As a camp director, I am always on the lookout for articles, speakers, and individuals that can help me focus my efforts in the right place. I recently attended an orientation and multiple people kept referencing the “Five Cs” needed for success in the 21st century, developed by Pat Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools. The Five Cs are: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, character — and the bonus “Sixth C,” cosmopolitanism (or cross-cultural competency).
These are skills that we have been developing in summer camp for over 150 years — and campers learn them primarily from you, the frontline staff who role model and encourage these skills every day. Here are some ways you can help instill the Five Cs in your campers.
Critical thinking. Take the time to share the decision-making process with your campers. A low-ropes or high-ropes course provides a fantastic tool for teaching critical thinking. A group may have to “think outside the box” to accomplish an element. You can help create an environment where everyone has a chance to lead and solve the problem. Camp is one of the only places in the world where children get a chance to spend quality, constructive time with young adults like you. As counselors and frontline staff, it’s important to respect this time and use it to pass along lifelong skills.
Creativity. Give campers a chance to have unstructured play time. If you can, let your campers create their schedules for an entire day. A group of ten-year-old boys will spend three hours building a dam in the river. They will negotiate the rules, establish different tasks, and get dirty. Really dirty! After a few hours of building dams, they will create a game of tag. There will be some arguments about boundaries and how they will choose teams, but it will all be worked out as they learn how to negotiate and compromise with words, not fists. Oh, the creativity (and the youth development) that occurs in the wilderness! The biggest challenge for frontline staff might be staying out of the way and allowing this creativity to be fostered.
Collaboration. Remind campers of the value of teamwork. When backpackers leave for a three- or five-day trip, they must rely on their fellow campers to carry some of the food, the stoves, or the tents. They have to work together in cook groups to prepare a wonderful dinner in the backcountry. On a canoe trip, they have to paddle together and collaborate when arriving at their campsite. At times, they also have to compromise when a large group of campers wants to participate in a program that is limited by permit size. Imagine the lesson a child learns when they willingly give up their spot on a premier hike or the last day of rafting so that someone else can experience it. What an awesome lesson for a ten-year-old!
Communication. Teach your campers how to build relationships and share their feelings. It is so valuable for a child to debrief an activity. Make sure to maintain an environment where a young boy or girl can learn it is okay to say, “I was scared” or “I am not ready to try this task yet.” As frontline staff, you can also work on developing your own communication and leadership skills with coworkers, parents, and campers.
Character. You are helping campers learn how to live and thrive away from home. Your main goal is to provide an emotionally and physically safe place where children can test themselves. Character is strengthened as campers put themselves in challenging situations. Whether it is working to control a difficult horse or attempting a challenging summit, campers learn to overcome difficult situations and deepen their character. Have closing conversations with campers to talk about how they are going to use the skills they learned at camp when they return to their own communities. In addition, reinforce campers’ character by recognizing them when they do the right thing.
Cosmopolitanism. Camp is a great opportunity to meet many people from many different places. Help campers stretch their boundaries and bond with those different from them. Share stories about the benefits of learning from others. The friendships created at camp can lead campers to an interest in travel, college experiences, and new understandings. I had a friend from college that had never left his home state. At twenty-five years old, he took his first trip outside of the state, and he spent much of his trip complaining about how wrong everything was. I thought to myself, “He needed to go to camp when he was a kid.” If you have international campers or coworkers at your camp, take the time to learn from them. Create an international night where they cook food from their country and share photos of their culture.
As you proceed through the summer, remember that you have a gift. Commit to giving your campers lifelong skills and look for ways to share critical thinking, instill creativity, encourage collaboration, enhance communication, build character, and offer cosmopolitanism. Have a great summer!
Jeff Cheley is the fourth generation of the Cheley family and has the privilege to be the caretaker of his great-grandfather’s vision. Jeff has been back at Cheley Camps since 1999. He lives in Denver with his wife,