February 24, 2012
Spending Time With Friends Isn’t Nothing!
Most of our activities at Campus Kids-NJ are
very structured. At our athletic activities, campers receive
instruction for part of the time and then participate in organized
games. In the fine arts department campers learn how to make new
crafts and are constantly working on projects. Campers who sign
up for performing arts activities are getting ready for performances
or learning to play an instrument. And then there is afternoon shade
and evening shade… where you don’t have to do anything! Kids are just
hanging out together in "the bowl". Some of them are reading books… yeah
and some are playing guitar while others sing along… and there’s some
lawn games like “washers” going on… okay, there’s a couple of kids
throwing a ball around… but lots of them are just sitting there
talking to each other! Some parents out there might be wondering why
this is a camp activity? The answer is that at Campus Kids, we would
never describe any of the above mentioned "shade" past-times as doing
nothing! Even just sitting around talking to friends is something
awesome! Our camp philosophy includes a point which emphasizes our
belief that play is the work of children as they learn about the world
and their place in it. Just one step out into “the bowl” on a sunny
day and seeing kids of all ages playing together or getting to spend
time with counselors they might not see on a regular basis will warm
anyone up to afternoon shade. Some campers say that their favorite
memories from camp happen during shade. Some even answer the question
“What activity do you most want to improve this summer?” with either
afternoon or evening shade. Tom answered this question of why we have
unstructured play brilliantly a while back in what I consider one of
the many greatest hits of his Parent’s Corner column in the
cartoon makes a comment that I think every one of us can relate to.
It’s very funny because it portrays a situation that is close to the
actual truth of our lives. But that’s also why it’s sad, because our
children are missing out from having enough “play time”.
that matter? Because unstructured play provides so much that’s
essential to personal well being and growth. First, there’s the joy
and satisfaction at having time that is yours to use as you wish.
Second, there are the skills that are developed by deciding how you
want to use your time. Third, kids test out their social skills and
learn about the give-and-take world of doing things with others.
Fourth, free play exercises the imagination (which is so often
squashed in activities organized by adults). And free play is a great
stress reliever. Few of us would argue that even kids are faced with
ongoing stress in their lives.
It’s true that our world today makes it difficult to give
children as much free play as we had in “the
good old days”. But it’s important that we make this a priority.
At camp, we are sensitive to the need for free play. We give campers
an incredible amount of choice in our “Camper Choice” programming
system, but we also have free play times — “afternoon shade”, “evening
shade” — that are enjoyed by many campers who want some unstructured
time. Bunk times are also great free play times.
As a parent and a camp director, I strongly support giving
our kids free play time. Our highly scheduled lives and regimented
expectations for children make free play more important than ever.
We started shade as an alternate activity
for those kids who did not want to go to sign up for free swim during
the fourth period of the day. After it became immediately popular, we
added evening shade as an option for clubs 2-3 nights a week. Over
the years it has evolved from a general hang out time to one where
several unstructured but well supervised options exist. While one
option allows campers to “chill out” with their friends, we have
lanyard making and ceramics painting going on, band rehearsals and
LOTS of lawn games. Tom’s Parents’ Corner is a regular column of
our year round newsletter called the "Sundial". It can be read online
www.campuskids.com/readthesundial.htm . The column featured above
originally appeared in our January/February issue of 2004.
February 22, 2012
If you read my previous blog (February 15), you know that when people
ask, "Are you a specialty camp?" I answer "Yes! We specialize in
giving kids choices."
And that is definitely true. At the heart of the Campus Kids
program is giving each camper his/her daily choice of activities.
We teach skills in every activity, but we also encourage campers to
explore new interests and enjoy the freedom of finding what they like
best. We often hear from our alums that an important interest in
their life -- or even a career -- began when they tried something for
the first time at camp. Our wide variety of activities -- in the
fine arts, performing arts and sports -- opens up a wide world of
possibilities to every camper.
This specialty -- our "Camper Choice Programming" -- remains at the
heart of our camp.
This summer, however, we're giving some new meaning to the word
"specialty" in three particular sports. We actually began this
in 2010 with ultimate (often called Ultimate Frisbee) and are now
expanding the concept to include squash and tennis.
The idea is to give campers a sport specialty option within a
traditional camp program. Often, kids go to one-week sport camps
to get concentrated skill instruction in a single sport, and many of
those programs are great. In our program, though, that
concentrated practice and skill development are spread out over two
weeks, so that the camper spends about half a program day in the
sport. The rest of the time, however, they are part of regular
camp: being a member of a bunk group, having their own bunk
counselors, enjoying evening programs and special events, and choosing
their own activities during the non-specialty portion of each day.
If you've visited us at our summer home, Blair Academy, you know that
for SQUASH we have a magnificent air conditioned, 7-court squash
center. For TENNIS, there's a modern 10-court tennis center
(half with lights). And for ULTIMATE, there's plenty of grass
and artificial turf playing fields and a long-standing CK-NJ tradition
of playing Ultimate at a high level.
Ryan Belline, who has been at CK-NJ since his camper days, started our
Ultimate specialty option three years ago and will take on
directorship of all three sports this summer. Squash takes place
during our first two weeks, tennis during Weeks 3-4, and ultimate
during Weeks 5-6. While these programs are taking place, these
sports will still be part of the regular camper program for everyone
else in camp.
Here's where you can learn more about our new specialties:
Sport Specialty Options. (By the way, these programs are for
boys and girls entering 7th grade and older.)
If you're at camp this summer, try out one of these specialties.
If not, keep watching the website as we share the photos and the
stories. We'll keep you posted.
February 15, 2012
Choice Does Not Equal Chaos
I remember many years ago when Stu made a presentation at a camp
conference about the Campus Kids "Camper Choice" programming system
and half the people walked out of the room within the first five
minutes because our level of choice was simply not possible in their
minds. That was good for those who stayed because they got to
have a really good discussion about the benefits of giving kids
are intrigued and excited about choosing their own activities.
They are a bit skeptical at first because getting choices is not
something they are used to. But they get excited when they
realize that every day we help them plan what they want to do the next
day -- as an individual, not as part of a group vote or assignment.
From the campers' point of view, this is a very good thing. It's
freeing and fun. It's having control of their camp experience
and making it what they want it to be. It's the great feeling of
having independence and responsibility.
Adults also agree that Camper Choice sounds like a good thing, but
they often have more question about it. Examples are:
HOW DO THE CAMPERS DEAL WITH ALL THOSE CHOICES?
We organize the choices by age division and into activity
periods and the bunk counselors help their campers make their choices.
Our system is organized. Choice does not equal chaos.
MY CAMPER HAVE THE OPTION TO DO "NOTHING"?
The answer is "mostly no". There are three activity
periods in the morning, three in the afternoon and one after supper
(before the evening programs) and campers all choose something to do
each of those periods. The answer is "sometimes yes" because a
camper who wants to take a break from doing organized activities every
period can choose "afternoon shade" or "evening shade", which is
unstructured play time. Check back next week where we will blog
about our shade activity.
WILL MY CAMPER TRY NEW THINGS IF NOT FORCED TO?
Most likely "yes". Campers tell each other what they've
been doing and they influence each other to try new things. And,
since they can try something once and then not go back, they are
willing to take the risk to try something new. They learn that
it's worth trying and there's not a single camper who doesn't develop
at least one new interest at camp.
MY CAMPER HAVE TO FIND HIS/HER OWN WAY AROUND CAMP?
No! It's true that the bunk group doesn't do its
activities all together because each camper makes their own choices.
However, the foundational safety rule at our camp is that every camper
is always with a counselor. So we have a time-tested system for
getting our campers to each activity with the counselors.
Come out to camp in the summer and watch our activity changeovers;
they are very interesting.
Camper Choice is at the heart of our philosophy and programming and we
wouldn't be Campus Kids without it. When people ask, "Are you a
specialty camp?" I say, "Yes! We specialize in giving kids
If you have any questions about this aspect of our camp, please drop
me a line or give me a call. I'd love to chat with you about it.
February 8, 2012
Usually at this time of year we are stomping the snow off our boots as
we come into the office for another day of summer camp work.
Even though the world outside is cold and icy, our world in here is
all about hot summer days filled with fun and friends. We can't
wait to trade in sweaters and heavy coats for t-shirts and shorts.
However, it hasn't been that kind of winter, as you know, with days
being almost balmy, tempting us to wear a vintage CK t-shirt to work.
Sometimes I fear that maybe we slept through December, January and
February and we've woken up in March and (oh no!) camp will be here
soon and we're not ready! Then I look at the Dr. Seuss wall
calendar that Teri gave us (this month with the Truffala Trees) and am
reassured that time hasn't changed, even though the weather has.
I'm disappointed that we don't have the usual snow because our camp --
at Blair Academy -- is amazingly beautiful when it's covered in a
white winter blanket. I love the green vistas of the fields
and forest, but I enjoy equally the white expanses, seeing the
footprints and sled paths in the snow, and experiencing the muffled
quiet across the campus.
Whatever the winter weather, though, one of the fun things we do
during these months is give tours to families who are interested in
our camp. Lead by Stu or me, with the assistance of some of our
current (or recently "retired") staff assistants, we spend a private
hour or so with each family: the prospective camper, parents,
siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors . . . anyone they want to
bring along. Every tour has common elements because there are
certain things about camp we want to tell every family and, of course,
certain things we want to show them like the dorms, dining room,
athletic facilities, pool, performing arts and fine arts facilities,
What makes each tour unique are the questions. No two campers or
families have the same questions, but here are a few samples:
-- What do you do when it rains? (That's usually
asked at the
beginning of the tour because at the end they've seen the indoor pool,
three indoor gyms, art rooms, theatre, squash courts, etc. and they
know we have plenty of good indoor space for activities.)
-- How do I keep from getting lost? (All campers, even the
oldest, are ALWAYS with counselors, so campers don't have to worry
-- Are the dorms air conditioned? (No, but they have good
window screens and we put a 20" box fan in each room. There
is AC in the dining room, performing arts center, health center, canteen,
and some of the indoor sports facilities.)
--What if I don't get along with someone in my group or my roommate?
(Our campers are pretty nice people, so this isn't a huge problem. Being realistic though, nothing is perfect and there
can be disagreements. Since this is camp, our counselors help
you work things out and this usually takes care of the problem.
If it becomes a bigger problem though, we might decide that switching
rooms is the best option.)
--Can I bring my laptop? (No. You won't go online at
camp because you'll be spending that time in activities and hanging
out with camp friends.)
--Who gets to use the really cool fitness center? (Our
teenage campers. This is our only activity that is restricted to just the
--How many activities can I choose? (Six or seven different
ones per day. You get to choose every day so you can try out new
things and make switches easily.)
--Do I have to know how to do an activity to sign up for it?
(No! Every activity has counselors who are able and eager to teach
you how to do it. So we hope you will try lots of new things
while you're at
That's just a sample. The full list is practically endless.
Best of all, every weekend we get at least one question we've never
had before, and this is the most fun to answer.
Winter tours will continue, even without the winter weather, and we'll
continue to tell the wonderful story of camp to our visitors. I
wonder if this weekend I'll finally be wearing my big winter coat or
if I'll be putting on my favorite camp t-shirt?
Next Month>> *Most
Kids NJ Blog ARCHIVE
Kids-NJ Home Page