Category: Open New Doors in 2-4

Summer Theme: Open New Doors in ‘2-4

Posted by on June 6, 2024

Every year for as long as I can remember, Camps Woodland and Towering Pines ponder over the theme for the next summer before the current summer ends. This way cabin groups at both camps get involved and submit their ideas with the hopes of being able to hear their name called at assembly after the roar of a building drumroll. It is a big deal to be awarded the honor of being able to say they had a hand in choosing the words that will give shape to what the following summer holds for future campers and staff. Summer 2024 is no different!

The words “open new doors” hold a lot of possibility – the possibility of the unknown, of new memories, of high excitement. After five or ten summers coming up to camp, you wouldn’t naturally think that camp could hold anything you haven’t done or tried before – you’ve lived in most of the cabins, participated in just about every activity, and know which meals you look forward to the most. Yet something has us coming back year after year, and it’s exactly what this summer’s theme encapsulates – the opening of new doors and the possibility of more.

Whether you’re a Woodland girl who is just arriving for her first summer or a Woodland girl who has lived in every cabin, tried every activity, and has the meal calendar memorized, opening doors to new possibilities lives outside of camp’s routine just as much as your comfort lives within it.

For a first-year camper, new doors are in abundance; the new friends that you make, the new food you try, and the new challenges you take on. A new adventure is waiting for you at Woodland just as sure as you are waiting for your first summer at camp to start. Make sure to try every activity you can, from the ones you know all about to the things you may have never tried before. Your ability to slowly step outside of your comfort zone will only make the new doors that open at camp that much more exciting!

For a returning camper, each year is a new slate as no two summers ever are or can be the same. The unknown lies within the components of camp you feel you know so well; you know you’ll have cabin mates and counselors, but who will they be? What fun games, tasks, and challenges will your counselors have in store for you at your favorite activities? Will you win Gold Rush or make it to the end of your Spoon Tag circle? Everything from your daily routine to the biggest special events is bursting with a possibility that can’t be replicated from years before — new doors open wide around every corner!

Here are reflections on what some of our new staff (not all new to camp!) think the “Open New Doors in ‘2-4” theme means:

-Never settle for what seems the “easy path.” Let yourself be surprised with new opportunities and new horizons. Let yourself step out of your comfort zone and enjoy the ride!!

-Get out of your comfort zone and have fun!!

-To be open to try new activities, meet new people, and open a new chapter in life.

-That is going to be a summer with a lot of new opportunities and trying new things that you were afraid to try.

-That everyone is welcome and no one is left out, even if it’s your first summer at camp!

-Try something new in order to grow and see different perspectives.

-New opportunities for getting to know interesting people and new adventures and experiences.

-Learn and try things you haven’t tried before.

Get Excited!

Regardless of whether you’re arriving at Woodland for the first time or the tenth, the doors you will open at camp eagerly await you. Don’t be afraid of stepping a little further out of your comfort zone because Woodland has new opportunities to challenge you from the first day to the last and every day in between. We are so excited to see what kind of challenges, exploration, and inspiration Summer 2024 has in store for you!


We have a FEW remaining spots left to enroll your camper/s for 2024 so that your daughter/s can open new doors through the Camp Woodland experience! Sign up HERE:

-Originally authored by Natalie (Woodland alum extraordinaire!) in 2018 and tweaks/additions made in 2024 by Kim (making my way to camp today for #25!)


Say This, Not That: Questions About Camp

Posted by on May 21, 2024

With the start of camp around the corner, we recognize that anxiety around the unknown might be on the rise among campers and YOU (their parents and caregivers). We’d like to share few effective communication strategies of what is good to say and what to steer clear of as your campers pack their bags (physical and emotional) to get ready for the camp experience!

Questions Galore!

It is natural for the amount of questions to ramp up in the weeks leading up to camp: What will the food be like? Who will be in my cabin? Will I like my counselor? How cold is the lake? What if I can’t fall asleep at night or I get homesick? It is also normal as parents to want to be able to answer to each and every question so that your camper/s have the information they are craving to know ahead of their arrival to camp.

First off (and hopefully a huge relief), it is impossible to answer every question accurately. Secondly, when we do this, we are sending the message that new experiences can’t be done without having ALL the information (and we take away the opportunity for discovery and exploration – two of the very reasons we send kids to camp in the first place!).

**Say This, Not That**

Thanks to Lynn Lyons, LICSW, author of “The Anxiety Audit” for giving suggestions of responses to say to your camper/s when you truly don’t know the answer to their questions:

  • I don’t know, and you’re going to be able to figure this out…
  • I don’t know, and I have confidence in your ability to manage things as they come up…
  • I don’t know, and I know this about you…

You can also refer back to other experiences when your young person was trying something new for the first time. Remember the time when you: tried out for the volleyball team, started playing the clarinet, spent the night at a friend’s house…you learned that: your coach would share information as you needed to know it, you could rely on the others in the band who joined last year, and that being away from home can be really fun!!!

Certainty vs Uncertainty

Anxiety likes certainty and comfort; however, those are promises we can’t make when it comes to camp. It can be helpful, though, to write down 2 lists with your camper – one being the things you know about camp (certainty) and the other with the things you won’t know until you get there or as the summer unfolds (uncertainty, but also exciting!).

  • Known: date camp starts, how long you will be there, each cabin has its own bathroom, there is a variety of food served at each meal, there are at least 2 counselors in every cabin, laundry goes out once a week, mail is delivered 6 days a week, etc.
  • Unknown: the names of the kids in your cabin, the color of shoes your counselor will be wearing on Opening Day, the exact meal served for dinner on July 14th, the winner of Gold Rush this year, the names of the Olympic teams, etc.

Camp is the perfect opportunity to practice figuring out how to do things independently, problem solve, and be resourceful. These are good things as they will give your child more opportunities to will grow and develop a sense of autonomy!

The Dreaded Letter from Camp

We advise you not to be surprised or alarmed if/when you get letter/s from home at the beginning that contain a message of “distress”. This could be any number of things, but here are some of the more common ones: “the food is terrible”, “no one likes me”, “I’m in the riding class for ‘babies'”, and of course, the “I want to go home” plea. 

Lynn Lyons reminds us that it is completely normal for your first instinct to be that this is serious and permanent. It may also propel you to jump in catastrophic problem solving mode (send food your child likes, request to change cabins/riding classes, or offer to come get your child from camp right away). 

Should you pick up the phone and call camp upon receiving this kind of letter, the person on the other end will kindly ask you what day the letter was written (good chance it was 3-5 days or more in the past) and will almost always report that the “uncomfortable thing” was resolved long before the letter reached your mailbox or inbox. It is also highly likely the letter was written when there was a period of down time, either right after lunch or right before bed when thoughts can quickly turn from positive to negative. 

**Say This, Not That**

Again, Lynn Lyons offers some great suggestions on what to say when you are stuck holding a letter that tears at your heartstrings when you pick up a pen and respond to the “cry for help”. You could say something along the lines of, “It sounds like your adjustment to camp has been a bit tricky, and I am confident that you can work through this…”

She also recommends that you ask questions or give prompts in your return correspondence:

  • I wonder what it was like to go water-skiing?
  • Tell me 3 new things you have done since you arrived at camp…
  • Tell me about your cabin counselors…

Camp Cheerleaders

We also recognize that some of you went to camp yourselves and LOVED it! It is natural to share excitement and nostalgia for your camp experience. You are going to “LOVE camp”, the food is fabulous, everyone is so nice, the activities are great, no one gets homesick, etc.” Lynn Lyons calls this “global reassurance.” Those kinds of “cheerleader comments” may actually not help your camper because they don’t want to disappoint you if they don’t have the same affinity for camp as you do. They could also feel “tricked” when they experience the very likely scenario of not enjoying every meal that is served, having someone in their cabin who is annoying, or not being a fan of archery.

**Say This, Not That**

Because it is unrealistic to think that everything will be perfect 100% of the time while at camp, it is best to set expectations so that your camper/s are prepared for things not always going as planned or to their liking. Lyons uses the “buffet” or “smorgasbord” metaphor to explain this idea to kids. When you go to fill your plate at a buffet/smorgasbord, there will be certain items that you like a lot and may even want to take a 2nd helping, other items that you take one bite first before eating an entire serving, while there will be some that you would rather avoid altogether (like vegetables but you eat them anyway because y0u know they are good for you).

Variety is the Spice of Life!

The problem with telling kids that everything is going to be fabulous sets them up for disappointment and possibly resentment. It is better to talk to them about how camp is a variety of experiences…some will be exciting, others will be so-so, or even boring. Being at camp is an opportunity to practice the skills of being flexible and adaptable vs being rigid or stuck in the idea that everything goes smoothly and the way you want it to be all of the time. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said over 2500 yrs ago, “the only constant in life is change.” This summer is a great time for your camper/s to develop the ability to manage uncertainty (and build resilience!). Something tells me that this won’t be the only opportunity they will have in life to put that skill to good use!


Now is a GREAT time to enroll your camper/s for 2024 (we have a few remaining spots left) so that your daughter/s have the opportunity to develop the skill of managing uncertainty and building resilience through the Camp Woodland experience! Sign up HERE:


Non-Parent Mentors for Teens at Woodland

Posted by on April 23, 2024

When I look back on my teenage years, the last people I wanted advice from were my parents (sorry, Mom & Dad!). I can remember gravitating to a particular aunt and uncle throughout high school and college and having conversations that I struggled to have with two people I lived with. In fact, these non-parent mentors are actually a large part of the reason why I ended up at Camp Woodland several decades ago. When I decided I wanted to work at a camp for my summer job between my sophomore and junior years of college, I only reached out to programs in Wisconsin (via a typed letter in the pre-internet era!) because I knew the relatives who were instrumental in my life lived in the same state.

For the same reason finding a tutor for your child is usually a wise decision and brings peace to the entire family (instead of sitting at the kitchen table in a yelling match when your daughter/son is struggling in math or some other subject), having a non-parent mentor has its benefits as well. Please know that I am NOT suggesting that parents are incapable of being a mentor to their own children; however, there is value a mentor relationship outside of the immediate household can bring to the development of youth in a variety of positive ways.

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, shares research from a study used in her book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation, and in an article found in Psychology Today showing that adult mentoring during the teenage years:

  • Models positive social skills and facilitates interpersonal connections beyond family.
  • Helps young people interpret and manage life challenges, including relationships with peers and parents.
  • Facilitates meaningful conversations that boost cognitive skills and provides perspective.
  • Strengthens self-regulation, one’s ability to manage emotions and impulses—to think before acting.
  • Promotes identity development, a key task of adolescence, through modeling core qualities that contribute to human thriving, like empathy, curiosity, resourcefulness, and resilience.
  • Opens doors to new ways of thinking, resources, and opportunities.
  • Fosters self-efficacy—a belief in oneself.

That is a pretty impressive list! We often think of mentors as teachers, coaches, grandparents, church leaders, and other adults in the lives of youth. Another obvious mentor (and possibly overlooked!) in the lives of teens are the counselors, staff and leaders who are instrumental to the growth and development of the entire camp community. This is yet another reason why the Woodland camp experience is a vital part of the overall growth and development for youth of all ages – especially for teens!

If we go back to the list from above, it isn’t hard to connect the dots to how this organically happens with the support of caring adults in the Woodland ecosystem. Adult mentoring in our camp community: 

Models positive social skills and facilitates interpersonal connections beyond family.

At Woodland, we practice how to engage with people never previously met and to apply the “be curious, not judgmental” mindset as we interact with those from different cultures and experiences. Many of the staff themselves are from a variety of geographic locations and backgrounds and help facilitate these connections.

Helps young people interpret and manage life challenges, including relationships with peers and parents.

Relationships can be challenging and messy at times. Woodland offers the opportunity to be open to and embrace the differences others bring to the community, navigate conflict that is normal with group living, and have empathy towards one another through the guidance of the staff.

Facilitates meaningful conversations that boost cognitive skills and provides perspective.

At Woodland we spend on average 16 hours a day having meaningful conversations (all the hours we are awake!). Meal times, especially, offer a unique opportunity for conversation because we spend them together with our cabin group. By the end of the full 6-week experience, approximately 126 hours around the table is spent with the same group of people sharing triumphs, growth opportunities, dreams, and ideas. This unequaled time anywhere else offers a unique opportunity to see the world through the eyes of others and to gain a perspective that might not be seen otherwise. The counselors in each cabin become masters at facilitating these meaningful conversations!

Strengthens self-regulation, one’s ability to manage emotions and impulses—to think before acting.

This is easier said than done! At Woodland we recognize the impact we have on others because we are sharing a living space with 8 or more people. While it would be tempting to yell at someone for borrowing something without asking, at camp (and with the support of the staff) being clear and kind with our requests is practiced should we want a different outcome next time.  

Promotes identity development, a key task of adolescence, through modeling core qualities that contribute to human thriving, like empathy, curiosity, resourcefulness, and resilience.

At Woodland we are pretty good at all of the above! Parents tell us that their campers return home in many ways better than they came because they have spent 6 weeks with unbelievable support and caring from the adult mentors in our community. I’ve already mentioned empathy and curiosity, and resourcefulness can be seen from coming up with new ways to use the limited items we brought with us to create a costume or prop for Lip Sync Contest or any number of special events. Resiliency is the outcome of learning to try again and not get defeated when something doesn’t quite go the way we would like it to. We celebrate the journey and not just the final result!

Opens doors to new ways of thinking, resources, and opportunities.

There is a reason our theme for the upcoming summer is “Open New Doors in ‘24”. Being immersed in the Woodland community and surrounded by amazing adult mentors naturally opens our minds to thinking differently, repurposing what we have to come up with out-of-the-box uses for a hairbrush, pair of sunglasses, or a colored t-shirt, and opportunities never imagined. Every holiday season we are flooded with photos from “impromptu” camp reunions in Mexico and elsewhere. The opportunity to travel internationally or long distances to see the awesome friends made at camp often becomes reality!

Fosters self-efficacy—a belief in oneself.

Unfortunately, we often see youth lacking a true sense of self, especially during their teen years. It often stems from the need to be a “fake” version of yourself so that others will like you or to fit in. At Woodland, we work really hard to create a sense of belonging for all campers. This often brings a sense of relief, especially to our teens, who may find themselves living in a brutal world of comparison at school or on social media. After 6 weeks of spending quality time with the adult mentors at Woodland, the older campers are feeling more like their “true selves” again. Don’t believe me?! Join us for the Co-Ed Show put on by the CIT’s during the Final Weekend of camp come August. Confidence from each individual and the group as a whole is in abundance and is pretty cool to see!

The BEST Opportunity for Adult Mentorship?!

So, while the often tumultuous relationship with parents/caregivers during the teen years comes with the territory, the good news is that there are really awesome mentors who are able to build relationships with this age group and impact them in so many positive ways. And, even better news is that you don’t have to look any further…these people are waiting for your (teen) daugther/s at Camp Woodland. We are SO excited to meet her/them!


Now is a GREAT time to enroll your camper/s (especially TEENS!) for 2024 and reserve your spot/s so that your daughter/s have the opportunity to be supported by non-parent/caregiver mentors through the Camp Woodland experience! Sign up HERE:

Kids Need a Play-based Childhood 

Posted by on April 9, 2024

I started working at Camp Woodland in 1986 between my sophomore and junior years in college. Before that I rode my bike to/from school by myself at a very young age. I spent countless hours out and about with the neighborhood kids on our block. My siblings and I played kickball (until my Dad requested that we go to someone else’s yard or change games because we had “run” down all the grass between bases). My Mom would ring a bell when we needed to come home to get ready for dinner because we were most likely out of earshot. 

We had a one hour limit on the amount of TV we could watch each day (and nothing after 8 pm). My sister and I would set up the playroom in our basement to be a restaurant, school, or swimming pool so we could pretend to be servers, teachers, or lifeguards. While in elementary and jr high school, our parents dropped us off at the roller skating rink every Wednesday afternoon for a few hours where we would hang out with friends. I remember my growing up years full of fond memories of organic play. Nothing scheduled or contrived, just in-the-moment, make-your-own fun with whatever we could find, dream or imagine. Sound familiar? (I hope so!)

Little did I know then that the period from 1980-2010 was the decline of what is known as play-based childhood. As adults saw more photos of missing kids on milk cartons, heard stories of child predators, and felt a sense of distrust in the world in general, children started spending less and less time outside and engaging in unstructured play and social time. Safety became the number one concern which drove adults to watch/supervise kids in what now could be deemed as excess. 

Thankfully, there are people way smarter than me who have been studying these trends over the years, in particular a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Haidt. Jonathan was a keynote speaker at the CODA (Camp Director and Owner Association) pre-conference event prior to the American Camp Association’s National Conference in New Orleans in early February. He visually represented the data that was collected throughout his research for his latest book, The Anxious Generation, so that it was easy to see the direction a particular variable took over time on a graph. 

Haidt laid out compelling evidence that clearly shows play-based childhood has been replaced with a phone-based childhood in the years 2010-2015 (and beyond). In doing a quick (and non-scientific) Google search myself, 2023 data from multiple sources suggests that over 40% of US kids have a phone by the age of 10. This increases to over 90% by the time they turn 14. Kids today are turning to online games, engaging on social media, and partaking in mindless scrolling instead of playing in a local park, spending time with friends in person, and using their imaginations to create their own fun. Haidt calls this the “rewiring of childhood”. Not surprising, this is also when adolescents became notably more anxious, depressed, and fragile. Haidt shares in his book that play, including “risky” play, is needed to help kids develop confidence and competence that can help overcome childhood anxieties!

The contrast between play-based and phone-based childhood is starkly noted by the slope of a line on each graph starting around the year 2010. Even more mind-blowing is that every graph that was part of Haidt’s presentation had a big black vertical line through the data that marked the year 2012. He looked at the numbers of self-harm cases in youth (even as young as 10-14), completed suicides, major depression and other mental health challenges in kids both in the US and internationally. The clear inflection point shown in each graph came around the year 2012 (good stuff decreasing and bad stuff increasing). 

What else happened around that same time that can be linked to the sharp turns? His conjecture/observation is that it coincides with the birth of Instagram in 2010 and growing popularity of the social media app (especially in girls) in the following years. Here is a YouTube video of a similar presentation Jonathan Haidt gave at a different conference several months prior so that you can dive into this more and see/hear for yourself. You will probably want to hit pause and take notes frequently as there is a lot of information to take in and digest. If his talk had conference goers in New Orleans literally “buzzing” for several days (I’m not kidding!), it is well worth your time. 

Without turning this into the longest blog post ever, I’m going to jump to the important role camp plays as a solution to the “childhood rewiring” phenomenon. In his presentation to camp directors/owners, Jonathan Haidt recognized that camp offers a period of time for youth to get reprieve from a predominantly phone-based environment by being immersed in a play-based environment. Camp Woodland was founded by a family of educators who wholeheartedly believe that “play is the work of children.” Jean Piaget, Maria Montessori, and Fred Rogers are a few names that come to mind as having a similar sentiment. 

In his book, Haidt talks about several important features of human childhood, some of which include slow-growth, free play, attunement, and social learning. A play-based childhood fosters each of these important features, whereas a phone-based childhood does not. 

At Woodland, we like to say that “it takes a lot of slow to grow” and is a large part of the reason our full program is designed for a 6-week experience in order to receive the maximum benefit of allowing kids to develop at their own pace without being rushed or hurried. Once kids have acclimated to camp, we see growth accelerate as they now have a foundation in place to “take off” in both their physical (activities being learned) and social/emotional development (relationships being navigated). 

While we follow a schedule with campers taking six different activities at Woodland over the course of a typical day, free play is mixed into everything we do. Kids have a choice over which activities they are going to take and that in turn gives them autonomy for a large part of their time at camp. Another menu of choices is offered for evening activities several days a week that are usually centered around a given theme (Nature Week, Water Week, etc). There is a lot of free play that happens organically during activities (singing), transitions (running or skipping to the next activity), and down time spent with cabin groups as they often make up their own games (just ask the girls in Driftwood during 2023 about their “puppy parties”!).

Attunement can be described as the process by which we develop relationships. It is how we become “in tune” with others and build connections. Learning social cues for turn taking and timing of a response is an important aspect of attunement that is hard to come by when kids are interacting on their devices vs in person. By being part of a larger community at Woodland, kids are able to practice the art of listening to the stories and opinions of others and also contributing to the conversation without interrupting or dominating. This happens in the cabin, at meals, during activities, and walking with a friend to the next exciting adventure. 

We see social learning at Woodland as kids are in close proximity to really great role models and mentors. Counselors are a good example of this as they are “near peers” with a unique opportunity to have a positive influence on the campers (without being their parents – more on this in my next blog!). Kids really look up to the staff and even the oldest campers as they learn how to traverse the complexities of friend relationships, act in a group setting, and contribute to the overall camp community. 

It makes me sad to think that the rewiring of childhood through over-exposure to experiences that are detrimental to youth development is now part of a new “normal”. I am hopeful; however, that **choosing camp for kids is one of the solutions to this challenge**. The ecosystem we have at Woodland gives kids back their play-based childhood for up to six weeks of the year. We have always been rooted in play and always will be!

Coincidentally, the day I began writing this blog, I received an email with an introduction to the release of a book written by Bryn Lotting (a Wisconsin author) called “No Child Left Inside.”

You may also want to check out a previous blog, The Device Dilemma, that relates to the topics of this post.


Now is a GREAT time to enroll your camper/s for 2024 and reserve your spot/s so that your daughter/s have the opportunity to get back their play-based childhood through the Camp Woodland experience! Sign up HERE:

Camp Reinforces the Benefits of Seasonality

Posted by on March 26, 2024

A camp parent recently shared a guest essay from the New York Times (02-16-24) that gives insight into seasonality as a much needed break from the never ending cycle of working 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week, month after month, for a large portion of the year. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, when it was necessary to secure food by hunting and gathering (and later with the development of agriculture), there were periods of time (typically during the winter months) when there was a lull from the busier seasons of planting and harvesting.

With the onset of factories and mills, the seasonal periods of downtime became no more. This carried over into “office” jobs as well when the mindset became the more you worked, the more you could potentially produce or create. I think it is safe to say that the interruption of this during 2020 and 2021 caused a lot of people to “wake up” and realize that this never ending cycle of work without periods of rest is not sustainable. We witnessed first hand how those who were working full-time became (and probably already were) burned out.

So, you are probably wondering what this has to do with camp?! The summer break in the education world has been a topic of conversation that goes back decades with the introduction of year round schools. There have been a number of organized attempts to “save our summer” in various states for various reasons. Of course, the “summer learning loss” is a point that is argued as a reason not to take a big break from school during the summer months (I have been known to counter this notion and that spending time at camp actually contributes to a “summer surplus“!). If you follow the line of thinking around the benefits of seasonality that the NYT essay offers, it is easy to connect the dots to the reason why camp is absolutely the perfect solution to the rat race of school, activities and busy schedules from September to May.

For six glorious weeks at Camp Woodland, kids are able to enjoy the benefits of seasonality. Cal Newport (essay author) shares that, “Intense periods of cognition must be followed by quieter periods of mental rejuvenation. Energized creative breakthroughs must be supported by the slower incubation of new ideas.” Each minute at camp is a much needed break from the intensity of school and all that comes with that (homework, projects, tests, sports, clubs, music/art activities, etc. and sometimes a part-time job is added to the mix). Once campers settle into the routine of camp (the slower pace, regular meals, an active lifestyle, more sleep, a built-in friend group, no phone, etc.), it is amazing what the opportunity to regroup/recharge/reboot does for the overall health of each person!

Spending a summer at camp is literally a prescription for naturally combating stress and burnout. It truly is “what the doctor ordered.” The camp experience organically gives our young people the opportunity for mental rejuvenation. An important contributing factor to this vital mental rejuvenation is the sense of calm and peace that being in nature and the outdoors provides. After 40+ days of being in surrounded by the forest trees and natural lakes, you can’t help but downshift to a more reasonable pace and rhythm that reenergizes the spirit and allows for creativity to come out of hiding within individuals (and even flourish in the group setting!).

This quieter period during the summer allows for campers to return to the demands of school and family life having had time to unwind, reset, and enjoy the benefits of seasonality by being at camp in the Northwoods!


Now is a GREAT time to enroll your camper/s for 2024 and reserve your spot/s so that your daughter/s have the opportunity to reap the benefits of seasonality through the camp experience! Sign up HERE: