Camp Is Education…But It’s Fun!
It is a common misperception that camp is the antithesis of school. School is often considered to involve hard work and is serious while camp is perceived as easy and fun, maybe even trivial. Camp and school should not be viewed as being on opposing ends of a continuum, rather they are both educational experiences in different settings. They both embrace the goal of helping each child develop appropriately and successfully. The differences lie in how they approach achieving that goal!
The school setting has traditionally been a place for academic education where students actively explore and learn about a variety of topics. They know they are there to receive an education with some embracing that concept more than others. WeHaKee Camp for Girls and other resident camps, on the other hand, provide a more wholistic education that emphasizes broad-based growth and development in social-emotional skills, something many schools are not able to address effectively. And camps do it in a way that is inviting & engaging. Campers seldom know how much they are learning and growing because they are just having so much fun!
Leah Shafer, a writer and researcher from the Harvard Graduate School of Education penned an article this summer entitled Lessons from Camp: Free from School-Year Demands, Summer Camps are a Key Venue for Social-Emotional Learning (Usable Knowledge: Connecting Research to Practice, July 1, 2016). In it, she explores the remarkable value of a camp experience in children and youth in terms of their social-emotional development.
“All those classic camp dynamics — being away from home and parents,
making new friends, being part of a team, and trying new things
— are building blocks to crucial social-emotional skills.” (Leah Shafer, Usable Knowledge)
Shafer explores the elements of a solid camp experience and why it is so beneficial for social-emotional learning. In her article she states the following:
Camps foster relationship skills and social awareness by:
- Introducing children to an entirely new group of peers. Camp may be the first time children have spent substantial time with people whose background — home, race, or religion — is different from their own.
- Setting up opportunities for children to find their own friends. According to education researcher and longtime camp counselor and director Claire Gogolen, counselors often begin a session by leading icebreakers and regularly sorting a cabin group into different pairs. These activities give campers explicit opportunities to get to know each other, allowing them to figure out who they want to become better friends with.
- Creating a space where silliness is accepted, and bullying is not. Without the need to plunge into academic content, camps have time to use the beginning of a session to prioritize group norms, says learning specialist and former camp counselor and director Ari Fleisher. Counselors can make it very clear that bullying and teasing are not acceptable. At the same time, camps can encourage songs, jokes, and general silliness that allow campers to relax and be themselves.
- Taking a break from technology. Many overnight camps restrict or prohibit phones and computers. For many campers, this means it’s the first time they’ve made friends without the help of Instagram or Snapchat, and they learn how to navigate social cues to build and maintain friendships in “real life.”
- Modeling teamwork and sportsmanship. During staff training, many camps stress the importance of adults demonstrating cooperation and friendship to their campers. When campers are surrounded by positive role models — particularly role models closer to their own age than teachers are — they learn how to get along with peers who may be different from them.
Camps also nurture self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision making by:
- Requiring children to solve day-to-day problems on their own. With limited contact with parents, campers have to learn how to manage their own conflicts, whether it’s a disagreement with a bunkmate or not getting their first-choice activity.
- Presenting activities that are new to everyone. Counselors often purposefully lead games and activities that none of their campers have tried before, says afterschool specialist and former camp counselor Nicky DeCesare. Without the fear that some peers will already have a leg-up on lava tag or basket making, children may be more likely to decide to try new things.
- Offering kids the chance to set and accomplish daily goals. The sheer amount of new activities makes it possible for kids to continually set and achieve goals, deepening their understanding of personal limits. One day a camper may be set on reaching the top of the climbing wall, and the next she may be determined to collaborate with her group to create a new song.
- Helping children uncover new skills. Kids who are usually immersed in academics may become aware of new skills that they didn’t know they had. For children who struggle in school, these opportunities can increase self-confidence.
- Providing time for reflection. Many camps begin or end the day with reflection activities, in which campers can think about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve grown, and what they’re excited for. These moments, rare in a typical school day, can develop self-awareness and mindfulness for all kids. (Leah Shafer, Usable Knowledge)
Camps, like Camp WeHaKee are places where children and youth grow in remarkable ways, increasing their sense of independence, their self-confidence, and enhancing their acceptance of others. Parents consistently report that their children return home with a greater sense of responsibility and compassion for others. And they achieve all this without even knowing it!
Thanks for reading and have a great week everyone!