Monday, November 30, 2009

Go With the Flow, Momma!

Just last week, I watched as my 13 month old son gingerly, methodically, joyfully occupied himself for over 15 minutes by removing and replacing the lid of a baby food jar.

This meant a number of things: a) I could eat my dinner without attempting to shovel bites of spring vegetables and pasta into the mouth of a willful would-be toddler; b) he was completely immersed in a task that interested him; and c) to witness the growth of perseverance is a gift.

“Life Skills” is one of those over-packaged, over-used phrases that blandly attempts to characterize (often in list form) the myriad gifts that make us successful humans. I think I prefer the phrase, “Behaviors and Tendencies That Make You Great.”

Perseverance is one of those behaviors. Perseverance, in my mind, finds its beginnings in what I have come to know as “flow”—or as Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes it in his seminal work, 'Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience'— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. According to Csíkszentmihályi, we are happiest in these “flow states” where we are intrinsically motivated by whatever it is we are doing—from working on a car, to writing a novel, to gaining enough gross motor control to grasp and release a lid over and over again, to rock climbing, to mountain climbing, to horseback riding…and everything in between.

We have all experienced “flow states”, and those were some of the happiest moments of our lives. These moments are “characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.” (Especially the food part, especially if you are a little person.) And in these moments, when we encounter obstacles, we merely see them as a puzzle/challenge that we GET to overcome. The more often we are presented with challenges while we are in this optimal state, the more we will view obstacles as necessary—and interesting—parts of our path to satisfaction and happiness.

If this has been our experience when we encounter hardships, the more often we will associate hardships with eventual success…so we will choose to persevere to accomplish the task even if it means we must fail repeatedly before we are able to accomplish it. But let’s return to my kitchen table a moment…

I have finished eating my dinner and decide I haven’t been adequately celebrating the Great Triumphs and Astounding Genius of my Miraculous Boy Wonder. So I start talking to him: “Good job!” “Wow, you are A Master of Gross Motor Skills!” “Hooray for you!” (and the like). And, suddenly, he stops playing with the lid. He starts smiling at me, batting his eyelashes for a moment, and then, with a flourish, deliberately jettisons the jar lid at the dog and begins to howl.

So what happened?

I interrupted his flow state. I interrupted his moment of self-generated happiness by trying to impose myself and my annoying verbal nonsense in his quiet, self-absorbed world. His efforts were undermined by my very desire to be supportive. So he quit.

Studies are showing that there are a lot of kids who have self-reported “high self esteem” who give up, quit, or don’t even bother to start something if they think will fail. Why are they so afraid to fail? Because if they have grown up feeling and believing that support, joy, love, and success only comes from others when they succeed in a task (get a ribbon, get an A, etc.), then how will people react when they fail? They think that support, joy, love and sense of success will vanish, and take their high self-esteem right along with it.

But true self-esteem comes from the “self”. And developing a unique sense of self is one of the best gifts a child can take away from a summer camp experience. At camp a child has the opportunity to define him or herself outside of the home environment. It is easier (and safer) emotionally to try and to practice perseverance in the summer camp environment. The peer group is varied, the number of supportive adults is larger, and the entire progression of summer camp emphasizes the process over the outcome.

So, tonight, when my son alternated between inserting and removing his spoon from the jar, as well as continued his lid placing practice, I put on my summer camp counselor hat and merely stated (calmly and occasionally) what he was doing…and then I just watched him practice and practice and practice…and watched him learn how great it feels to grow.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal

A number of high-ranking political figures have recently been seriously suggesting that American young people should spend more than the current 180 days a year cramped into small desks in classrooms.

I would humbly propose that what American young people actually need is less time held captive in small desks and more time in the great outdoors. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, provides

compelling research to support his statement that children who spend more time in nature are “happier, healthier, and smarter.”

And so, to my plan for revolutionizing education in the 21st century: simply put, kids would spend 6 months a year—from November-April—in a traditional classroom and 6 months a year—from May-October—at camp. Of course, there would be family vacation times and holidays (and perhaps Swine Flu outbreaks) built into this schedule but I leave that for someone else to figure out.

Let’s look at some of the societal changes that have made this proposal a good idea. Take technology, for instance…we know that in today’s world more information is being generated every day than anyone can possibly “learn” during that day. Therefore, the challenge for educators is not to fill children’s heads with knowledge, but to teach them how to learn, and how to access the information they need. And even more importantly, young people need to gain curiosity and wonder in order to become life-long learners. Where better to gain a sense of curiosity and wonder than by marveling at the stars, exploring the rocks, or contemplating the interconnections of our ecosystem?

Daniel Goleman, author of books on emotional and social intelligence, has shown that social skills and emotional skills are more important for future success and happiness than IQ. Social and emotional skills are the curriculum of camps. We intentionally teach how to be a friend, teamwork techniques, integrity, respect, perseverance, resilience and many more character traits and skills for successfully navigating the world.

Peg Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the American Camp Association recently wrote in Camping Magazine “There is a great deal of debate right now around education reform. I submit that the answer to the problem, currently framed around reforming the traditional school system, is not to confine children to classrooms for year-round school. I believe the answer lies in much more natural, developmental settings that promote experiential learning, improve social skills and physical fitness, teach kids to take calculated risks in a safe environment, and expand the creative mind allowing for the possibility of innovation.”

I agree with Peg Smith, Daniel Goleman, and Richard Louv.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ways to be Involved

This past week Sanborn Western Camps hosted the American Camp Association Rocky Mountain Section Fall Conference. The Conference had many educational breakout sessions that strengthened the experience camps deliver to campers. Some sessions focused on how to teach leadership, social skills, and how to find/retain quality staff to support the lessons taught at camp. Camp is a place that children learn life skills that help them thrive in and out of the classroom. Camp provides the opportunity for children to reconnect with nature. The children and Nature movement is sweeping across the country and we must help in supporting it. Here are some quick and easy ways that the ACA has identified that will help raise the importance of getting children out of doors.

1. Join NatureRocks – a national campaign created to inspire and empower parents to take their families to play, explore, and enjoy quality time in nature for happier and smarter children.

2. Join the National “No Child Left Inside” Coalition and follow what is happing with the piece of legislation.

3. Provide opportunities for children to engage the natural world in meaningful ways.

4. Encourage youth to be good stewards of the environment. Teach Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and environmental ethics. Foster environmentally friendly behaviors.

5. Take advantage of “teachable moments” with children. Explore and focus on natural elements. Look at the stars, the clouds. Facilitate in children the sense of wonder and awe.

Life Long Friends

"Keep me from going to sleep too soon. Or if I go to sleep too soon, come wake me up. Come whistling up the road. Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door. Make me get out of bed and come and let you in and light a light. Tell me the Northern Lights are on and make me look. Or tell me clouds are doing something to the moon they never did before, and show me. See that I see. Talk to me 'til I'm half as wide awake as you and start to dress wondering why I ever went to bed at all. Tell me that waking is superb. Not only tell me but persuade me. You know I'm not too hard to persuade." Robert Francis

This has to be one of my favorite quotes and it pops into my mind throughout the year. After having spent the weekend with one of my dearest friends, meeting up with another for dinner, and with Thanksgiving around the corner, I couldn't help but think about how grateful I am for friends who are there to wake me up.

My most cherished friends have come from spending summers dressing up in costumes, sleeping under the stars, hiking through the forests, cooking over a fire and living together in the outdoors. They are people I met at Sanborn who share the same interests and dreams. Camp lays the ground work for creating lasting, meaningful relationships, provides the space for those friendships to grow and develop, and a foundation for them to last a life time. Whether you are a camper or staff member you are surrounded by people who believe in you, share a passion for being in the outdoors, encourage you, support you, and care for you as an individual.

At camp we climb mountains, hike, swim, tube down the river, horseback ride, go camping, do arts & crafts and make s'mores. What makes these trips, activities, and programs so amazing, rewarding and memorable are the people standing next to you when you reach the summit, hit the bullseye or sing a camp song with you at the top of your lungs. Camp is a place where you have the opportunity to learn the art of friendship. To some it comes so easily and for others, those friendship skills and problem solving skills have to be developed and encouraged by an adult who is willing to invest themselves in teaching these valuable life skills.

This past summer I received a phone call at what seemed like the middle of the night. The person on the other end did just what Robert Frost suggests one should. She woke me up, convinced me to get out of bed and wrap a blanket around myself, to step outside on a crisp August night to look up at the same sky she was gazing up at and stand in awe watching the Perseid Meteor Shower. My hope is that our campers and staff will find friendships here that are created throughout the summer and last a lifetime.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Role Models: A Longer Look

Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a role model as “a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.”

The key word in this definition in imitate. Imitate. Who do you imitate? Who is your role model? Really think about it. Depending on your age and what’s going on in your life, your answer is probably very different from others. If you’re five, you might say “your parents.” If you’re seven, you might say “your classmates.” If you’re fifteen, you might say “Shaun White.” If you’re twenty, you might say “your professor.” If you’re thirty, you might say “your spouse.”

Throughout our lives, we have many different role models who we imitate, and when we grow to a certain age, we can choose these role models. When I think of whom I imitate, I’m reminded of a lecture that really stuck with me in college about Social Learning Theory. “The theory considers that people learn from one another, including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. The basic principles of Social Learning Theory are as follows:

1. People can learn by observing the behavior of others and the outcomes of those behaviors.

2. Learning can occur without a change in behavior. Behaviorists say that learning has to be represented by a permanent change in behavior, in contrast social learning theorists say that because people can learn through observation alone, their learning may not necessarily be shown in their performance. Learning may or may not result in a behavior change.

3. Cognition plays a role in learning. Over the last 30 years social learning theory has become increasingly cognitive in its interpretation of human learning. Awareness and expectations of future reinforcements or punishments can have a major effect on the behaviors that people exhibit.

4. Social learning theory can be considered a bridge or a transition between behaviorist learning theories and cognitive learning theories” (

According to this theory, a person’s social environment has a huge impact on the general behavior of the individual, both positive and negative. When I search my mind for positive environments for children, I can’t think of any better environment than sleep-away summer camps. At camp, the community structure gives children a chance to observe the behavior of many peers and role models and the resultant “reinforcements or punishments” of those behaviors. And you may think well they can get that at school. Same thing, right? Wrong. School settings model only a learning environment, where as summer camps, especially overnight camps, model everyday life, from meals to personal hygiene practices and beyond. Moreover, summer camps offer the best role models for children; role models that you can really know; role models that are personal and intelligent. These role models are the counselors, who typically have a few years of college experience and who are screened for their character and ability to work with children. I don’t think that a parent could ask for anything more from a role model for their child to imitate.

And just a side note followed by a rhetorical question: I recently searched the phrase “modern role models” on Google. The first ten individual names that popped up were Shaun White (snow/skate boarder), Soulja Boy (hip hop artist), Miley Cyrus (teen pop artist), Matt Damon (actor), Michael Jordan (legendary basketball player), Chris Angel (magician), Noel Gallahgar (musician), Tyra Banks (model and talk show host), Angelina Jolie (actress), and Britney Spears (musician). Although all of these people are involved in different careers, they have one common characteristic: they have exposure through mass media – television, radio, Internet, magazines, and newspapers. They are celebrities. They have had great success with their individual careers. But how well do we really know them? We see them in their “roles” – on the slopes, on stage, on the screen – and we can imitate them only in the role that we see them. Shaun White is a role model for a young snow boarder. Soulja Boy is a role model for a young hip-hop artist.

But are these people you want acting as role models for your children, siblings, students? Miley Cyrus was just ranked one of the worst role models for teens. Just because someone is called a role model, does not mean they are setting a great example. You have the opportunity to give your children strong role models through their social environments.

Who is your model for the role of parent, brother, sister, student, employee, leader?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Morning at High Trails

Last night we saw some great skits! Each cabin performed for each other. The High Trails staff did a cowboy melodrama that received lots of laughs. The teachers told some good jokes and read cowboy poetry. It was lots of fun!

This morning the students finished packing and the High Trails staff helped clean the cabins. We had another delicious breakfast - hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, and fresh banana bread.

The students are all meeting at their stakes for the last time to head to Sunday Rocks. The High Trails staff read 15 - 20 of the quotes the students wrote during Setting the Mood on Tuesday. From the rocks, the students head on their last discovery group - Putting It All Together. They'll head back in for the Million Dollar Buffet before getting on the buses.

It was a great week up here at High Trails. The High Trails staff and teachers saw growth in their students. We expect they will have lots of new nature facts to bring home with them. We will miss all the students! And wish them luck for the rest of the school year.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday Morning at High Trails

It's looking like another nice day here! The students started the morning by picking which hike they wanted to go on. The group that went to the candy cane were able to hike up close to a few deer, including a big buck.

Everyone ate their fill of french toast with syrup, orange juice, and cereal this morning. We are sending the groups out on their all-days right now. They will spend the day out on the trail for their discovery groups. A few of the extra activities include the homesteaders making candles and apple cider; the cowboys learning how to rope and brand, the prospectors heading to the copper mines. The groups will head back in this afternoon for another recreation time.

The students are having a great time and can't wait to return home to share all their adventures with you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday Evening at High Trails

We had such a nice day up here at High Trails! It was warm and sunny.

The discovery groups all went very well. We heard lots of good stories at lunch about finding crystals, shooting arrows, and making crafts. The students really seemed to learn a lot and enjoyed learning outdoors. For lunch we had chicken nuggets, pasta salad, and gooey Rice Krispie Treats.

We had recreation time after a second discovery group this afternoon. The students chose which hike they went on or game they played. It is important after a day of learning to be able to run around, enjoy nature, and play.

Everyone was ready for dinner tonight, which was roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn, coleslaw, homemade biscuits and honey butter, and butterscotch bars for dessert. It is not often friends get to sit together at a meal and share the adventures of their day. It is so fun to hear them excited about learning.

Tonight was the hoedown for everyone. The High Trails staff led semi-choreographed dances for the group. We always think its more fun to dance as a group or to dance with as many partners as you can in a short period of time, than stress about asking someone to dance.

After another snack in the cabin, everyone headed to bed ready for tomorrow's adventures!

Wednesday Morning at High Trails

It is another beautiful day at High Trails! We started this morning with hikes as cabin groups. There were some great views from Top of the World, A-Bluff, and Little Blue. The 6th graders are using their sense of Wonder that we talked about yesterday on Setting the Mood. We have heard lots of students telling their friends how much they are enjoying being out in nature and appreciate the beauty of it all!

We had another good meal this morning - scrambled eggs, toast, and cereal - before heading out on the first themed discovery group. Groups are out until lunch this morning and then again this afternoon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Evening at High Trails

What a nice afternoon! The discovery groups were out until 5pm. As they were coming in, the sun was setting. The High Trails staff reported that all their groups were excellent and that the students had a great time.

As everyone was coming into the lodge, the moon was just peeking up over the trees. It was huge! We heard lots of "Oh, cool," "Wow," and "That's awesome" when students looked behind them to see the almost full moon. It was great to hear the stories the students were telling each other at dinner. Even though they did the same discovery group, everyone had a slightly different experience. We enjoyed another delicious meal - spaghetti, sauce, bread, caesar salad, and homemade cake.

Tonight everyone went to the Interbarn, our hands-on science center. Students could go to pond life, the cell, inventions in nature, fun think, the Earth, the freezer, and more. It is always fun to hear the responses to seeing rocks, animals, and nature they haven't seen or experienced before.

Everyone is in their cabins now with their High Trails staff. Everyone will be heading to bed after a quick snack, debrief of the day, and explanation of tomorrow's schedule.

Tuesday Afternoon at High Trails

Our second group of Mountain Ridge students arrived safe and happy this morning. They moved into their cabins and have already been playing games as a cabin group with their High Trails staff leaders.

Everyone enjoyed a good lunch of sandwiches, homemade chicken and rice soup, and freshly made ginger cookies. There were not many leftovers on any table!

At 3 this afternoon the students will go on their first discovery group, Setting the Mood. They will play sensory awareness games, find their special spots, and enjoy nature around the High Trails property.

If you want to check out pictures of our facilities and the activities your child will be partaking in this week, please click on the link to our camp Web site and High Trails Web site. Check back tonight and throughout the rest of the week for updates on how the 6th graders are doing!