Traditionally, the beginning of the year is a time when we try to adopt new, better habits. On average, about one third of Americans resolve to lose weight each new year. (No wonder the gym is always so much more crowded in January!) Statistically, though, about 80 percent of those well-meaning resolutions will have been abandoned by February. Why? Well, it’s hard to make major changes to the way we are used to behaving, and even harder to make them overnight. Learning to be healthy takes practice and discipline, and it isn’t always easy, even when we know that eating right and exercising regularly are good for us.
The same goes for raising children to be responsible and accountable for their actions. A sense of responsibility isn’t something we’re born with, and it isn’t something that can be taught in one moment. Parents Magazine compares responsibility to manners – it’s a “learned behavior.” That means that as parents, we’re responsible ourselves for making sure we help our children develop an understanding of how important it is to take accountability for their actions. We can do that by giving them age-appropriate responsibilities and providing incentives and consequences for different kinds of behavior.
Chores & tasks
Giving children responsibilities around the house is a great way to teach accountability and show them how their actions can positively impact others. Even small children can start to learn responsibility by helping to pick up their own toys or clear the table. This article provides some good suggestions for ways to realistically and constructively involve kids in deciding what chores they do and how they ought to be done.
If we tell a child to expect a consequence for a certain action and then don’t apply that consequence, we lose an opportunity to teach accountability. For example, if the rule is you can’t have dessert unless you eat all your vegetables, but we give our children ice cream even though they left all their broccoli and cauliflower on the plate, what we’re really teaching them is that the vegetable rule doesn’t really matter. The best consequences in the world are completely ineffective if they’re never applied. The same goes double for incentives: If you promise a child a reward for a certain good behavior, make sure you come through when the reward has been earned. We have to follow through if we really want our children to learn that their actions have consequences that they can control by being responsible for their own behavior.
Responsibility and camp
Accountability and responsibility are a big part of the summer camp experience. Campers have daily age-appropriate responsibilities that teach them accountability and help them develop healthy independence, and counselors and other staff members are trained to help campers understand how their own actions affect themselves and others.
When your daughter is coming to camp for the first time, it’s a good idea to prepare her for the fact that she will have certain responsibilities at camp, such as making her bed and helping clear the table at meals. Her camp responsibilities may be different from her home responsibilities, but they are just as important; they help camp run smoothly for everyone. As she gets older, she will have more responsibilities at camp, such as having a Peanut Daughter, leading a Junior Camp activity day, and someday captaining a Color War team — a big responsibility, but one that she’ll be ready for after years of practice!
Halloween is over and the holidays are on their way, and now is the time of year when we start to think about celebrating with friends and family. It’s also a time of year when many families take time to give back to those less fortunate.
At Bryn Mawr, we have always emphasized the importance of sharing with those who may have less than we do. Generally, our campers are fortunate enough to come from homes where they have loving parents, regular meals, a roof over their heads, and in many cases, opportunities and advantages that not all children have. At camp, we make an effort to promote a sense of generosity among our campers, and we have provided a number of opportunities over the years for campers to help make a difference in the lives of others by volunteering and raising money for charity. This summer, we were proud to be part of the American Camp Association initiative Making a Difference: Celebrating 150 Years of the Camp Experience Through Community Service. Campers participated by making cards for soldiers overseas, making toys for a staff member’s children who recently lost his house to an electrical fire and swam laps for Project Morry.
Of course, for more than a decade now, one of our most popular community service initiatives at Bryn Mawr has been our support of Morry’s Camp (please see our previous blog called Making A Difference: Camp and Communality Service), a program inspired by Dan’s mentor, the late Morry Stein, who believed in the importance of a quality summer camp experience for all young people. Our campers have swum hundreds of thousands of laps and raised more than $110,000 to support Morry’s Camp, and many of our Bunk 1 campers and Leaders in Training have had the opportunity to visit Morry’s Camp in person and participate in the good work that’s done there. Later this month, we will attend the 15th Annual Morry’s Camp Autumn Elegance Gala at Chelsea Piers in New York, an event that benefits Morry’s Camp and its year round programs for disadvantaged youth. If you’d like to join us in celebrating 15 years of summer fun for all, you can find ticket information at www.projectmorry.org.
Of course, Morry’s Camp is just one of many organizations doing good in the world, and there are many ways you and your family can give back to your community all year round. Check with your temple or church to find out what family volunteer opportunities are available, or call your local food bank to see if your family can sign up for a shift helping in the pantry. If your children love animals, consider volunteering at or collecting donations for the local animal shelter, or volunteer to foster a puppy that will go on to The Seeing Eye or therapy dog training. There are websites that can connect you with volunteer opportunities as well, such as VolunteerMatch.org and VolunteerNewJersey.org. Volunteering with your kids is a great way to model generous behavior and show them that giving back can be fun!
Today, we hosted a parent panel for our staff members. It allows selected parents to explain why they chose Bryn Mawr, what they expect and would like from our counselors. It also allows our staff to ask questions and get first hand answers from our parents. Through staff evaluations, we have found that this session historically rates as the most meaningful during the week. Below is an email we received last year from one of those parents who participated in this session.
It is not often that a person gets invited to look inside the guts of a business, a restaurant, a hotel, a school or even a home. And, for good reason, most of us don’t really want to know what is on the inside – as long as the person, product or end result is what we wanted, we feel good about it. Simply put, when you don’t want to risk the chance of falling out of love with something because you see too much – sometimes its just easier not to go inside.
I never really wanted to see inside LBMC. In fact, I never really thought deeply enough about the inner workings of a girls camp to care. I just knew that it was considered a great camp that was safe and seemingly well–run. That is, until I had the chance to go deep inside. I wasn’t invited in at the time the camp was fully operational with kids – rather, I had the chance to see under the hood at the most vulnerable time for a camp or a business – when it is not yet open for business, when everything is exposed, when people are who they are – no pretenses, no show, no nothing. It’s one thing to see a camp fully functioning with happy kids – it’s another to see what happens behind the scenes – and to gain a better understanding of why the kids are in a place to be happy.
What I saw and experienced, even surprised me – a 15-year camp veteran who held a senior leadership position in a respected boys camp for many years. I saw a team of professionals doing what they do best – teaching, leading, inspiring and digging deep. I saw young women and even a few men absolutely soaking up the lessons and opportunity. I saw a culture being articulated and understood and most of all, embraced. I saw people at work who genuinely understood the magnitude of the responsibility ahead. To many of the young women I spoke to, this wasn’t just a summer job, but an opportunity of a lifetime. That alone made me feel great about where my daughter was heading in a few short days.
I followed the counselors training schedule for an afternoon. It was jam-packed with activities – real learning opportunities, both for them to learn about their responsibilities as well as for the camp’s leadership to learn about them. Few businesses go to the lengths to train full time year round employees like LBMC does with their staff. They understand the psychology and attention necessary to prepare their team for our children.
One of my highlights was getting to watch the “traditions” presentation and sing the camp’s alma mater. It was moving – the camaraderie, the commitment and the detail of what my daughter was about to experience. It was incredible to see snippets of every major tradition and planned highlight of the summer.
But, there was more. I was put to work. I had the honor (at first I didn’t understand it) of serving dinner and breakfast. I had the chance to personally interact with people of all different backgrounds from across the country and globe. I got to experience a genuine warmth and gratitude from the staff – just for putting eggs on their plate. It was an amazing feeling.
I also had a chance to spend time with the male staff and to replace all the beds and mattresses. There was nothing wrong with any of the oak framed beds and most of the mattresses were in fine shape – when I asked why – I was told that we wanted to build new beds that were more appropriate for our campers. They didn’t have to, and quite honestly no one would know they ever changed them out, but they did it anyway. It is the story that I saw replicated again and again – from the bunks to the kitchen to the fields. It was also a reinforcement of the type of people that are employed by the camp and the unusual level of commitment to doing it right – because it is the right thing to do.
I also got to see something that I wish I fully appreciated for my daughter over the first 2 years she has been at camp. I saw Jane and Dan and their full leadership team meet for more than 4 hours discussing every single counselor in excruciating detail – going through their backgrounds, their job interviews and the notes from the days training sessions so they could perfectly match the personality and skill set to a particular set of campers. At the end of the four hours, when I thought they were done, they shared that this meeting would be repeated at least 4 other times – not including the hundreds of the sidebar conversations about each of the individual counsellors. And, that there were exercises designed to provide even greater exploration and assurance that the decisions they had made, were in fact the correct ones.
I had always hoped that my daughter’s counselor would be well vetted and trained. And, I had hoped that the camp would give her a good counselor. I never, in all my years in camping, have seen the absolute obsession with getting it right – for the kids and the counselors. It is as close to a science and an art as any professional placement I have ever seen.
There is never a guarantee that a child is going to be happy. But, by going to the lengths they do, they give every child a chance. They put each child, long before they get to camp, the chance to be herself and to succeed.
I wasn’t just there to look inside for the fun of it. In reality, it was accidental. I was there as part of a specific staff training exercise (and since I live far away, I had to fly in the day before). Along with 3 other parents, I was invited for a one hour session to talk to staff from a parent’s perspective (and in my case, not just a dad but a former counselor, group leader.)
Before last summer this had never been done before at LBMC, or probably any camp around the US. Remember, a camp counselor is not a parent, but a young woman who acts as a parent, an older sister and friend for the seven weeks our daughters are at camp. Jane and Dan believe it is important to not only have experts come in and train staff, but actual parents. The result was an understanding of why we entrust our daughters to LBMC, and what we hope they will get out of the summer. The counselors left with an even deeper respect for their role and an understanding that every child is some mom and dad’s little girl, and that individual needs to be understood for who she is and loved all summer.
As I left camp on Father’s Day, away from my family after spending two days as an insider, I realized that the greatest gift I could have ever been given, was given that day – the absolute understanding that my daughter is in the safest, most loving and caring environment with people who not only know, but are truly committed to doing it right.
Jane and Dan are the difference. I have never seen two people so committed to others – employees and campers alike. They demonstrated an understanding that that regardless of the history, the rich traditions, the activities, the friendships — it is the individual that matters – from top to bottom and everyone in between. As they shared, some people may think knowing a name is important – what is important at LBMC, is really knowing the child — each child, each family, each counselor and each other. I learned that its not the surface conversation, but the in-depth understanding and connection that makes the camp what it is.
As I left camp, after feeling that I had been there for the summer, I was flooded with emotion. I don’t remember ever being as awestruck, inspired or passionate about something as I am about LBMC.
Now, I can only wait with absolute excitement and childlike anticipation for my daughter’s bus to arrive at camp in 4 days for what I know is the beginning of an amazing summer with people who know her and care for her deeply. Thank you for allowing me inside. Thank you for letting me see it the way that it truly is. Thank you for doing it right. And, thank you for loving my daughter for who she is.
Recently on the blog, we’ve talked about how we help campers develop leadership skills. Being a leader isn’t a task that’s ever complete — leadership is an ongoing process of growth and development. Early spring is the time of year at camp when our senior staff — the leaders of the leaders at camp — focus on continuing to develop their own leadership skills. Here are a few of the things we do to keep growing:
Tri-State Camp Conference
One weekend each March, we gather with other camp directors and staff members for the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City. “Tri-State” is the nation’s largest conference for camping professionals, and we are amazed that no matter how many times we go, we always learn something new! This year’s Tri-State keynote speakers were Seth Godin (a bestselling author, marketing pioneer, blogger, Business Week’s “ultimate entrepreneur for the information age” and former Camp Arowhon camper) and Jean Kilbourne, recognized for her groundbreaking work in the exploration of the connection between messages in popular culture and their effects on girls and women. We also got to hear from some camp favorites (speakers like Bob Ditter, Jay Frankel and Michael Brandwein), and share some knowledge of our own. Drew volunteers on the program committee as the liaison between the professional speakers and the American Camp Association and Britton ran two roundtable discussions — one on being a head counselor, and one on the challenges of being a woman in camping. At past conferences, Bryn Mawr leadership team members have helped lead sessions on programming, facility management/safety and working with campers and staff.
Tri-State gives us a chance not only to hear from experts in child and staff development, but to reconnect with our colleagues in the camping industry to share ideas and best practices to keep making camp safer, more fun and more rewarding for campers and counselors alike.
Training with Bob Ditter
We have been fortunate enough, over the past eight years, to have developed a fantastic working relationship with the incredibly insightful Bob Ditter. Bob is a clinical social worker who dedicates part of his Boston-based practice to helping summer camps ensure positive experiences for their campers, staff and parents. Over the years Bob has visited camp many times to help train our counselors and talk with campers, and last week he sat down with Jane, Britton and our division heads to begin preparing for the summer. Bob works with our leadership team to help them work well together and provide an emotionally and physically safe environment for campers and staff. If you read this week’s blog post from Jocelyn Glantz, a Bryn Mawr parent and our new Junior Camp assistant division head, you’ve gotten an honest firsthand reaction to one of Bob’s leadership training sessions!
Annual spring leadership retreat
Each spring, we gather together our entire leadership team — directors and assistant directors, division heads and key staff members — to begin preparing for camp in earnest. It’s important to us that our leadership staff are on the same page as Jane and Dan when it comes to camp philosophy, policies and practices, and the leadership retreat held at camp is one of the steps we take to ensure that’s the case.
At this year’s leadership retreat, held the first weekend in April, we introduced new key staff members and gave the team an update on how things are shaping up for the summer — enrollment and staffing, operations and calendar overviews, and any business we need to take care of as we head into the camp season.
The rest of the weekend is spent talking about ways we can continue to improve the camp experience for our campers and staff, and making plans for the summer. We share the new knowledge we picked up at Tri-State, talk about what worked well last summer and what needs to be updated, and brainstorm new ideas for activities, special events and other fun additions to camp. Some of this is done in small groups (the division heads might talk about some camper-specific topics while operations staff discuss the physical running of camp), but major decisions are made by the whole group. For example, one of the questions our full leadership team discussed this year: How do we continue to make the camp experience valuable to parents while creating lasting memories with their children? How do we keep things fresh and exciting? This led to a variety of suggestions: Junior Camp division head Marjori Schecter will work with campers to create end-of-summer photo collages. Ty Widman, our director of adventure, will lead small groups of campers who want to learn outdoors skills, like how to build a campfire. And don’t be surprised if your daughter tells you about taking a moonlit barefoot walk on Wembley Field (supervised, of course) or a trip to the Court of America with Senior Camp division head Max Matovic to look at the stars, or sends you a photo of herself with her Peanut Mom, explaining camp traditions.
These are just a few of the ideas we came up with for keeping parents connected to their campers and camp life. And that was just one of many fruitful conversations we had over the weekend. Our leadership staff members have hundreds of summers at camp between them, and we value the knowledge and experience they bring to the table.
If you have any questions about the ways we continue to promote leadership development year-round, we’d love to talk about it with you!
We recently got back from a fantastic weekend at camp.
You might be wondering: Camp? In March?
Absolutely! One weekend every March, we mark an incredibly important event at camp: The Bunk One March Meeting. Jane, Dan, Britton, Drew, Pilar and Ty gather at camp for a special weekend with the ninth grade girls who will be our oldest campers — our Bunk One campers. The March Meeting is the very first official event of their Bunk One summer, and the girls have looked forward to it for years — some of them since they were tiny Manor House campers, or even before they started at camp, if they came to see older sisters and cousins on Visiting Day!
The March Meeting is an important milestone for our “Super Seniors.” Not only do the girls take care of some major business like picking special Bunk One uniform and selecting the top-secret themes for their Color War teams, but we take that time to help them start thinking about what it means to be the leaders at camp.
Bunk One is a special experience not just because it’s the final summer as a camper, but because our Bunk One campers serve as peer leaders for the rest of camp. They captain the teams in our annual Color War, lead cheers in the dining hall and the nightly singing of the Alma Mater, and help out with younger girls’ cabins during weekly leadership evenings and during special events. During the March Meeting, we talk to the girls about their leadership role in camp and what will be expected of them as leaders, but the truth is that they’ve been preparing to take the leadership mantle for years.
While Bunk One campers are the most visible leaders among our campers, those leadership skills don’t just magically materialize when campers finish the ninth grade. They’ve been learning leadership skills throughout their summers at camp, both by seeing them modeled by counselors and older campers and by learning how to be good leaders on the playing field and in program areas. We teach campers that being a leader means being kind to one another, and it means knowing how to “do the right thing” even when it doesn’t seem like the easy thing.
By the time they get to Bunk One, campers have been developing leadership skills for many summers, and one of the reasons campers look forward to their Bunk One summer — in fact, maybe the biggest reason — is that Bunk One plays an important leadership role in many of the girls’ favorite camp traditions. From secrecy-shrouded Chocolate Banana Night and the excitement of the weeklong Color War that caps off the summer to routine events like mealtime cheers and Friday night talent shows, Bunk One campers take the lead, getting camp spirit high and helping younger girls learn how camp traditions work. By watching them and following their example, younger girls learn that being a leader is something that’s fun and something to look forward to — and an important part of growing up at camp.