Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Sense of Wonder

Fifty years, ago author-environmentalist Rachel Carson said, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that its gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

Anyone who has spent time with a young child and shared his or her delight in the simple things—a bug in the grass, a dandelion in seed, a rabbit in the yard—knows that children are born with a sense of wonder. They are curious, eager to learn, and enthusiastic about the world around them. Unfortunately, as children grow into adults, many lose this quality. We live in a neon world where the senses are assaulted daily by loud noises, bright colors, strong aromas, exotic tastes, and the feel of asphalt, metal, and brick. Most moments of wonder are soft and quiet and muted—we must retrain our eyes and ears to even notice them, and we must take the time to appreciate them.

It is certainly possible to experience wonder indoors. Who has not experienced a thrill of awe and happiness when holding a baby, when smelling freshly baked bread, when laughing at good humor among friends? Most moments of wonder, however, occur outdoors within the natural world.  One can see a splendid sunset through the living room window, but it is not the same as watching it from a rock, with the breeze blowing and the night falling. One can see a rainbow through the car windshield, but this is less moving than standing out in the rain and feeling a part of the colors that spread across the sky.

The natural world is the lab where a sense of wonder is nurtured and maintained. Here it is possible to take a moment to watch the doe and fawn grazing in an aspen grove, to hear the rustle of the wind in the leaves, to smell the rich odor of the forest floor after a rain. Here there are moments of surprise—when a bluebird darts through the sky, or a white Iris appears in a meadow of purple. Here there are long views and short views.

Although naturalists have known about the values of a sense of wonder forever, it is only recently that youth development experts have begun to collect the research. To no one’s surprise they have learned that an active sense of wonder is positively linked with creativity and imagination, and that children with a sense of wonder have heightened powers of observation and a sense of peace and of being at one with the world. They have discovered that wonder is an important motivator for life long learning, and that children who experience wonder together have more positive feelings about each other.

At camp, we have not only an exceptionally beautiful environment, but also hours, and days, and weeks to appreciate it. Rebuilding the sense of wonder for our campers and our staff is part of our mission. A sense of wonder, however, can be sparked anywhere, anytime. We can enrich our lives by stopping to smell the roses!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Sensible Mission

To live together in the outdoors, building a sense of Self, a sense of Community, a sense of the Earth, and a sense of Wonder through fun and adventure.

I love our Sanborn Western Camps mission statement. It is rich and varied; succinct and pointed; it represents both years of summer camp experience and the vibrancy of each new camp season; it celebrates the individual and the team; it embraces and enhances our connections to each other, ourselves, and to the world as a whole; it reminds us that growth is intensely personal, but is maximized when shared; and it isn’t a didactic lecture, delivered by the learned professor--it is an afternoon studying multi-colored lichen on some high mountain rocks, a leisurely walk through elk-chewed aspen groves, a game of hide-and-seek among the montane grasses and trees, and children laughing, talking, and growing around a Colorado campfire.

Our mission statement is transcendent and universal…we want it to share it in as many ways as possible. We want every child and adult to understand what gifts they can gain when they spend a summer at Sanborn, when they spend a lifetime in the outdoors. We want the Sanborn mission statement to “make sense” to our staff, so we have designed a set of “Six Staff Senses” to help make the mission statement real. Parents, teachers, outdoor advocates, experiential educators and more can use these “senses” to help bring the life lessons, values/ethics, fun and adventure of the summer camp experience to your every day life. Enjoy.

The Six Staff Senses

1. Seeing/Vision: To "see" both the outside and inside of every child; being able to see/know everything all at once; the past, present, & future; seeing through different lenses—what do parents see, what does the camp community see, what do the campers see, what do I see; visualizing the impact of the natural world and the camp experience on campers—seeing through the goals you set for the campers and for yourself.

2. Hearing/Listening: REALLY learning to listen and HEAR campers and their needs; hear the words between the words; hear the hurt/fear/frustration behind the action; pause to listen to the lessons of camp; allow yourself to listen to your heart and your gut...good judgment comes from within.

3. Smelling: Olfactory memories are some of the strongest around; make sure and have your campers stop and smell the trees/grass/morning/evening/post-storm/flowers/desserts etc.. Smell is also a complicated memory maker—it has to be associated w/ other elements to become memorable—so take TIME to sculpt those memorable (and fragrant!) moments.

4. Taste/Food: Eating is VERY important at camp; it is respectful community building in our family style/campfire meals; it is ritual in our plate scraping/mabel waiting; it is celebration in our song/birthday parties/theme dinners/banquets/post-climb meals; it is analyzation in our end-of-the-day dinner discussions/observations of kids eating; it is nourishment for the body and the soul—be present, be aware.

5. Touch/Feeling: “The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” “A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you're at home.” All summer long: BE PRESENT. The benefits of hugs, smiles, nods of affirmation, high fives of celebration will not work if you are not there to share those feelings, share the physical connections, share the summer with your campers and yourself.

6. Wonder: Each day is a god—make it be so in everything your do.

Make the mission make sense--the more you practice and play, the less abstract this job and the world will become.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hands-On Teaching Methods

Hands-on learning methods can get anyone into MIT or Harvard!

A recent NY Times article reported universities including MIT, Harvard, and the University of Colorado are shifting their approach to teaching science. They are abandoning lecture halls for student-centered, collaborative and interactive teaching methods. What research-based doctoral scholars are adopting as a new approach, K-12 educators have known for years. All educators must be dynamic and exciting. They need well-planned lessons designed to include methods that help all students learn, with the recognition that everyone learns differently.  Multiple intelligences and learning modalities may be more adaptable as learners age, but we see businesses using these theories of learning to increase productivity and efficiency in the professional workplace. From the trails of an outdoor education center to the labs on MIT's main campus to the halls of Google, it is every educator and manager's responsibility to provide meaningful learning experiences. Students ache for engaging, rich, and relevant learning opportunities.

How does one create an interactive learning environment?


One method for enriching the classroom or boardroom is through the creation of small collaborative or 'cooperative learning' groups. This is especially effective for high school students. Collaboration provides a social outlet, a setting to learn, an opportunity to take on a new role, and maintain an active learning atmosphere. Good collaboration is one of the most important skills of any respected leader. 

Check out these collaborative learning websites for ideas, benefits, and other sources and strategies for changing your learning environment...

Collaborative Learning

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning Research

Benefits of Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning Teacher Blog

Monday, May 18, 2009


I'm going to expand on what Ryan wrote a few days ago, about impressions and impacts. Ryan wrote, "How we live, determines how we lead, which will determine the impact we make." This seems to be a simple statement. But, it is also quite complicated. Have you ever thought about how you live? Or how you lead? Or the impact that you make? More importantly, have you thought about the connection between these?

I don't think I can say I have. Yes, I have thought about my life and my abilities as a leader from time to time. I like to believe that I am making an impact on children's lives. There are times I question my effectiveness as a leader and if I'm truly living my life as the leader I want to be. 

I am in the Organizational Leadership program at the University of Denver right now and have learned some interesting and useful leadership and team techniques. In one of my classes we read The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. They have created a simple model of the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership. These 5 steps inspired me. I printed the model out and put it above my desk. Everyday I look at it and ask myself if I'm following the steps. While they are straightforward practices, I still must challenge myself to follow them in my everyday work. I believe that if I continue to read them and try to incorporate them into my everyday LIFE, this will improve my LEADING abilities, and in turn, allow me to make a bigger IMPACT. 

5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership
1. Model the Way 
Clarify Values: find your voice and affirm shared values 
Set the Example: personify the shared values and teach others to model the values
2. Inspire a Shared Vision
Envision the Future: imagine the possibilities and find a common purpose
Enlist Others: appeal of common ideals and animate the vision
3. Challenge the Process
Search for Opportunities: seize the initiative and exercise outsight
Experiment and Take Risks: generate small wins and learn from experience
4. Enable Others to Act
Foster Collaboration: create a climate of trust and facilitate relationships
Strengthen Others: enhance self-determination and develop competence and confidence
5. Encourage the Heart
Recognize Contributions: expect the best and personalize recognition
Celebrate the Value and Victories: create a spirit of community and be personally involved

I challenge you to follow these 5 practices. Share them with a friend. How can you live, lead, and make an impact? 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Do we make an impact or an impression at Summer Camp?

impact [n. im-pakt; v. im-pakt]

influence; effect: the impact of Einstein on modern physics.        

To have an impact or effect on; influence; alter: The decision may impact your whole career. The auto industry will be impacted by the new labor agreements.

impression [im-presh-uhn]

The first and immediate effect of an experience or perception upon the mind; sensation.


About a year ago several of us had the opportunity to attend the ACA National conference, held in Nashville, TN.  One of the many people that connected to me was a keynote speaker named Dr. Rick Rigsby. This link will provide you with the last four minuets of the keynote.

Dr. Rigsby spoke about character, values-based leadership, and how theses two, most important traits are vital to making an IMPACT  rather than an impression.   How we live determines how we lead which will determine the impact me make.  Impression, is what we do when children first arrive at camp.  Impact, is what we did that is visible in their lives 20 years later.    Camp creates lifelong Impacts!

“Our greatest endeavor must be to transform this generation by living authentic lives that impact rather than impress!” -Dr. Rick Rigsby

" The Meaning of Summer Camp"   

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's In A Name? The Evolution of a Movement

What makes a trend? Where is “the tipping point" when the obscure becomes the mainstream? How do we collectively determine what is important to us as a global culture? And when are we called to action? The “green” movement has undergone a transformation from years of “grass roots” and individual efforts, to a widely discussed topic throughout all media sources and one that people are acting on in a broad way.

As we move ever closer to the beginning of the summer camp season, I am seeing a refreshing trend in conversations across the web. News outlets, bloggers, parents, summer camp staff and other professionals in the outdoor industry are talking about the importance of nature in the lives of our kids. By consolidating our voices, our message, our vision, and (maybe?) our name we can achieve a simple and very important goal: to get our children reconnected with the natural world.

The Children In Nature Network, Richard Louv, the ACA, and the National Wildlife Federation are some of the larger organizations and better known individuals providing momentum to the children in nature movement. Yet, in the current environment of lightning-fast information exchange through blogs and on social media platforms, the conversation is just as loud—if not louder. I wanted to share some of the lesser known groups and individuals I have found who are also doing their part to spread the word about the importance of authentic, nature experiences for our kids.

The blog at has an outstanding post regarding the “outdoor play movement” which details specific ideas to make getting outside with kids a habit, not a rarity. Another name for the movement is “free-range kids”—where parents are giving up their hovering, helicopter ways for an experience-based approach to childhood (imagine that!) which encourages problem-solving, independence, outdoor play and personal resilience. The Free-Range Kids blog and book by Lenore Skenazy hopes to “give our kids the freedom we had without going nuts with worry.” The Nature for Kids blog provides articles and resources for parents interested in becoming a part of a community of parents who detail just HOW they manage to get their families outside regularly. The Grass Stain Guru celebrates the messes, dirt, and experimentations of childhood, while Play Everything is an offshoot of the need for unstructured free play in the outdoors. There are even blogs—such as The Outdoor Parent —designed to celebrate the importance of the outdoors in the lives of children AND their parents. The Green Hour, from NWF, is yet another direction (another name) the movement has taken—just an hour a day of “outside time” will make a difference in the lives of your children. Urban parents who don’t have the opportunity to take hikes in the backcountry will really appreciate the tips and ideas for enjoying and appreciating nature in the city (podcasts are even available to download and listen to on your morning commute!)

Children In Nature. No Child Left Inside. Nature For Kids. The Green Hour. Free Range Kids. Outdoor Play Movement. Playwork. Free Play. The movement is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and based on these blogs, global. As long as the dialogue continues, then we will all learn to speak a common language—and one that will benefit the planet, relationships, our children, and the overall health and humanity of our global society.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Does Technology Fit into the Traditional Summer Camp Experience?

We hear all the time about the benefits of a traditional summer camp and how important it is to show children what life can be like in an unplugged, natural world. There's no question that these camps serve as an opportunity for parents to allow their children to thrive in an environment filled with natural wonders and very few technological stimulants, but can these camps survive without also embracing the constantly evolving technology of today's modern world?

In an age where newspapers are going out of business and print advertising is becoming increasingly ineffective, any business that hopes to be able to market their product or service seemingly must embrace the opportunities that the internet provides. Whether it's a blog, twitter updates, a Facebook fan page, an interactive website, podcasts or youtube videos, there are endless opportunities to get your brand name out onto the World Wide Web and directly to the people who may be looking for the services that your business provides. In fact, this may be the best place to market to those whose children may benefit the most from an experience without the unlimited access and instant gratification of the Internet.

The question becomes then, how do these camps keep separate the business side of their operations that demand a full understanding of the technology available to them while still providing an experience for the kids that showcases a world where the importance of technology melts away as the magesty of the natural world takes over?

It's a question that all traditional camps seem to be wrestling with these days, and one that is unlikely to be answered any time soon, but I believe it will be possible to eventually find a balance.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoughts on Nature

It has been a busy successful spring at High Trails.  With our outdoor education season wrapping up, plans for the summer are in full swing and we are getting excited for the arrival of staff and campers.  It is easy to look forward to spending time with kids in nature and it is empowering to hear what they have to say about the time they share with their natural surroundings.  Here are some thoughts from students who were here during the past six weeks.  They wrote these on their first day at High Trails in their Special Spots.

"The beauty of nature, the grace that it holds.  The mist in the air, the breeze rufflin' my hair.  The woods so lush, the trees so green, the wolf and coyote with their eyes so keen.  The bear so bold with its glossy sheen the wilderness holds many secrets never seen."

"Life is fast but it suddenly slows down when you're in nature."

"This spot helps me relax my mind, soul, and body."

"Life is better if you open your eyes and see the many different dimensions of the world."

"People need nature more than they think.  If we lose nature, we have nothing."

"I can feel life all around me and the melting of the forest into spring."

"After sitting at my special spot for only a little while I have learned that there is so much more to nature.  Not just trees, rocks, and animals, but small things like the way the sun hits a leaf or the way the wind blows the grass."

"I feel more calm and open to nature than I was before in the city.  People are always so stressed and in a hurry.  In the forest I feel like there is no need to hurry; just relax, because we have all the time in the world.  In the forest you can stumble and get right back up again.  In the forest I feel like people don't care what you look like-they just like you to be yourself and remember the beautiful things around you."

As a youth development professional in the camping world I know the value of being in nature but what better way to help others understand than to share it with them.  The students that have come through this spring now have an intrinsic understanding of the importance of their time spent here.  What more powerful proof is there than a child's written testimony to the value of being in nature  Whether it was 3 days, 4 days, or 5 days, they can now put their experience into words and it will stay with them for years to come.  

Some Updated Links

I received an email from the ACA - American Camp Association - today about a new public service announcement they have put together called "Because of Camp..." The purpose of the two videos are to educate the general public about the benefits of camp. I followed the link and watched the short video. I then continued onto another link, connect with nature. This took me to a page with a number of tools about children and nature, how to connect children with nature, and other resources about going green. 

I just thought the ACA did a nice job of sharing resources and information about the benefits of nature and camp, and wanted to share them with you. 

Please share other information or resources you have with us!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Remembering My Camp Experience

My horse is 750 pounds. My saddle is 40 pounds. I am 85 pounds. My own skeleton barely supports me. Added to the 40 pounds of saddle, and transporting it 30 yards under my own power has become a daunting challenge. I think to myself, “a 200 pound wrangler would have to carry a saddle that weighs 95 pounds to match my ratio. My horse would have to carry 390 pounds to match it as well.” Luckily, this isn’t my first time carrying this saddle. See, this saddle belongs to my favorite horse, Thunder. I’ve carried this saddle numerous times to him and heaved it up on his back. By the way, his back is a good foot and a half taller than me.

I remember my first few days with Thunder and how he must have seen my wrestling matches with this saddle. I could barely carry it out the barn, let alone over to the hitching rack where he stands waiting, patiently. I could barely carry it then, but now, I toss it around like nothing. All I did that summer was climb rocky bluffs, walk up and down hills with my backpack, paddle my canoe across lakes, summit mountains, tube down rivers, and swim to the shore... all fun stuff. I didn’t lift the saddle every day, practice carrying it, or lift weights. Hmmm… I remember the carrying technique my wrangler suggested. He showed me the way that he did it and it seemed to make sense. He helped me the first week of camp and I gradually got the hang of it. The awkward shape and dangling pieces were much more manageable with his technique, and it became easier.

Now that I have overcome the saddle conundrum, Thunder is waiting for me. He’s patiently tied at the hitching rack, brushed and groomed, and ready for our final ride of the summer. I grab his saddle and walk, if not strut, to him. I gather my saddle pieces and toss it on his back. I know Thunder is impressed. He’s my favorite horse and we’ve become good friends. I started riding him when I first got to camp. Being from Chicago, I didn’t know much about horses, but it always excited me to be around them and to ride them. I started out learning to brush, saddle, and bridle my horse. My wranglers were great teachers. I looked up to them. I saw their confidence and it inspired me to do my best to learn and ask questions so that maybe I could be that confident with horses. As the repetition and practice of saddling and bridling became habit, we moved onto riding. Riding was spectacular. Little did I know that Thunder would be such a great teacher. Our first ride was too short in my opinion. I could have ridden for days. Thunder was strong and controlled. On our first overnight horse trip, we bonded. We rode all day to a sweet campsite; a great view, cool sunset, good food cooking on the fire, and all my friends around me. I wondered if my friends had the same feeling I did about my horse.

As I mentioned before, my other camp adventures took me to new places with new people to new heights, literally. I learned how to rock scramble, build survival shelters, identify animal tracks, and that I could climb 14,000 foot mountains. My confidence grew. I capped off my summer riding Thunder in the Gymkhana competition event against the girl’s camp. I can’t believe how much I learned in one summer, how much I learned from a horse. While I have since gone on to ride many more horses, Thunder will always hold a special place in my heart.