Monday, October 28, 2013

Why summer fun lasts all year at Rec&Ed

October may bring to mind pumpkins and Halloween for many, but at Rec&Ed it means something else entirely: time to start planning our summer camps! The work of planning, marketing, running, and evaluating our summer camps is a year-round process. The staff below have a combined 100 years of experience offering a variety of high quality, affordable camps.
Rec&Ed Summer Camp staff
Your Rec&Ed Summer Coordinators of Organized Fun!!!
Clockwise from top left: Sheri, Lisa, Ivy, Angelita, Sally, Vickie and India
Our first step is always to review the data from our recent summer. We ask questions such as: what worked and didn't work? What did parents tell us in the evaluations? How did our budget numbers compare to previous years? What are the key areas we need to improve?

This is quite a task for 2013, given that we offered 168 camps with almost 4,000 registrations!

Over the next several weeks we'll select our 2014 summer camp line-up, plan improvements to our procedures and communication, and make our scholarship process easier. During this planning, our foremost goal is to provide fun, enriching and safe camp experiences for our young campers.

Did your child come to one or more of our camps? What's the most important thing you think we should work on? I'd love to hear your feedback and suggestions!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

UM students pull weeds with a smile at the Cultural Arts Building

Hooray for Alpha Phi Omega (APO)! Four members of this U of M service fraternity helped out Friday at the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building. The volunteers not only pulled hundreds of weeds, but they were so cheerful, it looked like fun!


The Eberbach Cultural Arts Building is a Burns Park neighborhood gem that draws youth and adults from all over town. Since 2009, Rec&Ed has leased the building from the City and provided all programming. The building's dance studio, ceramics studio, and two art rooms are used year-round for Rec&Ed's arts classes and camps.

Rec&Ed and City staff will be spending the next several months sprucing up both the inside and outside of the CAB. Contact Lisa Wigal for more information.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Ann Arbor Civic Chorus wins Lifesaver Award

Making beautiful synergy happen in Ann Arbor is simple. Just bring together two longstanding civic arts groups to collaborate on a community performance!

This happened last summer, when Rec&Ed's Ann Arbor Civic Chorus provided choral support to the Ann Arbor Civic Theater's production of Chess. Director Glenn Bugala enlisted the Chorus, under the direction of Linda Jones, to expand the ensemble of singers to nearly 80 people. The choir was onstage for the entire show, providing a vocal backdrop for the featured actors.

The icing on the cake for the Civic Chorus came last week at the Ann Arbor Civic Theater's Civvies Awards ceremony. The Chorus received a special Lifesaver Award "for bringing the complicated score [of Chess] to life."

An AACC performance
The Civic Chorus formed in 1983 when a group of choir-loving Ann Arbor residents approached Rec&Ed about forming a community chorus. Currently, the Chorus has 70 members aged 25 - 77.

Want to join the singing fun? The fall session is full, but enrollment for the spring term begins February 10.  The chorus is open to all but some previous choral experience is recommended. Contact Adult Enrichment Coordinator Linda Brzezinski for more information.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The 5 organization values that drive Rec & Ed's work

Why is our youth sports program focused on fun and skill development versus win/loss records? Why do we offer scholarships for all of our programs? 

Over the summer, Rec & Ed staff identified five core values that we strive to live and breathe into our work every day. These values are the foundation for our mission and goals. We also use them as a "check" when making program decisions, planning professional development, communication and much more. 

1. Promote well-being

Nurture the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of youth and adults in our community.

2. Build community

Bring together people of all ages and backgrounds to share enrichment and recreational pursuits.

3. Be inclusive

Welcome people of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, cultures, income levels, gender, age, and abilities to our program. Outreach to underserved populations in our community.

4. Meet AAPS and community needs

Provide high quality resources and services to meet AAPS and community needs. Use tools such as needs assessments, focus groups, and customer satisfaction surveys.

5. Ensure Rec&Ed's continued ability to provide services to the community

Build Rec & Ed's organizational and financial sustainability so we can continue to provide high quality, affordable programs for many years to come.

I'd love to hear from Rec & Ed participants. Do these values match your perception of how Rec & Ed works in the district and community? Have you experienced examples of these values in your participation with Rec & Ed?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Register for adult basketball by Oct. 23 and save $50!!

It's hard to swallow, yes, but winter is right around the corner, and that means winter Adult Basketball starts soon, too! Registration opened October 9 for returning teams and October 10 for new teams.

Save $50 on your team registration fee by enrolling on or before October 23. For more information about adult team sports visit our webpage or contact Sean Williams at

Go directly to registration here

Monday, October 7, 2013

How to nurture your child while building responsibility and setting limits

Strangely, many strategies for building a healthy emotional relationship with your child and keeping family stress to a minimum involve giving up. Giving up comparing your child to others. Giving up always doing for your children what they can do for themselves.

Many parents find that a certain amount of giving up is liberating. It opens the door to interactions with their children that are both uplifting and encourage independence and responsibility. But every parent knows these kinds of conversations are not always easy, especially when a child is melting down.

That’s where the nationally-known Parent Talk System ( comes in. Relevant for all parents, Parent Talk is a style of communicating with children that creates emotionally healthy family relationships. It’s a practical, skill-building program that teaches parents a series of verbal skills and language patterns to help them raise responsible, respectful children while reducing stress and family conflicts.

First Steps, a division of Rec&Ed, started offering Parent Talk classes last fall. Feedback from parents was very positive, with all participants saying they’d recommend the program to a friend.

During the 6 week class, parents learn how to set limits, teach responsibility, encourage problem solving, promote independence, and explore the power of the words we use. While the focus tends to be on preschool or elementary-age children, the class is tailored to the ages of the registered parents’ children. These skills are powerful, no matter your child’s age.

Instructor Ann Stalhandske, M.Ed., shares these strategies through a variety of methods including video vignettes. Ann helps parents gain confidence in using new tools that really work. Parents actively share their successes each week and work on new skills with lots of group support and humor.

Parent Talk starts THIS THURSDAY, October 10 – there still a few spaces left!
It runs each Thursday, Oct 10 -- Nov 21 (no class on10/31/13)
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Preschool & Family Center, 2775 Boardwalk Dr., Room D108
Fee: $89 for 6 weeks of classes - includes a workbook. 
(Both parents/guardians may attend for that price.)
Questions? Email

Click HERE for easy registration!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Introducing our favorite Samurai cat

Meet Hikonyan, the Samurai cat mascot for the 400-year-old castle located in Ann Arbor's sister city, Hikone, Japan. Hikonyan's name combines Hikone and nyan, the Japanese onomatopoeia for a cat’s meow.  

AAPS students who participate in Rec&Ed's Hikone - Ann Arbor Middle School Exchange program get to meet Hikonya when they visit the castle during their 2 week trip to Japan. Around the office, several staff have folders and other items with Hikonyan's picture -- the Hikone project directors bring more from Japan every year!
Not only is he adorable, but he's named for a heroic cat from Japanese historic lore. Hikonyan wears a kabuto (samurai helmet) with huge horns similar to the one Ii Naokatsu wore in battle. Ii Naokatsu was a Japanese daimyo during the Edo period who completed the construction of the castle and is also said to have escaped being struck by lightning thanks to a beckoning cat.
The "real" Hikonyan who greets castle visitors
This week the 35th delegation of Hikone middle school students are visiting Ann Arbor. The 14 students stay with AAPS families and spend time going to classes at our middle schools and visiting Ann Arbor sites. (See our Facebook album for pictures of the district-wide reception.)

This Sunday, we'll send off our Japanese friends in style at the annual "Sayonara Party."

I'll be there waving my new Hikonyan fan.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why participation trophies may do more harm than good

Recently a New York Times Op-ed with the provocative title "Losing is good for you" caught my eye. Author Ashley Merryman began by urging parents to avoid extracurricular sports programs where every child receives a trophy for participation. While in by-gone days trophies were rare and coveted, she says, many programs across the country now routinely hand out trophies to every child, every season. 

This got me thinking about Rec&Ed's Youth Team Sports program. Although we pride ourselves on being the kid-friendliest youth sports program in town, we've never provided trophies to our elementary youth teams. Part of this, of course, is the budget impact of annually purchasing thousands of trophies. But we've also questioned the benefit trophies would add to the elementary program. We do provide trophies to our middle school league champion teams, but not for general participation.

This Op-Ed goes on to criticize these trophies as a symbol of the not-always-warranted praise many children receive throughout their childhoods. Merryman says her research on the effect of praise and reward on kids has shown that non-stop praise can have a negative long-term impact on children:
"Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve. 
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty."
I think she makes a good point. Years of blanket praise for attendance on sports teams -- versus being complemented for specific skill improvement, teamwork, or wins -- may lead some children to be less motivated over the long run or crushed when they (inevitably) have a bad game.

That said, I've been at many of my own kids' Rec&Ed soccer and softball games when a play happens and BOTH sidelines erupt in cheers: one side because their team's child succeeded, and the other because their team's player tried. I love that about our games, and think it's a little different from the non-stop recognition in the article. The message to the kid who didn't succeed on the Rec&Ed field seems to be "keep trying, that throw/kick might make it next time."

And, I'm sure we all know young athletes who participate in sports because they love the game, love being part of a team, and are motivated to develop their skills -- regardless of any kind of trophy or reward they receive at the end of the season.

Merryman summarizes the role of parents (and, I would argue, coaches) this way:
When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed.
I agree with this statement, both as a parent and as the Director of Rec&Ed. Overcoming errors on the field or losing games are similar to any type of challenge in a child's life. Parents and coaches can help their children build resilience in the face of these obstacles through caring conversations. Such conversations are an opportunity to talk honestly about what happened, focusing on both the positive and the negative. (They're also best done after the child who is upset has calmed down.)

Parents who sugarcoat these relatively minor childhood athletic failures are missing an opportunity to help their child learn and grow from a tough situation.

Around the Rec&Ed office, we often talk about what we hope our young players get from our program. Our top 3 priorities for our participants are to have fun, learn the sport, and build a sense of community with their peers, parents, and coaches. The natural outcome of these priorities? That our young players feel good about themselves, their teammates, and the sport.

Sometimes coaches collect a small amount of money from parents and purchase a token to honor each child's participation. Over the years my son's soccer coach gave out items such flame-covered soccer socks for them all to wear the next season, hacky sacks (to improve footwork skills) and team photo magnets. These tokens honored players' participation in ways that built community and related to the sport.

Would a participation trophy help our players feel even better about themselves? I have doubts, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a kid-friendly, community-based team sport for your child, registration has just opened on our winter basketball and indoor soccer programs!

Youth basketball - Program info and easy registration 

Indoor soccer - Program info and easy registration

No, there won't be a trophy at the end -- but your child will have a great time, and will walk away with new friends and more skills.

Find out more about Rec&Ed's Youth Team Sports program here.

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