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Director’s Annual Commentary

Autumn 2011: A Decade of Reports


Eleven autumns ago, I wrote my first post-camp essay, which I dubbed the "Kingswood State of the Union." Over the course of the past few days, I have reviewed every word of these efforts and have come away with one startling notion: I WOULD NOT WITHDRAW A SINGLE SENTENCE, or barely edit any of the commentaries. No question but that the Kingswood philosophy has hardened over the years. The 2009 Kingswood Quiz, for example, is duck soup to most boys. They know how Kingswood works and expect one summer to be no different from any beforehand. Newcomers quickly catch on to the friendly process of camp cultural assimilation. Most gratifying, let me tell you.

I've got a lot of camp left in me, despite my now being two generations removed from some of the boys. However, before I commence the next decade worth of ramblings, best that I endeavor to organize the commentaries up to this point. Below I have given each year's letter an underlined title (linked to the full article - just click on it), beneath which are bulleted quotations in order of their appearance. Use this index to reaffirm that your philosophical underpinnings match up nicely with those of Kingswood.

2000: A Camp of Good Kids

  • At Kingswood, we can afford to be selective and we are. Rowdies, brutes and insensitive dolts need not apply.
  • However, ours is not a perfect community (yet) and we certainly are open to your criticisms, recommendations and requests. Autumn is by far the best time for camp feedback and evaluation.

2001: The Importance of Free Play

  • The point of this Stealth story is that boys truly enjoy low regimentation activities with some, but not too much, structure.
  • At Kingswood, we believe kids indeed need freedom, not in its absolute sense, but with parameters -- common sense rules and timely supervision.
  • For the most part, the staff falls back into a "zone defense," (Honestly, that's what we call it!) to be certain adult eyes and ears have the campground thoroughly scoped.

2002: The Staff is Everything

  • I tell counselors, "Parents who send their sons to Kingswood expect you to engage, protect, cajole, remind, discipline, counsel, teach, comfort and befriend their precious children.
  • Make believe that your every action in the presence of boys is being video taped.

2003: An Inclusive Camp Community

  • At Kingswood we truly labor to attract wholesome boys to our midst, even if it means a few beds go wanting in any given year. "I fish ponds very carefully," I tell prospective families.
  • Human values are the driving force and truly the grounding of our philosophy.
  • All these little gestures added up to the point where everybody knew everybody else at Kingswood and mirth became evenly distributed!
  • A summer of not so perfect weather saw us hardening our position as an "out of doors" camp.

2004: The Professionalization of Childhood

  • David Brooks identifies the liability crisis afflicting all youth organizations in America today.
  • First, maintain a keen supervision every waking hour and especially during down time and while off-campus.
  • Second, always follow Plan A - that is, stick with the approved (and always time-tested) program.
  • Every parent professes to absolutely know what is best for his child and some are hesitant to accept time-honored guidance from educators and other child specialists.
  • The other hard sell with parents is to convince them there's plenty of time next school year and down the road for developing professional skills, resume building and networking future contacts.

2005: Multigenerational Influences on Youngsters

  • We notice great interplay and influence-peddling among and between every age group from the grizzled administration to the youngest sandcastle builders.
  • The directorship at Kingswood, however, prefers the bully pulpit to remain the proprietorship of everyone.
  • In fact, there are so many Kingswood ways of doing things that routine itself becomes ritual.
  • That tradition of expectation - call it ritual if you please --is an overwhelming force at camp and it explains everything from good sportsmanship on the ball fields, to hiking with a swagger despite feeling some physical discomfort, to making friends in the cabins with boys of differing temperaments and interests.

2006: The Beauty of a Skinned Knee

  • "To love something is to give it room enough to grow."
  • That same evening, we had another campfire where I squared the ledger by contributing numerous examples of "those wonderful hardships" associated with experiences away from home, hiking trips as well as other hurdles cleared by many boys at camp.
  • "Losing provides a far better character check than does winning."
  • This is where parents can and must learn to be very discerning. First, they have to accept the notion that some risk, some discomfort, some momentary failure is not only good but great for their kids. After that, however, they must select child supervisors whom they trust.
  • I think most kids are ahead of the parent curve on the skinned knee scale.
  • A decentralization of parenthood can begin as soon as mom and dad sense their child is old enough to assimilate real life experiences.

2007: The Morality Dialogue

  • "Bow & Arrow was a good week because we as a community wanted it to be that way."
  • Discussions about integrity and civility, while surely terrific, pale by comparison to your own acts of honesty and kindness. Indeed, your every move is being scrutinized by your kids.
  • Children this age want to live inside an untouchable zone where no one, mom and dad especially, have any influence over them. Obviously, though, you cannot just cede them this territory.
  • Of course there must be some rules regarding any dialogues between children and their parents. Kids can get quite manipulative when it comes to discussing the whats and whys of their behavior. The trick is to acknowledge their ultimate freedom of choice, but remain vested in the outcome.
  • I think another really good rule of engagement is to let your children know that you intend to respect and follow the advice given to you by their educators and other role models. So should they.
  • Lastly, I think an important component of your filial dialogue is the acknowledgment that just about all kids feel entitled in their own homes. â€? You've got to get him to see that once out the door, the rules of moral engagement change.

2008: Clean Mirth

  • SIMPLENESS: Unpretentious pleasures trump materialism.
  • GENTLENESS: "To make a friend, you have to be a friend."
  • HONOR: With honor comes high respect and esteem. An honorable person brings credit to himself, usually by adhering to conventional standards of conduct. At Kingswood, we talk more about honor, again without necessarily defining it, than any other virtue.
  • CLEAN MIRTH: How sweet that must be! To be certain, I consulted a dictionary where "mirth" was defined as "amusement, especially as in expressed with laughter." But, I looked up the word "clean" as well and when I found "clean" to mean "morally uncontaminated, pure, innocent, and not sexually offensive or obscene,"

2009: A Kingswood Quiz

  • Sunday mornings officially are quiet time at Kingswood.
  • By 11:00 am, the work should be finished, whereupon each cabin selects a private spot where they can meet without interruption.
  • The following multiple choice quiz should be a bit of fun, especially to those Kingswood veterans with several summers' worth of Sunday morning meetings to their historical credit.
  • While many of the questions have more than one correct answer, there is a standard Kingswood response known fairly well by those who have been paying attention at those Sunday gatherings.
  • To those new to Kingswood, be assured that it will not take long for you to discover the so-called "company line," as most boys rapidly pick up on the wisdom of Kingswood's ways.

2010: Determining the Right Length of Time for a Child to Spend at Camp

  • As tenure increases, so does the assimilated value of the camp experience. However, each of Kingswood's session options is, for good reasons, a "Can do."
  • All kids, regardless of their temperamental stripes, take several days to completely acclimate to being away from home. Most are a tad homesick.
  • "The tipping point is three weeks," argued my son Rob at one morning administrative gathering this summer. "So and so seemed a bit out of his comfort zone for almost two weeks - then, out of the blue, he was making friends and loving camp."
  • Knowing as we do that by the end of the third week just about all campers are on a roll, the staff now is in a position to use that fourth week to completely win boys over to the camp experience.
  • Boys who stay for the full term will get worn down, but, it is a happy, completely contented, measurable fatigue which has lasting effect on them.