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Part Two: What I’ve Learned from Summer Camp

(…continued)

  • I’ve learned that a well-timed Silly Song can solve more problems than you’d think.
  • I’ve learned that we all come from different places but we can all be on the same journey together.
  • I’ve learned that there will never be enough time, money, or support. This is legitimate but can only go so far as an excuse.
  • I’ve learned that there is a season and a time for everything under the sun. Dance, mourn, laugh, weep, gather, scatter, embrace, refrain from embracing, come, go, and love the people you’re sharing it all with.
  • I’ve learned to always keep a roll of toilet paper in your backpack.
  • I’ve learned about what it entails to be a role model–and what you risk when you become one.
  • I’ve learned how a group of people becomes a family when they’re working for something bigger and better than themselves.
  • I’ve learned that there are many things in the world that it’s worth breaking your heart over. There are many stupid things that will make you feel like your heart is breaking. A best friend is there to cry with you for both. (Until you need a little nudge, or a full-on kick in the butt to put it all in perspective).
  • I’ve learned that being part of a family means apologizing when you mess up (and sometimes when you feel like you didn’t). But it also means that sometimes, you have to be the one to forgive first, without being asked. This is hard. People will tell you not to. Do it anyway.
  • I’ve learned that knowing people this closely and loving them this much means that you will sometimes be able to see where they’re struggling more clearly than they can. Sometimes you need to be bold and tell them. Sometimes you can only step back and let them, and make sure they know you’re there when they come back. Sometimes you won’t know which of those was necessary until you’ve done the wrong one. See: forgiveness.

(to be continued…)

Credit to Rita in Between

Part One: What I’ve Learned from Summer Camp

If I’m looking at where I’ve been and who it’s made me, I don’t feel like I could really start anywhere but camp. If you’ve ever spent four seconds in my presence, you might not be surprised by this. You also might not be surprised when I say that I actually wrote most of this a year ago and have been adding and editing and waiting for a good time to post ever since. Having it written was a pretty good motivator, but looking past that it still makes sense for me to look at and celebrate camp, as my fifth and final summer on Senior Staff comes to a close–the job I spent a majority of my life aspiring to, which somehow managed to shatter my expectations year after year. In another classic good-question move, Dina once asked senior staff, sitting around a campfire on the first night of training, “Why are you here?” I’d just finished my junior year of college. I took a second to think, but the answer that came out was something I never could have over-thought or planned. “I’m here because I love it here…because this is the place where I know that I am the best version of myself.”

So here is a thoroughly incomplete list of what I personally have learned about “being the best version of myself,” from 16 years of being at summer camp, and 8 summers as a counselor:

  • It was at camp that I first realized—internalized, truly understood and believed—that I am good at something. That I have gifts and they are worth sharing.
  • It was at camp that I learned how to care for and about kids. How important it is just to do the latter, because not enough people do. Camp is where I pieced together that whatever my life and my career look like, caring about and loving on kids is what I’m called to do. No more and no less.
  • I’ve learned that being happy is a choice. Having fun is a choice. And choosing it means taking risks and going out of your comfort zone even and especially when that is the last thing you feel like doing.
  • I’ve learned how to listen to kids. And adults. And that there shouldn’t be much of a difference.

    “Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.“–David Augsberg

  • I’ve learned that loving on and caring for kids is not something reserved for soft-spoken, demure women in holiday vests (though I can’t wait to wear those, and though it certainly isn’t restricted from such women). You can be loud, and crazy. You can dress weird. You can be a little rough around the edges on your own time. This is a camp lesson that might go unnoticed to many, but camp showed me that being fully dedicated to kids doesn’t mean fitting an image (that I, and most of us, don’t always fit); it means deciding to be fully present with kids and put them first. I think we as a society need to see that if we want to see our kids grow into people who love. I think kids need to see that they’re worth the attention of different kinds of people—because we don’t all relate to the same things. And I know I needed to see that because honestly, I’m not sure I could have believed that I did want to work with kids full-time without seeing that.
  • I’ve learned that Plan A will run late, supplies will be missing for Plan B, and everyone will miraculously forget what Plan C even was. The day can still be amazing.
  • Relatedly, I’ve learned that everything can be fun if you want it to be. Seriously, if you decide it’s going to be fun, you can literally tie a cone to a 15-year-old’s head and take kids “unicorn hunting” for like, TWO HOURS. Without going more than half a mile away. And they’ll tell you it was the best part of the week. You’ll be singing about it for years to come. Attitude is everything.

to be continued!

Credit to Rita in Between

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Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Making the transition from pre-school to Kindergarten can be challenging for a child who isn’t adequately prepared.

One of the greatest challenges in the young life of most children is making that initial big step into Kindergarten.  Many parents who have had their little ones in preschool may not be aware of the complexity of the skill set their child needs to enter Kindergarten and feel and be successful. With the introduction of the new Common Core Standards, the bar is being raised and children entering Kindergarten must be better prepared.  In recent years, California Kindergarten curriculum has shifted to become far more academically skewed than in past decades, and now, more than ever, it’s very important to have all children properly prepared for these greater new challenges.  To successfully excel in their new setting, children must achieve and master certain educational and social skills to adequately adapt and grow in a more accountable and often faster paced setting.

Some things to look for in the “Kindergarten-ready” child:

  • Can follow directions, work independently and attend to an activity for 10-15 minutes
  • Uses language to share own perspective and ideas, and answer questions
  • Recognizes and can name and write most upper case letters of alphabet
  • Holds a pencil with an adult grasp – 3 fingers with control of the pencil from the fingers
  • Able to learn and communicate in a group setting

All children benefit from learning in an environment that is emotionally safe and provides them the “just right learning challenge”, a challenge that is only slightly above their current capacity and one that is attainable. For many children the transition from preschool to kindergarten offers challenges that are not the “just right challenge”. The important thing to keep in mind here is that a child’s ability to learn academically, sit, look, listen and produce what’s being asked of them, is directly linked to the development of their neurological system. So how does a parent know if their child is ready? If after going over the check-list above, there is any doubt, the next step would be to gather insight and additional information from a speech and/or an occupational therapist trained to assess underlying foundational processing skills. If an assessment determines that a child might need some extra help in the fundamentals, then enrolling in a Kindergarten Readiness Camp during the summer prior to the beginning of the school term can provide summer fun while building the necessary skills.

To prepare kids for their new challenges, Child Success Center will be holding Kindergarten Readiness Camp in the summer of 2014.  Campers will enjoy a play based learning environment while acquiring skills in problem solving, flexible thinking, group collaboration and pre-reading and writing using the popular programs, Zoo Phonics, Social Thinking and Handwriting Without Tears. Our exciting indoor gym will be turned into a fun learning camp with swings, a trampoline, climbing wall and monkey bars to take campers on an adventure while building up their kindergarten skills.  

Presented as either individual weekly camps or a 2 week session, campers, in a small group, will spend over 20 hours a week involved in activities designed to help them develop the skills needed to excel in kindergarten. The program will help children develop confidence when taking the first steps toward making new friends, attending to a new routine and taking on the challenges of reading and writing.

For more details or to enroll, call Child Success Center at 310/899-9597 or e-mail: enroll@childsuccesscenter.com

Top 3 Reasons We Stopped Paying for SEO

by Matthew Smith, Director at Longacre in Newport, Pennsylvania

Introduction

Last week it was reported that Expedia, the travel website, was penalized by Google for artificially boosting traffic. “Penalized,” in this case, means Expedia’s ranking in the Google search results was sent tumbling. This is serious stuff – Expedia’s stock plunged 5%, apparently on the bad news.

This is the second time in as many months that Google has been in the news for penalizing a website. It’s not something new, though. Google has been doing it for years, just with less fanfare.

Fear of penalty was one of the reasons Longacre decided to fire its SEO firm. We made the decision in November, right after our last blog post here, “To SEO or Not to SEO.” (For a refresher on SEO, or search engine optimization, check it out.) In light of the Expedia news, we have decided to lay out our reasoning. Here are the three reasons Longacre stopped paying for SEO:

Reason #1 – Keywords

In SEO, the first thing you do is identify keywords, or keyword phrases, relevant to your website. The problem is, Longacre does not neatly fit into a keyword phrase. If you run a camp, maybe you target keyword phrases like “girls camp,” “sports camp,” or “community service travel program” – or, more probably, some variation of those with a longer tail. If keyword phrases work for you, that’s great. But we couldn’t find a keyword phrase that worked for us. We even considered something like, “summer camp growth experience,” but that sounds ridiculous, and nobody searches for it anyway. This problem, the keywords problem, wouldn’t go away.

Reason #2 – Gray Hat Techniques

The second reason is gray hat techniques. SEO techniques fall into three categories: white hat, black hat and gray hat. White hat techniques are those that Google tells you to do, and explains how to do. Your website needs white hat techniques to be properly read by the Google bots. Some of these techniques are pretty simple. We can do them ourselves without professional help.

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Black hat techniques are clear no-nos and are used to get an edge. They may boost your website’s ranking, but Google tells you not to do them, and if you’re caught, Google will penalize you. (In Expedia’s case, the company was caught paying other sites to link back to it.) Some black hat techniques were above-board in the past but now Google outright discourages them.

Gray hat techniques, the third category, are neither white nor black. They’re in the middle, although I think of them as moving toward black. These techniques have not specifically been identified by Google as no-nos, but you know they’re not consistent with the spirit of the search rankings. Google will probably name them in the future, it’s just a matter of when. Watching our SEO firm employ gray hat techniques filled me with a sense of dread: what happened to Expedia could happen to us at any time. 

Why, you might wonder, would an SEO firm employ gray hat techniques? Because they work. SEO firms use them to get results for their clients. Maybe it’s myopic, maybe it’s bad business, but it’s what I’ve seen. (It’s analogous to the stock market and the emphasis on short term profits.)

We could not let go of the possibility that Google would penalize us for failing to keep strictly to the straight and narrow.

Reason #3 – Opportunity Cost

The third reason is, there’s an opportunity cost to paying for SEO. I have a marketing budget and my partners hold me to it. If I’m paying for SEO, it means I’m not paying for other stuff. It’s not that SEO has zero value for us. It’s just that other investments should have more value.

There are two things I’m spending our SEO money on: user experience and public relations. Google has told you to make user experience a priority, and this makes sense: visitors to your site should find what they’re looking for. Your site should make visitors happy, not confused or frustrated.

Since Google now rewards us if our visitors are happy, we took some of the SEO money and hired a firm specializing in conversion rate optimization. We took the rest of the money and hired a public relations consultant. It takes nuance to communicate the value of the Longacre experience (more words than we can fit into a keyword phrase, at least) so media coverage about Longacre, or pieces referring to Longacre, could be very effective.

Although we now understand that success in PR can take years, we have already found value in the PR process itself. For example, we write more, posting to our own blog and blogs like this one; and writing, as it turns out, helps us tap into the national conversation. In the years to come, and in an era marked by rapid change, I expect our PR effort to help us stay relevant.

Closing

In the writing of this post, I thought to myself how scattered Longacre’s tactics have been since 2011, the year we began our venture into digital marketing. On the one hand, it’s indicative of what the learning curve has felt like. On the other hand, despite being outgunned by bigger camps and national brands, I feel lucky to be small enough to turn on a dime. If we realize something isn’t working, like paying for SEO, we can make a decision, shift gears and leave it behind.

Matthew Smith is a second-generation director at Longacre, which uses the summer to prepare ambitious teenagers for long term success. Matt blogs at CampEasy about Longacre’s venture into digital marketing. Follow him on Twitter @longacreleaders.