After identifying the awareness of new legislation and government lobbying as priorities at the November 2013 National Leadership Forum, the CCA pleased to announce that it has:
“Camp is a place where I can truly be myself!” As a camp director, there’s nothing better than hearing those words. But for gender variant children and youth, summer camp can be a place where rigid gender roles and gender-segregated spaces make it incredibly difficult to “be yourself”. It’s time to start the conversation about how to support gender variant children and youth in our summer camps.
Let’s start with some basic terms. Sex refers to a person’s anatomy, and can be male, female, or intersex. Gender refers to the social and cultural roles of men and women; it can be helpful to think of gender as a spectrum ranging from masculine to feminine, with lots of space in between. Many people with male sex characteristics think of themselves as men, and many people with female sex characteristics think of themselves as women. However for some people, including children and youth, their gender is different than what we usually associate with their sex. For children, this is often described as gender variant or gender creative. For youth and adults, this is often described as transgender. The key here is that every child or youth is the expert on their own gender, and has the right to express their gender on their own terms.
Before a gender variant child or youth arrives at camp, we need to do some thinking and preparing to make our spaces and programs safer for them. Do we have a policy in writing to support gender variant children and youth? Have we trained our staff to understand and support gender variant children and youth? Do we employ transgender people on our staff team? What are our legal obligations under relevant human rights code legislation? If a parent or young person approaches us and discloses that the young person identifies as gender variant or transgender, how can we work with them to live as their self-identified gender while attending our summer camp? It is respectful (and, in many places, the law) to fully recognize people as the gender they identify for themselves. This means always using the names and pronouns they prefer, ensuring they have safe access to washrooms appropriate for their gender, placing them with a camper or cabin group that reflects their gender, and much more.
Once campers arrive, we can help all children and youth by challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging them to discover their unique skills, talents, and interests. We can make sure not to have different expectations of people based on their gender. We can provide role models – from the physically strong women who lead our backcountry canoe trips, to the emotionally secure men who cry on the last day of camp. We can validate them by knowing them the way they want to be known, and reminding them that they, too, are part of what makes our camp special. And hopefully, gender variant children and youth will feel that camp is a place where they can truly be themselves.
As a retired camp director, I frequently enjoy visits with former staff and their children. It is rewarding to watch these graduate camp counselors apply the valuable lessons that they learned about being a good counselor to raising their own children. A visit to my grandson’s kindergarten class demonstrated that regrettably not all parents have the benefit of this training.
Last December, I had the pleasure of visiting my grandson, Aidan’s, kindergarten class. His teacher had invited the parents to join the children for a gingerbread-house-making holiday activity. In the classroom, there were six sets of desks shoved together in groups of four to accommodate the twenty-four students. Add that many if not more moms, dads and grandparents and the room was happily crowded and chaotic.
In front of each child lay a stiff cardboard base, a small milk carton, several graham crackers and an ample supply of white icing. When Aidan got started, I willingly held the graham cracker walls to the sides of the milk carton house till the icing-glue stuck. With wild abandon, Aidan then proceeded to decorate his house and surrounding garden with smarties, candy canes, jube jubes, marshmallows and pretzels as he saw fit. I encouraged and praised but resisted interfering with his wild creativity. The end result was neither tidy nor symmetrical, but Aidan was pleased with his efforts. As there was no parent to assist the little girl sitting beside Aidan, I also offered her encouragement. She too produced a unique product.
Across from us, I observed one mother assisting her daughter and a father assisting his son. Actually, assisting is the wrong word. These parents were mostly doing the work for their offspring in an effort to produce the perfect gingerbread house. Most of Aidan’s creation was devoured by him and his sister before the day ended so does it really matter that the candy cane fence was not perfectly aligned?
Regrettably, these parents did not follow a basic tenet of Camp Counseling 101 i.e. ”Never do for children what they are capable of doing for and by themselves with effort.” To act otherwise is to imply, whether one intends to or not, “Perfection is the goal. Your effort is not good enough. Watch how I do it. I can do it better.” Thank goodness for camp where children are encouraged and allowed to do what they are capable of; where it is OK to be less than perfect and where, as they learn at their own pace and by their own efforts, their confidence and self esteem flourishes.
By Catherine Ross, CCA Communications Officer
Several camp directors have expressed an interest in educating their staff with more news and information about camping. Therefore, at your request, we will add your entire staff team email address list to the CCA database. Please create an Excel spreadsheet with the following information, and email it to Bev Jahnke (email@example.com):
That’s it……..Easier than s’mores over the campfire!
At the recent Ontario Camps Association conference, an interesting discussion followed a presentation on technology and cell phones at camp. One traditional camp advocated for a zero tolerance policy on all technology at camp. The point (well taken) was that young people today live in such a wired world that it is essential to their personal and social growth that they learn to exist for a few weeks without any access to laptops, iPads, phones and – most importantly – social media.
The presenter agreed wholeheartedly with this. She pointed out that technology rules our lives. It invades our personal and recreational time, so that there is a higher prevalence of anxiety in young people than ever before. Many of us have begun to forget what we did with all the free time we had, prior to this onslaught. Remember? We talked with friends, played with our kids more, noticed what was going on around us, and actually made eye contact across the dining room table. The onslaught of technology has also contributed to the helicopter parent syndrome. Parents have become a crutch for their children because they are virtually present all the time. Children are growing up without the ability to solve small problems for themselves. This has an enormous impact on all camps. The presenter ended by saying that parents today are less willing to allow their kids to struggle and grow through experiences that may initially be tough; they have forgotten that it is sometimes the difficult circumstances in the young lives of our children that shape them in the most positive ways.
Our camp agrees with everything the presenter was saying… but not necessarily that a zero tolerance policy for technology is the solution… at least not for us. Firstly, we are not a wilderness camp. We run programs that depend upon technology. Our dance instructors keep their music on their smart phones. Sometimes, a counselor has their entire summer’s workshop plans and resources on a laptop they bring to camp. In Creative Writing, our campers sometimes prefer to write on their laptops and the instructor uses a laptop to collate their writing pieces into a ‘Zine’, or online writing publication. In Photography, campers often bring their own computer and software to manipulate their photographs. When technology so often contributes positively to the arts programming we offer, it would be hard to tell a camper they cannot use their smart phone to record a song they write, take artistic photos around camp, or share music in the dorm.
However, we absolutely agree that phone and web access should be limited at camp. It is simply true that if a camper was able to access friends and family at the press of a button, they would invest less effort in making camp friends, and find themselves constantly drawn, instead, into ongoing peer issues back home. If they had constant access to their smart phones, I can imagine some of our campers feeling obliged to post constantly on Instagram, and never fully interacting with camp friends. Our staff is trained to help a camper navigate and solve a difficult situation. Imagine, instead, if that camper was to call home in the instant they become upset, and demand a parent’s immediate intervention. The opportunity for guided learning and growth is lost, and the camper continues to be dependent upon their usual support system.
So what is our policy? We would prefer that all cell phones and any devices with online service, be left at home. However, if a teen is extremely unwilling to comply – then their device should be handed into the camp office. Campers are able to access their phones at scheduled phone times, twice weekly. They can check social media, call home, and do anything else they need at that time.
As technology is constantly changing, camps have to review their technology policies regularly, to ensure that they are enforceable and reasonable – in line with what campers and staff may need, and also with what parents and campers are willing to accept. It is already the case that some teens choose not to go to overnight camp because they are so technology-dependent … and that’s worrying. At Centauri, our technology policy is reviewed during pre-camp staff training every year. Last year, I was surprised at how many of our staff rely totally on e-readers. The time may come when it will be impossible to ‘ban’ technology at camp, unless we are also willing to ban reading!
When we first introduced our new cell phone policy at camp three years ago, we expected a lot of phones to turn up – that didn’t happen. Maybe 10% of our campers bring their phone with them – almost always the older teens. We also expected that campers who brought their phones would spend every minute of the allotted time using them. That didn’t happen, either. Campers usually call their parents, check social media quickly, then head back to their dorm.
Why? Because they are so invested in what is happening among their camp friends that they don’t want to miss a single thing.
Written by experienced camp nurse and award-winning author, Mary Casey (BScN PHN), Camp Nursing: Circles of Care gives an overview of the multifaceted job of a camp nurse.
Spiral-bound for convenient reference, the book includes fifty pages of Treatment Guidelines, the accepted procedures for illness and accidents.
The content and the principles presented are applicable to all camps.