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Camp, Vacation, or Staycation? Figuring Out a Summer Game Plan for Your Kids

April 29th, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

originally published at

A clear sign of the impending summer season usually happens inside households across America, right about now. It involves you (mom or dad), sitting at a table with your checkbook and calculator in one hand while the other hand hovers back and forth between the search engines on the computer and the scattered camp brochures before you. You have just realized that SUMMER is almost here, and your kids need a fun, safe place to spend their time.

Why Camp?

The idea of summer camp evokes a certain nostalgia filled with images of an ideal childhood—one where our kids are making new friends, learning new skills, bringing home crafts, and sporting the requisite skinned knees and sunburned noses—a good indication of a full summer spent out-of-doors and in the sun. The echoes of camp songs that have been passed on from generation to generation, such as “The Bear Song” or “Boom Chicka Boom”, continue to fill your home weeks after camp has ended, a happy reminder of days spent exploring, enjoying, learning, and just being a kid!

But summer camp isn’t always within a family’s means or priorities. When considering a summer gameplan for your family, ask yourself the following questions:

Is it best for your child (and is it part of the family plan) to have a summer full of family fun time instead of looking into camps? – You might consider taking advantage of all the options that your own town and nearby cities offer for exploring, learning and having fun (swimming at the Y, taking a painting class together, joining a summer family soccer league, etc.).

Get more staycation ideas >

As you think about whether or not camp is the right choice, consider this: A camp experience puts your child in a social setting where he interacts and engages with others and learns to develop relationships and a sense of community, independent of relying on you. He also has a “practice grounds” where he can further develop and refine his own sense of independence and confidence as he tries new things and stretches his wings.

Additionally, camp takes your child out of cyber world and puts him in “real time” with real people in real situations and real engagement – and he may very well discover that he likes games, the goofy songs, the fun, AND being with others even more than he likes video games!

If you’re seriously considering summer camp…

There’s a lot of planning that goes into selecting the right camp for your child. Which camp? How many camps? Is it a quality camp? Is my child old enough? Is my child too old? What if my child HATES it? Consider these guidelines if you’re seriously considering sending your kids to camp.

1. Talk with your child and create a list of his or her interests. Is there a skill or talent he would like to further explore and develop? Has she been thinking a lot about trying that martial arts class down the street and is curious to see if she would like it? Has he noticed how much he likes to doodle and heard about an art camp that explores various art mediums?

As you talk with your child, watch her face as she talks. Does she light up over a particular idea? Does he become more animated as he talks about his interest? Think about the times when your child has been fully engaged in something and has lost all sense of time because she wasso into whatever it was that she was doing? (Tinkering with cars, writing a song, playing the drums or putting together a weathervane.)

Knowing your child’s sparks (what he is interested in doing or pursuing) can help narrow the list down and make the decision of what to do that much easier (and it also helps chunk out all the opportunities that hold no interest for your kid whatsoever).

And if your child hasn’t figured out his particular spark, don’t worry. Camps and summer opportunities are a perfect time to explore a variety of things and see what “clicks”. As you look through the various camp options, watch your child’s reactions for signs of possible interest – “that sounds like it might be fun.” Revisit the idea again later to see if your child has the same reaction. The visual or verbal clue might be the beginning of a spark.

2. Consider the developmental aspects of your child. What does she want/need? Are there any special considerations that need to be taken into account when choosing a camp? Does your child need special accommodations of some sort (handicap accessible, diet, nurse on staff, etc.)? Does your child need something really structured, like a martial arts camp? Or, could he benefit from a more free-flowing and relaxed atmosphere, like an art camp?

3. Figure out the summer experience that’s right for your child and your family. What works for your family and your crazy schedules and financial situation? Day camp? Overnight camp? Out of town camp? Specialty camp? Or, should it be a summer of family fun offerings: amusement parks, museums, art centers, zoos?

Get ideas for planning family fun >

  • If sending your child to a sleep away camp is on the table, keep in mind that there are local sleep away camps and out-of-state camps. If an out-of-state camp option crops up, discuss together: how comfortable are you both with your child being far away? Don’t forget to consider transportation costs and the possible scheduling requirements of your time to get her there.

Related: 3 Tricks to Try in the Event of a Tween Sleepover >

  • Ask yourself how much time you want your child to spend at camp. One week? Two? Five? All summer? As you consider the best option, talk too about your ideas and plans for being together as a family during the summer. Keep it balanced.

Related: 10 Minutes Together: Fun Family Activities >4. Picking the right camp. Once you’ve determined the camp type based on your child’s interests, ask around. Ask other parents or ask other youth who’ve gone to camp about which ones they recommend. Quiz them about their experience and about the camp itself (food, sleeping areas, showers, a typical day in camp, pace of the schedule, activities offered, etc.).

Then call the camp. Any quality camp worth its salt won’t mind parents asking questions. They expect it. Ask:

  • Do they have financial assistance?
  • What is their counselor:camper ratio?
  • What is their philosophy for camp? What is the experience they want to create? What will they emphasize?
  • How do they handle arguments and conflict? What is their safety plan?
  • How close is the closest hospital?
  • Is the camp accredited by the American Camping Association?
  • Is it okay for you to drop by to visit – now or during camp?

Tell Us: –>What other factors help you make a wise choice about how your kids will spend their summer?

a new series of funshops!

April 27th, 2016

Playing Through the Seasons

This series of funshops is available for youth, adults, or a combination of age groups.  It’s guaranteed fun as participants laugh, explore, relax, create, challenge and play together.  Players will have opportunities to build relationships and grow stronger as a team – and they will be equipped with games to share with other groups.  Each workshop lasts 1-2 hours and consists of 5-10 games related to one holiday or season.


Available funshops:

  • Winter
  • Christmas
  • New Years
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Spring
  • Patrick’s Day
  • Easter
  • Summer
  • 4thof July
  • Fall
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving


Contact Ragsdale and Saylor at 615-262-9676 or to tell us about your group’s needs and timeframe, and we’ll let you know about prices and availability.

Birth of a Mission

April 20th, 2016

In 2002, co-founders of the Center for Asset Development, Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor, had an a’ha moment over coffee . . . okay, maybe it was multiple coffees:  they discovered that they shared a common passion and vision for youth workers.  They wanted to support and equip youth serving professionals ‘in the youth development field’ with the tools and practices that best help youth thrive.  And, they wanted to equip youth serving professionals with the tools necessary to sustain themselves in this challenging and rewarding work by teaching them life balance techniques.

In supporting those in their passion to work with youth through education, tools and self-care, Susan and Ann believe they can help make the world a better place ultimately for youth, where youth are engaged, valued, seen as valuable contributors to the world today and experience environments that intentionally support experiential learning, self-discovery and personal healthy development.

From initial coffee conversations came the birth of a shared mission and a partnership forged to better serve the profession of youth work in Middle Tennessee and beyond.

We’re still working together 14 years later, and working to expand our scope of work.  Here’s to more great years of working together!bookstore

Pick up 50% off Jelly Beans for this Activity

April 4th, 2016

Jelly Bean Personality Test

Using a large selection of differently-colored jelly beans:  Ask each participant to choose a jelly bean based on its color. Tell participants to hold the jelly bean and not eat it.  The jelly bean color each participant chooses reveals something about that person’s personality.

The person who chooses a White or Black jelly bean is:
  • Is highly structured and organized.
  • Prefers neat and organized surroundings.
  • Wants to know the exact requirements of any given assignment.
  • Always wants to know the rules of a task or game.
  • Memorizes things well.
  • Can’t stand sloppy, unorganized people.
  • Deliberates before making decisions.
The person who chooses a Yellow jelly bean is:
  • Is not usually outspoken.
  • Is always in a state of transition, whether they are eight or 80 years old.
  • Is typically smart, innovative and often artistic.
  • Is sometimes confused in making decisions and unsure where he or she is supposed to be.
  • Is a hard worker.
  • Is often exciting to be with and will try anything as long as it’s safe.
  • Places high importance on spirituality.
  • Looks at things with perspective and respect others’ opinions.
The person who chooses an orange jelly bean is:
  • Is typically cheerful and good-natured.
  • Is able to get along well with almost anyone.
  • Is friendly and has a ready smile.
  • Is usually quick-witted.
  • Is fluent and often eloquent and profound in speech.
  • Does not like to be left alone.
  • Enjoys life and inspires others to reach their highest potential.
The person who chooses a Red or Pink jelly bean is:
  • Is courageous and has seemingly boundless energy.
  • Smiles a lot.
  • Will ask what the problem is if he or she notices someone not smiling.
  • Genuinely cares about people and becomes involved in others’ problems.
  • Is highly influenced by others and shares in their sadness or grief.
  • Makes decisions based on feelings and acts on impulses of the heart.
  • Spends a great deal of time on the phone, usually listening to others.
  • Is a sensitive, enthusiastic friend and lover.
The person who chooses a Violet jelly bean is:
  • Is flirty and passionate.
  • Is highly creative and excitable.
  • Is a visionary and has innovative ideas.
  • Has a short attention spans and has difficulty staying in one place for long periods of time.
  • Is typically disorganized, often choosing to close doors rather than deal with the organization.
  • Procrastinates, thriving on chaos and enjoying the challenges of different problems.
  • Has difficulty dealing with highly structured time.
  • Questions authority when given an assignment, asking why it must be done a certain way and wanting to do it differently.
  • Sets high standards for themselves and those who work for them.
The person who chooses a Green jelly bean is:
  • Needs to stand and remain standing while traits are read.
  • Loves recognition.
  • Likes to be in a highly visible leadership position.
  • Respects authority and tradition.
  • Is decisive, directed and focused.
  • Tends to welcome black and white “jelly bean people” to organize their projects for them.

Ask for a show of hands of those who think the color description of the jelly bean/gum drop they chose is valid for them as they perceive themselves. This is statistically 80 percent valid; about three-quarters of the participants will raise their hands.

Emphasize the following: Nobody’s personality represents just one color; rather, one color represents that person’s dominant traits. All of us have some of the various traits associated with other colors. This is important to realize when dealing with others. We should try to empathize with those who see things differently and deal with problems differently than we do.


We didn’t create this activity, but we’ve played it several times and groups always enjoy it.  Happy playing!

ann & susan

National Service Dates in April

April 1st, 2016

Global Youth Service Day (April 15 – 17)

National Volunteer Week (April 10 – 16)

Just Joking! April Fools Day Prank Ideas for Kids

March 19th, 2016

By: Ann Saylor

originally published at

April Fool’s Day can be a fun holiday for making family memories, but sometimes kids can get caught up in pranks and cross the line between funny and inappropriate. I’ve done it too. I once wrapped my uncle’s car doors shut with plastic wrap and put uncooked rice in all of his air conditioning vents. I thought it was hysterical, but he was not so happy about the damage to his car! It was a hard lesson learned. Read more >

Talk to your kids about the upcoming holiday. If they are planning on pulling pranks or tricking friends or family members, ask them to consider the following questions:

1. Does it cause harm to people, possessions, or property?
2. Is it funny to everyone involved, including the recipient of the prank?
3. How would you respond if someone did this to you?

If you find that their idea of appropriate is well, inappropriate, here are some fun prank ideas to consider:

Fun with food:

  • Scrape the filling out of a few oreo cookies and refill them with white toothpaste before putting them back in the oreo container.
  • Put an empty doughnut box in the kitchen, then write “April Fool’s!” inside the box for people to find when they try to get a doughnut.
  • Carefully poke a gummy worm into the side of an apple or into a bowl of chocolate pudding.
  • Swap out the cereals inside cereal boxes during breakfast. Put the granola bag into the Chex box, and the Rice Krispies box into the Shredded Wheat box.
  • Sneak two drops of food coloring into the bottom of the empty drink glasses at dinnertime. When someone pours in milk, sprite, or water, they’ll be surprised at the color change.

Fun throughout the day:

  • Superglue a pen cap to the pen and ask people if they can help you get the pen cap off.
  • Change the clocks around the house to read different times – or to set alarms off early.
  • Change a friend’s computer password or phone language so that they can’t log on or make phone calls. Be sure to change it back!
  • Pretend to be a radio quiz show host and call a friend to be a part of the “live” show.
  • Here’s a classic: Sneak a good, old fashioned Whoopee Cushion into a friend’s chair right before they sit down.

We’d love to hear about your favorite April Fool’s Day tricks! Leave your stories in the comment box, so we can laugh and learn from you.

*Photo Credit: StevendePolo on Flick’r.

Sheldon’s comic on the ups and downs of life

March 8th, 2016

I love this Sheldon comic about owning and directing our lives.  What a great lesson for youth and adults about making the best with the life we have!

strip for February / 19 / 2016 - Own Your Line

Design for Change USA Challenge: the 2015 Winners Take on Recycling

February 10th, 2016

DESIGN FOR CHANGE (USA) is a global movement of young people who are changing the world! One of the opportunities that DFC offers youth groups is outlined below:

  • Who: Any group of young people (K-8) with an adult mentor e.g., teacher, parent, youth leader, coach.
  • How: Teams dream up and lead social change projects in their own schools/communities using DFC curriculum and training, along with the web portal and other resources.
  • What: Teams are expected to fully implement, present and submit their social change project to DFC USA by the deadline: May 15, 2016.
  • Winners will be announced May 30, 2016.  (Learn more about contest rules here.)

We are pleased to share with you one of the Design for Change USA projects from young people across the nation. We hope you will join them in BEING THE CHANGE!

DFC USA Winners 2015

John Winthorp Elementary School, Boston

Middle School Girls Tackle Disconnect

February 1st, 2016

Guest post by Christi Terefenko

When we asked a group of sixth and seventh grade girls what was important to them, their answer was, not surprisingly, their family and friends. When asked what got in the way of good relationships with their family and friends, their answer was, however, somewhat surprising: technology.

This simple question started a great conversation and initiated a very creative project with an inner-city middle school service-learning club. The girls in the club, who call themselves G-POP (short for Girls Project of Peace), attend Southwest Middle School in Reading, PA. The club is part of the Junior League of Reading’s Youth Empowered initiative designed to raise the self-esteem of youth and empower them to lead through service-learning.

This small – but mighty – group of 12 girls decided to address, in a very interesting way, the issue of societal disconnect resulting from overuse of technology. Seeing that “disconnect” was a very important issue to them, they created a day called “LOOK UP Day” along with a pledge for peers, family and friends to sign. The pledge was simple enough:

On this LOOK UP Day, I pledge to say,

I shall use technology less today

And talk to the people I do adore

And listen to people just a little bit more!

“Heads up, phones down” was the G-POP mantra and their goal was have their family and friends pledge to use technology less on LOOK UP Day so as to connect more with the people around them. In an effort explain their project and get people to sign the pledge to take part in LOOK UP Day, the girls spoke to their principal, set up informational tables for their peers in the cafeteria during lunch time, spoke on morning announcements, and even took the pledge home to their families to sign.

Look up day t-shirt back-page

After two weeks of campaigning, the middle school celebrated LOOK UP Day together with great success. In the end, this small group of girls raised awareness in a whole community about a very relevant issue and got over 350 individuals to sign their pledge. LOOK UP Day was a huge success and made a lasting impact on all those involved…especially the girls who created it. They leaned that they have the power to impact others and create change around them, perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.

Kickstart Your Creativity

January 4th, 2016

Try one of these activities to kickstart your creativity:

  1. Go on an imaginary hike with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  2. Go on an imaginary river rafting trip with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  3. Go on an imaginary rock climbing trip with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  4. Go on an imaginary swimming excursion with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.

MLK Spoken Word Contest

November 4th, 2015

The Metro Human Relations Commission (Nashville, TN)  is co-sponsoring the first annual Youth Spoken Word Competition for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  There are cash scholarship prizes.  Please pass this on to your staff so they may share it with churches, synagogues, mosques, and civic and community groups they are involved with.

High school and college students (or people between the ages of 14 and 22) are invited to start creating and uploading their videos. They can submit their videos now until December 1st. Participants can win cash prizes based on different categories as individuals or in groups.

The MHRC would like to give a big thank you to Neal & Harwell Law Firm and Meharry Medical Center for sponsoring the scholarships.

Find more information about the competition here:

The videos will be posted on the MLK Day YouTube page.

Enhancing the Brain through Meditation

September 23rd, 2015

One of the most fascinating books I read on brain development was written by Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, authors of How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. I’d recommend their book to anyone interested in learning more about how the brain works and the impact that meditation has on the brain.


The impact of meditation on the brain was the happy jewel I found in their well-written, easy-to-read book. Consider their findings:


Newberg and Waldman’s research proves that meditation can help change brain pathways and enhance brain functions. In one of the researchers’ groups, participants who meditated only 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed improvements in cognitive skills. They were able to alter the normal function of their brains. The group was specifically focused on memory recall, concentration, and verbal fluency. These results indicate that the practice of meditation is worth sharing with young people, who can benefit from strategies for relaxation, focus, memory retention, and learning to control emotions in times of conflict. Newberg and Waldman shared that research supports the use of meditation techniques with youth to improve academic performance through “decreased test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss,” as well as impacting “absenteeism, school rule infractions, and suspension days.” And, as can be expected, youth reported an increased sense of well-being and in one study even showed improvement in spatial memory.


Want to learn more about meditation? Our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, offers tips and supportive video clips to back-up this useful youth development and brain development strategy.



Kids are Just Kids – A Lens for Looking at our Different Abilities

September 2nd, 2015

Recently I was asked by two different groups to research strategies for working with youth who have learning differences. As I sat for coffee with a counselor friend, I was curious to hear what she would say – if she had strategies she recommended that was different from what I would suggest. She didn’t. In fact, she echoed much of what Ann and I wrote about in Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.


Since I encountered two different groups (within a week’s time) who wanted the same thing, I thought I’d share an excerpt from our book here for reflection:


No matter what the issue or difficulty, they don’t want to be treated or seen as different. A child with a mental illness is just a child. A child with a physical challenge is just a child. A child with a learning difference is just a child. They have special needs (we all do!), but they just want to be seen as normal people. Keep them in mind first: see them, not the issues they are struggling with. Don’t let a person be defined by their circumstances or their challenges. Look past the exterior casing to focus on the heart, the core of who each person really is.


My friend, in our chat, unprompted, reiterated the importance of seeing them as kids and treating them as kids – no different than anyone else because “different” is what they’re very aware of and experience from peers. The gift of being able to be a person is the greatest gift we can give them.

Teaching Philosophy

July 6th, 2015

A friend asked me the other day to define my teaching philosophy.  Such a big question!

I answered something like this:

“I believe that  teaching should  engage the heart, brain and body, so I’m a big fan of practices such as service-learning,  problem-based learning,  peer teaching  hands-on learning, and learning through play.”

What is your teaching philosophy?  What are the beliefs that undergird the way you engage youth in your classroom and programs?

Good thoughts to ponder!

One Person. One Moment. A Lifetime of Change.

June 24th, 2015

Repost from

We tend to think of profound change as a process that happens over time.

Sometimes, that’s true. But other times, deep, lasting change can happen in a moment. I have no idea if there’s a clinical name for it, but I’ve seen it happen so many times, I just started calling it “snapping.” As in something snaps you into a new awakening or state of being.

It could be a deed, a word, an experience. Seconds long. Something that shifts your belief and empowers faith and action. Sometimes that new state is negative or destructive. I’m more fascinated with positive or constructive snapping.

In this week’s episode of Good Life Project™, iconic designer and founder of New York magazine, Milton Glaser, shared just such a moment. Something happened more than 50 years earlier in his life. A moment that lasted no more than a few minutes. Yet, he’s never forgotten it. The impact was that deep.

The story gave me chills as he told it. So, I felt I had to share it here with all of you:

Keep reading the story here: