Interviewer: Hi, welcome to the campfire conversation podcast, I’m your host, Cole Kelly. Ask almost anybody who’s been to summer camp, whether they be kids or staff members, and they’ll tell you it is awesome. They will also tell you through their words, but mostly through their actions that they learn a ton while they are too. As a longtime camp director, youth sports coach, and father to three growing young men, I know the lessons that we learn at camp can be hugely beneficial for all of us back home in the real world.
So each week, I’ll spend some time around the digital campfire talking with professionals from inside and around the summer camp world. We will share their lessons, their ideas, and their practices in a way that I hope will be immediately useful for your life back home. So pull up the seat, get your marshmallow ready to roast, and let’s spend some time learning together around the campfire. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Beth Goldstein from my entire career in camping.
When Kate and I took the reins at a sleepaway camp, a wonderful girls camp in New Hampshire. We spent a lot of time with many referral agents around the country. Beth, who focuses on helping families in the Philadelphia and New York City areas find a great summer camp fit was very helpful to us, and now 18 years later, she continues to be so. Finding the right summer camp when there are so many great choices out, there can be a true challenge for families.
Beth, who has worked with the Camp Experts for the past 20 years, guides families through the process, and helps to make the winnowing down of great options more effective. By visiting a wide variety of summer camps, and working with a number of unique families, Beth has a valuable vantage point on the summer camp world.
When we recently spoke, the idea of comfort zones came up along with an article that had left Beth smiling and shaking her head a little bit. It was too good an opportunity to pass up for me to get Beth around the campfire. I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation about pushing our comfort zones with my good friend Beth Goldstein.
Interviewer: Beth Goldstein, I’m so happy to have you around the campfire.
Respondent: Great to be here.
Interviewer: So we have been working together in camping for a long time, ever since I’ve been in camping and probably ever since you have been in camping too. How did you get involved in camping?
Respondent: So I’m an attorney, and I practice law for several years. And when we had our children, my husband and I wanted for me to be with them, I wanted to be with them. And so, I stayed home and did my best to educate myself about parenting, and began volunteering in their preschool, and I spent a lot of time in the PTA and substituting at their school and learning about children.
As they got older, when my younger son was about to go to first grade, I kept saying I want to go back to work, but I don’t want to go back to trial law. And I walked around saying that to anyone and anyone who would listen. At the same time, I was consulting with Joanne Paltrowitz to find camp for my older son, who was then in third grade.
And we worked together, and she said to me I always wanted to open another office, would you consider joining the Camp Experts? So I met with her, I observed her and her work, I traveled with her to camps in Maine and thought this was a great position to bring together all the skills of a legal background.
Of advising people, learning information, vetting outside sources, and everything I put into learning about parenting and helping parents and children. And it was a dream job, and I started in 2003.
Interviewer: Wow, that is awesome. So were you the first kind of satellite office for Camp Experts?
Respondent: So I was not Joanne’s first partner, her first partner was Marla Lita, it was Long Island, and there were two or three other women who started in the same year, but a few months before me. And a couple of women who started a few months after me, all in different locations, because Joanne’s philosophy is that your advisors should live and work where the families are.
So you know the schools they choose, the after-school activities they choose, the other day camps they might decide to use so that you really under and the family Institute. And so there were six of us for many years, and thereafter Camp Experts continued to grow because that model is very successful.
Interviewer: Yes. Well, it’s been wonderful working with you because I’ve always known that you know your families, and you know the certain things that they want to do. And so that was going to be one of my questions to you, how do you help families find the right places?
We’re going to talk a little bit about the idea of comfort zones, but finding a camp for some families, it’s totally in their comfort zone like they know they want to do camp. But for most families, the camp is a big step out of the comfort zone, not only for the camper, the child but also for the parent.
Respondent: True. So some parents in a family both parents went to camp, and they’re on board. Some families it’s a mixed marriage, somebody is a camper, and somebody is not. [Inaudible 00:05:14.17] and then in other families, neither parent went to sleepaway camp or to a teen program, but they live in an area where other families are doing that. So I meet a parent and their current understanding of the camp world and then have to educate them.
So for parents who haven’t gone to camp, or one parent who has a one parent who hasn’t and one is not so comfortable or they’re trying to find a common ground, I spend a lot of time educating them. So parents reach out to me, and that’s mostly 95% by word-of-mouth, and I spend time exploring the child’s interests and personality and after school activities, and interaction with others maybe their medical needs, and then it’s talking to parents about their parenting goals, if they can identify them and their parameters.
So the type of camp, the length of time, the activities that camp might offer, but more so the culture, the kind of environment where a child will thrive is really the focus of the conversation. And then I help them through understanding my recommendations, maybe supplementing that or eliminating some until we narrow the field to the top few choices.
Interviewer: Got it. Yes, I think that educating yourself on the culture of whatever you know the place you’ll ultimately wind up into me is the most important piece of that, because camps regardless of what type of camp it is if they’ve got the child for a day camp experience, for a couple of days, they’ve got a seven-week overnight camp and everything in between.
That culture is going to impress something upon that child, and the parents really need to make sure that whatever it is it’s impressing upon that child fits their own family outlook on the culture of what they want for their own child.
Respondent: Agreed. I think parents need to realize that they need to co-parent with the director because summer is almost 25 percent of a child’s life, and camp can be more than half of that.
So all the experiential learning that’s going on a camp should resonate with the type of education and mission that the parents, the value that the parents want to help the child grow into.
Interviewer: Right, yes, it’s huge. So funny one of the things that you and I had spoken about a little while ago that that kind of got us started laughing a little bit was talking about continuing education. And you had read an article from Harvard Business Review that kind of made you giggle; a little bit shake your head. What was that again? Can you tell me about it?
Respondent: So Andy Molinsky wrote an article a few years ago, the title is if you’re not outside your comfort zone, you won’t learn anything. And he hit a few points, and I was laughing because it seemed to me that all those things were things that you learned in summer camp. And there was another book I learned everything I need to know in life I learned in kindergarten I’m paraphrasing.
Respondent: And this was everything that you need to know in business school, you could have learned at camp. So he was talking about as we’re facing jobs and learning and growing in our jobs and careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. Well, that’s certainly when you go to camp you have to adapt to new circumstances, new people.
And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. And I think camp is the opportunity not necessarily for advancement, but for growth and introspection and learning so much about yourself. And then he went on to say that in order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it even if it’s uncomfortable. Put mechanisms in place that will force you to dive in, and you might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.
[Inaudible 00:09:05.18] And you can do that in camp in a supportive environment, so you don’t need to make that leap and feel alone in doing that. When you’re at camp, you literally have counselors there to support you; you have a director there to support you. So those adults may know that you can climb that tower you don’t know it, but the counselors know it, and they’re going to help you get there.
In fact, once when I was touring camp with you, I think you were director at that time is from Columbia maybe. A gentleman who was really cheering on a camper who was trying to get to the top and ring the bell, and she was tiny, and she didn’t know if she could do it, and she got to the top, and she rang the bell, and we watched her for maybe ten minutes. And she really struggled to get there, and then was beaming from the inside out that she was able to do it.
Interviewer: Yes. It’s amazing how the ropes course, it helps people in a very clear way get past them self-set limits, because it’s immediate, it’s right here, it’s an end goal that you know if I get there I get there.
But I also think that when a kid leaves camp, whether it be for you know three weeks like it would quick or six weeks or seven weeks or even a one-week or trial over a week and they say I did that, oh my gosh they get past those self-set limits and then they realized that they can move on to do so many other things.
Respondent: And that’s why I talk to parents about helping their children grow their social and emotional muscles. So when you go to camp it’s a new situation, you’re making new friends, you’re trying new activities. You’re doing so many things that are new, but when you come back home, and then you go to a new middle school, you fall back on that experience.
Well, I was successful at camp, I can do this when I go to middle school, or I can try out for a new team, or I can write a poem for the magazine because I’m willing to try things and I had success trying things before. And then it’s going on to high school or that first job or college.
Interviewer: Yes. We were talking beforehand, I know your boys they both went through camp, and they loved it, now they’re often the working world, in fact, you got ones getting married, congratulations that is awesome.
Respondent: Thank you.
Interviewer: What do they say about their camp experience and how it prepared them for the working world.
Respondent: I think initially prepared them really well for college, because getting to college and learning to connect with people and accept others where they are and work together to live successfully, help them hit the ground running. So there are peers who didn’t go to college that were experiencing home missing and adjustment and didn’t perform well academically because they were distracted by all that emotional and social adjustment.
Had more challenges where my kids and their peers who went to camp, they would just hit the ground running, and they did really well and that sets you up then before getting that job. If you’re performing well academically, then it’s an entree to the business world. And getting into a new situation, learning the ropes of a new job, learning the personalities the people around you.
Learning what elements it takes to be successful are things that you learn at camp, and I don’t know if they were able to identify that, but I could see if they knew that the beginning was going to be a rough patch there’s adjustment period, and then once you adjust you can be as successful as you want to be if you can stretch your boundaries.
And they’ve done that trying new roles changing jobs, new jobs or different roles in their jobs and they’re also people who volunteered for recruitment or to bring people in or to be a group leader. And I think part of that gregariousness is from their personality, but part of it is being used to doing that and group setting at camp or a team program or what they’ve done.
Interviewer: That’s amazing.
Interviewer: I guess it’s really neat for you because you get to work with so many families and see their kids grow and flourish in those ways. Over the course of the time you’ve been doing this, how much have the kids or the parents changed in the process? Because we had a comfort zone of camp when we all started doing this 20 years ago.
Now that has changed because the type of person who’s coming to camp is changing. It’s no longer just the single-family that both went to camp, there are a lot of families now that have different experiences and want different things for their children. But how has it changed in your mind?
Respondent: I think a lot of the changes are reflection of camp as a microcosm of the world. So some of it is the number of children on prescription medication has changed tremendously. So every year we visit camps in session to understand each camp, but a theme across the years and across the camps is that 10% of the children may have been on medication 20 years ago, and then it was 20 percent, now 30 percent and today I would say it’s at least 50% of the kids are on medication.
In some ways, that’s good, because it helps them be their best selves at camp if their parents continue their medication, and it’s a consistent input into their feeling healthy. It’s the whole administration of that and the underlying issues. And I think now it’s the rise of anxiety is a big difference and how much more children need support to be in a new situation, how much more meaningful and necessary it is to help them be successful in a new situation. So that’s one change.
Interviewer: Have the parents changed?
Respondent: I think parents have changed in that they more naturally saw the benefit of letting their children out of the nest to fly and test their wings. When you could go ride your bike on the street, or you went outside to play with the neighbors, that was more of a regular part of a parent’s bringing up their children, and the children’s upbringing. But today it needs to be a scheduled activity that you can have ”free time”.
Respondent: So I think the parents have changed in their readiness to let their children go because it’s not as common a way of parenting.
Interviewer: It’s not. And that’s a sad piece of it; I think because there’s so much beauty that comes in learning and growth, but also just joy from those unstructured times of just go and see what happens.
Respondent: Exactly. So I think that’s change, it’s helping parents see what a gift that is to their children should just let children be children, and get some fresh air and run around. So I’d say the parents have changed in that respect. Also, the increase in the percentage of families that have divorced, and their parents had to take into consideration how allowing the child to be away affects each parent’s time with the child and their agreement.
And so sometimes I need to counsel each parent separately and try and find the overlap that’s going to be best for all of them. And so that’s a challenge, and I think that that’s given rise also to the sessions of camp, whether it’s three or six, three and a half or seven, two, four, six, eight, there are so many more options, and I think that makes my role even more helpful to parents because they need to fill so many different slots.
Interviewer: Yes, they got to check all those different boxes and be able to handle all that. And certainly, there’s a lot of competition for the kids and families’ attention over the course of the summer. Whether it’s a travel experience, a sports experience, something having to do with academics, everybody wants to spend some time with their own kids too, so all the different pieces.
Respondent: Exactly. And I think the biggest change is technology and the challenges of technology. And I think that goes for the children and for the parents. For the children, they really have to go through a huge withdrawal experience when they get to camp, and parents are putting them on to the camp I want a device-free environment, but they haven’t necessarily had a device-free time before camp.
Interviewer: That would be nice.
Respondent: Right. So they’re coming, and then their prior constant companion is no longer there, and we have to redirect them and help them connect with their peers.
Interviewer: So that’s actually a really interesting idea. I’ve never even thought about that. But just sending a note to the parents of saying all right, a week before camp starts if your child has a device phone or whatever it is, let’s start weaning off of that. So that maybe the day before, you’re not doing anything on it at all.
Respondent: Right. You’re not tapering them at the bus stop; you’re taking the iPad out of their clutches [Inaudible [00:18:22.15] so I think that the withdrawal from the device is a real thing if you’re not playing your games or connecting with your friends on the social media, and replacing that with having real-life experiences it’s phenomenal, but I do think that’s a challenge, technology.
And I think the reverse are the parents who are so desirous of the constant attachment. So part of camp is the space for each to separate and then come back together at the end of the session. But parents today with their technology are trying to dial in so to speak every moment. They want new pictures, they want another blog, they want another newsletter, they want a personal call. They want to email into their children instead of writing a real letter. So parents are so attached to their technology, that it’s trying to get them to also take a step back.
Interviewer: So, it’s interesting talking about this idea of comfort zone. The technology allows us to be within our comfort zone all the time. You know when a child’s coming to camp, one of the first questions is if a child is flying from somewhere to camp because we say no devices and they say well can they use the device as they fly up, right? Yes. Okay, if they’re flying up, so God forbid something weird happens, and of course, they have chaperones all the time, it doesn’t really matter.
But still, we let them have their phone; as soon as they get to camp, we take it. Well, that phone allows them to sit there, or their IPad allows them to sit there on the plane and look at their screen instead of looking at their friend [Inaudible 00:19:56.28] become a friend with or their counselor.
So it’s an instant comfort zone, and then you rip that technology away, you rip the Band-Aid off all sudden your comfort zone gets much smaller, and you have to get out of the comfort zone. And it’s the same thing like you said for parents, parents have to get out of the comfort zone of always knowing what’s going on with their child, and that’s where the growth occurs is outside of those comfort zones.
Respondent: Agreed. And the more they can stretch, the more they can grow. So parents, one of the questions I ask them is, do a preference for location? For me, that has to do with some of the influence of location on a camp. If you’re in Maine, you have a lot of access to establish trails. So maybe the hiking program is more vibrant to the camp, we’re in the Poconos or the Catskills, it might be that there are more co-ed camps and it’s a brother-sister situation, they want a co-ed camp, and that makes that location desirable.
But if parents come and say [Inaudible 00:20:56.29] x-ray, it’s not if you can get to camp in three hours or five hours. And your mail gets there in the same amount of time, your email gets there in the same amount of time, your phone call gets there in the same amount of time, why does it need to be closer. And it’s the idea of that comfort zone, can I stretch out to go further in distance. And I said once your child is on the campus they’re on the campus, it doesn’t matter where that campus is, they are cared for. So it’s the tether of how close are they to me, and that’s something that can be stretched.
Interviewer: Yes. More and more, I’m reading all these articles about how can you tell if my child is ready for a camp? And I keep wanting to say, how can you tell if your parents are ready for camp? Because it’s a bigger issue for the parents.
I think it is for the kids because kids are going to go play, I mean it’s easy. They’re just going to react to be a part of the environment, part of the community, whereas the parents sitting at home saying gosh, I wonder what little Sierra’s doing right now.
Respondent: It’s not intuitive, but I explained to parents that the younger child goes, the more easily they transition, because they’re not as aware of time or day, they can be in the moment, and that’s part of the beauty of camp is being in the moment and just enjoying life, and you’re here.
Interviewer: Yes. Actually, I was reading a book just recently; I can’t think of the name; it was about anxiety in girls. Oh, here we go, raising worry-free girls by Cissy Golf. And she was talking about some research that have been done, that if parents intervene and solve problems for kids early on, even if it’s just a little stuff around the house a game – whatever it is, that they’re going to increase separation anxiety with the child.
Because if the child’s always think well, mom or dad’s going to solve this for me, then I’ve always got to stay close to them in order for them to solve my problems.
Interviewer: And I thought oh like that makes perfect sense, and to me, that’s the beauty of camp is that you physically can’t be there. And the kids got to solve it with near peers and with a lot of great supervision, but they’re going to have to solve a lot of their own stuff there, which will actually make them less anxious about separation down the road.
Respondent: Agreed. And many years ago, there’s a book called the blessing of a skinned knee by Wendy; I don’t remember her last name, I could look that. Wendy Cohen, Wendy Kaplan, Wendy something [Inaudible 00:23:37.22]
Interviewer: [Inaudible 00:23:37.12] camp book.
Interviewer: Right. So if your child never trips and skins their knee, then what happens when they do that as they get older, you have to give them the chance to skin their knee and heel and say look that boo-boo got better. And that’s part of this, is allowing your children to solve their problems and to get uncomfortable so they can learn how to become comfortable.
Interviewer: Yes. And I think that’s the challenge that we have brought all that back home, because at camp it’s a very defined environment, whether it’s a day camp or whether it’s a residential camp you’re away, and you’re doing that.
Once you get them back to the house and they’ve learned all these great skills at camp, they’ve had these great experiences even though they didn’t know maybe they learned it. How do we keep that going back home, you think?
Respondent: I think it’s a concerted effort that the parent has to say why don’t you come up with your favorite camp meal, and let’s make that together. Or what was one of your least favorite activities, why? Maybe if we worked on that at home, you might enjoy it more at camp.
And I think part of it is just saying why don’t you go up to your room and read a book, write to a friend. Do something that you might do during rest hour at camp, and I think it’s pulling in whether its organized activities or those interstitial times of what a child can experience at camp and continuing that during the year.
Interviewer: Yes. Having like a camp hour sometime during the day.
Interviewer: That’s a great idea.
Respondent: It’s supposed to be every day or every week, but even if it’s monthly, I think that also keeps the child in touch with their positive feelings about camp and energized about going back.
Because I find it in January/February, a lot of campers get cold feet. Summer was a long time away, the scariness is more prevalent than remembering the fun, and I think that’s a good time to shore things up with reminders about camp, what was fun.
Interviewer: Sure. Well, and they’re back in their comfort zone, I mean they’re back at their home, they’re back at the school routine that they’re used to whatever it is, the same food they’re truly in their original comfort zone, assuming that home is a comfortable place for them. And anything outside of that as we said it’s challenging even camp, even if it’s amazing.
Respondent: Right, agreed. And I don’t know if people have a fireplace and it’s just let’s do a story, tell me a story that you heard in camp, that kind of thing.
Interviewer: Yes. The other day our youngest, who’s now 12, he’s not that young anymore had a couple of buddies over, and we’ve got a little bit of land that we can play with here at home. And he said mom what should we do; she said I know go outside, go do something.
She went just to check on them 45 minutes later because she could smell a fire, and we had a little fire, and it’s safe and what not, because of camp he knows how to manage a fire. But he had built a fire with his buddies, and they were making s’mores.
Respondent: That’s awesome.
Interviewer: Like okay, perfect, what else do you need?
Respondent: Like that is awesome.
Interviewer: So that was camp. So we’ve talked about the things that haven’t changed, but you and I know I think have been talking a lot about the things that have not changed about camp. What have you seen over the course of your experience working with camp that hasn’t changed?
Respondent: I think that it’s the joy of the outdoors, and that is, I guess, has something to do with change, which is the nature deficit, by love, but that hasn’t changed. Camp is a safe, supportive environment that welcomes everyone at wherever they are in their growth spectrum; it welcomes them in and is a place to forge friendships. And I think that’s the beauty of camp. It’s perennial, and I think that hasn’t changed.
I would say in 17 years of touring camps every summer with my colleagues, the consistent thing is happy smiling children running around and whatever it might be. And they might be indoors of art that day or participating in the play, and just that feeling of joy.
Interviewer: Yes. And that’s so restorative to everybody involved. Whatever’s going on in the rest of the world during that little microcosm of camp, it is just straight on, if it’s the right fit and that’s your job and then it’s my job as well making sure it’s the right fit for the family, there’s really very little limit to the joy that a kid can go through.
Respondent: And part of that also are the activities at camp that are things you can’t do at home.
Respondent: [Inaudible 00:28:29.22] that I know has built a lake in their backyards, so the family learns to stay outside or try water skiing or have your own climbing wall. And I think that camp can offer children the chance to go outside their regular activities. My boys played ice hockey, and it’s a 12 months a year activity, and I broke them out of that for seven weeks.
And I remember my older son insisted we had to choose a camp or ice hockey was an option, and we did that, and he went to ice hockey the first few times. And then he called home and said I don’t want to miss water skiing, [Inaudible 00:29:05.18] do I have to go? And despite the fact that I paid a good amount of money for that extra option, no you don’t have to go, get away from that. Enjoy archery, be the best Archer you can be, and that was the beauty of camp that’s still present today, is the chance to do other things. And also the chance to spread your wings.
I think that’s for the child that they can lay down the mantle of responsibility they have at home, the box they’re defined in at home. So maybe if you are the class clown, maybe you’re the comic relief, but it could be serious.
Or at home, you’re afraid to be outgoing and a camp you could be in the play and get on stage, and it’s the chance to spread your wings and do something different, which again is going outside their comfort zone. But at home, when your friends know you as a certain person, it’s very hard to break out of that. But a camp it’s a clean slate every summer.
Interviewer: Yes. And that’s the beauty I think of having home friends and having camp friends because you can choose to do different things in either spot and be a different person if you want to. And then you have the challenges when you go off to college, which person am I going to be now?
Respondent: Or how can you synthesize that and do all these things. I think that’s something that hasn’t changed about camp, that it’s really a safe space to do all those things.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful. Well, Beth, if people wanted to learn more about you or connect with you, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you and to get some of your experience and your knowledge of working with camps within the industry?
Respondent: Several ways. Our company, in general, is CampExperts.com, and so I’d love to help all the families in Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Manhattan. But I have colleagues in Chicago or LA or Boca Raton what-have-you, who are also able to access the same huge portfolio of camps and teen programs.
They can call me, and my number is on our website. They can email me, Beth@campexperts.com, and I’m delighted to share my love of camp with families, and it’s really a win-win. Unlike trial law that I went to graduate school for, [Inaudible 00:31:20.28] parents want to give the gift of camp to their children I get to help, and I have the best job.
Interviewer: Fantastic. Well, Beth, thank you so much for spending time around the campfire with me. As always, I love talking with you.
Respondent: Me too, and thank you for having me.
Interviewer: Absolutely, have a good week.
Interviewer: So last summer at camp, we did a little exercise with our CIT’s in front of the whole camp. We were down at campfire, and we had them stand up and holding heads form a chain around the campfire facing each other. They were so happy to do so, I mean our summer 19 CIT’s really loved each other. However, while the circle showed the unity of the CIT’s, it blocked everyone else out.
So staying in their place, we had them turn so that their backs were towards the fire and then join hands again. That way, they were still connected with one another but could look out and welcome others in. That, to me, is camp, it’s about building connections with each other and looking outward to welcome others in. It takes courage to get to that point. Doing the same thing with your same friends, it’s easy; the hard part comes, and sometimes the scary part comes when you’re trying something new.
Being an activity, a subject in school, speaking in front of others, or putting yourself out there to make a new friend or to be a new friend. However, until we get out of our comfort zones and welcome in those challenges, we’ll never know what we’re capable of. It’s a very natural thing to be concerned about something new; in fact, it’s one of the most natural and oldest of feelings for us humans.
Back in the day when we had to steer clear of saber-tooth Tigers and other creatures who saw us as lunch, our brains developed a habit of making scary things seem much bigger than they actually were. This helped keep us all alive for well here we are today. Well, there aren’t any saber-tooth Tigers walking around anymore, but our brains still have kept that same habit of blowing up potentially scary things into greater proportions than they actually are in order to protect our survival.
So take a bit of advice from Beth, and find ways to help the children in your life grow their social and emotional muscles. Help them learn that you can combat these scary feelings with gratitude, with courage and a budding sense of adventure. Any little bit will help them expand their world and give them the skills that they need to be successful going forward.
Outro: Thanks for taking the time to listen. If you found this conversation useful, I’d ask you to do two things. First, please pass it along to a friend, the lessons of summer camp can be applied to so much in the real world, and our campfire circle is large enough for everyone to join.
Secondly, please leave a rating or a review on whichever podcast service you’re using to listen to. More good reviews help these ideas spread. Until we speak again, do good and be good. Thanks again to our friends at Scope for sponsoring the campfire conversation.
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