How do we Connect, Inspire, and Engage Kids: What We’ve Learned from Camp
Counting the days until the URJ’s Biennial convention outside of Washington, D.C. became that much more exciting after a planning session with some colleagues. Gathering together by telephone from all across the US, we – three camp directors, three rabbis, and one talented URJ specialist – put our heads together to plan a Biennial session on the “magic of camp.” (I am a URJ Camp alum, parent of 3 campers, and Camp Newman Rabbinic Faculty dean each summer – here’s my Camp blog.) Who would have thought that just the planning process alone would illuminate why we all love URJ Jewish summer camping so much.
Our initial plan incorporated a series of seven minutes frontal presentations, mixing the reflections of the camp rabbis with the insights of a collection of talented camp directors. Reserve some time for Q & A, and the session would quickly be over. Our planning session could have ended then and there.
That is, until Ruben Arquilevich, Director of Northern California’s URJ Camp Newman challenged us to fashion our program session in the image of what happens effortlessly at camp. With that one comment, the ideas started flying. How do we craft a presentation session for the biennial that captures and shares the “magic” of camp?
Any camp staffer knows that what might appear to be effortless fun and recreation at a Jewish summer camp is actually quite intentional, as camp staff work diligently (and late into the night) to create strong interpersonal relationships and communities of meaning.
Ruben’s piercing comment got us all thinking, and in minutes, the program transformed: Let’s begin with some music; singing is camp’s spiritual glue. How about adding in some personal stories of how camp has transformed the life of one former camper, now camp parent/camp rabbi! Oh, let’s gather participants with like-minded people – former campers together, congregational leadership wondering how to invigorate their camp delegations, people who don’t know what Jewish camping is about, camp leaders/staff – and have them talk about something in small groups. After all, camp is all about meeting new people and making new friends.
Oh, burning questions. Invite people to share their burning questions with the group by means of old-fashioned poster board technology. Then the camp directors can respond to real questions and concerns, raised by real people to ensure that everyone walks away with better understandings of the strategies and tools used at camp to connect, inspire, and engage kids in Jewish life and learning. To set the mood, we can throw into the background some pictures, quotes and mini-videos from summer camp 2011. How about ending with a big friendship circle, singing Hashkiveinu, like most camps end each day?
In just an hour, our draft plan for serial frontal presentations transformed into a musical, experiential, informational, and technological camp-like program. And we on the call were reinvigorated by an energetic camp programming process to recreate camp for biennial participants. I cannot wait for URJ Biennial to start!
So don’t miss our session – How do we Connect, Inspire, and Engage Kids: What We’ve Learned from Camp – on Thursday, December 15, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM (during Learning sessions Block C). Once you sign up, help us focus our program even more. Go to our session page on the URJ Biennial website and leave a comment on why you chose to attend this session and/or what burning questions do you bring to it. We will use your responses to better prepare an engaging session.
We – Camp Newman Camp Director Ruben Arquilevich, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Greene Family Camp Asst. Director Rabbi Ana Bonnheim, Camp Harlam Director Aaron Selkow, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, and URJ Associate Director of Camping Lisa David – look forward to seeing you there.