Camp is an experience that strengthens one’s life journey; it enables, reinforces, and facilitates one’s ability to learn for life. It is a process of risks and mistakes that are meaningful and reflective — not a series of grades, scores, and tests. It is not about the right or wrong answer but the critical-thinking process that reveals patterns and alternatives. Camp is about taking experiences and adding language that not only expands understanding of self but of others.

Experiences and language work together to shape memories, thoughts, and knowledge. As quoted in Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says: “If we want to be successful and deal with other people, [we need] to understand the people around us — particularly what’s going on in their minds” (2010).

So we must ask ourselves: “What is going on in the minds of children and youth at camp?”

It is said that critical thinking is a higher-order skill among executive functions of the brain. When young people at camp learn to step back and look at what they are doing, reflect on the task or problem, evaluate it, and consider alternative solutions, they are learning for life.

Young people are compelled by a thirst to know and understand — curiosity. When young people at camp have an opportunity to explore, expand, and master a new skill or knowledge, they are experiencing the power of persistence. They are learning for life.

When you place challenges before young people in safe environments, they are ready to learn. The structure and routine of camp fosters learning. In such an environment, one that affords and encourages self-directed activities that fully engage the participants, they are learning for life.

Finally, it has been said that you cannot place young people in a cognitive bubble. In a camp experience, caring professionals encourage children’s emotional and social well-being — two critical and valued components of learning for life.

When you visit a quality camp experience, you will not find dullness in the eyes of the participants or silenced voices — but a spark, an ignition. They are learning for life.

Galinsky, E. (2010). Mind in the making. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.

With nearly three decades of experience as a change agent in youth development and transformation, Peg L. Smith is the former chief executive officer of ACA. ACA is the champion of better tomorrows — providing resources, research, and support for developmentally appropriate camp experiences.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts