Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dear Camp Moms and Dads…and any Grandparents out there!
            I hope you have woken up to a glorious day like I have. The sun is shining bright, the breeze is lovely, and the grass is green.  Adding your wonderful, sweet, hardworking and dear children to the farm makes it all complete for me. The months of work and preparation to renew and refresh the farm, get all the horses ready and the jumps painted have come to fruition for sure! I thank you for sharing your ladies with us. Together, we are having a blast!
            I do want to briefly apologize that I have not written more for the Blog.  I am having so much fun and am able to truly be with the girls instead of being sick and having to watch them!!! I simply have not had as much time to sit in my sterile office and write to you! Trust me when I say that I would hugely prefer to be out there doing things together than writing about what other people can do with my ‘Treasures’!
            Having said that, let me now turn to telling you what a terrific time we are all having.  We have had one or two cases of homesickness…which is to be expected…and even that is vanishing as I write this morning.  Despite the weather which has been a little rainy with pretty significant thunderstorms that first full day, we have persevered and have ridden a ton.  I have walked around to see all the lessons each morning and found happy kids on correct mounts and in the right riding level. I hope that you will share this observation with me when you come for either the horse show or the last day’s Parents’ Riding Exhibition.
             I also hope you and your daughters’ teachers will feel like everyone has learned a ton.  We have worked hard on improving the camp instructional staff through weekend trainings. Almost anyone who can ride well can teach a private lesson.  The trick of course at camp is to teach a group of 5 or 6 riders.  With the help of the CITs, I see good solid, encouraging and interesting lessons being taught.  This will continue to be our focus this year so that you will all be pleased with the instruction your children have received here at Pony Farm!
            Adding this good teaching to our lovely new rings with superior ring footing has been thrilling for me to see.  Today we are finalizing the classes that your kids will be riding in on Saturday.  Once we are sure we have correctly entered them, we will then email you as to the approximate time that your child/ren will ride on Saturday.  For those of you who can come, it seems silly to tell you to be here at 9 sharp when she might not be riding until 2PM.  We will do our best to get accurate times but of course it is hard to nail it down to the exact minute.  We never know how many outside riders will come and how quickly the classes will go, but we can approximate it for you. 
            For those of you who cannot come, rest assured that we will be there for your child.  We have tons of coaching staff for the riding piece.  I have no show responsibilities at all…rather I am there to be there for your kids and you!!! So, please come chat with me if you can come and know without a doubt that I will be there for your kiddo to her on if you can not come.  That’s a promise!
            We have also had the kids do lots of fun, silly, happy things at night.  We did group “get to know you games” on Sunday night.  Then, Bag Skits was a hit on Monday night.  You surely have creative characters as daughters.  I am sure you are never bored with them around!  Tuesday night saw Capture the Flag, an all time fav.  Last night, the instructors entered the girls in the right classes with lots of fun show names having been given to the ponies and horses.  Tonight, they will be playing Personal Scavenger Hunt, a huge favorite.  The kids are divided up into teams.  The staff come up with of all kinds of funny shows, songs, movies, books and ask questions.  The team has to figure out the answer and then run to the table and slap it.  Then, they are to either give the answer, sing the song, or dance the dance.  It is lively to say the least!
            Tomorrow, we will finalize getting ready for the show.  Between today and tomorrow, each rider will get to work on the trail class obstacles or the courses she will be doing on Saturday.  We will also practice is larger groups for the flat classes.  Baths o’plenty will be given, tack cleaned and boots polished.  Hair ribbons will be purchased and ponies trimmed.  It is a real three ring production but fun from morning to night.  I can’t wait to write about it all or have you see it in person.
            Mostly, I want to thank you again for entrusting your Treasurers with us.  We take our responsibility to have ‘safe and happy fun’ very seriously.  We are delighted to have these kids and hopefully are creating life long memories of joy and friendship.
                                                                        Happy Day to you! 
                                                                        Most warmly, Boo

Monday, June 25, 2012

It is raining...

Well…it’s raining and not just raining a little, it is raining a lot.  At least it was first thing this morning as we were trying to get organized to ride.  But never fear we will prevail.  It looks like it will clear this afternoon, which means we will do our trial rides then, instead of in the rain. (I am sure the campers appreciate this jester.) This morning the campers are in different stations around the barn.  One station is tack cleaning, although not very glamorous, it is part of riding horses.  It needs to be done and one should know how to clean one’s tack.  It is also good training for later in the week as we get ready for the horse show. The next station in the barn is the spa.  We have campers learning how to properly groom their ponies or horses for the more novice riders.   The more advanced campers are pulling manes, clipping feathers, and some are learning how to body clip.  An art form in its self.

We have a terrific week planned!  Have your fingers crossed that the weather holds for us and we don’t grow webbed feet, but I guess that is why there are barn boots.  Last week we dealt with the heat, this week we have the rain.  I am not sure which I prefer to have.

Co-Camp Director

PS As I post this blog, it is no longer raining

More Whoa Than Go

That would be Dusty, my first lesson horse at Touchstone Farm. And come to think of it, that would be me: a middle-aged, not so fit beginner rider.

To some people, “lesson horse” suggests a broken-down old nag with a lot of bad habits and big doses of stubborn and cranky. Horses like that are surely out there, but they aren’t at Touchstone Farm.

Touchstone Farm horses are
the curious, outgoing type,
like Kiddo here.
Making the grade as a Touchstone Farm lesson horse requires liking the company of humans and having a “go with the flow” temperament. Boo says she looks for horses who come to the door of their stall when you walk in the barn, “not turning around and showing you their big butts.”

Training is a key component of maintaining happy lesson horses. It takes a special horse to put up with being ridden by a multitude of inept riders (me! me!) and still retain a firm grasp of the appropriate responses to aids.

At Touchstone Farm, lesson horses who seem to need a refresher will work with an experienced rider – usually an instructor or a Horse Power Instructor Training Candidate – to get back in shape for lessons.

Staff also keep an eye out for horses who show signs that they are ready to retire from the teaching profession. Boo says she has seen horses who have been willing lesson partners for years up and decide, “I just don’t like going around this ring anymore.” It’s in everyone’s best interest to thank such horses for their service and retire them from the lesson rotation.

During his stint as my lesson horse, Dusty kindly and patiently saw me through the rock-bottom basics of learning to ride:
  • Entering a horse’s stall to put a halter on him and lead him out (“Really? Are you sure he won’t mind?”)
  • Grooming and tacking up (sorry about the mess I made of getting your bridle on, Dusty!)
  • Developing the balance to sit atop a horse in motion (where there’s nothing to hold onto that isn’t also moving)
  • Learning to use hand and leg aids (and remembering that “inside” and “outside” are not the same as “left” and “right”)
Dusty, who simply stopped in the absence of any obvious cue from me, made me feel safe. He waited for my instructions instead of executing a plan of his own. He didn’t object to my confusing requests and clumsy handling of the reins. And he didn’t mind doing the same things over and over. (Quick shout-out here to my first instructor, Lisa Manoogian, who was also kind and patient and didn’t mind doing the same things over and over.)

Dusty gave me the opportunity to learn without fear and to experience the thrill of communicating with a big and powerful animal. Through him I realized that I could figure out inside/outside rein and leg, and all the rest of it, too. Dusty gave me the confidence to know I would figure it out, and I would love the process.

Dusty & Nell get centered
with Mitzi Summers.
Dusty is now retired from Touchstone Farm. He was a long-term loan to the farm, and his owner asked for him back to ride herself. I saw Dusty last fall when he and his owner, Nell, attended a Centered Riding clinic at the farm, taught by Mitzi Summers. Dusty was a little chubbier and prone to dozing off when not actually in motion. But he seemed content to help Nell become a centered rider.

After the clinic, a stretch limo for horses pulled up at the farm. Dusty was carefully wrapped and blanketed and installed in his limo/trailer. He set off in comfort and style for his winter home in South Carolina.

For my money, Dusty has earned every moment of his cushy retirement.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pony Farm Summer Camp – Is It Pony Farm or Touchstone Farm?

Pony Farm Summer Camp – Is It Pony Farm or Touchstone Farm?

It has been well over a year since Pony Farm and Horse Power became Touchstone Farm. I often hear people telling me they don’t get it. If you are scratching your head and telling yourself you don’t get it, don’t feel silly. You aren’t alone -- sometimes, I still call the farm Pony Farm or PF for short. Let me explain it to you!

In the past, the farm had three separate operations: Horse Power, Pony Farm and Stepping Stone Lodge. The three had separate accounting books, employee manuals, tax returns, etc. All three used at least some of the same staff, horses, and facilities. Horse Power was a nonprofit but the other two were not. Three operations made things like accounting, payroll, taxes, and fundraising very complicated with a lot of duplicated (or triplicated!) effort.

Now, all three organizations operate as programs under one nonprofit "umbrella" named Touchstone Farm. In this new organization:
Pony Farm is the name of our residential summer riding camp.
Horse Power is the name of our therapeutic riding program, which also includes the Barn Buddies summer day camp and the Horse Power Instructor Training Program.
Stepping Stone Lodge still refers to the lodge.
Touchstone Farm is the name of the overall farm and of our riding and carriage driving programs.

Are you nodding your head and saying, "Yes! I get it?" I hope so. But if you still call us Pony Farm, it’s OK.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Feeling Guilty...

I feel guilty for not having written sooner. It is not like I haven't been posting things on the blog. But parents, I know you want to hear in detail what we have been up to. I will be honest, we have been busy at camp and I have been having too much fun to sit down and write. Sorry. I have been trying to post something on Facebook,, everyday so do check out the pictures!

On Sunday evening while I had the lodge to myself, the campers had gone down to grain their ponies or horses, it dawned on me that camp had started. This may seem like an odd thought to some people. But Boo and I work and wait 9 months out of the year for these 3 months of summer! It really is the best time of year. Plus, we have been crazy busy with the final camp push, getting all those last minute details done around the farm before camps starts.

We have a terrific group of campers! Everyone is getting along well, everyone LOVES their ponies or horses and is in the correct riding group. This makes a camp director happy and proud! Happy because the campers are happy and proud because the staff is doing a good job.

On Monday we got everyone on their pony or horse to see what they could do. Monday afternoon we did a Natural Horsemanship Lesson, re-rides (There were only 2 campers that had to re-ride. That is a 89% success match rate, which is pretty great!) and a Pony Spa Day split. So half the campers did one activity and the other half did the other activity and then they switched half way through. The natural horsemanship lesson is so that campers can feel more connected to their mount over the course of their stay. We have the Pony Spa Day so that camper who don't know how to groom their horses or ponies learn, plus who doesn't love a spa day!

Tuesday we had our morning lessons and in the afternoon we did swim tests! We had a lot of important swims ahead of us like swimming at the Wilton Falls, swimming with the horses, swimming with the small animals, and wading in the creek so we had to make sure that everyone could swim. I hear on Tuesday night there was a really intense game of Capture the Flag. Kris Young, our old camp director, was in charge on this night. (So that I can have some time off.)

This morning we had our riding lessons and this afternoon, due to the heat, mid 90s, we decided as a group to go swimming at the Wilton Falls to cool down. They are beautiful and worth a visit the next time you are in the area. So the whole camp went to the Falls, all 29 of us. We dominated the falls. a little bit. I think that when people saw 30 girls (this number includes campers and staff) they went to the upper falls, while the camp enjoyed the lower falls. We had a great time! Tonight we are going to have an ice-cream trough! Ask your camper about it, she will love sharing stories of "the trough"! I don't want to spoil your dinner with the details. The trough is the perfect activity on a HOT summer night! Tonight we are also playing Personal Scavenger Hunt! Truly the best game on EARTH!

Tomorrow we have a very busy day of swimming with the horses and a camping trip with the ponies and horses to set up and enjoy! I think almost the whole campe is going. More details to come!

Becky, Co - Camp Director

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pony Farm Summer Camp at Touchstone Farm - Our Schedule for the Week!

Pony Farm Summer Camp at Touchstone Farm - Our Schedule for the Week!

Confessions of a Middle-Age Barn Rat

Let me introduce myself and this new weekly blog post. I’m Kathy McDonald, a beginner rider in the Touchstone Farm lesson program, and a Woman of a Certain Age. Pushing 52, to be precise.

I’m also a volunteer at Touchstone Farm, helping get the word out about all the wonderful horsy things that happen here every day. And yes, I’m a barn rat.

Me in the Rockies
A barn rat likes to hang out with horses even when she’s not riding or taking a lesson. A barn rat shows up at the stable to see what’s going on and make herself useful if she can.

But truthfully, a barn rat is just there to be with the horses.

And that’s me. I was born horse-crazy (there’s a gene for it, I’m sure) but never had the chance to ride as a kid. Then, as I closed in on 50, several events got me thinking about learning to ride horses.
  • I went for a trail ride at Rocky Mountain National Park. I spent the first 10 minutes desperately gripping the saddle horn and cursing my stupidity for thinking I could stay on this large, swaying creature for 2 hours. I spent the remaining 1 hour and 50 minutes giddy and exhilarated. Me – on HORSEBACK!
  • I attended a school horse show outside Boston where my nieces, ages 9 and 7 at the time, were riding. Their heels just cleared the edge of the saddle pads but they easily walked and trotted and won ribbons.
  • At this same schooling show, I saw several adult riders who were beginners. Among these was a woman with cerebral palsy. She used a walker with difficulty but rode her horse with easy grace and competence. Her riding impressed me for many reasons.
Nieces making it look easy
And so it was, the day after my 50th birthday, that I found myself at the Touchstone Farm open house, signing up for lessons. 

It’s been an amazing ride, so to speak. In these weekly posts, I’ll be telling you more, not only about my learning to ride but also about the interesting, fun, funny, exciting, moving, and darned cool things I see at Touchstone Farm.

Because the thing about barn rats is, we’re always around. And if it’s about horses, we find a way to be part of it.

See you around the farm,

Kathy McDonald
Rider and Volunteer at Touchstone Farm

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pony Farm Summer Camp - Welcome Letter

Dearest Camp Moms and Dads,

            Welcome to our 41st summer of Pony Farm!!!!  We are thrilled you have left your treasure(s) with us…two and four footed. Thank you for choosing Pony Farm. I hope you are reading this letter as you drive away, leaving your daughter(s) in our charge.  I know that it is so hard in this day and age to trust people outside of our own immediate family circle, but I want to sincerely reassure you that we will take good care of your children.  We are so committed to doing a super job for each and every camper.  We have worked extremely hard to get everything ‘just so’ for her arrival and stay.  We just wanted to reiterate to you how seriously we take our job of providing “safe FUN”!!!
Right now, your daughter is meeting many the staff members.  The rest of the team will be here bright and early tomorrow morning. We have a truly wonderful staff. I can tell you without reservation that we have terrific staff, all of whom have received lots of training specific to how Pony Farm operates.  The whole staff has really come together as a team with each person having the right skills and commitment for his or her job.  It is a pleasure to lead such a team of fine people, young and old!
           We will begin the orientation to camp, starting with the all important motto of “Taking good care of each other, our horses and the land”.  Not only will they learn how to do this, but we will take them through the steps of barn safety, horse care, mail call, medicines, meal times and house capers.  We have carefully designed each part of their day so that it is like a big, well run family with all sorts of caring adults that guide them through each activity from dawn to dusk!!!  The fun and joy of being together has begun!
            Tonight, we will have dinner and then begin with some getting to know you games, first by rooms and then by the whole group.  Part of this is an “All Farm Scavenger Hunt” so everyone gets to know her way around the farm.  Following some of this orientation, we will do some singing to make everyone feel comfy and cozy!  The Counselors-in-Training have prepared Vespers for tonight to help set the tone of respect, care and consideration.  Vespers will then be done with each room taking their turn.  Vespers is a peaceful ending to the day which lets the kids slow down and prepare to go off to bed.  This is a circle of thanks and reflection on everything from horses, being together, and loving our family and friends.  Sometimes the staff or children write poems while other times they bring special books like “Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul” and read passages.  It is so beautiful with all their sweet smiling faces bathed in candlelight with our Vesper Log lighting the main room of the lodge.
          We then sing special camp songs and each room tiptoes off to bed.  They get changed and brush their teeth, and then their Room Counselors come tuck them in bed.  For the littler kids, they read or tell them a bedtime story.  It is a peaceful ending to a day filled with activity!  Tomorrow morning they will wake up and catch their pony for morning feed.  Following that, they will begin their riding and get sorted into just the right group and onto just the right mount.  We take huge care to do this correctly.
 It is really easy to stay in contact with your daughter or camp staff.  Emails are the best way to be in touch with people at camp, whether it be your daughter or staff. You can e-mail your daughter  Emails are checked, printed and delivered to your daughter daily. We are truly not by the phone because we are out with your kiddo….so do email. The staff and I have committed to checking e-mail before 11AM each day….I will check once more before the evening is out.
Contact Information
E-Mail Addresses
E-Mail your daughter:
Boo’s e-mail address:                                          
Becky’s email address:
Denise’s email for horse related questions:

Please check out the Farm Blog.  It is updated frequently while your daughter is at camp.  Please go to, of the left-hand side click “Farm Blog”.

Phone Policy
The office phone, 603-654-6308, is answered every M, T, TH, from 8:30 – 2:30. On Wednesday, Fridays and after 2:30, it is answered as someone is available, and the answering machine is checked regularly. 

Emergency Phone Information
If there is an emergency at night, you can call our Emergency Phone # which is always carried by one of the  Becky or a Senior Staff members.  It is 603-769-1853. This is reserved for truly emergency use only. I will also give you my personal cell phone which is 603-321-5255.  Please keep in mind these are to be used only in a dire situation or one in which you have true concerns about your child.

            Mostly however, we are pleased to have your child with us.  Thank you for your confidence in us. We will do everything we can to make her stay fabulous.  Rest assured that we will call if there is even one little question!  Together, we will make this a fantastic time for her, creating memories she can take with her the rest of her life!!!!
Most sincerely,

Isabella (Boo) Martin, M.Ed
Founder and Exec. Director of Pony Farm
CHA & PATH, Intl. Master Instructor
Certified Driving Instructor
ARIA Instructor of the Year-1997
NH Horse Person of the Year-2003
NARHA Life Time Achievement
Award Winner - 2009

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pony Farm Summer Camp – Waiting for Summer

Pony Farm Summer Camp – Waiting for Summer

On days like these at Touchstone Farm, I stare out the window with the sun beaming on my face, and I close my eyes and dream of summer. I think about opening day and girls running up the driveway to see which horse they are on, what room they are in, and who their room counselor will be.

Then they see a friend and give a shrill cry that only a young girl can! They run and hug their long lost friend. Their conversation picks up right where it left off last summer. They talk about ponies, horses, and inside jokes only they get, like OAPF, Dear Appaloosa and so many more.

I can’t wait to see you all!

I get to rehash summer when I give camp tours. But it isn’t the same. I explain Snipe Hunts, ice-cream troughs, personal scavenger hunts and more, but it isn’t the same without you here. People politely smile and giggle at the stories, but I wish you all were here to share your favorite story and the magic of the farm. Summer is only 8 weeks and 2 days away! I keep counting down the days, and I am waiting for the day that I will see you all!

Friday, June 8, 2012

May 29, 2012, 3:46 pm

The Camp Counselor vs. the Intern

In an act of quiet rebellion, my daughter will spend this summer as a counselor at a sleep-away camp in the Adirondacks. As rebellions go, this one is admittedly very tame. But she is resisting considerable pressure to join the throngs of anxious fellow collegians (she’s finishing her junior year) who will pad their résumés with summer internships in corporations, charities, law firms and other employers that, according to conventional wisdom, offer better preparation for the brutal economy than a summer camp.

She has been attending the same old-fashioned, all-American camp since she was 8 and has been a counselor there for the last three years. For much of the winter and spring, I argued with her and my wife against the camp option, telling them that my daughter needed every conceivable edge to help her survive and thrive in this rough, unforgiving, every-woman-for-herself world.
Like it or not, a summer internship — indeed, more than one — has become de rigueur for a college student. That is a big reason why her camp, like others, has had an increasingly difficult time retaining experienced counselors. Whatever she wants to do upon graduation — right now, the uncomfortably tentative plan is to make documentary films — I insisted that those reviewing my daughter’s work experience will be decidedly unimpressed with “Camp Counselor, 2009-2012.”
Anyone can be a camp counselor, I said, and in this economy, she can’t afford to be just anyone. She needs to show that she is exceptional, to bedazzle potential employers, to brand herself. Just one line on the résumé could spell the difference between joining the millions of college grads lounging on their parents’ couches and a fabulous entry-level gig with Martin Scorsese — or, if she changes vocational directions, another rung on the ladder to success.

I tried to sound sure of myself, even persuaded friends working in various industries to tell her it was true, but my argument was halfhearted. Much of me secretly concurred with the powerful argument my wife made for returning to camp: our daughter would have plenty of time for the so-called real world and we should not begrudge her just one more summer in paradise. “Life is a long preparation for something that never happens,” Yeats warned. He had a point. “The real world sucks,” my wife said, and she had a point, too.

My daughter already came across as an impressive young woman based on her accomplishments, and I had no idea whether one more line on her résumé was likely to make the slightest difference. A recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers concluded that “unpaid internships offer no advantage to the job-seeking student,” and that was the only kind of internship her friends had managed to land in previous summer searches. For awhile, though, I forced myself to parrot conventional wisdom because there was at least a chance that it was true.
But the clinching argument came from my daughter’s impassioned defense of camp counselors, and her outrage that someone glancing at résumés would believe that a 20-year-old who fetches coffee at Google is more impressive than one who spends days and nights nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring.

“What I do there matters,” she insisted. In several conversations, she told us about helping a camper cope with her mother’s debilitating depression and comforting others whose parents were fighting or separating, about aiding 11- and 12-year-olds who were coming to terms with their sexuality, battling anorexia, confronting body fear. She talked about the many hours devoted to water-skiing lessons, about instilling the confidence needed by awkward, gawky, painfully self-conscious 8- and 9-year-olds to stay prone in the water, hold on to the rope, then rise up and stay on their feet as the boat pulled away. “What’s more important than that?” she asked.

I had no answer, because I couldn’t come up with anything more important. Nor could I dispute her additional point that the work was incomparable preparation for the future, requiring the skills to manage group projects and motivate individuals, set goals and juggle tight schedules, and stay available for 24 hours a day, six days a week, in sickness and in health.
My wife and I wouldn’t have been able to stop her from returning to camp, but our approval was important to her, so eventually I gave in, with the proviso that she agree to make a documentary film about camping.

That doesn’t mean I am convinced it was the right choice. It is possible to prepare for some challenges of parenthood, to seek guidance from friends and experts when you are not sure about something. But nothing can prepare you for waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that your child is going to be eaten alive by the world, she is too sweet and guileless for what lies beyond the nest of college and camp, you haven’t done enough to toughen her, she’s just not ready.
If I wake up with those fears this summer, I will try to tell myself that in a society where great camp counselors — like great teachers — are absurdly undervalued, her insistence on going back to camp demonstrates a great deal of toughness. And I will try to remember that, at a certain point, there is nothing more my wife and I can do, other than to hope that our daughter can hold on to the rope and stay on her feet as the boat pulls away.

Dan Fleshler is a media and public affairs consultant in New York City.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May 30, 2012, 3:34 pm

Why Camp Counselors Can Out-Parent Parents

Are you having trouble getting your 9-year-old daughter to make her bed every day? How about your 11-year-old son? Does he get up in the morning and run down to the dining room to set the breakfast table for the family? And after breakfast, does he clear the dishes and wipe down the table? He doesn’t? Sorry to hear that. (Neither did mine.)
And while I’m at it, may I ask about video games? Texting? Do your children get angry and stubborn when you ask them to shut off their electronics at dinner time or when it is time for bed? Lots of parents have told me that the turn-off-the-video-games confrontations can be tougher to handle than the turn-off-the-TV moments.
Whether the issue is chores or screens, at times like these we question our own parenting: have we spoiled our children? Do they lack discipline … or do we? Should we emulate the focus of the tiger moms? Why can’t we raise our bon bébés with the natural authority of French parents? Why is it that our children, by the age of 8 or 9, have tired of our commands and our advice? We must look ourselves in the mirror and ask: What should we be doing differently? Time to buy more parenting books!
As a so-called “parenting expert,” I am struck by how often American parents think that the answer to their parenting dilemmas is for them to do more, or better, or to do something differently. I disagree. I often believe parents should do less, and should sometimes take themselves out of the picture, especially in the summer, when it’s easy to stop battling and turn some of the toughest parenting challenges over to 20- and 21-year-olds who can perform magic with their children.
College-age students possess a completely different kind of authority than do parents, and they put it to good use getting children to set tables, make beds, keep track of their clothes, take showers, take turns and, more important, take risks and accept challenges that would melt parents into a puddle of anxious empathy. These young adults often teach complex, challenging life-and-death skills: sailing, horseback riding, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and survival techniques. They also teach character and community, caring and sacrifice. And they do it all in an environment free of electronics: summer camp.
Why is it that these young people pay such close attention to counselors who are actually just a few years older than they are? How can these counselors, so young and relatively inexperienced with children (though they have far more training than in the past), get campers to do things without a struggle that are often an occasion for tears and tantrums at home?
In his masterwork, “Childhood and Society,” Erik Erikson reminds us that not all learning comes from “systematic instruction.” In preliterate societies and in non-literate pursuits, he points out, “much is learned from adults who become teachers by dint of gift and inclination rather than by appointment and perhaps the greatest amount is learned from older children (italics are mine).”
Children love to learn, but they get tired of being taught by adults. Children want to learn from older children, and, at a camp that means older campers, C.I.T.’s (counselors in training) and camp counselors. They want to live with them, emulate them, absorb them. In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where an 11-year-old can get the sustained attention of a 19-year-old. In return for the attention of these “older children,” campers will make sacrifices. They will follow all kinds of rules and adhere to all kinds of rituals that they would likely fight at home.
When children return home from camp, parents are amazed. “She is so grown-up,” they observe. “He is so responsible!” a startled father exclaims. “He cleans up after himself.” Another mother, amazed at her child’s growth in only a month, remarks, “He tries so many new foods!”
There’s just no contest between parents and counselors. The college students are vastly better looking than we are; they are truly cool and they have dazzling skills. When children need a summer filled with growth and change (not to mention fun and glory), I tell their parents to give camp a chance.

Michael Thompson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, school and camp consultant. He is the author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.