Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Camp Bookie: Jonah Lehrer, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

In a recent NPR interview, Jonah Lehrer tells us the in’s and out’s of how humans are creative.

In his new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” he explores how some companies are creating environments to foster creativity in the work place, based on those Ah-Ha moments we so rarely (but so awesomely) have.

It’s worth the full listen, for sure. But here are a few insights from Lehrer about the science of creativity and our favorite rebel folkster at High Trails, Bobby Dylan:

DAVIES: You open the book with a story about Bob Dylan at a point early in his career, when he was frustrated, creatively exhausted, ready to bail from the music business. And from this, came lesson about creativity. What was going on in his career?

LEHRER: So it’s May 1965, and he’s just returned from a grueling tour, six months tour. He’s just finished touring the U.K., and he is burnt out. He doesn’t know what kind of songs he wants to sing anymore. All he knows is that his old songs, these folks songs like “Times They Are A’Changing,” “Blowing in the Wind,” he’s done with them. He’s tired of being the poet of rock ‘n’ roll.

And so he tells the manager that he’s quitting the music business, he’s done with the singing, done with songwriting, he’s going to move to a cabin in Woodstock, New York, doesn’t even bring his guitar. He’s going to be a novelist and a painter.

Here’s there for a couple days when he is visited by this thing he calls the ghost. He gets a sudden urge to write, gets out his pen, gets out his paper and just begins to scribble. He later describes it as like this uncontrollable rush of vomit. And really what he’s trying to capture there is just this feeling that you can’t hold this back, it’s just this rush of words that needs to be written down.

And so he begins writing and writing and writing, writes dozens of pages, and within these dozens of pages is this chorus, and it’s the chorus of “Like A Rolling Stone.” Four weeks later, he’s in Studio A, Columbia Records, and after just four takes, they cut it on acetate, and that becomes his defining single, this six-minute single which really changes the sound of rock ‘n’ roll.

DAVIES: And as you’ve researched the subject, do you find that there are other people that have this experience of being, of being exhausted, of hitting a wall, of being empty and then, in this moment of insight, are suddenly given these new bursts of creativity? What’s going on?

LEHRER: Yeah, moments of insight are a very-well studied psychological phenomenon. There really are two defining features. The first defining feature is the answer comes out of the blue. So it comes when we least expect it. It comes when we’ve quit the music business, and we’re trying to paint a canvas in Woodstock, New York. It comes when we’ve given up, when we feel like we have nothing left to say.

It comes in the shower. It comes in the bathtub. It comes under the apple tree. So it comes in the least expected moments. That’s the first defining feature.

The second defining feature is that as soon as the answer arrives, we know this is the answer we’ve been looking for. We don’t have to double-check the math or carefully edit the lyrics: We know this is it. So, you know, the answer comes attached with this feeling of certainty – it feels like a revelation. So these are the two defining features of these moments of insight, and they do seem to play a big role in creativity, especially when people are looking for really radical solutions to very, very hard problems.

DAVIES: And this happens not just with artists like Dylan, it happens with people that are working on, you know, molecular biology, all kinds of fields, right?

LEHRER: Yeah, I mean, it’s described by Richard Feynman. He had some moments of insight in his favorite strip club. It’s, you know, it’s Archimedes in the bathtub. It’s Isaac Newton under the apple tree. This is a universal feature of human experience. We all have moments of insight. Even if they’re not quite as grandiose as writing the lyrics to “Like a Rolling Stone,” we all have these epiphanies, and they come in the shower, they come when we least expect them.

Jonah Lehrer is a contributing editor at Wired magazine and the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.

Who Am I? Finding Your Authentic Self at Camp

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

4 Factors Driving Crisis for Girls: Sexual Identity, The Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins

Dr. Leonard Sax has recently produced two excellent books on raising children in this digital, often disconnected age.  He published Boys Adrift in 2009 and Girls On The Edge in 2010.  Both look at many of the cultural and societal influences impacting our youth today and how we as parents, youth development professionals, and educators can help kids navigate these increasingly complex, fast, and often challenging situations before they become “crises” for our families and communities.

A similarity between both books is the recognition that some of the “new crisis” that arises for both boys and girls in this new age is the lack of an authentic self.  This is especially important for us as camp professionals because we are attempting, in everything we do, to help kids define their sense of self.  Yet how do we do that and do it effectively?

How many kids see the sunrise while climbing a mountain?

All of the campers who come to camp are “amazing” in their own right.  Yet, as we move closer and closer to college admission letters being sent, we realize, “…being amazing doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing (individuals) around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life…There is something about the lives they lead–their jam-packed schedules, the amped-up multitasking, the focus on a narrow group of the nation’s most selective colleges–that speaks of a profound anxiety.” (from The New York Times For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect Too)

Where does this anxiety come from?  It comes from what Sax calls “anorexia of the soul.”  Defining oneself has never been an easy task, yet the sheer pace and connected-disconnectedness of our transient, global, fame and consumer driven world has left our kids without a basic understanding of who they are and what is important to them.

...and the band played on.

Simple questions like “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What three words describe you?” or “Describe yourself in four sentences or less” can give parents, educators, and camp professionals a sense of how connected kids are with their authentic selves.  Answers will, of course, vary–but an answer of “I’m tall. I”m thin. I’m really smart. And I hate sushi.” is fine for an 8 year old–but at 17, 19, or 22, an answer like that is superficial…and all of us can be (and should be) multidimensional at those ages.

Sax believes as kids move from “childhood to adolescence, the answer to “Tell me about yourself” should evolve from concrete descriptors to more abstract ideas about what they want, and how they see themselves now compared with their past and their future.”

Singing Songs: Song Leading To Leadership Development

Camp helps children define their authentic sense of self because they are removed, in many cases, from the increasingly complex and technologically dependent social lives they lead.  Rather than spending hours uploading photos, commenting on other photos, or simply waiting breathlessly for the next text–tweens and teens can focus on a smaller community, in-person conflict resolution, and acquisition of life skills that are both empowering and powerful.

And, more than anything, they can explore genuine connections between themselves and other people–connections that will help them further define who they are and what they want out of their own lives.

Sharing YOUR authentic self

It is these experiences that will allow them to write compelling, authentic, personal essays for future college applications.   These experiences will allow them to be able to stand up to bullying in their schools.  These experiences will give them room to be creative, innovative, visionary and to gain and apply wisdom.  These experiences will help shape their development into the happy, healthy, and successful adults we want them all to become–not the anxious, distracted, bullying and depressed children we seem to read about in the paper or see on Dr. Phil so often these days.

Sometimes it is hard to help children learn how to define their own sense of self because the adults around them lack authentic selves.  Challenge yourself, your friends, members of your family and your camp staff to define what you each believe and value.  Visit This I Believe to read other personal belief essays, and to learn how to more effectively define your own set of beliefs.

Then, instead of uploading the essay into cyberspace, share who you are and what you have learned with your children, students, friends, family and campers.    Because, as e.e. cummings said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”…and to share that person and wisdom with the next generation.

It’s Time to Get Outside: Nature Bingo

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Nature Bingo: Use ours...or create your own!

Are the kids getting a little stir-crazy during this holiday weekend?  It’s time to get them outside for a rousing game of Nature Bingo!

Adapted from our newly released 101 Nature Activities for Kids book, this is a great activity for the entire family.

From 101 Nature Activities: Many common games can be adapted for use in the outdoors, and bingo is a great example.  Children can either use bingo cards that you have made ahead of time or they can create the cards themselves.  If they are making their own cards, provide a list of items that you would like them to find or things they think they might find.  Then, they can draw or write the items on their bingo cards.  See how many bingos they can get throughout the hike.

Have fun!  And let us know all of the amazing things you find!

Beyond 101 Nature Activities—Part I: Thinking Outside the Bag

Monday, February 14th, 2011

In his 150th ACA Anniversary keynote address, Joe Ehrmann noted that a recent study of elderly individuals in this country showed—if they could “do it all over again” they would take more risks, reflect more, and do more things that would live on after they were gone. This is the very stuff of childhood…and it is disappearing.

Risk taking is being undercut by our culture of fear and oppression. Reflection is giving way to constant motion and unending distraction. Taking action that makes the world a better place is seen as too idealistic and unattainable to people who are accustomed to the instant gratification our society so readily provides.

101 Nature Activities for Kids--from Sanborn authors Elizabeth Rundle and Jane Sanborn

Yet we can reverse this trend. We can reconnect children, and their parents, teachers, and mentors, with the outdoors and with themselves. We can reignite their sense of wonder.

At the recent American Camp Association conference in San Diego,CA, Sanborn leadership team members Elizabeth Rundle and Ariella Rogge led a presentation entitled, “Beyond 101 Nature Activities.” The goals of the session were to:

1. Help participants engage and reconnect with their sense of wonder.
2. Demonstrate ways to teach other staff members, adults (parents/community members) and mentors the value and importance of outdoor play.
3. Learn tools, activities and strategies to get kids outdoors, and—in some cases—help them learn or re-learn how to play and how to just BE.

The “Thinking Outside the Bag” activity reminds us that our world views can sometimes be fixed and grounded in the known and the familiar. Yet children operate in a day-to-day world that is both unknown and highly unfamiliar—sometimes a little uncomfortable and scary—but mostly unexplored, uninhibited, and experience-rich. So we wanted to push our participants gently into that same unfamiliar space—back through that door of the known, and into the world of imagination, fun, and possibility.

Each participant was given a paper bag with a random natural object hidden inside. From here, participants were asked to transcend their “adult” (and somewhat “fixed” mindset) and connect with the children they once were. Using only their sense of touch as their guide, participants explored their object and answered the following, very unscientific and very imaginative questions:

• What color does your object feel like?
• What does this object smell like to a mouse?
• Where would this object be camouflaged?
• Would your dog eat it? Why or why not?
• What sort of creature might use this object and how?

A lively discussion ensued in which we “juiced up our imaginations” and “had fun.” In a few short moments, we had shifted our focus into the world of possibility, imagination and wonder. Yet the joy, surprise and amazement that followed when participants actually saw their natural objects was almost as rich as the sense-deprived, imaginative experience in the first place.

Take a walk this afternoon, gather a handful of natural objects, hide them in bags for your family, and then come up with your own creative, imagination-juicing questions to help them—and you—reconnect with that forgotten sense of wonder, and that vast, untapped realm of the imagination.

What questions will you ask?

Opening Keynote: ACA Conference 2011

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Chip Heath: Opening Keynote at the ACA National Conference 2011

In the opening keynote of the 2011 ACA National Conference, Chip Heath, co-author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, said camp professionals need to “look for the bright spots” in camp to ascertain what aspects of our youth development are effective and successful.

Humans have the tendency to always see the negative (but, really, HOW positive can you be when it is -24 degrees when you wake up in the morning?), so the trick is to see those genuinely good experiences and build on them by examining how, when and why a certain activity, trip, event at camp, or even staff member is successful.  This is both a skill that takes self-reflection, and—perhaps more importantly—a “growth mindset.”

In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she examines Fixed vs. Growth mindsets.  Kids need to develop resilience and persistence in order to function well in adulthood–and to deal with the ups and downs of daily life in their middle, high school, and college experiences.

Do you have a growth mindset?

Yet many kids are NOT gaining these essential life skills–and Dweck attributes this to the mindset they have learned (or not learned).

Some of the key questions she asks to determine if one has a “growth” or “fixed” mindset are:  How do you tackle challenges? With a can-do, excited attitude about finding new solutions…or with a sense you are already somewhat defeated just because there IS a challenge?  How do you react to correction?  With an open mind and desire to improve…or with defensiveness and denial?  How do you react to failure?  With the knowledge that every failure leads you closer to the path of success…or with the resignation of final defeat and the fear of judgment, ridicule, or loss of personal status and power?

Chip Heath and Carol Dweck both see the power of teaching growth mindsets to kids–and encourage us to teach ourselves and our children that “the brain IS a muscle–and we have to use it or you will lose it.”  We have to teach our kids not WHAT to think…but HOW to think.

Camp is an excellent place to learn how to think because, in many cases, it is the first time a child is afforded the opportunity to make decisions and choices on his own…and that process can be both terrifying and empowering.

The conventional wisdom says that change is hard, change is futile, and that people resist–no, even HATE–change.  But Heath says if we look for the bright spots, we will see where change can be easy, and we will empower to our campers, parents, staff, and our camp culture as a whole to embrace new ideas, ways of thinking, and opportunities for developing persistence, creativity, problem solving skills, resilience, and more in our kids–creating happier, healthier, and successful adults in the future.

Kids ARE Strong

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Stronger Than Ever!

Amy Chua is right about at least one thing in her controversial new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.  She

“assumes strength, not fragility” for her children.  We agree.  Children are inherently strong—we have seen this over and over again in our 60 + years of running a long term residential summer camp.

“But my child can’t be away from home for a month!”  Of course he can.  Given the opportunity, he will first survive and then thrive.  He will learn that he can make his own way in the world, that he can make friends, that he can find his own shoes, that he can work with a team and make decisions for himself. He will gain a solid foundation for self-confidence based on the knowledge that he can be independent.

She will learn that she can saddle a horse, carry a 30 pound backpack for five days along mountain paths, climb to the top of a 14,000’ mountain. And along the way, she will also gain self-confidence based on achieving real and challenging accomplishments.  No one needs to offer praise to a young person who stands on the summit of a Fourteener—the accomplishment speaks for itself.

Kings of the Mountains

Children are not only strong, they are inherently resilient.  Much more than 90% of the relationships they form with peers and college age counselors at camp are based on friendship, teamwork, and positive communication.  Camp friendships often last through life—and these friendships are formed in an environment where there was no parent watching over the interrelationship as it developed.

And, what about the 10% of relationships that create a challenge?  Here is the perfect opportunity to learn positive conflict resolution skills—skills that an astonishingly large number of adults still have trouble with.

We’re not drilling math problems or providing practice sessions on the violin, but everything we do at camp celebrates the strength of young people.  And the skills we practice in this environment are the social and emotional skills which young people need to learn to grown into happy, successful adults.  What could be more important?

Ariella and the Wild Animals

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Hanging up the "Carrot Chain"

Two of our favorite winter and holiday season children’s books are Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett and The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes. Using the beautiful weather and our multiple readings over the last week as inspiration, the boys and I went out this weekend to create/decorate an “animal tree” to help the animals celebrate the holidays with some special treats. Little did I know it would become a rather “special treat” and a memorable story of outdoor adventure for all of us.

We sat on the ground and hung apple slices on string loops, made a rather unique “carrot chain”, and spent most of the afternoon slathered with peanut butter from the peanut butter birdfeeders we made. After my sons rolled some “peanut butter balls” under the car (“Rolling peanut butter balls under the car is a good choice if we were actually looking to adopt a small fuzzy animal as an in-vehicle mascot—but it is a bad choice when we are trying to sell the car”) and playing a long game of “keep the pinecone away from the dog”—we carried all of our completed treasures out to our chosen animal tree.

In Annie and the Wild Animals, Annie is looking for a new pet (her cat, Taffy, has disappeared)—and hopes that by leaving homemade corn cakes at the edge of the wood, an appropriately fuzzy pet will arrive and cure her loneliness. In The Christmas Cat, an abandoned cat is rescued by a nameless, highly compassionate man who arrives in the woods bearing gifts of food for all

The Birds are REALLY Excited

of the woodland creatures.

As we decorated the animal tree, our conversation turned toward the similarities of the two books and we came up with these take-aways:
• Cats are THE pet to have (“Mom, please! We really NEED a cat!”)
• Woodland animals really like people food (“just like Sula!”-our dog)
• Animals like surprises, too
• Being lonely isn’t very fun

Yet, just like the cosmic irony that kept attracting every giant creature of the woods to Annie’s corn cakes, I discovered the very next morning that—no matter what the books say—when you get up and go outside, amazing things happen.

Early the next day, by the light of Orion’s belt and nothing else, my people-food-eating dog and I set out for a run—and this is where I realized some of our take-aways were slightly off:
• Dogs are THE pet to have…especially when there are giant animals in your yard
• Woodland animals really DO like people food—A LOT

Animal Tree in Progress

• Animals DON’T really like surprises
• Being alone in the dark might actually be better than being alone in the dark with a lot of other really large wild creatures which are big enough to make your people-food-eating dog bark in a way that makes you think YOU are about to BE “people-food.”

So the animal tree was a success, AND I incorporated some wind-sprints into my early morning routine. After sharing my tale of crashing elk (or something) in our yard, my son said, “Wow! Now we need to get MORE animals to come! We need to get some salmon for the bears, some meat for the coyotes, more carrots for the rabbits, some

hay for the deer, more seeds for the mice, and ……”

….maybe another dog.

-Post by Ariella Rogge