Monday, September 28, 2009

Growing Up (in the) Wild

The No Child Left Inside Family Fun Day at Sanborn Western Camps was a huge success this last weekend. Over 100 parents, teachers, children and their friends enjoyed a beautiful, Colorado fall day amid the golden aspens and tall Ponderosa pines learning about animals, building forts, roasting marshmallows, playing games, and loving the outdoors and their time together.

I had the opportunity to be a participant on a few of the guided hikes with my own children and a few families from my son’s school. At one point, while hiking on the trail, one of my “mom friends” called out to our kids to “stay with the group, it might be dangerous up there.” Her comment gave me pause. Sure, as far as predators go, we’ve got our fair share: red-tailed hawks, coyotes, bobcats, and more. And yet I realized I am far more comfortable with my child running through the woods than I am with him running through the grocery store (trees don’t tend to give you disapproving looks, I suppose).

Her comment, however, is indicative of an unhealthy shift that makes moms into community pariahs, roaming kids into deviants, and “safe” kids into screen-watching, computer-clicking, tech-savvy individuals—who have limited confidence in themselves because they have not been able to interact and connect with other kids through real, unstructured, free-play types of activities in the outdoors.

While building a fort with our kids, another mother regaled me with a tale from her college days (mid 80’s) where their outdoor leadership club hitchhiked from Ohio to New Mexico to go backpacking for a week. “Of course, it was much safer then,” was her comment. Really? Or is it just easier to dismiss an act of borderline foolishness (or youthful ingenuity?) as typical of a different time—especially when that “time” itself didn’t involve the level of instant information (or dis-information) that exists right now.

As parents and as youth development professionals, it is our responsibility to take care of our kids and the kids enlisted to our care, and to help them become responsible, productive, happy adults. It is our responsibility to assimilate as much information as possible and make responsible decisions regarding the well-being of our kids and campers. It is also our responsibility to allow them the freedom to make mistakes, deal with consequences, and to feel empowered by the good choices they can and will make.

I can only hope that, when and if my kids have the opportunity to walk to school, or go on a Lone Vigil backpacking trip by themselves, or ride their bikes to a friend’s house (with or without a parent at home), I will have equipped them with enough information to make informed, wise decisions. And, if their decisions aren’t the best, that—with a loving heart--I can help them understand and deal with the consequences, then grow and learn from the experience. One of my favorite bloggers, Lenore Skenazy says, "That’s why it’s called “self-esteem.” Not “parent-assisted esteem.”

As we all watched our kids tripping over roots without tears, getting poked in the eye with branches and laughing, slipping on moss covered rocks and quickly dusting off pants, lifting heavy logs as a team, sharing a treasured feather with a friend, chatting together in the outdoor lunch buffet line, and safely leading each other on a blindfolded trust walk through an aspen grove—I think we all realized a lesson about how strong and powerful and wise our kids really can be….and already are.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No Child Left Inside Weekend

Here we are the middle of September and it has been snowing on and off for 3 days. While it takes a little time to get used to, it provides a great opportunity for the sixth graders who are here to have a different experience in the outdoors. When it snows like this at school, they are confined to staying inside. We are doing the opposite, we are taking them outside and letting them experience the snow and wonder what it would have been like to be an early Explorer or Homesteader in inclement weather.

Last year in early October, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, came to speak in Colorado Springs as a kickoff to the Leave No Child Inside Weekend. State Parks opened their doors to families, offering activities that allowed parents to connect their children with nature. Sanborn was a part of the initiative and had an open house on Saturday. Families from Colorado Springs took part in sensory awareness activities, themed hikes (including Woodsmen and Explorers), nature crafts, and more.

While Louv is not returning to Colorado Springs this fall, the tradition of getting children outside is continuing. Sponsored largely by the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, we are taking part in the 2nd annual Leave No Child Inside Weekend. If you are in Colorado, we would love to see you here or taking part in other activities around the state. If you are not in Colorado, I encourage you to still take part in a weekend of outdoor activities. Most importantly, we want you to take your children outside.

Sanborn Western Camps and High Trails Outdoor Education Center invite you to take part in active and exploratory experiences in nature to connect your children with nature. I invite you to check out this post from March with several ideas from our 101 Nature Activities. A quick Google search will provide you with programs in your area, easy activities you can do with your children without leaving home, and free ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Starting Sunday, September 27, through Friday, October 2, PBS is airing a six-part, 12-hour documentary about the National Park Service: 'National Parks: America's Best Idea.' Ken Burns spent six years filming at some of the country's most amazing parks. Even if you don't have time to get outside this weekend, you should check out parts of this informative and exploratory program.

Here are some great Web sites to check out:

National Parks: America's Best Idea

Florissant Fossil Beds

American Camp Association

Children and Nature Network

And if you want more information feel free to give us a call 719-748-3341 or email

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Camp, a Experiential Learning Experience

What does camp provide to youth that is unique to all learning environments? An Experiential Learning Experience, the most powerful way to developing leadership capabilities. It is more important today then 5 years ago, that our children are taught how to be a responsible leader. Camp provides them with the framework to practice and implement these qualities and skills. Today’s campers are going to be our future leaders of tomorrow. As youth development professionals, we need to model key roles and responsibilities of being an ethical leader. Thomas Maak and Nicola N. states that a Responsible Leader should be the:

o The Servant: Implies attentiveness, responsibility, and competence to serve others, to care for the needs of others. Servant Leadership contains a strong ethic of care. Serve others and care for their well-being through meaningful work, fair pay, and healthy and safe work environments. Servant leadership pursues goals that are compatible with all needs and interest of stakeholders.
o The Steward: Both being a guardian of values, a stronghold to protect personal and professional integrity, and steering a business responsibly and respectfully even through troubled waters, thus protecting and reserving what one is entrusted with. To hold something in trust is stewardship.
o The Coach: Facilitating development, enabling, learning and supporting individuals, teams and ultimately the organization to create an inclusive integrity culture.
o The Architect: Leaders need to create and cultivate an inspiring and supportive work environment where people find meaning, feel respected, recognized and included; where they have fun and feel mobilized and are thus enabled to contribute according to their highest potential.
o The Storyteller: A leader has the task of breathing life into both individual and organizational responsibility. Leaders need to communicate clearly and persuasively, and always with passion.
o The Change Agent: Leaders are responsible for initiating change towards a value-conscious and sustainable business in a stockholders society. Transformation should be conducted and facilitated in a caring and responsible manner and that it is, first and foremost, a leadership task.

Lets continue to teach our campers to be a Responsible Leader and model what that means in today’s society.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Learning Responsibility at Camp

“I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.” -From the remarks by The President in a national address to America’s schoolchildren

In conjunction with President Barack Obama’s remarks, the US Department of Education is launching an “I Am What I Learn” video contest later this month where students will respond to the president's challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams. As the following images demonstrate, many of our campers began taking those steps long before they stepped foot in their classrooms this fall.

“You become good at things through hard work.

“Being successful is hard.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

“You can't let your failures define you -- you have to let your failures teach you.”

“But whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.”

Each of our campers discovers something he or she is good at while at camp. From leading a group to the summit of a mountain, to comforting a friend, to overcoming fears, to pointing out the beauty of a sunset, our campers build on personal strengths and take pride in their unique gifts. A summer at camp brings out the best in each child, and allows each individual to flourish in a safe, supportive, nurturing environment where questions are welcomed, successes are celebrated and failures are opportunities for growth.

The SOLE (Sanborn Outdoor Leadership Experience) and the CORE (Community OutReach Experience) are two programs designed to specifically teach leadership and backcountry skills to our oldest campers. Through these programs we see a dramatic increase in our campers’ sense of personal responsibility, in their understanding and commitment to service, a new-found confidence in their abilities and strength, and the knowledge (and desire) to be truly successful.