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Ways Technology Influences Your Child’s Behavior

At our Midwest summer camp, we minimize electronics during camp sessions, to empower our campers to maximize their social development.  A recent blog from the good folks at Intelligence for your Life, underscored how electronics influence children’s behavior. Children on smartphones Bullets below, with the whole piece available at this link.

  • Developmental psychiatrist Dr. Sara Konrath says that kids today consume three times more screen-based media than they did 50 years ago.

  • They also score 40 percent lower on tests that measure empathy and compassion for others. 

  • Videogames are especially harmful because the on-screen violence desensitizes kids to real-world suffering.

  • Social media robs kids of the opportunity to learn how to interpret how others feel by using tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

  • Experts recommend no more than two hours a day for school-aged kids. (And zero screen time for children under two years old…)

  • Make sure your children exercise the social parts of their brain by spending a lot of time interacting with and playing with other kids.


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How to Be a Better Parent: 3 Counterintuitive Lessons from Science

At our summer camp near Chicago, we continually try to improve how we as staff and counselors can positively influence our campers. An article from the folks at Barking Up the Wrong Tree offers a few good parental tips.  Summary below, with the whole article at the link at the bottom.

1) Peer Pressure Can Be A Good Thing

Myth: Peer pressure is always bad, just leading kids to drinking, drugs and vandalism.

Fact: The same instinct that makes some kids so vulnerable to peer pressure also makes them better students, friends and, eventually, partners.

2) It’s Okay — Even Good — To Fight In Front Of Your Kids

Myth: It’s bad for kids to see their parents fighting.

Fact: It’s good for kids to see parents fight — as long as they also see them resolve the problem. This is how children learn to stand up for themselves while also preserving a relationship.

3) Teens Who Argue Are Good Teens

Myth: Teens who argue are rebellious and need to learn their place.

Fact: Teens need to learn to negotiate and they need to be rewarded for being reasonable. Parents with zero tolerance for “talking back” teach kids that lying is the only way to get what you want.

How To Be A Better Parent: 3 Counterintuitive Lessons From Science


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10 Powerful Things You Can Say To Your Kids

At our Chicago area summer camp, we’re aware of the importance of empowering children.  When the Pew Research Center showed parents across America a list of 10 skills and asked, “Which of these skills is most important for a child to get ahead in the world today?”, the winner, by a landslide, was communication.  Not only was it chosen as the most important, but it beat out such traditional favorites as reading, writing, teamwork and logic.

Communication for kids starts with their parents and it is important to make sure that our kids have not only a direct line of communication with us, but a healthy one. Listed below are 10 powerful things you can, and should often say to your kid.

Summary below (from the folks at, with the whole article available at this link.

  1. I like you.
  2. You’re a fast learner.
  3. Thank you.
  4. How about we agree to…
  5. Tell me more.
  6. Let’s read.
  7. We all make mistakes.
  8. I’m sorry.
  9. What do you think?
  10. Yes.


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How to Talk to Kids About Scary News

While driving down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, with a view of the Manhattan skyline gleaming outside the car windows, my 5-year-old daughter suddenly piped up from the backseat, “Did you know people flew planes into the Twin Towers?”

It was like someone had knocked the wind of my chest, and my husband had to tighten his grip on the steering wheel. I collected myself enough to respond as casually as I could, despite reeling on the inside.

“Um, yes,” I said. “How do you know that?”

“We learned about it in school,” my daughter said, matter-of-factly. “It’s really sad.”

“Yes, yes, it is,” I replied.

Up until that point, I had never even considered telling her about Sept. 11. Why would I? Even though we live in New York City, I didn’t think a kindergartner needed to think about something so awful that it took me, an adult, quite some time to wrap my head around—and frankly, sometimes, still have a hard time processing. But on the anniversary of the attack, my daughter’s elementary school had discussed it in the classroom without me realizing it.

At first I was angry they had potentially shattered my little girl’s concept of a world where nothing evil happened, but then, I’ll admit, I was a little relieved. Now I didn’t have to explain it to her. I didn’t have the first clue about how to talk to my daughter about such scary news.

That was about three years ago, and unfortunately, a lot more scary incidents have happened. Try as we might, they’re bound to seep into our homes. Whether it’s a snippet of a news bulletin on the TV or radio, an adult conversation overhead in public, or something that affects people your child knows, you can’t escape it unless you keep your kid in a bubble. Plane crashes, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, police shootings, school shootings, protester riots, child abductions—it’s all so sad and scary, but it’s the world we live in. We have to be able to talk to our kids about it in ways that will help them understand and handle it.

Expert Advice

So, what’s the right way to talk to our kids about scary news? I gathered some tips from experts who are part of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School preschool franchise to help me—and you—navigate these conversations. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Figure out the real questions your child has.

“When children hear about scary events in the news, which they inevitably will, they are likely to ask for details, such as: Who died? Did it hurt? Will that happen to me? Why would somebody do that? Where were the police? Were they bad people? Where were the parents? Is this a war, etc.?” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, an expert on children and family relationships and clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “Before trying to answer the question, make sure you heard it correctly. Ask the child the question back, with a ‘What do you think?’ tacked on the end, and you’ll get a better idea of what they are worried about.”

Pruett says kids are usually worried about some aspect of their or your personal safety. If so, you then can “offer a specific reassurance,” he says, “such as, ‘We are all fine as always. This happened a long way away’ if that’s true. ‘The police came when the grown-ups called before more people got hurt. We don’t know why someone would do this, but it has never happened there before and probably never will again’ or some [similar] version.”

2. Limit screen time to non-news coverage for young children.

“TV, smartphones and tablets all have the ability to deliver startling images of running, screaming, terrified people that will bring the trauma very close to your child, no matter how far away you may live from the incident,” Dr. Pruett says. “[Tell them,] ‘We’re not watching TV because we want you to hear the story from us and we can help you understand it better.”

3. Keep yourself calm.

Children are quite sensitive to their parents’ emotions even in good times. In worrisome events, they are especially sensitive,” Dr. Pruett says. “If they overhear a conversation and want to know what’s up, keep it simple, to the level of their developmental understanding. Less is more, so be guided by their questions. If they ask you if you are upset or worried, be honest, but brief, and then reassure them that you will be fine.”

“I know my daughters often look for my reaction as they process something they have seen or heard,” adds Dr. Craig Bach, vice president of education for The Goddard School. “On the one hand, I want my response, body language and demeanor to tell them that everything is and will be okay. However, I also want them to be comfortable in showing their emotions and to know that I have emotions, too. There are some things that happen that are upsetting, and you probably would not want to hide an emotional response.”

“I often think of my parents and how they talked about major events in their life or responded to loss, like when JFK was assassinated or when my grandfather passed away,” Dr. Bach continues. “I remember listening to them, but more importantly, I remember how they responded. For example, when I saw my father’s eyes well up with tears, it was evident that the situation deeply affected him and that it was okay to show emotion and be vulnerable, that that is what healthy adults do.”

4. Follow routines even more strictly than usual.

“The predictable is especially reassuring for kids when the unpredictable is so scary,” says Dr. Pruett.

“The reassurance of predictable activities is always more powerful than I anticipate,” adds Dr. Bach. “Along with talking with my girls, making sure that they have a sense of regularity in their lives also lets them know that the world will carry on and things will be okay no matter how scared they might be.”

Moving Forward

Recently, my daughter, now a third-grader, learned about another scary event at school, the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal in April. As we were walking home on the Monday after the disaster, we came across a candlelight vigil for the Nepalese being organized in an outdoor plaza in our neighborhood. I tried to rush us past the area because, even though she is now a big kid, I still want to protect her from learning about such frightening events. But, of course, her curious eyes took in the scene, and she surprised me once again.

“Oh, the earthquake in Nepal is so terrible,” she said.

Then it struck me. Some of her classmates are Nepalese, including one girl she’s been friends with since kindergarten. The earthquake had been a conversation at school that day, as teachers and school staff checked in with the Nepalese students. My daughter’s classroom anxiously awaited word from the Nepalese students’ relatives. Luckily, the reports that came were good for their families: Everyone was safe.

Will I ever stop trying to protect my daughter from scary events? Probably not. But I’m learning that she can handle it, and in fact, she needs to know so she won’t be blindsided by the real world. Plus, by learning about tragedy she can develop skills of compassion and empathy, gain perspective on how her bad days rank in the grand scheme of things, and have opportunities to help others and give back.

“Mom, I need to bring money to school tomorrow to help the Nepalese families,” my daughter told me.

“Of course, honey,” I replied.

She’s gonna be okay.


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6 Summer Camp Benefits

For generations, children have spent their summers at day and sleepaway camps, trying new activities such as swimming, hiking, and various sports. But what many families may not realize is that camp provides children with different opportunities to develop important life skills that are difficult to achieve in any other environment. Below are just a few of the many benefits your children will gain from the summer camp experience.

1) Campers obtain the life skills needed to become successful adults.

At camp, children gain valuable life skills. In fact, an organization called The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (comprising a group of businesses, education leaders, and policymakers) has found there is a large gap between the knowledge students learn in school and the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. After extensive research, the organization determined that some of the skills necessary to become successful adults are communication, collaboration, creativity, leadership, socialization, and problem solving. All of these areas are fostered in the camp environment.

Campers are always communicating with each other, either on the field or in the bunk, learning to work together as a team and as part of the camp community. They also get to be leaders at camp, whether through guiding a first-time younger camper or managing their camp Olympics team. Campers learn to navigate on their own and solve problems by themselves. They engage in many creative outlets, too.

2) Camp educates the whole child.

There is more to learning than test taking and achieving good grades. Camp offers one of the most powerful learning environments and can be a place where a child’s social education takes place. It provides children with the opportunity to try new activities. When children succeed at these activities, they build self-esteem. Children also build social skills and problem- solving skills by being part of a supportive community and partaking in activities together. Campers are challenged and encouraged to grow every day.

3) Camp allows kids to unplug from technology.

Today’s children spend more than 7.5 hours a day engaged with technology, which often takes the place of vital hands-on activities and socialization opportunities. The majority of summer camps ban most technology, including TV, smartphones, tablets, and personal computers. Taking a break from technology over the summer allows children to communicate face to face.

4) At camp, there’s plenty of time for play, which helps children with social and emotional development.

Balancing school schedules, homework, and extracurricular activities doesn’t leave much room for play. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that free and unstructured play is healthy and essential for helping children to reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. It also helps kids manage stress. Traditional summer camps give children plenty of play time, which leads to healthy emotional and social development.

5) Children can reinvent themselves at camp.

Students often attend school year after year with the same peers, which can lead to labeling and being “stuck” with a particular perception. A child may become known as studious, quiet, etc., when, really, he can be boisterous in another setting. Children who go to day or sleepaway camps meet a whole other group of people in a different environment. Often times, a child will break out of his supposed categorization if given the chance. Children get to reinvent themselves at camp and be who they truly want to be, which helps them to build confidence.

6) Camp promotes independence.

When children go to camp, they are given the opportunity to grow more independent. Whether for a day or an entire summer, separation from one’s parents means a camper has to learn to rely on himself and other trusted adults and peers. Separation from parents gives a child the ability to think independently, which builds self-esteem.



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Taking on Back Talk

Last week, I reread the family diary I kept faithfully years ago when my first two children were little. The entries stop rather abruptly after my third child entered the picture. For ten years, I haven’t had time to look at these notes.

Most amusing: examples of the back talk problem I used to have with my middle child. Here are things my daughter actually said to me:


“Mom, I very ’pointed in you!”

“Mom, I put you in storage!”

“Mom, no YOU be quiet!”

She was two years old at the time.

Let’s just say, the back talk got worse after that. For about 12 years. I’m still not certain how I, or my daughter, survived the sputtering rage her increasingly sophisticated back talk inspired.

My parenting wisdom, from the view today as a mom with three teenagers, is that it is essential to teach your kids not to talk back as soon as they start testing out this behavior on you. If they do it at school, on the playground or basketball court, the consequences could be serious, even life-threatening. And if you ignore their early sass, they use the lag time to hone their back talk skills.

What the experts told me then was simple: in order to stop kids from talking back (or gesturing back, also common and equally enraging/dangerous) parents need to find a way to reason with our kids.

Reason, in my family’s case, came in the form of punishment.

Some experts don’t believe in punishing their children for bad behavior.

Those people have never had kids who could talk back like mine, or had a twelve- year-old give them the finger.

Sure, I tried explaining etiquette to my children. I took away dessert. I sent them to their room. This was moderately successful with my oldest and youngest children.

However, none of these “soft” tactics worked with my middle daughter, except to make her laugh devilishly.

The most effective back talk punishment, ever, came the day her father gave her an iPhone as a birthday present. I recommend every parent get their child a smart phone at as young an age as possible, simply so you can take it away as a behavioral tool. Imagine for a second if your boss had the option of impounding your smart phone if you misbehaved at work – or your husband could appropriate it if you didn’t pay enough attention to him over dinner.


Yep. There we go.

The privilege of a smart phone is so profound, addictive, delectable, and socially imperative, that my daughter used to stop speaking mid-sentence when I reached to take away her purple-cased iPhone. Which I did several times a day for years.

I concocted three tiers of smart phone repossession, which I learned to communicate non-verbally so I could mete them out when I was on the phone, driving, or working at my computer:

Parent Holds Up One Finger = one hour

Parent Holds Up Two Fingers = the rest of the day

Parent Holds Up Three Fingers = 24 hours

I was cold-hearted in the face of defiant back talk. My daughter quickly understood the system. I never once relented after making the threat to confiscate her iPhone. And that girl could beg, scream and cry like nobody’s business. But I learned to harden my heart – for her sake, of course. Which is why the punishment worked.

Surprising to me, one of the biggest problems with ending kids’ back talk can be incidental family members. My other children were not allies in my punishment scheme. They tortured their sister by dangling their own phones in her face. They also argued with me that whatever they had done was nowhere near as awful as what she had done, so their punishment had to be lesser.

Ditto for my husband. He was at the office or on business trips for most of her daily/hourly tantrum-y back talk sessions, so for years he thought I was the crazy one, not her. He was constitutionally incapable of disciplining our daughter. In fact, he couldn’t even uphold my punishments.

So I had to get creative about where I hid her verboten iPhone – from him. Otherwise he would give it back to her. I forgave him, because he had grown up without siblings, a kind of lala childhood that meant he didn’t understand family dynamics, poor thing.

So my back talk advice: first, find an effective punishment. But equally important is recognizing it’s not just about punishing the sassy mouth. You have to survey the family terrain first, and look for landmines. Question whether you can count on your spouse or other family members to help enforce whatever utterly brilliant and effective punishment you invent.

In sum: think long and hard before you settle on a punishment that will be effective, and make sure it is one that you alone can control. Back talk can be cured. My daughter is now a lovely, well-behaved, polite and mature 16-year-old angel who is a constant source of joy and delight – particularly because these days she lives 90 miles away at boarding school, and it’s hard for her to spout off from so far away.

The best news for those of you struggling, as almost all parents do, with back talk: one day when they are teenagers, those same kids who drive you whack-job crazy now with their obnoxious, incessant, mind-bending back talk abilities, will not talk to you at all.



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How To Establish Clear Policies For Your Teen’s Tech Use

Technology has transformed our world so thoroughly that our kids cannot imagine life without gadgets. They expect to have access to these devices 24/7, but their expectations aren’t always realistic.

Computers, the Internet and smartphone apps can be tremendous assets to learning, but they can also be significant detractors unless parents establish clear policies for their use.

If gadgets are interfering with your child’s schoolwork, try these easy solutions:

Establish a daily period free of electronics.

When your child returns from school, allow screen access to the computer, cell phone and video games for an agreed upon period of time.  Then turn the electronics off. In many families, afternoon screen time is limited to half hour. But whatever time allotment you establish, you must stick with it. You may also want to have a small box or container labeled “electronics go here.” That way you’re not holding out your hand asking for your child’s beloved cell phone. This neutral zone makes the transition less confrontational. It also limits the child’s urge to sneak calls, texts, or games while doing homework.

Trust but verify

After you verify that the homework is done, let your child retrieve his electronics. This usually includes checking completed assignments against what has been recorded in your child’s planner or posted online by their teachers. Be sure to praise your child for a job well done.

Consider returning electronics in the evening if work is done well.

If your child likes to rush through homework just to have access to his gadgets, consider a later time for returning them. You may find that about an hour after dinner works well. By this time homework should be out of the way unless an extracurricular activity is thrown in the mix.

Having a routine decreases conflict because kids know what to expect.

Even if your child’s schedule is different every day, stick to a routine as much as possible. For example, if your child returns home from school at 4:00 and has half an hour of screen time, then homework would start at 4:30. The electronics can be collected from the basket by your child at 7:00 p.m. If, for example, he has soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30, still allow him access for a half hour after school. Expect that he start his homework before practice and then work on it again immediately after dinner when he returns. On those evenings, he may not earn screen time until his work is completed.

Depending on the age of your child, you may be wondering…


What if he needs the computer for research?

The answer is to allow him to print out information needed for the writing portion of the assignment. That way he’ll have the information, but won’t have continuous and distracting access to the Internet.

What if he needs to type his homework?

If your teen has a computer in his room, but constantly surfs the Internet when he should be doing homework, disable the internet connection to his desk and limit his machine to run word processing and other office programs only.

What should I do if I see him online or texting when he should be doing homework?

Once you establish a “no screen” time, you must enforce it.  Let’s say your policy is in effect from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. If he breaks the rule, penalize him an hour and restrict his use until 8:00 p.m.

She says she focuses better when multitasking. Is this true?

No. In fact, studies show that when kids continually multitask they lose the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Picture your daughter with earphones in while listening to her iPod, texting furiously, and checking her Facebook page all at the same time. This is common, but not productive. The problem is that when kids try to concentrate on just one task, such as reading or studying, they’re less able to sustain the attention needed because they are so accustomed to stimulation from multiple sources. Even though you can discourage this type of behavior, you cannot stop it. You can, however, eliminate it during homework time.

She says she can’t focus without music. Should I allow her to listen?

There may be something to her claims. A small group of students does study better with background music. If your child is productive when listening to her iPod, allow its use; however, if she is constantly distracted, then music may not be helpful.  In fact, recent studies show that the majority of students retain more information while studying for tests when there is no background music.

By setting limits and boundaries, you will be helping to create a positive and productive homework environment.  And good habits formed now will pay off throughout the high school and college years.



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5 Ways to Get Your Family Around the Dinner Table

Have you ever stopped to think about how much “family time” you get on a weekly basis? I’m not talking about watching baseball practice or hosting a sleepover for your daughter. I mean hanging out with just the family—no friends tagging along or focusing on extracurricular activities. For many of us, quality time together is minimal because we’re busy. Although many of us regret not setting aside time to spend with our loved ones, a world of convenience and instant everything pushes us along at such a fast pace. As a result, we become sleep-deprived overachievers and overeaters.

Research shows that families who eat together benefit in more ways than one. Sitting down to share meals boosts communication and strengthens relationships. Kids who regularly enjoy family meals around the table statistically perform better in school and tend to make better choices, even under peer pressure, about alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. They also tend to learn better nutrition habits that transition into their teen years and adulthood.

But there’s one problem. If you’ve been eating on the go or on the couch for months—maybe even years—you may wonder how will you ever get the rest of the gang back on board. Here are five ways to get the whole family around the dinner table again:

1. Give them a choice

Let family members take turns choosing what’s for supper. Allowing them to feel some control and responsibility adds to their enthusiasm and desire to take part.

2. Create theme days

Believe it or not, kids really do love structure, and knowing that it’s “Taco Tuesday” provides them with security and excitement.

3. Assign roles

Everyone has a place in the kitchen. Whether it’s setting the table or loading the dishwasher, everyone—from toddler to teen—can do something. Turn setup and cleanup into time spent together.

4. Plan ahead

You can’t get away from supper. Grumbling tummies must be fed. Try to pick recipes that say they will take around 30 minutes to prepare. And don’t forget to use your crockpot or slow-cooker. While the recipes will take longer to cook, they can be prepped in around 30 minutes and will be hot and ready the second you walk in the door after a long day.

5. Keep it upbeat

Background music, fun conversation, and verbal games, like “I spy,” all add to the ambiance and mood of family dinner time. This is not the time for scolding about bad grades or messy rooms. Designate a separate time to address those issues.



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4 Ways to Create an Awesome Kid

When we’re at our girls-only, boys-only, and blended summer camps near Chicago, we see quite a few awesome kids, and do our best at creating an environment to maximize their development. Below are some good tips on how to help your child be the most awesome s/he can be! stay stress-free. Summary below (from the folks at Barking Up the Wrong Tree), with the whole article available at this link

  • Work on yourself: Increasing your own happiness and reducing your stress have big effects on your kids.
  • Autonomy: Want them to be successful adults? Make sure they have a say in what they do — starting now.
  • Communicate: Family meals make a big difference. Tell them their family history. More arguing means less lying.
  • Community: Their peers have more influence they you do. Make sure Grandmom is around if you want compassionate children.

One last thing you need to keep in mind if you want a close relationship with the kiddos:

Love. Don’t just be guider, protector and enforcer. Kids are nearly 50% more likely to feel close to those who show them affection.


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How to Prepare Kids for Overnight Camp and Sleepovers

My daughter recently went on an exchange trip with her teachers and classmates. She was out of the country for 10 days without her dad, her siblings or me. She did great. In fact, she was so excited that her bag was packed a full week before her trip. As she hugged and kissed us goodbye, I took time to reflect on how she arrived in that place of calm confidence.

How do parents prepare and “toughen up” their kids for extended time away from them? What steps can you follow to ready themselves for the long separation?

1. Start small and build

Encourage your child to explore and challenge herself. Think of when your child learned to ride a bike; you didn’t have her start on a hill. You had her start on a flat surface and, if you were like me, it was grass and training wheels.

I never would have considered sending my daughter out of the country when she was 8 or 9, but I did send her away to overnight camps, so that she could get used to being apart from her loved ones. She was away longer each consecutive year; her confidence and independence grew. In turn, I learned to let go a little more each time.

2. Admit and face fears

Your child absorbs your fears, just like she absorbs your values and sense of humor. What are you afraid of? Yes, things can happen; however, remember that far more good things happen than bad. Fear can paralyze someone from trying.

Growth comes from challenges. How will she test herself and gain confidence in her abilities if she is fearful or not able to overcome real or perceived obstacles? Try to model confidence and a positive outlook when you face challenges. Your child will likely do the same.

3. Teach safety and looking out for others

Safety is a key issue with all parents. I didn’t put my child on a plane and say, “See you later.” I prepared her through the years on matters like staying with her group, always having a buddy, no talking to strangers, being aware of her surroundings, washing her hands, looking both ways before she crossed the street – you get the idea.

We talked about other situations that might come up. Kids would be together in close contact for a long period of time and become edgy. There might be issues with privacy or a friend who was homesick.

4. Prepare your child to adapt to new surroundings and the unexpected

Talk to your child about what to expect. A well-prepared child has knowledge and options to adapt if necessary. For example, my daughter was traveling where sanitation could be a problem and because of that, food safety was a concern. Caution about what she ate and drank was paramount; eating and drinking like the locals would most likely make her sick.

She would have to make the decisions about what she ate and drank. We researched the common types of food offered and how they were prepared. Fresh and unpeeled vegetables were not going to be an option unless she was assured that they were washed with purified water. Being aware can help kids act on their toes when they’re in the thick of a new, uncertain situation.



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Kupugani touches on all the core values and enrichment that we hope to instill in our [child]. My husband and I absolutely love Camp Kupugani. Our [child] gained immensely from camp.

Lisa G.

Everyone…was just so, so personable, kind, and the kind of person I want
my [child] looking up to and spending time with.

Laura V.

[My daughter’s] face lights up when she speaks about camp, it’s a priceless experience.

Kenya P.

I have never come in contact with such a wonderful group of people at a camp before. Everyone did an outstanding job, the camp was so organized, it was unbelievable.

Joe M.

She absolutely loves the camp, the staff, and all the friends she makes there. I consider Kupugani to be a big influence in helping her grow and expand her mind each summer.

Luci A.


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