September 30th, 2010Uncategorized
Anyone who has witnessed the magical influence of the camp environment knows that we have to advocate in every way possible for camp. I have to join the conversation, “Education Nation,” to add my voice to what every camp parent knows anecdotally – camp is a classroom without walls, a learning environment close to nature, with authentic human connections and unlimited opportunities to practice growing up.
Children succeed because of their role models, not because of the length of their school day. They thrive thanks to their teachers or their counselors, who motivate them to become learners.
With all due respect to educators and legislators who are trying to find the answers, we don’t need more time to teach to the test. Rather, our conversation about education reform needs to consider the whole child — the art of camp, with its social education, is a vital complementary component to the science of school’s lessons.
Children need to be productive, to feel connected, and to learn to navigate on their own. The answers will follow.
Thousands of our colleagues across the nation will attest to the power of camp. No grades. No permanent records. Just authentic connections to the real world. Play is the work of childhood; it’s how children invent and re-invent themselves, find their place in the universe, and learn what they are good at and where they need to practice. Life is the quintessential test tomorrow’s leaders need to pass.
“Waiting for Superman,” the newly released documentary dedicated to fixing education in America, calls to mind one of the most compelling quotes we ever received from a camp parent: “For Alex, putting on his camp tee shirt was like changing into a Superman cape.” Our children may all be ranked 24th in the world in math skills, but I can tell you that those who go to camp are Number 1 in self-confidence, resilience, and critical thinking skills.
School and camp are the yin and yang of education, interconnected parts that together advance bona fide academic achievement. We get it. We need to make sure that those who haven’t had the benefit of a camp experience come to understand its unique value in educating American children.
August 20th, 2010Uncategorized
It’s here. Today was filled with laughter and with tears. With hugs and with Sharpies. We wanted the Summer of 2010 to last forever.
But eventually the numbers 2- 0- 1- 0 “burned down.” We sealed the summer’s memories and achievements arm-in-arm as we sang “Coleman Country” for the last time together in 2010, and we reluctantly went off to our buses when we heard the last refrains of “Happy Trails.”
I have three words of advice: rejoice, validate, and listen!
Rejoice in the reality that your child has grown physically, emotionally, and socially this summer, and that you made it happen by choosing Coleman Country. You gave your child an edge – and a fabulous summer!
Validate the feelings of sadness that camp is over for a while. Be open and available to talk about camp. Share your own feelings and observations about your camper’s accomplishments. Normalize the sense of loss.
And listen, listen, listen: keep the pace slow for a few days, linger over family dinners, ask lots of questions – What was your favorite moment at camp? What will you miss most about camp? Talk about their friends… even their challenges and especially their triumphs. (By the way, we’d love for you to share some of these conversations with us, either at the bottom of this post or at Blog@ColemanCountry.com).
Next summer isn’t far away!
Until we meet again…
August 16th, 2010Uncategorized
Did you happen to see the story yesterday in the New York Times, Red vs. White? Very timely as we enter the first day of Olympics, our version of Color War (we’d rather pattern these spirited days on a festival than a conflict).
Whatever you call it, it is a blitz of competition that is so steeped in tradition that even the reporter “got it.” And, like all other aspects of camp, it has a purpose: to lock in the summer’s memories with rituals that tether us to the community we love – and keep us connected “until we meet again” next summer. It is as though there is an invisible tapestry keeping us linked.
That’s why this week counselors will be helping their campers say goodbye in many subtle but important ways. It starts with Olympics (tomorrow, campers will get their Red or Tan bandana which they are encouraged to wear- along with team colors – through Thursday when the Games conclude), and it continues with group projects that include such things as designating a certain tree that is theirs with a ceremony, harvesting the vegetables from the “Stand Up” Garden, putting the finishing touches on “Rock Town,” or visiting their “group rock” in the Friendship Garden.
Certificates of achievement, group photos, and bandanas are among the tangible items that help consecrate the summer of 2010. I encourage you to label (and maybe even decorate) a memory box to hold the precious mementos, which might even include a Rodeo giveaway or a craft project (is there one that you “love” but just cannot quite find a suitable “home” for?!) Think of it as a personal time capsule!
Transitions are always a challenge and even more difficult when a community is about to disband, even though it is temporary. And with transitions come anxieties. Adults and children alike are getting ready to separate from friends, from established routines, and from what has come to feel like a safe environment, because there are no overlaying pressures such as a test for the child or a carpool schedule for the adult.
There is a saying among camp people that is mentioned in the Times article: 10-4-2. You live 10 months for the 2 months of camp.
Don’t be afraid to share your own thoughts of sadness that the summer is drawing to a close; that conversation not only affirms your children’s own feelings but helps them realize that they are experiencing a normal passage. Neglecting this mood compels children to find their own ways to manage their sense of loss.
We’re on the lookout for opportunities for closure here on The Ranch; I urge you to do the same at home: reminisce, reflect, laugh, and find ways to tie a metaphorical ribbon around this summer. It’s the glue that binds us.
August 13th, 2010Uncategorized
The flags are missing from atop the Dream Dome. The kids are all excited because they know what that means: the next time the red and tan flags appear, Olympics will have “broken.” And they know what THAT means: more fun and spirit than you can imagine. And what THAT means: in about a week, the flags will be red and tan combined, signifying that we are reunited as one community. And then the bittersweet reality: the end of a glorious summer.
There’s something to be said for rituals. The predictability and familiarity are comforting and empowering for children (and for adults, too!). And we are very deliberate about the structure of these last days of camp, because we know our job includes helping our campers transition from camp to school.
As I know you know, nothing happens by chance around here! We are very intentional, and everything we do has a goal behind it.
So today, we let our hair down; it’s the stuff that camp is made of. Not only was it “Filthy Friday,” i.e., get as dirty as you can, but Colemania (it was today!) took center stage with its tons of uncongealed JELL-O. Yes, it was intentionally very messy around here today! We splattered in JELL-O, ran the “Slopstacle Course,” and swam in spaghetti. Now, if that doesn’t get us ready for school, what does?!
The yin and yang of growing up. The sticking point is the transition between them.
Summer is drawing to a close. Soon, we’ll be embracing still more traditions and rituals – the ones that signal our temporary good-byes. Please come back to “Happy Trails” next week because I’d like to share some tips on how you can help your child (and yourself!) make the adjustment from camp to school. I can tell you that for children, there is a sense of impending loss of connection from routines, friends, and activities (and I would predict it is the same for you!).
In the meantime, have a great weekend and label the growth you’ve seen in your camper with specific words. You might want to think of a family project to get a jump start on marking the reconnection of your own family unit – perhaps with a project, a game night, or a family outing.
This activity would ideally seal the memories that each of you takes with you forever from the Summer of 2010.
Until next week…
August 9th, 2010Uncategorized
This could be a touchy subject, but I feel that after six great weeks together, I can say it – trust us wholly, and relax that for eight precious weeks you do not need to keep your child tethered to you with a cell phone. While we are very firm that there are no cell phones (or texting from camp), occasionally an older camper will have one in a backpack as a crutch to call Mom or Dad when something doesn’t go exactly his or her way.
It’s a trap, parents! Not only do you not need to rescue your camper, you shouldn’t! And you definitely should not tell your camper to bring it “just in case.…” (Every bus has a cell phone for emergencies and once at camp, we are all connected by land lines.) The unspoken message there is that she can’t be safe unless a parent is there to solve the problem. (Are you planning to be her roommate in college?! Or move in when he gets married?!)
One of the greatest things camp does for kids, besides giving them the time of their lives, is the opportunity to learn to navigate on their own – recognizing that they can depend on themselves to fix a problem they are encountering at the moment; to use their own voice, to “Stand Up”.
What better place to practice growing up than here on The Ranch – where it’s virtually impossible to make a bad choice, where counselors are trained to coach and support their campers, where an emotionally and physically safe community has been created?
I urge you: don’t miss this window of opportunity. Where else can a child truly get away from it all and learn to stand on his own feet – and build a stronger brain of her own? Did you know that kids spending more than 6 hours daily in some sort of solitary media environment during the school year? Enter camp, a totally unplugged environment.
A recent article, “Can You Hear Me Now? Not if You’re at Summer Camp,” quotes a mom saying that she would pay extra for a tech-restricted camp experience! She explains that the first time she took her son to camp (a camp where parents drove their campers), he was on his iPod Touch the entire car ride, but the second time they made the drive, he didn’t even bring it in the car.
It’s really interesting, but just the other day I realized how nice that feeling is. Throughout the summer, I tell my friends not to call me on my cell phone because I never use it, even when I am in the office; and I never gave that comment much thought until now. It has dawned on me that I, too, unplug during camp – and it is freeing!
Eight prized weeks. No electronic umbilical cord! Rejoice, and let go.
Everyone knows you don’t need – or even want – a phone in Coleman Country.
August 3rd, 2010Uncategorized
I was planning to blog about something different, but when I was out on The Ranch this morning during bus arrival, I was moved by a singular sight: children holding hands. (Take a look at Marla’s Pic[k]s today, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)
Where else do 11-year-old girls walk together holding hands?! Or male counselors feel comfortable and connected enough to dress up and dance to “Copacabana”?! Singing takes the place of texting, and cheering is what you do to encourage someone rather than laughing at him. Four-year-olds understand the meaning of the word “respect.” Where else do shy children take center stage and “Jump In” holding a microphone?
It’s because we’re truly one big family, a connected community; we share a culture of compassion on The Ranch.
Where else do children get to practice “habits of the heart?” They did it yesterday with gusto when they swam their hearts out to send underprivileged children to camp. Whether they could swim or not, they racked up the laps with whatever aid was needed – their own power or a barbell or a swim instructor. At the end of the day, earning 10 cents a lap which the Coleman family pledged on their behalf, they had amassed $2,000 (yes, we rounded it up!) for Morry’s Camp.
Also, yesterday, we were joined by two counselors from South Africa. Mbali and Mdu will be here for the remainder of the summer, sharing their spirit. (Ross, Pam, and Tony met them last year when they volunteered at their camp.) Today, the pair started making their way around divisions introducing themselves with the now famous “Jump In” song that originated at Camp Sizanani in Soweto. The Pioneers were delighted when they recognized the song they have been singing all summer!
Speaking of spirit, it was off the charts today – and on top of the tables – in the Chow Hall when Mbali and Mdu taught Pardners some chants like G-R-O-O-V-Y, and they taught them “Shake your booty.” As G3-3 Counselor Erika put it, “We show them the Coleman Way and they show us their way.”
We’re literally and figuratively holding hands around the world, opening our hearts, sharing our good fortune. And showing each other love.
Now that’s what I call the power of fun!
July 30th, 2010Uncategorized
Yesterday was another one of my favorite days – staff GaGa! You might think this is a stretch, but to me this event symbolizes the ultimate in feeling a sense of belonging! Most of these spirited, fun-loving, passionate staff members have grown up at Coleman Country – and that means they have grown up with GaGa!
And I watch our campers sitting around The Pit and cheering for their counselors or watching the live feed in the Palace Theater, knowing that they are setting goals, picturing success, and hoping to one day be just like them!
That’s what happens here. The roots of being connected are so deep that they provide nourishment for the soul, wherever you happen to be. At home with your own family. At school. At work. Anywhere – what you take away from The Ranch stays with you forever.
I know this to be true because we recently made a general request to counselors asking if anyone wanted to write a testimonial for our new website that we’re building (for release in a couple of weeks!), explaining to prospective staff members what it’s like to work at Coleman Country. Here are just a few from the outpouring of emotions:
- Coleman Country takes kids by their hand, but touches each and every heart!
- The moment you step into CCDC, you feel like part of a family that wants to see you succeed and step out of the box.
- When I am at Coleman Country, I feel a million miles away from the “real world” – it is my “happy” place.
- I always come back to Coleman Country because it is like my second family. The best part is that family gets bigger every summer. With new friends and new campers, the experiences I have there are indescribable and irreplaceable.
- It’s really not a job to me – I come back for the feeling inside of me.
- Everywhere you turn there is someone smiling and having a great time. Besides the lifelong friends that I love spending all summer with, there is not another place where everyone can truly be themselves.
- Coleman Country is a place of warmth, love, and comfort that is contagious and stays with me all year long.
- Everyone is their own individual, but when put together like pieces of a puzzle, we don’t only form a unit but also a family.
- You’re given the opportunity to shine and to be accepted for the person you are. At Coleman Country I found my second family and discovered my spirit.
These are the people who are working with your children, being positive role models for them. Isn’t that gratifying?
By the way, would you and/or your camper like to share a few words for our website to give future families a feeling of life on The Ranch from your or their perspective? We’d love to hear what being a part of Coleman Country means to you. You can leave your thoughts in the Comment space below or e-mail me at blog@ColemanCountry.com.
July 26th, 2010Uncategorized
I promised you the inside scoop if you read Coleman Country’s blog, “Happy Trails.” So, here it is – strategies for getting your name on The Pit’s Wall of Fame! Parents will have their turn in the Dream Dome on Wednesday evening at 6:45 pm. (please make sure you are signed up in advance!).
These tips, by the way, come straight from Ross, known on The Ranch as one of the savviest players and professor of the game!
Stretch, stretch, stretch! In the game of GaGa, you have to stay low to protect your legs from being hit. That, in combination with the reality that you don’t often find yourself in that position on a regular day-to-day basis, translates into stretching those hamstrings well.
And, don’t jump! Any good player knows that being in the air makes you a better target, because you’ll have to land – and that’s when you’ll get hit.
Don’t be overly aggressive. You don’t get points for getting others out; only for being the last one left!
Play with an open hand; you’ll have better control of the ball.
When the second ball comes in, be aware of your surroundings. If you are near the wall, there are fewer sides to protect.
Of course, the wonderful part of GaGa is that there still is a layer of luck; you could say that GaGa is the great equalizer of boys and girls – and on Wednesday night, of men and women, too! Strategy is as important, if not more so, than athletic ability.
One more thing I want to mention: be a good sport. Accept the referee’s call even if you don’t agree with it. That’s one of the important life lessons we teach your children here on The Ranch.
We are looking forward to a spirited, action-packed night, which historically is filled with lots of laughs and down-home family fun. Until then,
July 23rd, 2010Uncategorized
I wish you could have been here to see the kids’ faces when they high-fived Brett Gardner! We had invited lots of media – and they all came! – because we wanted to spread the word that a positive role model could be such a touchstone for children to recognize that they can set and then achieve their goals. We’ve posted much of the coverage on our Facebook page, so you can get a flavor of this memorable day; but I also wanted to share another perspective with you, one that goes way beyond the fanfare of the event.
Of all the video, online, and print reports of the day, which included NBC and ABC, the one that told the story most poignantly for me was Newsday’s Tony Olivero, whose angle was that “Brett Gardner still sees himself as one of the other Yankees.” Humble and modest, Brett, who is third on the Yankees and ahead of Jeter and Rodriguez in batting average, fielded questions from campers about his two up-until-now more famous teammates with grace and humor.
Meanwhile, “Brett the Jet” as he is nicknamed, who gave the kids base-running tips, is fourth in the American League with 26 steals!
“He doesn’t see himself as a star,” Oliveri reported. Yet the campers did acknowledge him as a celebrity. That was the story.
Brett Gardner, at 5’10” and a college walk-on, is a great example to children that you can overcome obstacles, that you can “Dream Big,” that you can work hard and smart, and that you can re-invent yourself at any stage of life.
That’s why Brett Gardner was here. You might say he gave new meaning to our Field of Dreams.
July 21st, 2010Uncategorized
Camp is all about “stuff” – that’s what makes it so special. It’s the “stuff” we do that makes each of us a part of a richly connected network of friends. And it’s the rituals and traditions that punctuate those feelings.
When our electronic lightning alert system forced us to cancel one of our four Parent Visiting Pow-Wows the other night, and I saw the deep disappointment on the face of the campers as well as the staff and parents, too, I realized just how significant this ritual is for every member of the camp community. Before I go any further, I want to assure readers – both those who saw or will see a ceremony and those who unfortunately could not – that the show still went on! We gathered in the Circle of the Pow-Wow this morning, and although parents couldn’t be there to witness the solemn ceremony, I can report that it was just as touching as all the others.
That’s because we stand shoulder to shoulder in the Circle of the Pow-Wow, where we are all equal and where we are all friends. We pledge to ourselves and to each other that we will be unified in our determination to Stand Up for what is right. It is in the Circle that we find the path to understanding and hope. It is in the symbolism of the unending circle that we build our wall of collective strength, that brick by brick, we cobble together the values that tell the backstory of Coleman Country. It is within the circle that we dance to the same melodies, both literally and figuratively.
Many years ago, I heard Mary Pipher, the author and anthropologist, define the word “community” – community is when people share the same story, she explained. And every time I see a Pow-Wow take shape, or a dance party gather energy, I am reminded of our connectedness. Inside the barn doors at this place we lovingly refer to as The Ranch, we feel capable, we feel belonging, and we feel loved.
It’s contagious. It’s what creates a sense of family, of common purpose; where everyone knows what’s okay and what’s not. It’s where we share our stories…where we know what’s expected of us… and where we feel accountable.
It just doesn’t get any better or any more powerful.