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ElizaBeth Parker Phillips

ElizaBeth Parker Phillips

Program Development Director
Child Development, Inc.
Sacramento, CA 
blogger-2013
ElizaBeth Parker Phillips, or PEP to her camp friends, has found the perfect way to blend her backgrounds in Recreation and Youth Development. She has 20 years of experience in the field including past work in camping, inclusive recreation, school age care, ASES & 21stCCLC programs, and as a college instructor.   She currently works for Child Development Inc, as a Program Development Director overseeing school age programming, camp development, and program quality assurance.  Her favorite part of her job is seeing the evidence of empowered youth.  She is passionate about many things, but most importantly all youth having the opportunity to be successful- however they define success. ElizaBeth is an involved community member in the Sacramento area and co-leads a Girl Scout troop. She enjoys spending time with her family, watching cartoons, singing loudly & off key, and attempting craft projects she finds on Pinterest.
Website URL: http://www.cdicdc.org

Earlier this month I attended a funeral service for someone I hadn't seen in quite a few years. He was the pastor of the church I attended as a child and teen. But he was more than that. For many years he was that caring adult in my life outside of my family. What made the relationship so special was it was based on kindness. If I ever needed an ear, a hug, a laugh, or a piece of chocolate I could count on him. What truly made him unique was he was the caring adult to so many. Young and old, new relationships and long lasting, he had the special ability to let you know you were special, you were loved, you were valued.

kindness

In my years of youth services, I have always found that if I can do one thing to make a child or youth's day better it is to be kind. To be that one caring adult that the Search Institute refers to in their 40 Developmental Assets. I may not be able to solve all the problems but I can offer a kind word, tie a shoe, give a high five, tell a joke, and sometimes share a piece of chocolate.


So my challenge to you today is to be the one. Be the one who watches an episode of Dr. Who so you can have a conversation with the self-labelled Whovian, listen to an a recording artist you may never have thought to before to have a discussion with their fan, find someone who needs a high five, and if you feel so inclined share a chocolate bar with someone to make them feel special.

love

For breakfast I chugged a mug of coffee because I was in a hurry and then snacked on handful of pretzels and almonds.

1 in 5 children have dyslexia, a specific learning disability that impacts language processing (speech, reading, and writing). While this is something that impacts the lives of the children in our programs, it is something that doesn't often get covered in teacher or youth worker training programs. As the mother of a child with dyslexia, I have picked up a few tips and hints that I typically pass on to teachers and staff at the beginning of the year. I figured October being Dyslexia Awareness Month was a great time for me to share some of my collection.

(Please note, I am not a doctor, specialist, or expert in this area, I am just a mom who has been collecting resources for many years. This information is not meant to be used to diagnose but to be used to help staff when working with a child with dyslexia or other language-based learning disability.)

DyslexiaWhat is Dyslexia: This video from the Dyslexia Training Institute, they have a lot of resources and information on supporting children with dyslexia.  I have found this video to be helpful in giving a quick understanding of dyslexia.

Sophia's Fight Song: This is a quick video from the perspective of a 5th-grade girl with dyslexia. Sophia captures her experiences and gives great recommendations for how to support her in a classroom.

Decoding Dyslexia: A network of parents leading a grassroots movement for advocacy and support for their children. You can check out the main site that will take you to your state's webpage for information specific to your community.

Yale Institute for Dyslexia and Creativity: One of the first books I listened to about dyslexia was Dr. Sally Schawitz's Overcoming Dyslexia. She and her husband are some of the leading experts and advocates in this area. The website has resources for parents, educators, and advocacy.

There are many things you can do in your program to support children with dyslexia. Some of the accommodations may apply to homework and academic support while others can be used throughout the program.

Giving "think time" (approximately 10 seconds). In an academic setting, this means giving a child a bit of time before having them respond to a question. Think time is also needed when playing certain games. Games like Spot it or other quick identification games may require some thinking time to make it inclusive.
Letting children dictate written responses. In addition to posing a challenge with reading, dyslexia can also impact writing and spelling.
Reading instructions and content verbally to the child. Yes, it may take more time to have someone read a child's homework assignments to them but it helps increase the completion and accuracy while decreasing frustration". This impacts more than just homework as many games or projects also come with written instructions.
Provide reading material in audio format. This allows children to follow along and keep up with grade level comprehension and develop a love of books. We call this "ear-reading" in our house. Some people may view this as "cheating" but it is not. There is a difference in reading fluency and reading comprehension and why to let fluency stand in the way of comprehension when it can be done another way. See this article for more information on the balance of ear and eye reading.
Identify the child's strengths. Dyslexia comes with what Dr. Schawitz's calls a "sea of strengths", the creative and critical thinking skills strengths, that surround the one area of weakness. For my child, his strengths are math, creativity, and sense of humor that won't stop.
Use of a computer to support assignment or project completion. Typing is easier than handwriting, and speech to text is even better as the mechanics of writing no longer hold up the process.  Chrome has quite a few extensions and apps to support people with Dyslexia. Speakit, Readability, and Open Dyslexic Font are three that we have found helpful.
Adding literature that has characters with dyslexia as a role model or someone to connect with. Percy Jackson is probably the first one to come to mind. Henry Winkler, who has been very open about his dyslexia, has a children's book series titled Hank Zipzer. Looking for Heroes: One Boy, One Year, 100 Letters by Aidan A Colvin is a nonfiction collection of letters Colvin sent to and received from successful people with dyslexia.

While this post is primarily about working with children with dyslexia, dyslexia isn't something that is outgrown. Children with dyslexia become adults with dyslexia who may also need accommodations, think time, and resources to do their best work. I am looking forward to seeing your comments on social media as I hope you find this information helpful. Please - if you have additional resources, ideas, and information, share that too.

 

For breakfast, I had a chocolate peanut butter protein shake while writing this piece.

Back in January I texted "Things just got real" to my supervisor. You see I had been hearing about the current challenges with finding qualified staff from various people throughout the state of California but I personally hadn't been impacted by it. Then things changed, we needed to put my youngest son in the fee-based afterschool program on his campus (not the program I work for). When I went in to sign him up they told me they would have to put him on the waiting list. What! There has never been a waiting list before? They were experiencing the same staff shortage I had heard so much about earlier in the year. Fast forward two months- we are still on the waiting list. We are exhausting our playdates, relatives, and "mom network" connections but he still remains #6 on their list.

text message 2

I started thinking about why I got into the afterschool/school age care field. Quite honestly, it was because I needed something to do the 9 months out of the year I wasn't working at camp. At no point did I actually see my part time, college job as a career-with a pathway. But then one day it happened. It became my fulltime job and passion. This got me thinking about the current situation.

Maybe it is because of the fragmenting of job titles - Just in my own tenure I was a group leader, rec leader, teacher, and youth worker. And that doesn't include management titles- supervisor, director, center manager, and lead. What job title do you look for? Are your staff required to meet district employee qualifications, Title 22, and/or Title 5? With the diversity of regulations, titles, and qualifications can make it difficult to navigate the classifieds. 

Maybe it is because the "field" is a broad patchwork - Speaking from the California perspective, this field is inclusive of a variety of programs. State funded services through After School Education and Safety funds, 21st CCLC funds, General Childcare, and Alternative Payment programs are just the start. There are programs that are parent fee-based, city/county funded services, community based providers, and private after school enrichment programs. Phew, that is just the funding. Then you have to consider are you licensed through Health and Human Services or licensed-exempt. Oh, and don't forget summer camps and summer learning programs. I appreciate the depth and breadth of services available to children and families afterschool and I realize "one size does not fit all" but how can we streamline the concept while still providing diverse services.

Maybe it is because there a collection of names to describe the services provided - Is it out of school time, expanded learning, extended learning, afterschool (and before too), care. Yes, I see that each definition has its nuances that are impacted by legislation and funding but how do you describe it to a person outside of the field.

Maybe it is because many people work in this field as a "Pathway to a career" not a career pathway - Many staff get into this field as a way of getting experience working with children and youth, a way to build their resume for a classroom teaching position. Yes our field gives people the opportunity to work with groups of children and create & present activities but we are more than just a field work or classroom management experience. How many people start their schooling and work experience with the goal of working in afterschool or out of school time? I happen to be lucky and the agency I work for has multiple career pathways that support a staff member's development based on their goals, seeing afterschool as a full time, long term career.

I really don't have any answers to these questions but I do think it is time we open a dialogue. Maybe it is time to unite the diverse field to create a career path that includes shared job titles, education, and experience. It is time to make the field a career of choice not a stepping stone to another career.

I invite you to share your strategies for uniting the field and advocating for the whole. Please use the social media links in Facebook and Twitter to share your thoughts on this subject.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not her employer).

  

For breakfast, I made a veggie egg scramble and a whole wheat English muffin with marmalade.

 

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came."*

As someone who grew up in the '80s, these lyrics has a special meaning for me - they meant it was time to go to bed. But this summer that meaning changed. This summer I got to witness, from the sidelines, the true value in someone knowing your name.

A little backstory, I am the mother of two school age children. My oldest daughter is a typical 6th grade girl. My youngest son, who just started 4th grade, has been going through the process for being diagnosed with Dyslexia. This story is about him. Even with positive teachers, lots of family support, and accommodations - the school year takes a toll on his self-esteem. After a year of watching everybody else's reading star (or balloon, or whatever icon the teacher of the year decides to use) soar upward on the chart while his hoovers in the same spot, you can't blame him for being a bit down. We have always tried to find other ways for him to feel successful. We see it like a battery or power grid on a video game.

• Feeling defeated after a language arts unit test--- battery goes down two bars
• Feeling awesome after painting a picture, playing a game of Munchin, or creating something out of old boxes---battery goes up a bar

So it is a constant effort to keep his battery bar full or close to full. But by the end of the school year, after testing, report cards, and all the other hoopla- it never fails- his battery is low.

And this is the part where amazing youth workers come in and do what they do best...

My children have been going to the same residential camp for the past three years. To say it is a great camp is an understatement. Self-esteem batteries always come home fully charged. During my son's first year of camp, he made a connection with his program director - Duck, Duck, Derek (or Triple D as he is known at our house). We spent that entire following year hearing story after story about DDD. So when we returned to camp the second year and DDD was his program director AGAIN, he was through the moon. We had a big decision to make this year, continue for the last year in the younger campers program or move up. He chose to move up, knowing that DDD may or may not be there.

This past June, I dropped my two children off at residential summer camp. When we arrived we were tired. We just spent 3+ hours in the car on windy backroads that included more than a few stops for car sickness. As we were dragging ourselves up to camp registration from the parking lot we heard this huge cry "LEX! Lex is here. Welcome to camp Lex!" It was Duck, Duck, Derek. When Lex realized who it was that said his name, it was like the scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Instead of his heart growing three sizes, I think he gained a few inches as he started strutting up the hill to give him a High Five. That just started a theme for the next hour. As he checked in, "Lex, we are so glad you are back at camp!" As we met his program director, JR-assic Park, "Lex, I was so happy to see you were in my group this year." As we met his cabin counselor, "Lex, I remember you from last year. We are going to have a great week." I think we were both a bit stunned by how many people knew his name. In that one hour, they added a million bars to my kid's battery and made him feel like a rock star.

It was on the ride home from camp that night, when the song from Cheers started creeping into my mind. I just witnessed what it feels like to go somewhere everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. I started thinking about the power of positive adult relationships with children and youth. The people in my life: my camp counselor, my coach, and my church pastor who always knew my name and the positive impact they had on me during my younger years.

Sometimes it is easy in our field to get caught up in other parts of the job-paperwork, budgets, staffing, etc., but when it comes down to it, the goal is simple. Youth development work is about creating opportunities for charging self-esteem batteries and keeping them full. One of the easiest ways to do that is by knowing the kids' names and that you are glad they came.

Lex started school last week, and I can say he started with a full battery and some backups that were charged by the amazing youth workers, family, and friends he spent time with this summer. For all of you out there who have been doing the same all summer for other versions of my son, thank you for the work you do.

duck duck derek

Lex and Duck, Duck, Derek at camp (photo courtesy of Westminster Woods)

* Where Everybody Knows Your Name Lyrics by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo 

 

For breakfast I had scrambled egg tacos and iced tea.

The "Why" blogging series has me digging deep and pondering the question of "Why do I do what I do?" Is it because I am a kid at heart? Is it because I spent too much time listening to Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" in 8th grade? Is it that working with children and youth in after school and camp programs is the closest thing to being a teacher without actually being a teacher - something I swore to my mother, the teacher, I would never be? Or is it something much deeper? And then it hit me. Where I am today and where I have been every step of the way along my career path is because of one singular incident. The time I threw up at a weekly staff meeting.

elizabeth parker phillips quoteIt was the summer of 1990. I was working at a summer camp, the same camp I attended as a kid, spent my high school years volunteering, and now it was my turn to be on staff. Only this week was different. This week we provided a camp that was adapted to meet the needs of children and adults with developmental disabilities. The summer before I had been at camp during one of the inclusive weeks and the speaker had me so freaked out about not causing harm to the campers that I thought it was best that I stayed away from them. It turns out, that was the exact opposite intention of the camp. During our staff training week we had been filled with the "don'ts" about that week. It turns out all the "don'ts" freaked me out even more to the point I had worked myself up into a nervous wreck who lost it - and I mean my lunch - during the pre-camp huddle. What happened after that was a great week of camp. I learned that the opposite of all the "don'ts" were actually "do's." Do have fun, do make friends, do engage in lively conversation, do tell jokes, do give out lots of hugs and high fives, do sing songs, play games, make crafts, and all the other great things that come along with camp. That week changed my life. I went from being a Journalism major to getting a degree in Outdoor Therapeutic Recreation.

It didn't stop there. As time went on I found myself working in afterschool programs (because I needed a job the other nine months of the year) and working in inclusive recreation settings - the real intent of that week I had experienced so long ago. I was bound and determined that the staff I worked with needed positive support, training, reassurance, and general kindness because nobody was puking on my watch! As I have transitioned positions throughout the years the one common thread in the work that I do is making sure staff have the resources, training, and tools to do their best work. The programs and services provided to today's children and youth are only as great as the staff, teachers, and leaders providing the services. So today, as I sit at my desk working on program quality assurance checklists, curriculum resource guides, and training facilitation notes, it is all because of that one incident. My why is...I do it for that nervous 17 year old girl and the hope that nobody ever has to feel like that at their job.

This morning I had a mobile breakfast. My kids and I had PB&B on T (peanut butter and banana on toast) while walking to school...because we were running late. 

Today is November 11th, once known as Armistice Day - now known as Veteran's Day.  This is a day to reflect on and "be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service" since 1919. Today is a day for us to remember our past. Sometimes remembering our past can be hard to do. It can be filled with painful memories and as time goes by, memories - both good and bad - can begin to fade. Sometimes we need to step back from the focus on the future and take a moment to archive our history.

veterans day with childIt recently occurred to me while watching re-runs of Charlie Brown, Bugs & Daffy, and some Donald Duck cartoons that my school age children are not familiar with references to World War II. I started thinking about it. I knew what these references meant when I was their age. Was it because I was closer to that part of history? Did it have to do with the fact that my grandfathers had fought in World War II? I am not sure the answer but this intrigued me.

I started realizing that my familiarity with 1900's American History had to do with family stories. I was able to connect to stories of Prohibition and the Depression because of stories from my family. I was familiar with the Dust Bowl Days because my relatives moved from Oklahoma and Arkansas to California during this time. I knew about World War II because it had a big impact on the courtship of both of my grandparents. I was aware of one of American's little secrets; the internment of Japanese Americans, because our community fairground was used as a waypoint. But somehow, over the years our family stories have changed. These stories have been replaced with newer stories from a not so distant past.

So how does this impact us in the afterschool field? Shouldn't children and youth be getting this information in their history and social studies classes? We cannot leave learning our history to the classroom and books. It is important for us to remember to share our stories. Share the stories of the moments in history that stood out to you. Where were you when Regan was shot or for the Challenger disaster? Do you have stories from the gas crisis of the 70's or the last major drought? What about the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989? Do you remember the first computer you used, or cell phone? How about when the US Women's Soccer team won the World Cup in 1999? Where were you on September 11, 2001? Pass on your living history to those around you.

One of my favorite ways to share history with children and youth is through books. There are quite a few excellent fiction and non-fiction selections that tell the story of our past, many times through the eyes of young people. Each year the National Council for Social Studies releases a list of reviewed books for young people. The selected books highlight many different aspects of history. 

Recently my daughter's 5th grade class did a project on Veterans for their school's Wall of Pride. She was able to interview her dad. My husband recounted to her his story of being in the US Navy on September 11th, 2001. For her to hear what it felt like to be isolated on a ship, no communication with your family, with not enough supplies while waiting to find out if your city or ship was a target was a new story for her. She also learned her great grandmother who was a "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II and the role women played in the war effort. Projects like this that connect family members and their stories to today's youth are priceless experiences for all involved.

So I challenge you today, Veteran's Day 2014, to not just think but act. How will you bring the past into your program?

I may have had some left over Halloween candy and a Diet Coke for breakfast while catching up on my lit. circle book, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

I was contemplating what to blog about today.  My birthday is coming up so maybe I would write about traditions and celebrations.  I knew for sure I would not be writing about the World Cup because besides the Google Doodles and posts from friends on Facebook, I really haven’t been keeping up.  But then I was part of a conversation that got my goat.  It was about attracting elementary school girls to STEM by offering pink lab coats and hard hats. 

Let me go ahead and say it.  I am a fan of pink.  In fact, my favorite shoes are pink, Hello Kitty Vans. What I am not a fan of is this trend to paint science, technology, engineering, and math materials and resources with a coat of pink paint and thinking that will bring girls running to the lab.

This is a personal issue for me, as a mother of a daughter, as a former Outdoor Education Instructor, and a female who has always loved science.   My love for science is based on inquiry, investigation, and just plain curiosity for the world around me - a need to know how things work.  I am thankful that both my parents have science backgrounds and were always encouraging me.  I had their support whether it was plant identification, understanding how the body works, or taking apart broken lights and repairing them.  They supported me when I chose to take Shop as an elective in junior high while most girls were taking Home Economics (probably why I can’t cook) or Art (probably why I can’t draw).  At no point was I given a pink microscope, breadboard, or calculator- I take that back, I may have had a Hello Kitty calculator.  What I did have was support for my curiosity and role models. 

Last November, I attended the 1st Annual STEM Symposium.  It was an amazing two-day event filled with insightful workshops about bringing STEM to afterschool programs, the Maker movement, and a plethora of other topics.  One of the keynote speakers was Geena Davis.  Yes, that Geena Davis from A League of our Own & Thelma and Louise.  She shared some of the research made available through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media* as well as her core phrase “If she can see it, she can be it.”

generation stemThis really landed with me.  Is that why I have always been so interested in science?  Was it because I had role models?  I revisited this phrase later that week when I picked up my daughter from a Girl Scout activity.  They were working on the Detective badge.  I asked her how it went, her response was “I got to be like the doctors on House and Kate on Castle and use science to solve a mystery.”  She had connected her experience to strong women portrayed on TV in science and law enforcement roles. 

STEM is a hot topic these days so finding resources just takes few clicks on the keyboard.  Some of my favorite resources I use at work to promote STEM with young girls (and boys too) include:

  • Anything by MAKE- The website has great project ideas, tutorials, information on starting a MAKE club, and their annual summer Maker’s camp.
  • Cardboard Challenge- This takes cardboard engineering and automata to a new level.
  • Squishy Circuits- who doesn’t love to play with playdoh!
  • Odyssey of the Mind- While this program is not strictly focused on STEM, the challenges promote 21st Century Skills and the girls I have worked with in the past love them.  They are great “wow factor” activities to start conversations about why solutions worked or didn’t.
  • DIY.org- Not only does this site promote Internet safety but their challenges are very diverse, engaging, and you get to earn a badge.
  • Scratch- This free program is a great introduction to programming and is based on the work of constructivist psychologist and mathematician Seymour Papert- the guy who brought those of us who first used a computer in the early ‘80’s the LOGO turtle.

National programs like PBS SciGirls, Girls Who Code, Girl Scouts, and 4H are just a few organizations that focus on sparking a young girl’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.  They all share common keys elements: mentors, experts, and exposure.  They all use scientific terms and language and have a focus on problem solving challenges, all while being creative. 

I would love to hear from you.  What do you think are the best ways to engage young girls in science, technology, engineering, and math?  Please share your resources in the comments section on Facebook.

*Did you know that males in STEM roles in family films outnumber women in STEM roles in family films by a ratio of 5 to 1? For more interesting facts like this check out their latest report at SeeJane.org.  (Gender Roles & Occupations: A Look at Character Attributes and Job-Related Aspirations in Film and Television 2013)

*Picture credit: Teens for Tech

For breakfast, I had scrambled egg whites with cheese and salsa on corn tortillas at home and then an iced coffee with LOTS of milk once I got to the office.

This entry is written in collaboration between ElizaBeth Parker Phillips, Program Development Director for Child Development Inc, and Regan Bynder, Program Projects Manager for Child Development Inc.

Over the past few years there has been lots of chatter about Kindergarteners and Transitional Kindergarteners. The view of the first year of elementary school has changed drastically in the past 30 years let alone the inception. Back when Fredrick Froebel first started Kindergarten in 1837 it was seen as a way to nurture children like you would a garden, teachers providing a fertile ground based on play and practical skills so the young minds could grow and flourish. Since then Kindergarten has moved towards aligning itself with the school day (i.e. sitting at tables or desks and even taking bubble tests). What happened to the program where you learned how to tie your shoe or make friends?

This is where before and after school programs become important. We have the unique opportunity to bring back the basic elements of Kindergarten in the programs we offer our youngest participants. What is it that Kindergarteners need? How do we determine quality for this unique age group?

It has been our job over this past year to take a long hard look at what services we provide Kindergarteners in before and after school programs. How do before and after school programs best support their development while still meeting the needs of our school partners? Over the past year we have conducted many Appreciative Inquiry meetings, held focus groups, and worked towards developing best practices and resources to support the work.

We have found that quality Kindergarten before and after school programs include five basic elements, schedule, activities or curriculum, program space, staff, and partnerships. These elements can look different, based on the need of program and community, but are the underlining keys to providing Kindergarteners and their families the services they need.

  • Schedule: Is your Kindergarten program wrap around care for AM/PM Kindergarten? Do you provide care to full day Kindergarten children? Is your school/ district supporting TK implementation? These are just a few questions to ask yourself when assessing your daily schedule. Consider the space your where your program operates, is there more than one room for your program? If you have to mix age groups together are you mixing K – 1st grade or K – 5th grade? Are you able to rotate groups of children inside and outside to balance their daily experiences?
  • Activities: Once you have a structure for your program day, the schedule, think about the content for each component. Are you planning a balance of child initiated and adult led activities? Is there time for them to recreate as well as practice developing new skills? Is there a balance of active and quite time? Are you linking your curriculum to school day learning?
  • Program Space: Take a moment to think about the space program's physical space. Is there a place for Kindergarten children to relax, be active, engage in dramatic or fine art, build and make? Are materials easy to access? Does the space provide opportunities for sharing, collaboration, creativity? Does the space represent the children and families you serve?
  • Staff: Are your staff energetic, nurturing, curious? Do they enjoy exploring an endless stream of questions, thoughts and ideas? Are they open to not knowing the answer and willing to take a journey to find one?
  • Partnerships: How well do you know your neighborhood school? Are you on a first name basis with the principal and/or office staff? Do you have email addresses for the teachers who work with your children during the school day? Are you happy to support and attend school events? Are you seen as an integral part of the school community?

By focusing attention on Kindergarteners, before and after school programs can hope to provide a high quality service that meets the needs of the children, families, and our school partners. This focused attention should also help bolster program enrollment and build connections to families that will last throughout their child's elementary school experience. By creating experiences for Kindergarteners that are unique for them, meeting their developmental, social, and academic needs we can hopefully bring back some of the original benefits of Kindergarten.

ElizaBeth and Regan will be presenting a workshop on this topic at the 2014 BOOST Conference.

ElizaBeth- This morning I had peanut butter toast with grape jelly and a glass of chocolate milk.
Regan- This morning I had an English muffin, coffee, orange juice, a hardboiled egg and two pieces of sausage.

I cried after watching a commercial last night. No, it wasn't a commercial with babies in tires, or one about a service member who makes it home in time for the holidays, or even a Hallmark movie special. It was a Toys'R'Us commercial. A group of kids were going on a field trip to the forest. While on the bus the guide tells the rather disinterested group that instead they are going to Toys'R'Us- the bus goes wild! Granted if I was being driven to jury duty and the chaperone told me I was going ANYWHERE else, I would squeal with delight. What made me so sad was that the idea of being outside was so enthusiastically trumped by the idea of being inside.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE toys and Toys'R'Us. I plan on plunking down a fair share of change there in the upcoming months as I stock up on SkyLanders SwapForce for the holidays. My mom still loves to tell the story of a how a few years back while buying me the Barbie I wanted she had to reveal to her co-worker, she was purchasing it for her 27 year old daughter. I still have the YuGiOh Blue Eyes Ultimate Dragon an ex-boss gave me and have had serious conversations about passing on my Wolverine and porcelain dolls to my own children. So please, don't take this as a slam against toys or Toys'R'Us.

What is this post about then? It's my plea to get children, and adults, outside. To quote Emerson "live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air." There are so many fun things to do outside no matter the season. Enjoy the fall and play with the leaves. Check them out with a magnifying glass or use them for a crafts project. Crunch them between your fingers. Float them in puddles. Be like Leo Buscaglia*, "get wildly enthusiastic about little things... play with leaves... skip down the street and run against the wind." *if you don't know who he is look him up on YouTube, he is a kick.

In the winter, take some time to check out the sunset since it sets at an earlier time. Inspect things that freeze. Breathe the cold, fresh air. Let the sunlight in when you can. Investigate the weather and what causes fog, snow, or what ever your winter is like.

Live vicariously through others. If you can't make it outside, bring it in. Read books by Jack London or Laura Ingalls Wilder. Display Ansel Adams photography or other pictures of nature. Display gourds and decorative corn so kids can check them out- and touch them too.

Lie on your back and check out the sky. Look at the clouds. Watch the birds fly by. Roll over! Lay on your belly. Watch ants do what they do. Check out the other bugs or look for budding plants.

As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door." You never know what adventure you may encounter. Go for a stroll around the campus or park grounds. Skip, jump, hop, gallop, wiggle or do what ever moves you to move. Just get outside and go somewhere.

Play in the dirt, sand, or mud- just get dirty! Build sandcastles, mud pies, or re-creations of the aqueducts. Dig holes just for the sake of digging a hole. Build forts out of twigs, fairy houses out of leaves, and homes for unknown critters. Pretend to be a tree.

Grow things. Flowers, vegetables, fruit- what ever you can grow. This was the first year I actually got my garden at home to produce. No, I did not find the magic mixture of nutrients and water; it is because this was the first year by kids decided not to play "Mr. McGregor's Garden" in my garden box, digging up all my little budding carrots. Why? They were too busy climbing trees and writing "I was here" on the tree trunks.

If you can't grow your own garden, go visit a local garden or nursery. While the commercial might have you thinking the kids will be bored stiff experiencing nature, make it fun. Do a scavenger hunt in a local rose garden; read stories in a grove of trees in a park. Use whatever natural resources you have in your neighborhood.

Learn where our food comes from. Try growing a garden comprised of salsa, pizza, or spaghetti ingredients. Go on a field trip to a farmer's market or find a local Community Supported Agriculture farm to tour. See if the farmer will come to your program and be a guest speaker.

Outdoor education and experiences isn't just for 6th grade camp. It can happen with all ages, anywhere and anytime. I had the honor of meeting and learning about some amazing outdoor educators in my younger years. Two of my favorite, lesser known mentors, have always been Phyllis Ford and Capt'n Bill Vinal.

Phyllis Ford once told me that outdoor education just needs to follow the LAWS - light, air, water, and soil. If you have all four elements plant life will grow. Try some experiments- what happens if you plant something and forget one of the LAWS? Capt'n Bill Vinal was the focus of a historical figure exploration. At first when I was assigned Capt'n Bill, I was a bit bummed. Why couldn't I get someone "good" like Ansel Adams or John Muir or one of the camping greats, like Luther Gulick. But then when I got to know the Capt'n, I realized just how cool he was. He would take groups of youth out to the plains and investigate wagon wheel tracks. It is amazing what you can find in a small square of land, if you look close enough.

Henry David Thoreau wrote "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Let's not short change the youth we serve by only giving them play experiences that involve plastic and electronic toys. We must remember to connect them to life, to the outdoors, to dirt.

For breakfast I had three mini egg white tacos and a diet Coke!

Here's a little story I'd like to tell

About 3 camp ladies I know real well.

It started back in Two Thousand and 12,

When they were planning camp, like busy little elves.

They were looking for ideas based on campers' interests

One of them said "Hey, let's check Pinterest!"

...And that is how our Project: Pinterest started.

A little Bit o' Info About Project: Pinterest

For the past two summers our camp programs have been using Pinterest to support our summer camp planning. While I imagine the idea of having a Pinterest board or two related to work is something a majority of the camp and out of school time field has done. We decided to try something a bit different. Instead of using Pinterest as a place for each of us to warehouse camp ideas, mixed in with our "For the Home" and "Dinner Ideas", what if we used it as a program planning resource- a way to share ideas with the 100+ centers and camps within our agency? Here are a few of the lessons we have learned along the way.

  1. Create a Pinterest account that is specific for your program, agency, or camp. We initially started the "Summer Camp 2012" board on one of our personal accounts. While this was a functional board, it really started to clutter that person's account. It also meant that as an agency we didn't have access to the account.
  2. Create multiple boards based on the different elements of your camp or program. Our first attempt was a solo board. We quickly noticed it got really crowded and hard to search. For the 2013 season, we initially broke the boards into our general camp topics: art, science, crafts, sports, etc. Since then we have added many boards beyond just program ideas. Boards, like camp leader inspiration, project-based learning and documentation, are there to support our leaders in the work they do. We also added general camp boards like camp culture, indoor & outdoor games, songs, skits and special events to support the transition from being a school year program to a camp.
  3. Designate a Lead Pinner. Our in our case, a Pin Queen. While we shared the responsibility of pinning ideas between the three of us, we designated one person the Pin Queen. Her responsibilities were to 1) keep the boards clean- it never failed, all three of us would see a great idea and repin it. She made sure items weren't duplicated 2) check the links to make sure they work 3) check the comments to make sure they were work friendly and clean, the last thing we wanted to do was pin something that had profanity or inappropriate comments. 4) Track "Pin Popularity". When our Pin Queen sees a certain topic or pin trending in our repins, she creates a special board for that topic and adds additional pins. This is how our Duct Tape pinboard started. 5) Keeping things Organized. We were asked to find resources and ideas that would promote recycling and upcycling found materials for our activities. We began pinning ideas for home made games and recycled crafts to our "games" and "crafts" boards. The size of these boards grew and became hard to manage. Our Pin Queen then created separate boards for "DIY Games" and "Going Green".

Once we had things established. We pinned away. Currently we have over 30 boards and over 1,100 pinned program ideas and resources. We add new pins and boards on a regular basis to keep things fresh.

Some of the Benefits of Project: Pinterest

Pinterest has given us the speed and flexibility to provide resources to our camps. We are now directly connected to staff at many of our camp programs. It has helped to create an online community for our program staff.

Flexibility: The Development of Tapas Camp - We were asked to develop resources for a Tapas camp. Of the three of us working on camp curriculum, none of us really had a background in making tapas. We began by searching Pinterest for "Tapas and Small Plates" ideas. Once we found a few ideas we were able to write activity plans. But we wanted to do more. Realizing that this camp was a bit "out of the norm" we created a Cooking Camp-Tapas pinboard and started adding pins to it to support this camp.

Speed: NEWS FLASH! A Heat Wave Hits California - We believe that campers should spend as much time outside as possible. But what do you do when you are faced with a week of extreme heat? We were able to quickly respond to a request for more indoor games and activities to do with campers. Within 20 minutes we had a board created and a variety of pins selected for camps to begin implementing.

What's next for Project: Pinterest

  1. Pin our Own Ideas - We know our camp leaders have amazing ideas.  They are always sending us photos and stories about the great things happening at camp. One of our challenges has been "How do we share great things that are happening in Fairfield with the programs in Menifee?". Since all pins have to be linked to a web address, we are currently looking into developing a blog page to highlight great work and pin the ideas onto our boards.
  2. Connect to Our Blog - Our Program & Resource Development team hosts a staff development blog with greatIt has a plethora of articles, videos, and tidbits to support staff in the work they do, along with various resources to be shared. We plan on updating the blog with more images so we can pin the articles on the Pinterest site.

Besides having a blast finding and pinning awesome ideas, this has been great way to connect program resource development to social media and our program staff. We receive feedback from our program staff daily that the Pinterest boards are user-friendly, easy to navigate, and a great way to share ideas. It has also helped us cut down on the amount of paper we use as we now share ideas virtually versus printed on paper.

Come check us out at http:pinterest.com/campcdicdc. If your program has a Pinterest account, let us know-leave your Pinterest account name in the comments and we would love to follow you. The more ideas the better-right!

What other online resources are you using to collaborate and share ideas with program staff?

I encourage you, if you haven't already, to create a Pinterest account for your program, collaborate with your co-workers, and share ideas. Take the Pinterest challenge and start "collecting and organizing the things that inspire you".*

* about.pinterest.com

For breakfast this morning, I had an Egg in a Nest made with 100% whole wheat toast and a Cool Lime Refresher while listening to The Beastie Boys License to Ill.

ElizaBeth Parker Phillips, or PEP to her camp friends, works for Child Development Centers, Continuing Development Inc. in California. CDI serves families across California in over 100 centers, offering programs of excellence for youth ranging from infancy to teen years.

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