Reclaiming our Kid’s Spirit

At the 2018 Director Retreat for Kidventure this past weekend,  I focused my keynote address on the topic of Spirit and how that very spirit of ours is under attack today like never before.  The need to take that back and what we can do to reclaim this mysterious and essential part of our humanity is important to understand for ourselves and those who we lead.


The first known use of the word ‘Spirit’ is found in 13th century manuscripts from Europe.  The use pertains to the ‘breath‘ or ‘of the wind’ and often times used to describe the ‘breath of God‘. The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘Spirit’ as a state of mind or attitude: the inner character of a person, thought of as different from the material person we can see and touch:

Yet of all the definitions and historical context I collected about the word and idea of ‘Spirit’, the one from a Shaman resonated with me most. This Shaman describes Spirit as..

“It means that you have an abundance of Life Force. Or Elan Vital . Imagine each person is like a light, some shine brightly.. some dim…You can feel the glow coming off bright light people.These people are full of LIFE or SPIRIT.”

Now, let’s Imagine a world without Spirit. Where everyone is dimly lit…

Call me cynical,, but I think that kid’s spirit is under attack today more than ever. And because of that, kids need us more than ever. When I mean us, I mean people who will provide the opportunity for a kid to play with abandon, take risks, run wild, explore their word, succeed at something new, fail at something else, and that be totally cool. I mean we are the kind of people who will provide kindness, when so many are bullied.  Provide safety among so much insecurity, and provide real life relationships. We will give them back that spirit.

Everyone in this room will embark on the most important endeavor this summer.  That is to make a positive difference in the lives of so many kids.  We’ll provide a place and an opportunity where that spirit can flourish.

4 of the Greatest Factors Challenging the Spirit of our Kids

  1. Too Much Information
    Our kids are presented with so much information though so many outlets. That information and its dissemination is tough for anyone to work through, much less a ten-year old. While technology certainly makes our lives easier and more efficient, it is no replacement for human contact and interaction. Camp brings us together, it fosters positive relationships, communication, and interaction. It reminds us that the best kind of friend in life is the one right in front of you.
  2. Lack of Physical Activity
    The average 8-10 year old spends 8 hours behind a screen during the week (more for older kids). That same kid only spends 4 hours of free play outside. I’m not talking about a Play Date. That is an oxymoron. At Kidventure we recognize that being outdoors, playing and moving your body can not be underestimated for its place in natural growth and maturation. Playing encourages risk taking, independent decision-making, cooperation, trust, and problem solving. These are the traits and skills that will allow our kids to grow happy, successful, and strong. When we schedule camp activities that are designed to foster these skills, then we see the results. Those results are a greater sense of self-esteem, a greater sense of confidence, the ability to deal with failure and a love for an active lifestyle.
  3. Increased Anxiety and Insecurity
    Kids are pretty resilient and smart.  They get that in Toy Story the creepy kid Sid that destroys toys isn’t really real.  They understand that hurricanes cause a lot of problems, but they can be fixed. What they don’t get is 17 kids being gunned down in a school just like theirs.  They don’t get having to shelter in place and they shouldn’t have too. They are constantly warned about the effects of bullying, but see that the leaders of their own country bully others on a daily basis.  They get all this stuff, in comes across on their tweeter feed and Instagram Stories. And as hard as it is for you and me to comprehend this kind of stuff, imagine how they must feel.  Camp is a refuge. It can provide a harbor, where security, and safety, and love and compassion, and character are felt every day. Camp can put faith back into humanity and love back into a worried heart.
  4. Parents That Are Challenged
    In the attempt to protect our children from the potential harms of life, many parents end up handicapping their kids and preventing them from flourishing to become confident and independent people. If we want to grow happy, healthy adults, then we must provide the opportunity for our kids to be happy and healthy kids. That means giving them the opportunities to try new things, explore their world, make independent decisions, and fail as well as succeed. Too many parents have essentially bubble wrapped their kids and constructed an environment where their kids simply will not grow like they should. We have a society that over schedules our kids in organized sports and activities but wont let their kids go outside and simply play on their own terms. The need for kids to explore their world with no direction from a parent is as vital as water to grass. Without the opportunity for a child to lead that play in some form is really preventing our kids from reaching their potential.

So Directors, this is what our kids are facing.  Not easy being a kid in 2018 particularly if you’re looking for your next meal, worried about being deported or being abused.What I am telling you is that we have a unique opportunity to turn that tide.  To provide for comfort, and hope and excitement, and fun, and adventure, and friendships, and confidence, and growth.  And we’ll do it with our Spirit. But I am going to tell you it is going to depend on you. I am going to tell you that the quality of your camp and the impact you make on the lives of kids will be in great part how you are able to lead and what you bring to your camp program.

5 things I need for you to bring to your camp…

1. Find Your Spirit First
As a leader or director of Kidventure, we are charged with the mission to draw that Spirit out of ourselves first. We can’t inspire our own counselors and campers to flourish under this spirit unless we exemplify it first in ourselves. Find your spirit, your mojo, your soul.  That something that makes you get up and want to go to work.  That feeling you get when you embark on a road trip, you know the feeling.

2. Inspire Your Counselors to Do The Same
We don’t hire really amazing and talented people to perform their job for them.  Most people want to be part of the solution.  So Give them reason to.  Give them clear expectations, inspire them to carry those out, praise them when they accomplish them, and hold them accountable when they don’t.  We do both with equal commitment because we want the very best for our team, because we want the very best for our kids.

3. The Tools Are Only as Effective as You Use Them
Your curriculum, supplies, the building you are in. the gym, green space, playground, and pool are only as effective and potentially magical as you bring that space to life. So get it out of your mind that the success of camp relies on the stuff we do and get it in your head that it is you and your team that can turn a dirt patch into the best place to have fun.

4. Foster Positiveness and Positive Will Foster You
At Kidventure, we hand out the red tickets to kids all the time at camp for random acts of kindness, being respectful, helping others, etc… In other words, we are building up the positives and encouraging others to do the same. So foster a culture of positiveness.  Foster a culture of kindness and energy and respect.  If you do, it will perpetuate itself. Camp doesn’t build character. People build character. Camp just provides a very positive, safe and comfortable setting with which to do so. That begins and ends with your culture.  How they demonstrate character to the campers will dictate the culture of camp and how those kids follow. It is probably the biggest piece of what we do at Kidventure. All the games, sports, events and stuff we do at camp is great, but its all designed to create an opportunity for a kid to become more confident, kind, empathetic, caring, and happy. Good character people were good character kids. We learn to have good character when we are young because of those around us. Kidventure is a garden for character.  You are simply tending that garden.

5. Give Yourself A Break
I am quite confident that one of the reasons you have been selected to be a director or leader of this company is because you have high standards – particularly for yourself. I would also wager that for many of you those standards are unreasonably too high.  Meaning, you beat yourself up when things go wrong and you make a mistake.  And you hate that don’t you?  You might even be your worst critic.  Well guess what, you are going to screw up and you are going to fail. That’s ok. You have got to learn to give yourself a break.

The Spirit of Summer isn’t a place or an event or an activity or even a camp. The Spirit of Summer is in each of us. It’s a desire to be adventurous, to take a chance, to try something new and make something greater than what we thought it could be. It’s our soul. And for everyone in this room that soul or spirit exists in its highest form when serving and improving the lives of others.   It’s who we are. 

So be that spirit of summer.  Thank you. 

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