Archive for March, 2010

Mud Season

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The last two days have been mountain gifts.  Lots of sunshine, temperatures in the 50s, and unspeakable amounts of mud.

There is mud in the kitchen, on the dog, on the stroller, on every pair of shoes by the door, on the sliding glass door (in hand print form), in hair, ears, eyebrows, and—yesterday—mouths.

It is mud—not green leaves or bright flowers—that signals the arrival of spring.  When we don our winter boots with our shorts (unseasonable still, yet completely irresistible) my sons know they can experience nature unencumbered by the bulky preparations of winter outdoor play…they can just GO.

And go they do.  With the 18 month old plodding along, wildly swinging one arm for balance and his five year old brother screaming down a mud slick hill on an off-road tricycle, we set off to drain the mud bog that is our driveway.  Yet draining isn’t the objective—it is sculpting, moving, plowing, splashing, diverting, destroying, floating, filling, racing, digging, plopping, and discovering the wonders of water and dirt.

How wonderful it is to stick fingers in the icy slurry of melting snow and decomposed granite to discover the very throwable mud underneath.  How wonderful it is to get stuck mid-boot, and be lifted out of your boots and unceremoniously set down in your socks in the same icy slurry (oops!).  How wonderful it is to jump so hard in puddles that mud droplets are discovered on the inside of your jacket and under your shirt.  How wonderful it is to watch your children ease themselves into the natural world like they ease themselves into their favorite sweatshirt (also covered in mud).

Sunset Magazine has an article from author Anne Lamott this month about “Time Lost and Found” in which she concludes, “What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life.  I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.  I promise you, it is there…It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.”

To which I add, “this mud.”  Get out and enjoy it while it lasts.

~Ariella Rogge

(This post is part of the Backyard Mama Wednesday link-up.  Visit for more information and to participate)

Bring on the Sun Screen, Not the Touch Screen

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

View from the top of A-Bluff, Pikes Peak in the Background

In a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, researchers measured a huge—but unsurprising—trend in technology use among children and teens.  At camp, we support technology use to connect our camp community during the school year, but we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it during the summer.

When Laura and Sandy Sanborn began Sanborn Western Camps, they used to have to drive 7 miles into Florissant to use the crank phone at the post office—we got our first land line in 1955, and ceased using dial-up internet about 5 years ago.

Don’t let Verizon, AT&T, Sprint or any other cell phone providers know that—on the whole—we still don’t have cell phone service at camp.  (But if you have an in and would like to let Comcast or CenturyTel know that we have to rely on satellite internet as our “high speed” internet…please do…the 52,000 round-trip miles our email takes is astonishing).  We don’t want campers texting, emailing, watching videos, or posting photos on Facebook when they could actually be writing letters and creating art projects, chatting in the living units or on trips, or taking pictures of their incredible backcountry and camp adventures.

We want our campers to experience real relationships with real people in real time.

That said, what about the camper whose phone also works as his camera, her alarm clock, his watch, her address book, his music player, her video recorder….this is where the lines begin to blur.  We appreciate and value (as proponents of packing light!) having a device that does SO many different, useful things.  And yet we also know that these very same devices also create the opportunity to disconnect and unplug from the people around you and allow you to plug into a virtual world.  We can promise you, a quality game of Schmerltz (The World’s Greatest Game played with a sock filled with dirt) trumps any level of Grand Theft Auto any day.

Music Doesn't Always Come from iTunes

Campers need phones while they travel.  Campers like to listen to music as they fall asleep—or even better—plug their iPod into a dock and have a dance party on the porch.  Campers need alarm clocks to help them wake up for early morning mountain climbs.  Campers want a camera or video camera to document their adventures to share with their friends and family when they return home.  Campers don’t need to text or call home.  Campers don’t need to be able to surf the web.  Campers don’t need to be able to stick headphones in their ears and drown out their friends and mentors.  Campers don’t need to download and watch or download and play the latest and greatest movies and video games.

As a parent, it is a challenging position in which to find yourself.  You want your child to have an incredible camp experience, yet you also find yourself wanting them to have access to you—and you to them.  Our camp policy asks that campers turn in their cell phones and other valuables at the beginning of camp so they are not lost, broken, or are accidentally found next to the tent in 2 inches of water from the previous evening’s rain storm.  Help your child know, understand, and respect the camp’s policy.  Provide campers with inexpensive digital alarm watches, cameras, and music players.  By doing this you are also providing them with something truly invaluable: 30 days of unplugged existence.

(What would you do for something like that?)

Sitting. Thinking. Singing. Being.

Richard Louv said in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, “Our lives may be more productive, but less inventive.  In an effort to value and structure time, some of us unintentionally may be killing dreamtime.”  We at Sanborn Western Camps believe deeply in dreamtime, in reflection, in sharing our hopes and fears, joys and triumphs, successes and failures with our friends and the unplugged community we create up here in the mountains every summer.

High Trails School Weeks

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Monday marked the first day of staff training for our spring school weeks program at High Trails. We have a great group of eight staff from all over the country. While our first school doesn’t arrive until next Wednesday, we are busy getting everything ready.

Our staff is hiking through the six inches or so on the ground, prepping for discovery groups, learning where trails go, and learning everything they need to know about outdoor education! Our staff is preparing to teach Homesteaders, Team Building, Crafters, Prospectors, Explorers, and more!

Find Your Tree hike during Setting the Mood discovery group

We woke up to quite a snow storm this morning. Just as we adapt the program when students are here, we adapted the training today. The snow always makes everything more exciting! It is easy to say that we need to be flexible when things don’t go as planned. It is a little more difficult to teach that flexibility. While it can be challenging to predict how students will react to a lesson plan, we train our staff to be prepared with different approaches to teaching specific material, we share potential reactions from students, and ensure they understand teacher expectations.

We are expecting the snow to melt before our first school arrives in just one week. If not, we know the staff is prepared for anything!

How Summer Camp Promotes Healthy Lifestyles

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Max celebrates after a successful summit!

Teaching children how to make healthy choices, practice healthy behaviors, and to live healthy, active lifestyles are important parts of the camp experience.

The camp environment provides a safe place to engage in and learn from personal choices.  By allowing campers to choose their activities and their own experiences, a child is a) empowered to make her own decision; b) open himself up to the experience—good or bad; c) be able to grow in the knowledge that “I made a good choice on my own…” or “Next time, I’m going to try something different.”  This process is an essential life skill because it engenders responsibility and perseverance in a child.

At High Trails, campers sign-up for their in-camp program every Sunday evening.  As the week progresses, a child might decide she wants to go hiking rather than play swimming games at the pool.  All campers are given six “switch coupons” that allow them to switch from one activity to another during the course of the session.  They are responsible for keeping track of these coupons and being very thoughtful about when they use them.  This creates more commitment to the activity they originally signed up for—plus they are more intentional when they sign up for activities in the first place.

This increased personal responsibility helps campers both at camp and at home.  Many parents tell us that the independence and confidence their children gain at camp allow them to “break out” of unhealthy peer groups, habits, and behavior patterns when they return home.  Whining, apathy, and uncooperative attitudes in some children seem to vanish overnight after they live and play in an environment that “expects good” from them.  The camp environment gives children the opportunity to see the benefit of healthy behaviors like patience, inclusion, empathy, joy, laughter, self-reflection, independent thinking, problem solving, and more.

The best part of learning these essential life skills at camp is that it is not a didactic experience—it is something the campers are DOING day in and day out.  They learn to associate success and confidence with the physical movement of their bodies as they climb high mountain peaks.  They enjoy the space and freedom of the outdoors while learning proper horsemanship techniques in the high valleys and Aspen groves of our 6,000 acre playground.  They walk, hike, run, and share as they go to meals, play games, explore the natural world, and connect with other people and the world around them.

Dinnertime on an overnight

Campers associate food and eating with necessary nourishment after long days of exciting, active trips and activities, rather than something to do when they are bored.  They take pride in their new found strength after hiking with full backpacks, and watch (and sometimes participate!) their counselors model the active lifestyle through daily runs, biking, yoga practice, and stretching before and after activities.  These experiences create a foundation of health that can quickly become a lifestyle.

One camper, after a full summer of climbing fourteeners, being a successful participant in the 100-Mile hiking club, and gaining some basic rock climbing skills returned home and tried out for her Varsity field hockey team an was a starter by mid-season.  She credits the outcome of her tryout to all of the confidence, hiking, and strength she gained at camp…she thought the altitude training probably helped her, too!

Camp is a whole body experience.  By giving campers the opportunities to make their own choices in an environment that celebrates and models active, healthy living—the desire to experience growth and physical gains is almost universal.  Each child is his/her own person, so that growth is completely unique—yet each child will walk away from the summer camp experience with an appreciation, respect, and passion for everything they have learned at summer camp in Colorado.

Spring Forward

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Thinking about moving the clocks forward this morning started me thinking about spring. While there are still snow storms to come here in the Rocky Mountains, the weather has ben warming up the last few days. It is hard not to get excited to spend more time outside when the weather is warm and the skies are clear. The extended daylight makes it even more tempting to go outside.

I spent yesterday at a very busy park in Denver. There were all kinds of people walking, running, playing, and strolling. The people that stood out most to me were the parents with children. A mom was running while her son happily rode his bike. A girl was helping push her own stroller. Then there was a boy stomping his feet in protest behind his mom telling him to “hurry up.” I have been around enough small children to know there are times you want them to move just a little faster. In the park though?

There is an article in the new April issue of Real Simple. The author writes about taking his toddler for a walk and just letting him explore. He admits to being a busy person, and probably would like to move quicker from place to place most of the time. However, he realized the benefits of slowing down and taking time to explore and letting his children enjoy their time outside. He mentioned Nature Deficit Disorder and how to combat it. I’m not doing the article justice here – it is on page 216 so you can read more.

I read this article last week and it jumped back to my mind while I was watching the families at the park. While I’m sure the mom with the unhappy toddler had the best intentions by taking time to go to the park, I wondered if the time was beneficial to either mom or son. The children that appeared to be having the most fun were those who were meandering, exploring the sidewalk for cracks, looking in the grass for bugs, and mostly leading their parents. I’m sure some of these parents would have liked to move a little quicker and say “hurry up,” but they didn’t.

While I don’t have children to take wandering in the park, seeing these families made me slow down. Rather than running as quickly as I could to finish my loop and move on with my day, I slowed down. I finished running my loop, then took the time to walk a second loop. It was amazing the things I missed the first time. I noticed the mountains in the distance, big trees, Geese in the ponds, the spots with brown versus green grass. I know I didn’t get the same physical exercise with my second, slower loop, but the mental awareness was worth it.

As we spring forward this weekend, I think it is a good time to remember to take time to take in our surroundings, slow down, meander, explore…

How Can I Promote Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy in My Children?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Proud Mountain Fisherman

What is the difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy? Self-efficacy, or empowerment, is the belief in one’s self. Children with skills of empowerment believe that they are effective in the world and have learned their strengths and weaknesses. Self-esteem is inexorably linked to self-efficacy…but our culture and society tends to promote “strong self-esteem” as a goal on its own, forgetting that in order to “feel good” about yourself, you have to “believe” in yourself and your abilities.

In our schools and families, we are quick to say, “I am so proud of you for completing your class project”—terrific words of encouragement, shared in order to promote good self-esteem—yet we should ask ourselves what we are really saying. By saying “I” or “We” we are owning the accomplishment ourselves, and not giving full credit to the child. Better to say, “How do you feel about what you accomplished?” Then the child can say, “I really worked hard to get my class project done on time, and I feel really good that I was able to help Emily with her project, too.” To which, as a teacher or parent, we can add, “You did show a great deal of dedication to accomplish the project, and you were also very generous with your time and demonstrated great teamwork and creativity when you helped Emily.”

When we perceive we don’t have time to promote self-efficacy in our children, or we think a broad blanket of esteem-enriching encouragement will suffice, we are doing our children a significant disservice. Rather than developing necessary resilience on their own, they will fall into a pattern of seeking their sense of self from outside sources. In a recent study, it was shown that kids who were distinctly told they were “hard workers” tended to be more persistent when they approached challenging tasks or new situations. Children who had been told they were “very smart” tended to become more easily frustrated or more readily quit the challenging task that was placed before them.

As parents, teachers, and youth development professionals, the staff at Sanborn Western Camps know and understand the importance of teaching empowerment and providing children with opportunities to build their own self-efficacy. By giving campers choice with their trip and activity selection, challenging them physically on mountain climbs and horseback rides, allowing them to find and define their voices and attitudes away from their home peer group, spending reflective time in the natural world, and providing them with multiple supportive adults in a tight-knit community, our campers develop internal motivation and satisfaction from their everyday accomplishments—a skill they will continue to use for the rest of their lives.

What other activities besides summer camp do you think promote self-efficacy in kids?

Mountain climbing in Colorado

Because of Camp…

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Because of Camp… was the theme of the ACA National Conference held in Denver, February 15-19, 2010.

We have collected some of our favorite Because of Camp…statements from current campers and alums.

Because of Camp…

  • I am someone I like!
  • I am a more self-confident person towards everything and I love spending time in nature. I have a brotherhood that I have developed and will have for the rest of my life.
  • I’m a significantly better person.
  • I proved that chubby, geeky kids with glasses could climb mountains, ride horses, paddle a canoe, and make friends with kids from all over the world.
  • I have so many lifelong friends and an audience back home for my amazing camp stories, but I, too, am a significantly better person and connected with nature at High Trails. Viva la Sanborn.
  • I have confidence in myself that I can be successful in my winter job.
  • I can take apart just about any toilet and I have not lost to any stopped up john yet!
  • My life is richer because of the people that I have met and the close friends that I have kept.
  • I look out for the other guy.
  • I love to wash dishes and pots and pans.
  • I can change just about any tire.
  • I found myself and several of my best friends

Listen to former Olympians, actors, actresses, world leaders, and global thinkers share how camp affected their lives in the ACA’s PSA “Because of Camp…”

What are some of your Because of Camp…stories?