Battling Anxiety and Celebrating Play

Catch a frog, swing from a zip line, jump off a diving board, create your masterpiece in clay, race to the finish line and come back the next day to experience even more!  Summer camp is all about a sense of community, the importance of making and being a good friend, spirit, and traditions you can count on year after year while the pressures of the academic year are left behind.

Anecdote to Anxiety

Why is camp now more important than ever? Childhood anxiety in on the rise. It’s the most common childhood disorder that presents itself in my initial camp intake with new parents.  What role can camp play in decreasing a child’s anxiety and creating better balance in their lives?

Dr.  Shimi Kang, the keynote speaker for the upcoming American Camping Association National Conference and the author of the bestseller The Dolphin Parent: A guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids, will be speaking on “Anxiety and the Importance of Play.” Dr. Kang believes there are several factors that contribute to childhood stress including overscheduled highly-structured indoor activities.  When not at a scheduled activity, our children are then under enormous academic pressure. We know the scenario all too well!

The Importance of Play, Connection and Downtime

Summer camp to the rescue! Dr. Kang recommends a daily dose of POD – play, others (social connection) and downtime.  She reinforces that nature has a tremendous positive effect on our children’s mental health. Being outside is a mood lifter. Connecting with others in an outdoor play environment defines the camp experience.

All creatures play. Dr. Kang explains that play allows for creativity and adaptability. Connection to others has been reduced to a text.  For many of us, dinner is no longer a time to talk about what is on our mind and connect with family members.  Camp is all about communication – the old fashion way – eye to eye.  Children learn to say what’s on their mind and get ready to listen to the response of a friend or staff member.  Downtime is the third factor Dr. Kiang finds crucial to a child’s well- being.  Camp is about sitting by a campfire and sharing experiences, making a lanyard with a friend or walking to archery and recapping last night’s Yankee game.

Life Lessons

I recently received a note from a young staff member who grew up at Jeff Lake Camp. She was expressing her sadness of not being able to return as a staff member.  She was accepted into the college of her choice but was required to start in the summer.  She spoke about her journey from a young elementary school camper to a junior staff member.  She told me that camp taught her everything she needed to know to be successful in college – how to make a new friend, how to handle whatever comes her way, how to voice her opinion and how to appreciate what was special about her.

Camp can be your partner in raising a child with a balanced lifestyle.

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Goal-Setting with Kids


Run a marathon? Perform in a play? Learn how to play chess?

The beginning of the year is always a great time to strategize, visualize and discuss what we really want to achieve in 2015.   While adults often discuss resolutions, January is also the perfect opportunity to help our children set realistic goals that will challenge and fulfill them in the coming year.

How can we do that?

Ask them what they want: A goal is something we want to do, have or achieve—and something we don’t mind working for until we attain! What is your child’s goal? Sit down with your children and discuss some options. Make sure the goal comes from them so that they are fully invested in the process and the result.

Help them to visualize the end: When I present on goal-setting, I tell my audiences; “Dream as if you’ve already been to the finish line. A true test of clear vision is an unmistakable sense of déjà vu once a goal is realized.” We need to help children go through the process of imagining what their goal will be like once it’s been achieved. At the moment of actualization, what will they see, sense and say? Who will be present and what will they feel? If they can see it, even if it’s in their mind, they will believe it can happen.

Discuss logistics: If they truly want to achieve this goal, who will they need to enlist to help them? In particular, if they need to be driven to a specific location every Tuesday and Thursday, they must ask someone to drive them. If they want to learn how to swim, knit or ride horses, they must ask someone to teach them. Help them to make a plan and ensure that all those involved are in the know and in agreement.

Talk about sacrifices: What are your children willing to give up in order to put the time and effort necessary to achieve their goals? If they want to learn how to play an instrument and play in a band, they may not be able to commit to being the stage manager in the musical this year. If they want to become a competitive soccer player, dancer, gymnast, martial artist or diver, they must be willing to give up other activities that may take up their extra time and resources.

Pin down barriers to success: Goal-setting takes honesty. We often talk about what it will take to achieve a goal but we also must discuss what can get in our way. Is your child known for procrastinating? Perfectionism? Quitting when the going gets tough? Laying all the cards on the table and getting a commitment from your children regarding expectations and fulfillment before moving forward is mandatory.

Provide accountability options: Anyone who sets a goal needs to be accountable for the work that gets put into it and the obligations they’ve made. Encourage them to write out what they are going to do, by when they are going to do it and how they will let you (or whomever they will be accountable to) know that they’ve done it.

Along the way, don’t forget to celebrate successes! Your children will be thrilled about their progress as well as with their well-deserved praise for sticking with something even when it gets challenging. And remember; by going through the goal-setting and goal-getting process now, they will learn that whatever they set their minds to, they can achieve. What a great lesson now…and for the future!

Dr. Robyn Silverman


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The First Steps are the Most Important

Learning to swim at Jeff lake Camp

Learning to swim is one of the most important skills your child should gain from their day camp experience.  How your child is handled from the start may mean the difference between a successful experience and a summer of frustration for both you and your camper.  Swimming is top priority at Jeff Lake and we are committed to developing confident and competent young swimmers.

Control…Control…Control!  For our Pre-k and Kindergarten campers, being in control of their bodies is fundamental in building confidence to try new things.  Our two Freshman Pools were designed with the understanding that water depth is one of the most critical factors in swim success.  Our campers can stand in every part of the pool and they know they can ground their feet when they choose to.

Warm water temperature is always helpful in relaxing tense muscles. Learning to swim at the earliest stages entails lots of coaching and conversation and less aerobic movement.  Keeping our Freshman Pools warm and our new swimmers relaxed and comfortable gives us the time we need to get the job done.  We cannot ask an eight year old who has played a period of hockey prior to swim or a nine year old capable of swimming ten laps in the pool to take their swim lesson in the same warm water.  Each of our pools is controlled by their own heaters allowing different pool temperatures when needed.

Instruction must be clear, repetitive and intentional.  All of our Waterfront Instructors and the general staff that support them are teaching the same step program using the same technique and the same wording.  Our young campers have no surprises as they work through what can be for some a challenging new task.  They know what is going to be asked of them and they know they will be successful with the instructor that is at their side.  This relationship of trust is critical and the reason why the group counselor is required to be part of the swim program.

For the majority of our young campers, swim holds no anxiety. When all the factors discussed above are in line, success is just a matter of 39 days of lessons. For the remaining campers, both young and older, swim anxiety is real.  These campers require and deserve careful instruction, sophisticated coaching and a partnership between my swim staff and you, the parent. There is nothing we can offer your child that has a deeper impact on their self-esteem than the gift of seeing themselves as a swimmer.
We are looking forward to working with you this summer!

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CIT/AIDE Program: Gaining Responsibility…and let’s still be kids.

Jeff Lake Camp CIT/AIDES

Does anyone ever really want to grow up? The exciting part of the CIT/AIDE program is the balance between work and play, or the opportunity to gain independence and responsibility while still being a kid. As our CITS & AIDES ready themselves for their formative years of High School, the opportunity to work with our campers in different age groups gives them the chance to make quick decisions, learn from their mistakes, and take direction from their superiors. We also recognize that our 13-15 year old CITS and AIDES still benefit from the importance of “play” and taking advantage of fun activities and special events. The pressures of balancing school work, sports leagues, and extracurriculars during the year can be tough, and for two months at camp, these young teens can “de-stress” while preparing themselves for another school year. Whether it is exciting out of camp trips to Dorney Park or the Jersey Shore, our annual Color Run Paint Powder event, or even just a CIT/AIDE kickball game, all of these activities lend themselves to social growth and confidence, and most importantly keeping the “F.U.N. in C.I.T.” CIT/AIDE Director, Adam Baranker, always talks about the “tool kit” that CITS and AIDES walk away with at the end of the summer. “The mix of work and play gives our CITS & AIDES a multi-layered experience that they wouldn’t receive if they were still solely campers or fully staff. This in-between allows them to value the time with their groups gaining skills and accountability, because they also know that they are able to still be a kid and “hang out” as they like to say. They have it right…let’s stay kids as long as we can!”

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