Expert Advice, Stories, S'Mores

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.

Sell Camp Spaces with Smart Facebook Posts

by Travis Allison http://camphacker.tv

Great content equals great campers

Using a social network such as Facebook can seem like an easy way to reach new campers. Many camps are posting a lot of material on their Facebook pages in hopes that they get new families.

Instead, what they are often finding is that there is a lot of effort but little return on the investment (in time and staff salary). And, while their Facebook efforts may work well at building community within their existing camper population, they are doing little to help reach new campers.

(photo by Travis Allison, CampHacker.TV)

One of the classic struggles in summer camp marketing is how to use inexpensive marketing tools to reach families who do not already come to camp. Camps often tell me that they have no way of knowing where they are new campers come from, or how they first heard about camp.

I believe, that, with some conscientious strategic thinking camps can be incredibly effective at finding new campers using Facebook.

Focus on what parents need to know

We must, as summer camp professionals, consider what it’s like to be a family that has no camp experience in their background.

This means that we must think about all of the things that they need to know in order to be comfortable with sending their children away with strangers.

First of all, we must emphasize how far we go to make sure the campers are safe. We must use the power of photos and videos on Facebook to make sure this message is incredibly clear. Don’t only show campers wearing life jackets while in a canoe but you show staff demonstrating how to put them on.

I like to remind camp leaders that parents will be concerned about their children’s very basic needs. Because of this, we must show how we meet those needs. I love to encourage’s to tell a visual story of how a meal is prepared at camp and then what it is like for a child in the dining hall. At every step it’s important to emphasize that the staff and counsellors will be checking to make sure that each child gets enough to eat and that the food they eat is healthy.

I also think we should do everything we can to show parents what it’s like at night for their children. This means demonstrating that we make sure they brush their teeth, make sure they go to the bathroom, and then do not simply drop the children off at the cabin and leave. Parents need to see that their children are well looked after at a time when those campers would be most nervous.

Demonstrating to parents that their children’s safety is our prime concern is incredibly important and, luckily, Facebook makes it easy to “show, don’t tell” that story.

Taking Thoreau into the woods — deliberately. By Justine Whelan

Madeline Benjamin went into the woods to live deliberately.

As a summer counselor at Camp Takodah in the woods of New Hampshire, Benjamin led a group of teenage girls in a non-traditional learning experience that she based off of the theory and thought of perhaps the ultimate camp counselor—Henry David Thoreau.  

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Benjamin belongs to the Monroe Scholars community at William & Mary, the top 7 percent of the student body. Sponsored by the Roy R. Charles Center, each year these scholars delve into their academic passions to learn for learning’s sake. Along with other Monroe Scholars, Benjamin presented her project, “Cass: An Application of Thoreau’s Walden to a Summer at Camp,” in the annual Summer Research Symposium sponsored by the Charles Center.

“When I was kind of brainstorming ideas for what I wanted to do my Monroe project on, I wanted to find a way to put to paper the value that I saw in summer camp,” says Benjamin. Camp Takodah, where she spent her childhood as a camper and went on to become a seasoned counselor, seemed like the perfect venue.

Thoreau’s works, specifically Walden; or, Life in the Woods, sets forth the Transcendentalist notion of self-reliance as the path to personal betterment and self-directed education.

“The project was designed to be an application of a different sort of learning ideology that I saw reflected in readings I’d done by Thoreau,” said Benjamin, a member of the class of 2014.

Benjamin immersed herself in readings by Thoreau and literary critics to build what she calls a toolbag of knowledge that she took with her and implemented at camp. From the work of critic J.P. Miller, Benjamin identified seven major tenets of Thoreauvian thought on education and applied them to her instructional role as a camp counselor. Two that she focused primarily upon were “Learning by Doing” and “Un-learning.”

“I employed that in terms of working with my girls in that I would organize an activity and then step back; to introduce a task and then let them problem solve their ways around it,” says Benjamin.

She recalls struggling to remain passive and silent as she watched her campers struggle to learn how to build a fire in the rain.

Her natural tendency was to step in and instruct, to take over and show them how it’s done she says, but she knew she had to let them get frustrated and argue while having to deal with sodden wood and sticks from a previous rainstorm. For a while, she says, it didn’t look like they were going to be able to pull it off.

But she gave them lots of time and no advice, and at the end of the night they had a hot fire and warm dinner.

“It was so hard because they were girls that aren’t used to messing up or not knowing what to do next. When they got it, they actually felt like they had accomplished something,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin believes summer camps and other similar learning spaces fill a void that exists in traditional school systems.  

“No one feels that feeling of accomplishment because they completed the five-paragraph essay,” says Benjamin. “You don’t come to complete that through your own learning experience, it’s just something that you have to do.”

Robert Scholnick, professor of English and American studies, advised Benjamin throughout her project. She says she initially sought out Scholnick because of his specialization in Thoreau and the greater American Renaissance. Benjamin later came to learn however that  that Scholnick himself had lived in Thoreau’s hometown, and later met his wife while working at a New England summer camp.

“It was a lovely and fitting surprise to discover our shared love and excitement for both the region and the learning experience that is camp,” says Benjamin of the partnership.

Like all of the Monroe Scholars, she documented her experiences in a blog, noting the application of Thoreauvian lessons to the most mundane of camp maintenance chore.

Benjamin’s Monroe Project took Walden, the original self-improvement book, and brought its lessons to her campers, her university, and most importantly, at least according to its illustrious author, herself.

Justine Whelan is a senior English major at the College of William and Mary. She began her internship at Ideation in October 2011, and has loved meeting the researchers and learning about their work. As she prepares to graduate, she looks forward to moving back to D.C. and getting a career started in public relations. In the meantime, you can find her hibernating for the winter with a good book next to her fireplace. 

Source - College of William and Mary