and respectfully in the mornings without waking up others. Night owls learn to keep things quiet once it’s time for “lights out.” Children who are used to being disorganized at home learn that their messiness affects others when sharing a cabin, and they begin to learn the importance of organization and cleanliness. Sharing a cabin also teaches campers to respect property that is not theirs, such as the beds in the cabin, the bathrooms, etc. They learn to be aware and careful about how they treat things that are not their own.

From day one, campers are taught about their roles and responsibilities as a member of a specific cabin. Counselors know that this may be a camper’s first time living with others, so they use gentle reminders and guidance to help campers keep their personal spaces tidy, to stay organized, and to respect the other campers around them. Every day at camp is a new opportunity to learn valuable life skills and prepares them to be respectful and responsible roommates in the future.

Living together with 8-10 peers gives campers the chance to learn how to deal with different personality styles. It gives them a chance to practice their communication and conflict management skills.

Nobody goes into parenthood with a goal to raise a nightmare roommate. All parents want to raise kind, considerate, self-aware human beings who others like being around and, eventually, living with. Gifting your child with a summer away at camp is about more than sports and campfires. It is about learning valuable life lessons that will help them become a more productive member of society.

Your child will thank you. And so will his/her future college roommates.