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Here They Come!

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The countdown is just about over! It was great sharing our special community with grownups today; and in just one more day, The Ranch will transform into what it was designed for – the most amazing place on earth for kids to practice growing up while having the time of their lives!

So how do adults get to have all that fun? It’s quite simple: by logging on to Coleman Town, where each day we post several hundred photos, video, and behind-the-scenes blog accounts of the day’s events. (Of course, if that’s not enough for you, there’s also Facebook, where Ross chronicles previews of what’s about to knock our socks off next!)

While we go to extreme lengths to capture as many campers as we can daily (there are two full-time photographers plus my camera is always around my neck!) because we know you want to see your own child, it’s just impossible for our CCDC paparazzi to get everyone every day, despite their carefully plotted routes!

Enjoy taking in the panorama of what’s going on here on The Ranch, and know that your child, whether you see him or not on a given day in the photo gallery, is the luckiest child in the world because you’ve given him the gift of Coleman Country.

Know also that we’re trying our absolute best to provide you with the photos we know you want to create your own 2011 album!

And one more tip: don’t get behind in pulling those pictures when you come across them – or you’ll never catch up; because by the end of the summer there will be about 30,000 of them (no, that’s not a typo!), along with lots of video. I encourage you to start creating this priceless memento now.

Look at the smiles on these faces… they know what’s coming!

Until we meet again…

Happy Trails!



Follow Me

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You know camp is around the bend when Denver dives into the pool! Last week he invited cousin Ringo to polish his dog paddle skills in preparation for his Red Bracelet challenge, as the two competed in Memorial Day races! Word is that the heat is on… (in the pools that is).

Places, everyone. The Ranch is spruced, the forms are filed (you sent them in, didn’t you?!), and the GaGa balls are brand new.

Nothing, however, is more exciting than welcoming our staff back as they learn about how they can positively impact the lives of their campers –“our” kids. I think that if we had to choose one defining difference to distinguish Coleman Country, it would be our commitment to providing our counselors with the best tools possible to help our children become their best selves.

One of those assets is Jay Frankel, a master trainer whose “True to Life Training” helps counselors identify “turning points,” those critical and decisive moments that can make a difference in a child’s self-confidence, expectations, self-worth, and goals. In fact, our theme, “Follow Me,” underscores that it is our actions that matter most and that set the tone for children figuring out how to not just feel good about themselves but to be good citizens. Jay’s actors bring that point home poignantly as they role-play situations that are bound to occur in real life.

You see, adults can’t really “legislate” no bullying. But we can and do model what a bully-free community looks like!  We teach our children what is okay and what is not okay so that they can be inoculated against being a target, a bully, or even a bystander. That’s what we mean when we say, “Follow Me.”

I’ll be sharing tips here to support parents in the shared endeavor of showing children what it looks like to be caring, compassionate, and cooperative. Come back regularly to our blog, Happy Trails, (or subscribe to our RSS feed), to hear what we’re doing and saying on The Ranch to encourage our kids to be resilient and successful.

Until we meet again…

Happy Trails,


Remembering Maverick: More than just a dog, a dear friend

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It is with great sadness that we share the news that Maverick, one of our beloved camp dogs, has died.  In his 15 wonderful years at Coleman Country, he touched many lives, and for many Coleman Country campers, Maverick was “their” pet.

Maverick was the quintessential camp dog.  When he first came to Coleman Country, he was just seven months old, but he fit in right away.  Campers loved Maverick, and Maverick L-O-V-E-loved campers.  No adoring mob was too big, no amount of toddlers tugging on his tail was too many.

In the 15 years since, “Mav” (as so many called him) greeted literally thousands of visitors to The Ranch.  And for hundreds of children, he was the first dog they ever had the courage to pet.

Without a doubt, we’ll all miss Maverick.  And to those to whom he was most dear, we know that for you, as for us, this can be extremely difficult and sad news – and it can be especially hard for children who have not had to deal with death before.

For all of us, it can be of some comfort to take a little while and savor our best memories of Maverick.  One of our favorites is the day Maverick welcomed his then-new nephew, Denver, home to Coleman Country for the first time.  “Denny” was so small, he was barely taller than the grass they played in together.  And then there are all the adorable things Mav did that made us feel so lucky to have him – crossing his front legs all prim-and-proper-like when he laid down, getting up on his haunches to give a camper a hug, or performing a trick we’ve never, ever seen any other dog do: “smiling” on command with a big grin and a mouth full of teeth.

And of course, there are many, many more of these fond memories.  In fact, there’s at least one for every Coleman Family Camps camper, counselor, alumnus and family member, and even every person who’s ever visited The Ranch .

And for those memories, we want to extend to you our sincerest thanks for being a part of the extraordinary life of our beloved family member.

We’d also like to ask for your help in commemorating Maverick’s impressive 105 “dog years” with us.  If you have any memories you’d like to share, we invite you to post a note or photo to our Facebook wall, or send letters, poems, crafts, and other remembrances to the Coleman Country office.

Though each of our camp families will want to deal with this news in their own way, may we humbly suggest that it may not be constructive to keep the fact of Maverick’s passing from young children who knew him.  Addressing it gently – but directly – can be useful, and there is benefit to be derived from facing Maverick’s death and then indulging in revisiting our happy memories of him.

At the start of the Summer of 2011, we’ll be rededicating Maverick’s Meander, the network of nature paths that crisscross the Outback of The Ranch.  As with Hampton’s Pond, named for Coleman Country’s first mascot, Hampton, the Meander will help us all remember Maverick’s part in the ever-growing story of Coleman Country.

Thanks again for being part of Maverick’s extended family.  Please feel free to stop by The Ranch this summer and visit with Maverick’s nephew, Denver, who will be celebrating his 11th season at Coleman Country; and with Ringo, Mav’s and Denny’s cousin, who often visits with Denver on the weekdays.


The Coleman Family

The Coleman Family


Follow Me

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Each winter, we brainstorm a theme for the upcoming summer. First we think about the prosocial value that we want to be the “drumbeat” of camp for the summer. Then we try to find a catchy phrase that we can weave into staff training, programming, and everyday actions to create a tapestry of caring. We’re very intentional about this process because we firmly believe (and research bears out) that qualities that are shared by a community are embraced by that community.

At Coleman Country, our goal is to help children grow into successful and happy adults, and that requires character development as well as skill-building.  We’ve long held the opinion that coaching good citizenship requires three components: first the language that defines the character trait; next the awareness of what it looks and feels like, and then finally some tools to hone the new emotional skill.

We already know that while most “top-down” programs to enforce no bullying, for example, look promising, they often fall short. (In a recent article, NEA Today referred to the “mythology of bullying.”) The reality is that we can’t depend on adults to constantly monitor zero tolerance or conduct peer mediation or even to inflate self-esteem as a protective measure. Instead, we need children to see first-hand what treating each other respectfully should look like; a whole culture shift has to happen.

The great thing about camp is that it is a place where everyone feels that they are loved and that they belong and contribute, so it’s safe to try out new behaviors – we like to call it an intentionally sculpted community. In other words, we can decide what is okay and what is not okay; and then we can expect adults and children to honor those codes of behavior.

So, drumroll:  “Follow Me” will be the watchwords on The Ranch in 2011, a reminder to each of us that it’s not what we say but what we do that counts. Actions speak louder than words. Leading by example, doing the right thing, making good choices, performing good deeds, showing compassion….

Think about the positive role models in your own life. You learned by watching them comport themselves in ways that demonstrated integrity, courage, resilience, respect, fairness, responsibility, and tolerance.

Mahatma Gandhi said it: “You have to be the change you want to see in the world.”

FOLLOW ME… it’s a powerful mantra.


Camp is an Answer

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Anyone who has witnessed the magical influence of the camp environment knows that we have to advocate in every way possible for camp. I have to join the conversation, “Education Nation,” to add my voice to what every camp parent knows anecdotally – camp is a classroom without walls, a learning environment close to nature, with authentic human connections and unlimited opportunities to practice growing up.

Children succeed because of their role models, not because of the length of their school day. They thrive thanks to their teachers or their counselors, who motivate them to become learners.

With all due respect to educators and legislators who are trying to find the answers, we don’t need more time to teach to the test.  Rather, our conversation about education reform needs to consider the whole child — the art of camp, with its social education, is a vital complementary component to the science of school’s lessons.

Children need to be productive, to feel connected, and to learn to navigate on their own. The answers will follow.

Thousands of our colleagues across the nation will attest to the power of camp. No grades. No permanent records. Just authentic connections to the real world. Play is the work of childhood; it’s how children invent and re-invent themselves, find their place in the universe, and learn what they are good at and where they need to practice. Life is the quintessential test tomorrow’s leaders need to pass.

“Waiting for Superman,” the newly released documentary dedicated to fixing education in America, calls to mind one of the most compelling quotes we ever received from a camp parent:  “For Alex, putting on his camp tee shirt was like changing into a Superman cape.” Our children may all be ranked 24th in the world in math skills, but I can tell you that those who  go to camp are Number 1 in self-confidence, resilience, and critical thinking skills.

School and camp are the yin and yang of education, interconnected parts that together advance bona fide academic achievement.  We get it. We need to make sure that those who haven’t had the benefit of a camp experience come to understand its unique value in educating American children.

Happy Trails!


The “End of Camp” Blues

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It’s here. Today was filled with laughter and with tears.  With hugs and with Sharpies. We wanted the Summer of 2010 to last forever.

But eventually the numbers  2- 0- 1- 0 “burned down.” We sealed the summer’s memories and achievements arm-in-arm as we sang “Coleman  Country” for the last time together in 2010, and we reluctantly went off to our buses when we heard the last refrains of “Happy Trails.”

I have three words of advice: rejoice, validate, and listen!

Rejoice in the reality that your child has grown physically, emotionally, and socially this summer, and that you made it happen by choosing Coleman Country. You gave your child an edge – and a fabulous summer!

Validate the feelings of sadness that camp is over for a while.  Be open and available to talk about camp. Share your own feelings and observations about your camper’s accomplishments. Normalize the sense of loss.

And listen, listen, listen: keep the pace slow for a few days, linger over family dinners, ask lots of questions – What was your favorite moment at camp? What will you miss most about camp? Talk about their friends… even their challenges and especially their triumphs. (By the way, we’d love for you to share some of these conversations with us, either at the bottom of this post or at Blog@ColemanCountry.com).

Next summer isn’t far away!

Until we meet again…

Happy Trails!


Olympics: A Frenzy of Fellowship

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Did you happen to see the story yesterday in the New York Times, Red vs. White?  Very timely as we enter the first day of Olympics, our version of Color War (we’d rather pattern these spirited days on a festival than a conflict).

Whatever you call it, it is a blitz of competition that is so steeped in tradition that even the reporter “got it.” And, like all other aspects of camp, it has a purpose: to lock in the summer’s memories with rituals that tether us to the community we love – and keep us connected “until we meet again” next summer. It is as though there is an invisible tapestry keeping us linked.

That’s why this week counselors will be helping their campers say goodbye in many subtle but important ways.  It starts with Olympics (tomorrow, campers will get their Red or Tan bandana which they are encouraged to wear- along with team colors – through Thursday when the Games conclude), and it continues with group projects that include such things as designating a certain tree that is theirs with a ceremony, harvesting the vegetables from the “Stand Up” Garden, putting the finishing touches on “Rock Town,” or visiting their “group rock” in the Friendship Garden.

Certificates of achievement, group photos, and bandanas are among the tangible items that help consecrate the summer of 2010. I encourage you to label (and maybe even decorate) a memory box to hold the precious mementos, which might even include a Rodeo giveaway or a craft project (is there one that you “love” but just cannot quite find a suitable “home” for?!) Think of it as a personal time capsule!

Transitions are always a challenge and even more difficult when a community is about to disband, even though it is temporary.  And with transitions come anxieties. Adults and children alike are getting ready to separate from friends, from established routines, and from what has come to feel like a safe environment, because there are no overlaying pressures such as a test for the child or a carpool schedule for the adult.

There is a saying among camp people that is mentioned in the Times article: 10-4-2. You live 10 months for the 2 months of camp.

Don’t be afraid to share your own thoughts of sadness that the summer is drawing to a close; that conversation not only affirms your children’s own feelings but helps them realize that they are experiencing a normal passage. Neglecting this mood compels children to find their own ways to manage their sense of loss.

We’re on the lookout for opportunities for closure here on The Ranch; I urge you to do the same at home: reminisce, reflect, laugh, and find ways to tie a metaphorical ribbon around this summer. It’s the glue that binds us.

Happy Trails!


The Flags are Missing

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The flags are missing from atop the Dream Dome.  The kids are all excited because they know what that means: the next time the red and tan flags appear, Olympics will have “broken.” And they know what THAT means: more fun and spirit than you can imagine. And what THAT means: in about a week, the flags will be red and tan combined, signifying that we are reunited as one community. And then the bittersweet reality: the end of a glorious summer.

There’s something to be said for rituals. The predictability and familiarity are comforting and empowering for children (and for adults, too!).  And we are very deliberate about the structure of these last days of camp, because we know our job includes helping our campers transition from camp to school.

As I know you know, nothing happens by chance around here! We are very intentional, and everything we do has a goal behind it.

So today, we let our hair down; it’s the stuff that camp is made of. Not only was it “Filthy Friday,” i.e., get as dirty as you can, but Colemania  (it was today!) took center stage with its tons of uncongealed JELL-O.  Yes, it was intentionally very messy around here today! We splattered in JELL-O, ran the “Slopstacle Course,” and swam in spaghetti. Now, if that doesn’t get us ready for school, what does?!

The yin and yang of growing up. The sticking point is the transition between them.

Summer is drawing to a close.  Soon, we’ll be embracing still more traditions and rituals – the ones that signal our temporary good-byes. Please come back to “Happy Trails” next week because I’d like to share some tips on how you can help your child (and yourself!) make the adjustment from camp to school. I can tell you that for children, there is a sense of impending loss of connection from routines, friends, and activities (and I would predict it is the same for you!).

In the meantime, have a great weekend and label the growth you’ve seen in your camper with specific words. You might want to think of a family project to get a jump start on marking the reconnection of your own family unit – perhaps with a project, a game night, or a family outing.

This activity would ideally seal the memories that each of you takes with you forever from the Summer of 2010.

Until next week…

Happy Trails!


Cell-ebrate: Unplugging at Camp

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Howdy Kinfolk,

This could be a touchy subject, but I feel that after six great weeks together, I can say it – trust us wholly, and relax that for eight precious weeks you do not need to keep your child tethered to you with a cell phone.  While we are very firm that there are no cell phones (or texting from camp), occasionally an older camper will have one in a backpack as a crutch to call Mom or Dad when something doesn’t go exactly his or her way.

It’s a trap, parents! Not only do you not need to rescue your camper, you shouldn’t! And you definitely should not tell your camper to bring it “just in case.…”  (Every bus has a cell phone for emergencies and once at camp, we are all connected by land lines.) The unspoken message there is that she can’t be safe unless a parent is there to solve the problem. (Are you planning to be her roommate in college?! Or move in when he gets married?!)

One of the greatest things camp does for kids, besides giving them the time of their lives, is the opportunity to learn to navigate on their own – recognizing that they can depend on themselves to fix a problem they are encountering at the moment; to use their own voice, to “Stand Up”.

What better place to practice growing up than here on The Ranch – where it’s virtually impossible to make a bad choice, where counselors are trained to coach and support their campers, where an emotionally and physically safe community has been created?

I urge you: don’t miss this window of opportunity. Where else can a child truly get away from it all and learn to stand on his own feet – and build a stronger brain of her own? Did you know that kids spending more than 6 hours daily in some sort of solitary media environment during the school year? Enter camp, a totally unplugged environment.

A recent article, “Can You Hear Me Now? Not if You’re at Summer Camp,” quotes a mom saying that she would pay extra for a tech-restricted camp experience! She explains that the first time she took her son to camp (a camp where parents drove their campers), he was on his iPod Touch the entire car ride, but the second time they made the drive, he didn’t even bring it in the car.

It’s really interesting, but just the other day I realized how nice that feeling is. Throughout the summer, I tell my friends not to call me on my cell phone because I never use it, even when I am in the office; and I never gave that comment much thought until now. It has dawned on me that I, too, unplug during camp – and it is freeing!

Eight prized weeks.  No electronic umbilical cord! Rejoice, and let go.

Everyone knows you don’t need – or even want – a phone in Coleman Country.

Happy Trails!


The Power of Fun

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I was planning to blog about something different, but when I was out on The Ranch this morning during bus arrival, I was moved by a singular sight: children holding hands. (Take a look at Marla’s Pic[k]s today, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

Where else do 11-year-old girls walk together holding hands?! Or male counselors feel comfortable and connected enough to dress up and dance to “Copacabana”?!  Singing takes the place of texting, and cheering is what you do to encourage someone rather than laughing at him. Four-year-olds understand the meaning of the word “respect.”  Where else do shy children take center stage and “Jump In” holding a microphone?

It’s because we’re truly one big family, a connected community; we share a culture of compassion on The Ranch.

Where else do children get to practice “habits of the heart?” They did it yesterday with gusto when they swam their hearts out to send underprivileged children to camp. Whether they could swim or not, they racked up the laps with whatever aid was needed – their own power or a barbell or a swim instructor.  At the end of the day, earning 10 cents a lap which the Coleman family pledged on their behalf, they had amassed $2,000 (yes, we rounded it up!) for Morry’s Camp.

Also, yesterday, we were joined by two counselors from South Africa. Mbali and Mdu will be here for the remainder of the summer, sharing their spirit.  (Ross, Pam, and Tony met them last year when they volunteered at their camp.) Today, the pair started making their way around divisions introducing themselves with the now famous “Jump In” song that originated at Camp Sizanani in Soweto. The Pioneers were delighted when they recognized the song they have been singing all summer!

Speaking of spirit, it was off the charts today – and on top of the tables – in the Chow Hall when Mbali and Mdu taught Pardners some chants like G-R-O-O-V-Y, and they taught them “Shake your booty.”  As G3-3 Counselor Erika put it, “We show them the Coleman Way and they show us their way.”

We’re literally and figuratively holding hands around the world, opening our hearts, sharing our good fortune. And showing each other love.

Now that’s what I call the power of fun!