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Florida has changed a lot in the last 65 years, but one Florida institution that has stood the test of time is Circle F Dude Ranch Camp. This classic sleep-away camp and guest ranch, which still looks much like it did when it started in 1952, is situated on a private lake among 500 acres of oak trees in central Florida. The bunkhouse style cabins and the Lasso Lodge dining hall has hosted 3 generations of Floridians and still, to this day, host campers and guest from Miami to Tallahassee and around the world. “The real legacy of our camp is in all of the amazing individuals that have been campers, camp families, guest, and staff over the years,” said Ben Moss Camp Director, “I look forward to seeing them at this year’s camp reunion.” The camp is preparing to celebrate 65 years of camping on Feb 11, 2017 at the camp facility with an event that invites back all former campers, camp families, guests, and staff.
“What amazes me is how often I hear from those individuals how their grandparents, parents, and themselves have all attended camp at Circle F. I think that is the best testament to what we do,” stated Mr. Moss. 3 Generations of camp families have made Circle F their camp home and, in doing so, Circle F Dude Ranch has become part of the fabric of Florida. Ask around just a little and you are sure to run into a person in Florida that over the years has attended the summer camp, a family or dad and daughter weekend, school trip, or private event at the ranch.
Camp Owner, Paul Wells, noted, “65 years has not been without some changes, but I am most proud that who we are and what we do here has never changed. What brings so many of our campers and guests back is the effect this place has on making them gain a better understanding of themselves.” It is true that over the years cabins have been updated, air conditioning added, new adventures like climbing walls and skate parks added to the activity lineup, while classics like swimming, horseback riding, archery, and nature lore have stood the test of time.
“It’s about more than just the activities or the place,” stated Mr. Moss, “it’s about the experience every camper and guest receives. The chance to step outside of their normal lives and become something more.” Circle F has held true to its core ideas of teaching campers to respect others, inspire those they meet, to play with a purpose, be positive and be a leader within their community and, most importantly engage in the world around them. These fundamental ideas extend into every program at Circle F and can be seen in the way the campers and staff interact with each other each day.
The “Circle F Experience” whether attending a school trip, weekend program, or the summer camp, has always been about investing in the idea of helping participants connect with nature while growing on a personal level. This basic principle has resulted in tens of thousands of lives being positively impacted over the past 65 years of the camp.
Check out the video below to find out you can be involved with the Circle F Reunion
4 Steps for Better Play with a Purpose by Ben Moss
Not long after I started as the director of Circle F Dude Ranch, I found myself in a conversation about the camp’s mission with Paul Wells, owner of camp. We discussed many things but one of the things we came back to often was that children do not have enough opportunities to play outdoors. We both agreed that play is critical in the development of children and needs to be part of every camper’s experience at camp. Paul often tells me that our campers should “Play with a Purpose.”
So, what does this mean? I think to understand “Play with a Purpose,” we should start by exploring play overall. Play can look like many things. It could be time spent on a playground, riding a bike, video games, board games with friends, toys, or even make-believe. For children, almost all aspects of play are teaching them basic and needed life-skills. Furthermore, outdoor and imaginative play is teaching a child to be creative and non-linear problem solver. Play with other children helps focus on teamwork and conversations, which in turn helps children to expand their interpersonal communication and conflict management skills.
Play with a Purpose is realizing the underlying life skill growth that happens when we play. Learning to allow others play with our toys, such as blocks, helps us to learn to share and be flexible in the future. Taking turns while playing a board game teaches us the importance of patience and being part of a team. Play that requires concentration and practice to become better, like learning to dance or shooting a bow, helps us to learn patience and perseverance. It doesn’t take much to see the deeper value of play.
Some things in our society have begun to stand in the way of this type of play. The days of parents telling their children to go outside and not come back until it is time to eat have disappeared. Computers, phones, and gaming systems often take the place of sand boxes, swing sets, and riding bikes. My focus today is not to dwell on technology; I do not see it as an evil that is destroying our children. Technology is extremely valuable and in many cases, can teach some of the life skills we have been discussing. Like all good things, technology must be approached with moderation. My daughter is allowed a limited amount of “screen time” each day. Technology, however, can’t replace classic interpersonal play. It also can’t replace the tactile experience of the real outdoor world.
So how do we provide better play with purpose times for our children? Like many things in life there is no easy pathway. Turning off a television or video game can be very difficult, especially if your child does not want this to happen.
Step One: Identify and maintain “no electronic” times daily.
More and more, child physiologists and doctors are recommending that there be an unplug time every day within our homes. A time when the television, internet, phones, or video games are turned off. This requires our children to pick up books, play with toys, or go outside.
Step Two: Find an outdoor playground or park to go once a week.
I always find it funny to see people play games like tennis and golf on a computer screen when they could often head to a local park to play for real with other people. Children love playgrounds. Within the last week, I saw the smile of my daughter as she went down a slide for the first time. Playgrounds offer the chance for your children to meet other children and to create imaginative play. It also can’t hurt us parents to get outside and maybe even play a little ourselves. This is where I note how much my wife enjoyed a swing at my daughter’s playground.
Step Three: Play with our children at least once a day.
I know we all live busy lives, but finding 15 minutes to play with our kids teaches them the world. Any parent out there understands how our children mimic what they see. Sitting down to play with your child gives you the opportunity to be at their level. Teach them values in a fun way. For example, my daughter learned to say “please” in sign language through play. Now when she wants a block or doll that Dad is holding, she says please. In many cases 15 minutes can become an hour when you let it.
Step Four: Sign them up for experiences with others.
We as parents have become very guarded with our children, but their growth depends on our ability to let go and allow them to be independent. As they get older we must give them that chance. From a one-day field trip, to spring break camps, to two weeks of summer camp; these fun and playful opportunities to get out into the world with their peers can really change their life.
As a new year begins, I encourage you to seek out more play opportunities for your child. Remembering that in the end its more than just fun; its teaching them to be smart, polite, and talented individuals as they grow up.
Ben Moss is the Director at Circle F Dude Ranch Camp in Lake Wales Florida. He has a degree in Speech and Interpersonal Communication from Southern Illinois University. He has worked in the field of youth development for over 20.
“I Light the Pillar of Experience ” by 7 Year Camper, Coral.
This week we bring you a Campfire Speech from the 2016 Season. At the closing of each session, campers and staff gather to reflect on the true meaning of camp. Pillar torches are lit and campers speak on a chosen topic. It is an honor to be selected to give a speech. This speech is from Coral, a 13 year old camper, who spoke on the experience and meaning of being at Circle F.
I’ve been going to this camp for 7 years so I have had many experiences and I hope there will be many more to come. Since I started coming here I feel like I’ve grown as a person in many ways. The different activities and ides that we have here at camp help make us stronger and better as a whole. For example, RIPPLE pushes us to do good, inside and outside of camp. I think that it’s a great way to make us see that there is so much we can do for ourselves and the others around us. Even the simplest things like complimenting someone on something they said or did. That small thing could lead to many possibilities you wouldn’t even know could happen unless you tried it. To me, camp is like my home away from home! I can go away for a year and when I come back it feels like I never even left. The bonds that you create here with the different campers and counselors really bring everyone together in a way that nowhere else could. I really think that the fact that we don’t have phones plays a big part in that. In a way, you feel really isolated from the rest of the world, but it also motivates you to talk to people in person and get to know them on a higher level that you wouldn’t get to do if you were just texting. This place is very special to me and I know that I will always feel safe. It is here that I can be my normal self because I know there are so many other people here just like me who come here to have a blast and not worry about what others think about you. Circle F has brought me so much joy over these past years and I have no idea what I would do without it, because this camp is the best place in the whole universe.