Helping children (and families) through assessment and execution of program change
Scott Wilkinson, father of three (now 20, 18 and 15), has been working with children for almost 25 years. In 2006, Scott opened Kids Outdoor Club without any marketing; he just did what he did best, taking his very young children at the time (7, 5 and 1) outdoors to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This endeavor soon expanded past his immediate family and evolved into an outdoor after school and summer camp for children, an escape from the concrete jungle of the city. Since then, Kids Outdoor Club has worked with over 20,000 children and their families. In 2010, Kids Outdoor Club won San Francisco Magazine’s “Best of the Bay," amongst other highlights like Comcast's "Best of the City." The club was described as truly a family camp with the highlight of a spontaneous, unstructured program that any kid could find freedom and connection in.
Scott is a professional coach with years of business experience, but not a certified teacher. In his work with children of all ages, he learned about the importance of inclusivity, working in the outdoors, following your passion, and seeking personal connection. All three of his kids have never “gamed online” and are very active in sports (and quite accomplished – his son plays golf in college, his eldest daughter runs in college, and his youngest daughter will be exploring field hockey, running track and playing soccer in high school), not to mention their continued love for the outdoors with yearly backpacking trips and almost daily hikes or outdoor play of some kind.
Following is a more detailed account of Scott’s proposed four different consultancy offerings, as well as a brief look into Kids Outdoor Club’s premise and philosophy. At the end, highlighted are quite a few children who have been at Kids Outdoor Club at least 3 years in succession, all of whom have grown in so many ways over their time at the camp.
5 Days visit : $3000 (plus airfare or mileage, shelter and food).
2 Week plan : $5,000 (plus $500/weekend I stay and airfare, mileage, shelter and food).
2 Month plan : $18K (plus $500/weekend and airfare, shelter and food).
1 Year plan : $30K (plus airfare, shelter food).
Here are some reasons and philosophy as to why we were so successful (and the children thrived):
(2)Philosophy - “unstructured” free-play
(3)Sports - How we help all kids (athletic or not, beginner or advanced skill levels)
(4)Other Factors: 100% outdoor/nature, plethora of games we play, Jr. coach program
We treat every camper (and everyone involved from staff to Director) the same – as family - with kindness, compassion, respect, and so on. Bullying isn’t tolerated, nor is disrespect of any kind.
We don’t play together all day (ages 2-18 male and female), but we certainly start our day and end our day together all as a large family (one hour in am, one hour at lunch and one hour at end of day when kids get picked up by parents). 3+ hours are spent with the whole group. This is powerful and magical. Older kids help the younger kids, coaches help the older kids, and many games are played with every age on the field (game called “rocks” will get 2 year old’s playing I promise). The other 5-6 hours of the day (we are open 10 hours a day) is usually segregated by ages and sex. E.g. 5 and under will be together for either arts/crafts, hiking, adventures, games in the meadow, or sports of any kind. 6+ years old will also be split up from the group based on activity and sometimes sex.
Not only do kids feel safe (like family) but in this big group/family concept, kids become more social and confident. Every single camper and coach/counselor will talk to one another throughout the day. Everyone will know or have met and talked with every camper). Philosophy is it is human nature to connect with other humans. In today’s modern world, and especially in the age of “narcissism), more and more children are isolating (so are tweens and teens and adults too). Social life is so important for children. We were made for each other (all of us are in this together)!
(2)Philosophy “Unstructured free-play” - structure within unstructured foundation
Our camp doesn’t have a schedule at all, any day. We have a plan but no schedule of activities. This alone is what most children love. Variety and the unknown (surprise element). Children want “family” first, to feel safe and comfortable. That the children feel involved, feel connected and that they “belong,” is central to even begin each day with children.
An example is this: Imagine a 6 year old girl who has soccer practice at 4pm every Thursday in the Fall. Over 3 months, when Thursday 4pm came, the child – 50% of the time – would not want to participate. Not that the girl doesn’t like soccer; rather, it is very normal that kids don’t like schedules as much as parents think they do. This occurs frequently for a lot of children, even up to 15 years old. It is human nature. Kids are way overscheduled anyways (and I wont go on about the psychology of it but overscheduling drives a lot of the following concept – “that kids learn to feel good about themselves only if they accomplish successfully all their scheduled activities). This drives me a lot to help children all over the World (and programs that need some updating). Here at our camp (and our key philosophy) we don’t schedule soccer. We just play. A lot. Sometimes daily, sometimes for hours and hours. Sometimes not. Every child plays (I promise). Soccer games break out at any time, and those that enter and play at that time, usually do so because of their own volition (or that they want to tag along with their new family friend). The child is playing at his/her time and by choice. Powerful. Magical. Ill end with this…like all over the World in soccer, we try to emulate that here in all sports. The rest of the World is playing a “pick up” game at their time and choice. This is how every soccer player gets better, especially in ages 2-14 years old (who need more playing time not skill drills at a scheduled 4pm soccer practice that the child doesn’t want to be at 50% of the time).
One of my “soulful” passions in life is sports – playing it and teaching children. In the end, a child’s confidence and true enjoyment in any sport, is what I work hard for to get these results in children. I’ve coached over 20,000 children over almost 25 years (75% of them I coached 2006 – 2016). I’m a certified professional soccer coach, but I also teach and coach baseball, hoops, football and golf. But, here is the critical matter; any age and skill level will benefit immediately. For accomplished and median to high skill level benefit (see my “sports program” on the website home page (upper left) for my philosophy and execution for those children who are motivated (by themselves only, not their parents) that really want to get better faster). But, I take more pride and care really, on those children who are either (1) new to any sport, and/or are less skilled than most kids. These kids really benefit on a much larger scale on my watch and care. We will get non-skilled players joining us every day in a NON-COMPETITIVE fashion. We make sports all about fun (silly games, wide variety of games inside each sport). Each child will not only enjoy some of the sports we try, but they will walk away being way more confident and feeling like they contributed a lot that day in sports and teamwork.
E.g baseball… we ask all (skilled and non-skilled) to first join us in a non-competitive game called “bases.” No one strikes out. Everyone hits. There are only 2 bases 20 yards from eachother, and once a batter hits the ball, all the other kids have to get it (and toss it to 6 people without dropping) before they can tag the hitter who hit the ball. Well, during that time, the hitter (can be star athlete or beginner player who hasn’t ever played) will touch as many bases as possible to score runs. Usually, every player, even 3 years old, will get 3 or 4 bases each hit. So everyone hits and scores wins. They’ve contributed and tried a new sport. Yeah. In the end, I’ll say everyone did a great job and if you scored more than 3 runs, that is terrific. Again, no matter the sport, goal is for us to ensure each child really likes the game, and has more confidence than when they first arrived at our camp.
E.g soccer, same thing but different. A lot of kids don’t know that if you move “off the ball,’ meaning you run to an open space when someone else has the ball, that the child has helped the team by working hard (and getting open for a pass which helps the player with the ball because he/she has more space to score. So, even if you hardly touch the ball, if one works hard to get open, tries hard on defense, then they have done well. All are praised, even those that didn’t play but supported others on the sidelines that day.
(4)Other Factors - outdoor/nature, fun games for all, Jr. Coach program
In the age of “electronics” and those darn I Phones (and video games), I feel this is about as vital as it comes for children ages 2-18. It is now more commonly known (since the book “nature deficit disorder’ came out 10 years ago (I might add, after I had started my business already). Our program truly emphasizes the outdoor time (and in nature) 100% of the time. Many other programs highlight outdoor time but don’t truly spend it outdoors more than 50% of the time (and they even offer credit cards to get slushies, some even offer video gaming at their camps. In our program, 100% outdoors in the elements is the goal (depending upon the heat or cold) but it is in nature where children thrive. They learn more about themselves than anywhere else, even home (studies show). Over time (parents really need to make outdoor time a daily part of their lives in order to really get through to your child and his/her soul), will learn so much about themselves because the child is forced to at the beginning. It takes a lot of a human (let alone children ages 2-18) to make themselves happy when they get a little bored outdoors (or too tired to play games or sports). It is within this boredom (and outdoors not at home on comfy couch or bed), where children really have to dig deep and do/find something to do to make them happy at least for the moment (or the day). As every day is different (emotionally, socially, etc…), soon a child will find out in this boredom, many things that “tingle their heart.” Something that they like. The child, over time, will hone in and hopefully passions are born at an earlier age (versus an ever alarming rate of modern day children 18-25 who still haven’t found their passions (or what “tingles their heart). It is truly magical and absolutely transforms many (and most) children, confidence being the greatest change.
hat modern day American children
Fun games for all – So many games are offered (and arts/crafts), variety being the key for children. Most kids like game after game after game, especially Ages 10 years and younger. But, games are also played non-competitively (sometimes there are winners but both losers and winners will know that most kids and adults lose more than they win in life. Life lessons are taught within these games based on positive coaching and game variety. My neighbor, Harvard graduate, wrote 2 books on how games are so good for life (and your brain). He concentrated on adult games but it is the same with children.
Junior coach program is really a “stand out” in our program. Campers who spent 2 years with us and now turned 13 or so (depends upon experience but 7th to 8th graders) can be selected as a Jr. Coach, where they spend half the day with their peers having fun for 4 hours, while their other half of the day is spent working for adult or HS counselors, helping children 10 and under during camp hours. They get paid just a little bit as a gift. By HS, 9th grade, and if 15, they get paid minimum wage (and bonuses depending upon their work). In 2013, I had the largest middle school participants than any program out West. It was amazing to see these kids take responsibility very seriously and lead. I loved this program and parents just pay half the cost of camp (7th thru 8th grade), then parents pay nothing (and kids get paid over 15).
Our concepts and philosophy (family, free-play, freedom of choice, unstructured play - and structured play - , non-competitive sports (and games) philosophy, and outdoor time) work for any age of a child, and any sex, and any skill level. Confidence soars. Children find out a lot about themselves (and what they like that “tingles their heart”). Along the way, parents too learn a lot about how to work with children. I love to help parents too.
Example of children of all ages who have seen to our camp in succession over a few years.
New Zealand and San Francisco. Came 8 straight summers in a row (and I coached him in soccer a couple of years too), and didn’t want to go to any other camp during this time. He came from age 5 to 13, then moved to New Zealand. When he started, he was shy, non-skilled at sports, and introverted quite a bit. But he loved nature from the get go. He was awkward socially, but over time, and immediately, he loved nature and created what he termed “stick store.” Before someone wrote up 5 years ago about a makeshift fake hospital made by children in the woods, we had the “stick store.” I wish I knew we were “cutting edge at the time.” Basic premise here is that some kids would collect sticks, some would collect bottle tops in the woods (GG Park), some would carve the sticks, some would sell the sticks (for bottle caps). Incredible little real market (some kids had 1,000 bottle caps). Magical. Powerful. And, he wasn’t social until this game was invented (by him and a couple other kids really). Now 16, he plays soccer and rugby on HS teams, leads day hikes every other Saturday for other high schoolers, and is a leader. At our camp, he didn’t play a lot of sports, but he did always participate a bit and try, but Louie being around other kids and sports obviously worked well to inspire him to play. Became a Jr. coach at age 12 (youngest to do so) but Louie was a natural leader for hiking adventures. In fact, his parents always told me that Danny is so confident that when any family visits on vacation, Danny will lead them on several hikes before they go back home. Great young man.
San Francisco (“City”) boy, came to us btwn the ages of 7 and 16, first very shy, but always confident (and very skilled in soccer and other sports). During his time at our camp, he didn’t talk much, didn’t like nature AND only wanted to play sports (which he did a lot). What we did for him was make nature (and trees and lakes) fun (largely through our award-winning game in the woods called “mud ball war.” I don’t like the word war, but apparently kids do. He would play that for hours, then Tommy found himself wanting to go on hikes and adventures. Why? How? Socially, he climbed, in nature. He was respected for his athletic skills but now he is accepted and thrived socially by talking with the kids in the woods (you cant talk very much to a person when playing sports). Fast forward to today, Tommy is 17 years old, was on state of California soccer team, but now loves playing games in nature. He goes to GG Park with friends all the time now. He was one of our best Jr. coaches for 3-4 years. He made money, loved being with us at camp (family), and his confidence and social skills rocketed up. A lot
Now in college, she was shy, never liked sports, didn’t really like the outdoors, but loved reading books. When she arrived as a 7 year old, she was behind other children her age. She ended up as a Jr. Coach over time, running our arts/crafts program. Amazingly, at age 14, Ella started her own Winter Camp arts/crafts program within Kids Outdoor Club; clay, jewelry, flowered hair pieces, etc…She made an extra $500/week from me. Outgoing now, and played volleyball in HS, she is a leader, was on HS student council.
This is a story of a bully who came to us when he was 6 years old. He was kicked out of 7 schools in San Francisco elementary years. His only place for peace was our camp. He couldn’t sit still, he was agitated. He was also adopted (parents told him around the age of 6 or 7). Anyways, I had to tell his parents a few times that he was not welcome that day (or week, or month). It devastated Steven and his parents but it all worked the way I thought it would. Steven learned a lot about people (other kids), how to share feelings and emotions, and now is a graduate of HS in the City ()and going to community college next year). Steven has come a long way (more than most if not all kids) and he has quite a few friends now. No longer a bully, Steven ended up in our Jr. coach program and did well (for the most part).
Consultancy Fees vary
(1) 5 day visit - Scott will visit and spend all 5 full days (and eve if need be) to assess your camp and offer suggestions to help you in areas where it is deemed weak (or missing). In 5 days, Scott will to consult and advise you in a variety of ways.
Cost: $3,000 (plus airfare or mileage, shelter and food)
(2) 2 week plan - even if you are thriving as a program (or need a lot of help) every entity needs updating/improvements annually. As you know, parents and children change a lot annually. We will look at and advise on different ways to improve what you have now, and to look at increasing revenue (with new customers) and to retain customers at a higher rate (95% is the goal). We will look briefly at your market and advise on marketing and public relations. A lot will be accomplished in 2 weeks.
Cost: $5,000 (plus $500/weekend I stay and airfare, mileage, shelter and food). If it is close to Santa Barbara, no extra charge.
Additionally, Scott to earn 5% of a certain revenue pool annually (basically new customers that come after my visit and over time).
(3) 2 month plan - all the above in (1) and (2) are offered PLUS Scott will run the camp and teach all your counselors all the operations. And, Scott (and/or team) will look very closely at your market and operations and advise in depth, and help create a plan moving forward.
Cost: $18K (plus $500/weekend and airfare, shelter and food). Scott earns 5% of revenue pool annually.
(4) 1 year plan - Scott (and/or team) will spend the first 3 months onsite (includes weekends). Then Scott will visit btwn 2-6 times per year for at least a week in succession. Includes all above programs (#1-3) plus, Scott to guarantee improvements, and child retention and new business. Scott to make this really like his own.
Cost: $30K (plus airfare, shelter food). Plus 10% of revenue pool annually.
Kids Outdoor Club/Consultancy