My congratulatory handshake to colleague Jake Labovitz, who along with his wife, Kerry, owns Windsor Mountain Summer Camp in Windsor, New Hampshire, was commentary on a highly successful season. Jake’s reply? “Thanks, but you’re only as good as your last batch of muffins.”
What Jake was referring to is called “recency” — most recent — or what happens last. For context, “Social psychologists study how social influence, social perception, and social interaction influence individual and group behavior” (APA, 2018).
Influence, perception, and interaction: Each is a key component of the camp experience.
Perhaps chief among these is perception, as it is likely that a child’s reflection on his or her time at camp will drive the decision on whether or not to return.
Consistent with this premise are the well-known words of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Gal, 2018).
Which brings us back to the muffins — or at least to recency. The power of recency is that it captures the last recollections of personal experience. If the last batch of muffins on closing day, for example, were cold and mushy, perhaps we didn’t finish our job.
The lesson? The sports analog would be “Leave it all on the field!” If you give everything, there will be no questions about what you could or might have done (Mead, 2018).
Next up is the related concept of “primacy,” or what happens first! “The first impression is the lasting impression” — we’ve heard it before. But do we always remember these important constructs when planning for opening day and our campers’ actual experiences? It’s worth thinking about.
So if primacy and recency hold such sway, what happens in between?
In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath explain why certain experiences can have extraordinary impact — they call them “defining moments” — and offer up a recipe, if you’ll pardon the pun, to bake them into your campers’ (and counselors’) time at camp. You might think of them as magical moments and you can encourage staff to create, and report on, them weekly.
At Windsor Mountain, Jake and Kerry’s nephew, Adam, then age 13, found many such moments, telling me, “When I get to camp I feel welcomed. I’m in this great community of people and everyone, even people I’ve never met before, is happy to see me. There are new activities every day, spontaneous, fresh, and exciting. One summer I took a pottery class for the first time ever. After some trial and error I threw a small bowl that we now use at home. I’ve accomplished things at camp I never knew I could do, and I am thankful for those experiences. I leave camp confident, calm, and ready to meet the challenges of the year ahead.”
Isn’t that kind of the point?
The Heath brothers maintain that defining moments are often chance opportunities, such as a new teacher who spots a talent you did not know you had. While such moments seem to be the result of fate or luck, they can be intentionally created.
That is good news and what camp is all about: Intentionality.
Engineering these moments, the Heaths say, requires an understanding of their elements (Heath and Heath, 2017).
- Elevation: They rise above the everyday experience.
- Insight: They redefine our understanding of oneself in the world.
- Pride: They reflect moments of achievement and courage.
- Connection: They are social and strengthened because we share them with others.
The Heaths offer that defining moments necessarily line up with at least one of those four metrics.
The Power of Moments also speaks to what are referred to as “fresh start” experiences and a cautionary tale about customer service: it’s OK to make mistakes or fall short of the mark because, “Business leaders who can spot their customers’ moments of dissatisfaction and vulnerability — and take decisive actions to support those customers — will have no trouble differentiating themselves from competitors.”
While no one is suggesting we strive to fail, we can keep our eyes open for opportunities to admit mistakes or misjudgments and to take corrective action.
Primacy, recency, and all that falls in the middle keep summer camps in the forefront of experiential education.
Bring on the muffins!
American Psychological Association. (2018). Social psychology studies human interactions. Psychology: Science in Action. Retrieved from apa.org/action/science/social/index.aspx
Gal, S. (2018). 13 of Maya Angelou’s greatest quotes on life, success, and change. Business Insider. Retrieved from businessinsider.com/maya-angelou-quotes-advice-wisdom-2018-4#-6
Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2017). The power of moments: Why certain experiences have extraordinary impact. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Mead, J. (2018). Leave it all on the field. Paid to Exist. Retrieved from paidtoexist.com/leave-it-all-on-the-field/
Stephen Gray Wallace is president and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) and cofounder of CampTelligence. He has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent/family counselor and serves as a consultant to educational institutions, including summer camps. He is also a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Camp Association and a parenting expert at kidsinthehouse.com, NBCUniversal’s Learn and WebMD. For additional information about Stephen’s work, please visit StephenGrayWallace.com.
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