Congratulations to the new Heads of School:

On behalf of our Canadian organization, welcome and all the best for a successful year.

Dear Duncan and Alyson

A couple of blog posts ago, I reflected on the benefits of camp after reading Michael Thompson’s new book, Homesick and Happy.  Its theme is the importance of children needing to be away from their parents at camp to help them to grow.

Now that my kids have returned from Onondaga Camp and I have been able to reflect on their experience, I realize – more than ever! – the significance of Thompson’s book.  But I have found myself thinking too about the importance of individualized attention to both the camper and the parent.  We know from research that personal attention to students is often the number one reason that parents choose an independent school and students flourish in this environment.

So with summer drawing to a close, I thought that the letter below might remind us of the many specific ways that we can give kids the individualized attention they need, and deserve.

Dear Duncan and Alyson,

I have been meaning to write to you since my kids returned from camp.  I want you to know how much I value Onondaga Camp. As I wrote in my blog a couple of weeks ago when I read Homesick and Happy, I am a big believer in kids going to sleep-away camp.  But this summer I was so impressed with your leadership and your individualized contributions to my kids’ experience, that I want to thank you.  Here are some of the things I value most:

Thank you for greeting them by name.  They both told me you remembered them from last year. They returned home to us full of stories and laughter….about wakeboarding and water trampolines and the other campers, but you addressing them by name also made the report.  Funny how that personal attention is a detail yet makes such a difference.

Alyson, thank you for hugging them.  Thank you also for sending me emails with photos. Ask my family and colleagues – I was so excited to hear from you and always forwarded the photos.

Duncan, thank you for chicken burgers.  Yes, chicken burgers!  Both kids said a highlight of the summer was “the food.”  You may recall that Jacob wrote you a letter asking for chicken burgers to be reintroduced, and you wrote him back. He told me that you listened, and is there anything more important to a teenager?

Please pass on our thanks to your outstanding staff.  Both kids adored their counselors.  They told us they were “nice” and “fun” and obviously they inspired our kids who were proud to achieve different levels in their activities.  They also loved their paper plate awards.  How amazing that each kid is individually and authentically honoured.

Thank you for the phone call home when Kathleen had an ear infection – whoever called left us a zillion numbers and times to call. Same thing happened when Kathleen got a rope burn from tubing two years ago.  We were so reassured that we never returned the calls – we just knew Kathleen was in good hands.  She seemed to get more attention than even we would have given her!

We loved the phone call updates during their first week – how reassuring! – and we read and reread the cards from the counselors afterwards.   I appreciate all of the time your staff takes to connect with us and our kids.  What impressed me most was that the cards were so specific to my kids – no cutting and pasting with your staff.

I know you give this kind of attention to each of your campers, and there are hundreds of parents who feel the way I do.  Our friends admitted to us that when they forgot some of their daughter’s stuff in the cabin, it was delivered TO THEIR DOOR STEP IN ANCASTER.  Really?  You are a cabin-floor-to-the-city-door service…thanks for going WAY above and beyond with your personal attention to every family.

Now that they’re home, Kathleen drives us a bit crazy with her hand clapping and singing, and Jacob is still slightly obsessed about not getting his gold badge in cross-bow, but when I really stop and think about it, would I want them any other way?

Your kids are still young, so maybe you don’t yet know what a gift it is to have someone other than family give your children special care.

Onondaga Camp is amazing because of your leadership – your personalized attention to individual children and parents – and we cannot thank you enough.

Your fans,

Anne-Marie and Kevin

PS – Can’t wait to experience camp myself this fall when our CAIS Middle School students are there.  See you then.

Confessions of a recovering helicopter parent

I sometimes worry that my daughter lacks ambition…. That she should think more often about her future…. She is a smart and outgoing girl who will do well in life, so just imagine what she could do if she just worked a little bit harder and aimed a little bit higher.

I confess that this is one of my tensions – I want the best for her. But what does best mean? I want her to be happy, but I also want her to be successful later in life. I think that in order to be successful, there are some things she could start doing now. So with this in mind, I will share my conversation with her this week.

Over dinner, the kids asked if they could do an out of school activity this year. They know that Kevin and I can be somewhat anti-evening activity – we believe that kids need down time with their families in the evening – but I was pleased with their ambition. I suggested that they find something that combined their passion and excellence. Kathleen confidently stated that she wanted to take gymnastics lessons. Now, my Kathleen is neither passionate nor excellent at gymnastics. So, again, thinking I was being helpful, I suggested that she consider something else. I went so far as to tell her that it is a competitive world and she should really be thinking about something that she could excel at. My daughter got teary eyed, so Kevin and I skillfully switched subjects.

After dinner, alone with Kathleen, I quietly said, “I noticed that you seemed to get a bit sad during that conversation at dinner.” To that, she looked me straight in the eyes and, again, confidently, stated, “I just want to have fun!”

So I read with interest the New York Times review of Madeline Levine’s new book Teach your Children Well, published July 24th, which concluded with the following:

“After all, as Levine notes, the inconvenient truth remains that not every child can be shaped and accelerated into Harvard material. But all kids can have their spirits broken, depression induced and anxiety stoked by too much stress, too little downtime and too much attention given to external factors that make them look good to an audience of appraising eyes but leave them feeling rotten inside.”

In her book, Levine criticizes parents for “cultivating competitive greatness” and has a clear message – that, essentially, everything today’s parents think they’re doing right is actually wrong. She believes that parents must behave differently.

I’m not sure why I feel this need to push my daughter, and I still want to find ways to encourage her to aim higher. But I think Levine is really on to something, and I am guilty.

So I am happy to report that, thanks to my daughter, I am rethinking what it means to be a success. And I am even happier to report that Kathleen will be enrolled in gymnastics this fall.