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March 11, 2014
Guest post by Lance Ozier
A few years back I conducted a study with kids who had gone to summer camp for at least six or seven years. I asked them to talk about their camp experiences, and from their stories identified convincing evidence that summer camp is an important place for kids to learn and grow. Recently, the skills campers in my study attributed to their camp experiences — confidence, leadership, social skills, independence, self-direction — have been described in books and articles as important noncognitive factors essential for success in the “new economy.” If camp’s purpose is to give kids a world of good, then camp seems a likely place for young people and adults to acquire and practice these important skills so they can imagine ways they might adapt to the challenges in an ever-changing world.
William Poundstone’s “Are you smart enough to work at Google?” describes the “new economy” in the context of the Google corporation’s decision to shift hiring techniques from screening job candidates “beyond learning particular sets of skills, toward measuring the ability to innovate and problem solve.” He provides several intriguing examples illustrating how the new Google interview questions emphasize intelligence as more than what is learned in school and rather the “ability to reason well and grasp the subtleties of the world around us.”
Industry and economics have historically driven the educational reforms necessary to prepare kids for the workforce. Schools often lag behind, and while gaining this type of insight would enable educators to teach students how to learn, as well as what to learn, enabling students to take more ownership and control over their own learning, camps, on the other hand, have long been leaders in giving semantic parity between cognitive knowledge and youth development skills essential for learning.
Paul Tough’s (2012) How Children Succeed calls attention to this tension between “what you know” and “ how you use what you know” by questioning “the cognitive hypothesis,” or the belief “that success today depends primarily on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on I.Q. tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns — and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.” In his latest book, Tough sets out to replace this assumption by emphasizing the notion that noncognitive skills are more crucial than sheer brain power to achieving success, including:
Camp professionals are likely familiar with the benefits included in Tough’s list of factors. In fact, ACA has conducted important studies with conclusions aligning closely with this list of noncognitive factors — 3,395 families whose child attended one of eighty different day or resident summer camps measured growth from precamp to postcamp surveys in four domains:
- positive identity
- social skills
- physical and thinking skills
- and positive values
Sound familiar? To anyone living in the world of summer camp, the skills necessary in the new economy sound a lot like old habit. For over 150 years, camps have provided landscapes of learning for generations of campers the old-fashioned way by giving kids the space to practice what they learn in school and opportunities to explore ways of making sense of what they know in new and different settings outside the classroom.
In fact, despite classrooms having the connotation in society for being exclusive places for learning, schools often don’t do enough to prepare young people for the new economy’s demands. In his newest publication, educator David Conley at the Educational Policy Improvement Center suggests, “most students don’t get enough opportunities to practice an array of learning strategies as they go through school.” One reason, as Conley suggests, is that “developing strategic learning techniques takes time and practice.” On the other hand, camp preserves for kids the chance to slow down, to notice, to attend, to engage and interact with their world. A camp curriculum, unlike most school curricula, awakens kids with challenging activities that encourage innovation and exploration, the same kind of innovation that creates jobs, and the kind of exploration through which discoveries are made.
In a recent opinion published in the widely read Education Week, Conley (2013) calls for the unfortunately named noncognitive factors to be renamed. Claiming the name suggests “not-thinking,” he suggests the term “metacognitive factors,” as he rhetorically asks “are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?”
In my own study, the stories told to me by kids who attended summer camp described examples of Conley’s argument, including metacognitive processes like:
- “exposed me to new ideas”
- “inspiration to move on”
- “learning new things”
- “being okay with myself”
- “practicing role modeling”
- “learning how to talk to others”
- “becoming oneself”
- “avoiding peer pressure”
Even as research tells us camp helps kids learn in ways that will improve their school performance, why do we still have such a hard time convincing folks that camps are perhaps better suited to provide kids with the kinds of experiences learners need, and that camp is more likely to grow citizens with the twenty-first century learning characteristics our world demands? In the face of shifting economic and educational landscapes, how do summer camps keep open to the need for developing meta/noncognitive factors even as we have regard for tradition? How might the next 150 years of camp continue to prepare kids for the world’s demands?
Just this last year, ACA convened a task force to examine the link between the research on meta/noncognitive factors and the ways camps develop these skills each summer in millions of young people and adults. And each of us must do our part — it’s important to help educate campers and parents about the important learning benefits of the camp experience. By simply getting better at what they already do, camps are well positioned to be an important element on the educational spectrum necessary to succeed in this century and beyond — or as Dr. Edmund Gordon of Yale and Columbia Universities calls the “supplementary education” necessary for high academic achievement in school and life in this new economy.
If we expect the next generation of young people to create a world in which they identify the deficiencies and try and repair them, then summer camps must be recognized broadly as one of the last places for developing the creativity and the curiosity necessary for children to, as Maxine Greene reminds us, “imagine how things should be and how they might be.”
Share this posting and others like it so that American summer camps are seen as credible experts in the work of equipping kids with life skills the old fashioned way, by providing engaging experiences so that young people grow to learn for themselves; camps open young minds to possibilities they may not have seen before; camp is where imagination flourishes — where kids can explore concepts and turn ideas on their head, creating openings into changing how they see the world and how the world can interact with us. As cognitive science, industry, and education reform all hustle to keep up with the times, the future for ACA is now — or as the French like to say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Lance Ozier, PhD, spent fifteen seasons at Morry’s Camp, the summer component of the nationally recognized youth development organization Project Morry. Lance has also worked in public schools at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels and has taught at Teachers College, Columbia University, and The City College of New York. Since 2010, he has served as a volunteer on ACA’s national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE).
January 28, 2014
For today's kids, free, unstructured play is on the decline, and access to the outdoors is dwindling. ACA CEO Peg Smith explains why play is so critical to a child's success. Read Peg's article in USA Today.
January 24, 2014
There is no single, all-encompassing background check database available in this country.The purpose of the Child Protection Improvments Act (CPIA) is to "close a gaping hole in the federal law that prevents camps, children's groups, and other organizations that work with children from gaining access to federal criminal background checks on employees and volunteers."
View this video blog from ACA CEO Peg Smith encouraging advocacy for the CPIA and advocate at ACA's CPIA page today.
January 21, 2014
This guest post is by Audrey Monke, owner and director of Gold Arrow Camp.
I love flipping my calendar to January and the promise it offers of a fresh start. There’s something about the clean pages of a whole year stretched out in front of me that makes me believe I can accomplish more this year than I ever have before.
One thing I’ve learned is that just flipping to the fresh page doesn’t actually make anything different. I have to put some effort in. After being a camp director for more than twenty-five years, I’m still trying to get better at my job. I’d like to share three ways I’m going to be a better camp director in 2014, and I hope you get some ideas you can use, as well.
1. Look Back
As you look back on 2013, ask yourself two questions:
- What were my strengths as a camp director?
- What were my biggest failures and what did I learn?
Are you not sure what your greatest strengths and failures were? Then take a morning to read through evaluations and feedback you received from campers, parents, and staff. See what the trends are. Jot down some lists of the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff from camp last summer. Then you’ll know your strengths and areas for improvement!
2. Use Today Well
Now that you’ve reflected on the past, don’t get overwhelmed by a humungous list of way too many to-dos. Instead, ask yourself:
- What is ONE thing I can do today to make camp better this summer?
Like me, you have a lot of e-mails and phone calls and miscellaneous, seemingly urgent items to do today. All that sometimes not-so-important stuff jumps out at you calling you away from actually getting anything done. How many days have you reflected and said, “What did I do today?” and you can’t come up with anything tangible?
So just think of ONE thing you can do today that is important but not urgent. Maybe you can spend thirty minutes researching ideas to make your staff training really have a WOW factor this year. Or maybe there’s a key staff member you can call to get input on how to improve a specific activity they taught last year. What about reading an article or part of a book about child development, 21st-century skills, or some other topic that will help you present yourself as a youth development professional to your campers’ parents? Allot thirty minutes today — AND EVERY DAY — to do ONE THING that will make you a better camp director this year. ONE THING. That’s all.
3. Look Forward
What are your strategic priorities for 2014? Get your key people together this month and figure out three priorities to focus on this winter and spring to make your camp better this summer. Or, if that’s too hard or overwhelming for you at this point, then just circle back to “Look Back” above. Your answers to those questions will help you prioritize for this year.
Get organized! How do you keep your long-term projects organized and on track? There are a lot of project management software programs available that are relatively inexpensive and help you outline steps of each project with deadlines and specific responsibilities. Whatever your system is, take your priorities and plan out how you can, over the next five months, accomplish those projects before camp starts. Don’t put vague, huge items like “hire staff” on your project and deadline list. Instead, put very specific, tangible items like “post a message to returning staff about specific job openings this summer.”
Take the time now to plan ahead to accomplish some small things that will make you a better camp director this year. Enjoy your fresh start and make 2014 your best year yet!
Audrey Monke, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-five years. They have five children (ages ten to twenty) who keep their life camp-like year round. Audrey has been a member of ACA since 1989 and was President of WAIC (Western Association of Independent Camps) from 2007–2010. She writes about camp and parenting at sunshine-parenting.com.
December 17, 2013
Guest blog by Ann Sheets
The time between Thanksgiving and the New Year always seems to go by in a hurry for me. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were ringing in this year — and already it’s time to celebrate the holidays and start another year. Holidays always make me slow down a little and think about how lucky I am, especially to be involved with the camp community. At the risk of being a little sentimental, here are some things that I am particularly thankful for, now and throughout the year:
I’m thankful . . .
- that my parents let me go to camp when I was a child. Those first experiences in an organized outdoor program, out in nature and with my friends, set the stage for a lifelong love of the outdoors and the camp experience. Neither of my parents had been campers as children, but they both recognized the importance of camp, from learning independence, to sharpening skills, to spending time in nature.
- that my parents encouraged me to be a camp counselor, to the point of letting me work at camps far from home, where I knew not one single soul. This Texas girl discovered a whole new world by spending summers in California, Washington, D.C., and Indiana, and along the way made some friends that now forty years later are still very important in my life.
- for camp directors who were great role models and who told me that if I really wanted to be a camp director, then I should join the American Camp Association (ACA). They were right.
- for the chance to participate in the learning environments that ACA offers, both locally and nationally.
- for every ACA committee meeting, task force conference call, and board retreat that I have been a part of. It’s not just the satisfaction of accomplishing a task for ACA, but also the value of relationships that are made with ACA colleagues. My life is richer because of these camp friends who have shared ideas, traditions, and insights.
‘Tis the season of joy, of sharing, and of giving. Here’s to the camp community — thanks and happy holidays to all!
Ann Sheets served as ACA's national president from 2005 to 2008 and recently completed a term as the board development chairman. She is senior vice president at Camp Fire First Texas in Fort Worth.
November 11, 2013
Guest post by Jean G. McMullan
The season of thankfulness and of giving is upon us. Summer gifts of leadership from our staff to campers produce ongoing positive effects that last all through the year. We savor the memories of difficult times during camp season as well as small triumphs when campers feel the warmth and support of their counselors. Ideally, camp is a year-round gift.
The powerful effect of the camp experience is working as campers in their winter venues tackle more difficult school projects or make friends with someone whom they never before cared to know. And some campers may find that they now have the guts to stick up for a person being bullied or who needs some extra help.
We revel in gifts of e-mails and calls that trickle in to camp leaders during the off-season. These earnest notes from campers, staff, and parents give momentum to keep going — to plan for yet another effective and exciting camp season. A gifted trip counselor just wrote to her camp leader: “This summer my co-leader and I asked our hikers to tell us about who they look up to the most and why. My first and immediate instinct was you. Primarily I look up to you because you make each and every person you interact with feel special and listened to. It’s an incredible gift and I hope to one day be able to exude half the amount of warmth you do every day . . ." The optimism of the camp experience is truly a gift.
And yet I hear “Tut, Tut” — the bleating of those who call out to be realistic. “This constant optimism is simply impractical idealism.” I am reminded of a student who had an assignment from a college English professor who asked her to write the “perfect definition of idealism and realism.” She pondered this for several days and one night she awakened from a deep sleep with the thrilling realization that she at last had an answer. Groggily she jotted down her thought and fell back to sleep. Imagine her chagrin when she read her masterpiece in the morning: “He sat on a golden throne and spat into a golden cuspidor!” Definitions, after all, did not matter. What mattered was to have an idealized goal and then to make it work.
To visualize a goal, research the possibilities and develop a plan — use idealism as a practical tool. Off-season months become the springboard for practical camp plans. I submit that the most practical realism is to be idealistic.
This season of thankfulness also reminds us that there is a whole world of camping that we must address. As camping leaders, we are challenged to stretch the power of the camp experience to more campers than ever. ACA’s 20/20 Vision calls for upwards of 20 million children to experience, by 2020, the adventure of camp. Our work becomes a year-round effort to move diligently toward this wider goal. Realistic? Absolutely. Idealistic? But of course.
At Alford Lake Camp in Maine, Jean has promoted camper independence, helped campers enjoy the adventure of simple living, and forwarded international friendships. Her American Camp Association activities include work in professional development and association leadership in Maine, New England, and on the national level.
November 5, 2013
Guest blog by Tish Bolger, ACA President
As advocates for children and youth, it is our job to make sure they are provided with the very best learning opportunities during their developing years. Some of the most important opportunities we offer the children and youth in our charge are nature experiences.
Camps and youth programs are continually striving to create “Carbon Footprint Champions” who have vast experience with nature, conservation, and stewardship. That is why a recent commercial from Toys “R” Us — which seems to place an emphasis on a trip to a toy store to the detriment of the outdoors — is so disheartening.
In response to the commercial, the American Camp Association (ACA)® has created a way for members and other youth advocates to reach out to Toys “R” Us CEO Antonio Urcelay to share the importance of nature and why — while we honor creative play as a child’s right — we should protect and encourage a child’s right to play outdoors.
Please use the link below to use ACA’s pre-written letter template or share your own thoughts on the importance of nature experiences for all children.
October 29, 2013
Did you know that on October 31st, the planet will become a 7 billion-strong population? And half of that 7 billion are under the age 25! An overwhelming number, isn’t it?
Yet, I can only get my head around the implications (such as available resources, including all of the issues surrounding climate change — water, food, weather) if I consider the issue from my small perspective. What do I do?
I know I can turn off the lights, drive less, watch less TV, reduce my use of plastic, turn down my heat, and recycle. Yet, the camp community also has an opportunity to help each camper become a champion of the “carbon footprint” effort. A campaign for our planet led by the world’s most important asset — youth. Youth changed our use of seat belts. Youth changed our sense of responsibility to pick up trash and not throw waste out of our car windows. Youth helped us support Smokey the Bear. They are powerful advocates!
So, how do we mobilize youth at our camps this summer? What will you do? We can conserve water and electricity, we can encourage kids to walk places when they go home, we can recycle, and we can help them understand how to grow and produce food. Yet, as a camp community, what can we do next summer to make a difference — for our campers and our world? One person at a time, as a collective 7 billion. What are your ideas for mobilizing each small footprint to impact the larger footprint?
(click image for enlarged PDF)
October 21, 2013
What is something that everyone who has ever gone to camp has done that is virtually impossible to re-create in any other setting? Campfires, of course! Our camp is 76 summers old and there are some long-standing traditions and songs that everyone comes to expect. I really appreciated the first campfire of our Girls Camp this summer, filled with beautiful singing and complete with harmony. Sitting there, it made me think about all the campfires I have experienced over 45 summers at camp, and the way singing has been an important part of my life, at camp and away from it.
It made me think too that we have moved away from the singing culture of my childhood, and those childhoods of my elders. I heard a monk once describe singing together as “breathing together.” There is recent research that documents its effects on our heart rates and heart beats; that when we sing together, our heartbeats come into harmony with one another. For me, and for many who share my love of campfires and singing, this makes intuitive sense and helps to explain why we may feel so connected to each other when we are singing together at campfires.
The evening of the first Girls Camp campfire was really beautiful. It was clear and the light from the little sliver of the new moon didn't outshine the stars popping out as dusk settled in our valley. Purple Martins flitted in and out of their bird house, swooping and diving to eat the mosquitoes that hovered over the camp family gathered around our big campfire.
Every song was greeted with great participation, and before I knew it, we were winding the evening down with a few quiet camp songs that have been sung since at least the 1960s when I was first a camper, including two of my favorites: “Heida” and “Mr. Moon.” Both songs are sung in a round, and the resulting harmonies were incredible to hear.
There is nothing that sounds as good to my ears or feels as good to my heart as those songs sung by our girls at a campfire, with the background sounds of birds, frogs, and crickets in their own chorus. It is also in those quiet moments as a camper and young staff member that I began to learn and practice the art of self-reflection that has helped me continue learning all my life since. The combination of the power of singing together and the quiet reflective time gives us opportunities to feel deeply connected in a community, our camp family, and at the same time to be alone with our thoughts and feelings. For many of our campers and young staff members, I could see in dreamy far away gazes, that the same thing was happening here. As it has for all summers previous, and as it has at any camp where in the quiet moments of singing together we can ponder and dream.
Mary Rogers is the executive director at Sherwood Forest Camp. She attended Sherwood Forest as a camper and has spent every summer at camp, in different roles, ever since. Mary is a longtime ACA member and has served in various volunteer roles at local, regional, and national levels. She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Photo courtesy of YMCA Camp Abnaki, North Hero, Vermont.
September 30, 2013
I have talked about the early childhood movement in the past. The success of this movement was a result of practitioners working with researchers to take early brain development science and make a compelling business case. This helped the public think of child care as something other than warehousing children or “babysitting.” It was a movement that revolutionized early childhood.
As a result, I predict that we will see a second movement — this time in youth development — within the next decade.
Let me suggest a trifecta, if you will:
1.) The growth of youths’ emerging critical thinking, problem solving, reflective skills, communication, and creativity — when supported by active, participatory learning — makes the case for a recalibration and realignment of a comprehensive educational/developmental system for young people. Home, school, and out-of-school programming (camps) must come together to provide a system unequaled by any other when done well.
2.) Brain-based learning — added to what we know about the importance of outdoor experiences on physical, social, and mental health, and today's alarming decline and limited access to the natural world — makes it clear that access to authentic outdoor experiences must be reintroduced and introduced to our families.
3.) Replacing play, the rite of childhood, with the ritual of resume building alone is causing serious fissures in the healthy development of children. Play allows young people to practice “how” to survive and thrive in a community. Play is a process of experimenting and refining important life lessons — a form of self-regulation — that we must allow children to have.
I predict these three ideas will become critical to youth development conversations within the next decade. Will we champion such a movement?
What will you do? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook.
September 23, 2013
Guest post by Marla Coleman
10-for-2. It often feels like we live 10 months for 2 months! Campers. Staff. Directors. (And dare we say parents, too?).
Sadly, those precious months have drawn to a close. We intentionally design the last week or few days to ensure that it seals our memories forever. Whatever the traditions of each camp — Olympics, candles flickering on the lake, “burndown” of the year, closing ceremonies — they really are one giant zip-lock bag. These rituals allow us to preserve the fun, the growth, the challenges, and the triumphs.
We can expect a letdown of sorts when it’s all over, not unlike the experience campers have. After all, we were on quite a high for those 8 weeks or so, delivering the ultimate experience: It’s exhilarating to be at camp every day — be yourself, be appreciated for who you are, know that no one is judging you, and feel liberated to leave your comfort zone and expand your stretch zone.
The good news is that while they have left the physical space that has been home, they are taking much of their camp experience with them on their journey through life.
Campers have truly reinvented themselves this summer, and I posit, so have we as a result; we’ve had the privilege of having ringside seats as they have begun to describe themselves with some pretty authentic and empowering labels they have attributed to themselves:
Courageous. Compassionate. Cooperative. Creative. Considerate. Charitable. Caring. And those are just the “C”s!
And we share another quality with our campers: passion. We know this, because we live it every summer — pursuing a passion can change the course of your life. It helps us thrive because we are using our talents, finding our joy, learning from mistakes, and helping others. Camp is where all of us discover our future best self.
The children, as we, may need some transition time to readjust and reconnect with the pace, pressures, and demands of life outside the cocoon of camp: school, grades, schedules, electronics . . . . Celebrating recent successes, staying connected with camp friends, having tangible remembrances all help to realign a galaxy that encompasses new stars in our personal constellation, helping to light the path to happiness and success.
Camp, after all, is the compass that points true north. No wonder we are so passionate about it.
Marla Coleman is a past president of ACA and a spokesperson. She is a founding director of Coleman Country Day Camp on Long Island. She also serves on the board of Roundup River Ranch in Colorado, a SeriousFun camp (formerly Hole-in-the-Wall) for children with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.
September 9, 2013
The picture to the right is a vine I planted outside of my mom's apartment. I failed to prune it. As a result, it grew to greater heights and beauty than I ever imagined.
Suddenly I wondered: How many young people do we prematurely “prune?” We limit what they can do by denying them opportunities as a result of our own fears. We limit what they think they can accomplish with our words of caution. Are we stunting their growth?
Jane Sanborn from Sanborn Western Camps recommended a book to me — Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown. He says that play “energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities."
Of course, many of you know that play is one of my favorite topics. But, he immediately steps into another of my favorite topics — brain development: "neurologists, developmental biologists, psychologists, [and] social scientists from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process." For me, this supports my opinion that we should not alter or eliminate healthy environments that support the biological process that many of us call the right of childhood.
We also should not diminish the importance of our work.
Dr. Brown goes on to say that play promotes adaptability, empathy, and the ability to make complex social groups, as well as fosters creativity and innovation. This illustrates my problem with labels such as executive functioning, 21st-Century Skills, or life skills — this is simply and profoundly sound, positive, child and youth development. If we would practice it instead of trying to commercialize it, it seems we'd get further along.
Have you read Dr. Brown's book? What did you think? Share in the comments below.
September 3, 2013
Recently we celebrated the fifty-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was inspiring to see the honor and reverence paid for such a day in our history. That said, we must not forget that the spirit of MLK is not a one-day event. The spirit of his words must live in us every day to ensure we get to the Promised Land.
Each day, we must find a way to take the concept of unity and seek a shared framework for being. I fear too often we find it hard to define ourselves as “one” because we become distracted by our differences. It is fair to recognize the rich diversity of experiences, strengths, and weaknesses that we possess as individuals, communities, and the world.
Yet, what bonds us — allowing us to celebrate our differences?
One shared framework to consider is that of humanity, humility, and hope.
Humanity in our compassion. Humility in our ability to not assume an attitude of superiority. Hope in our trust we can find a better place.
Young people often discover these qualities of humanity, humility, and hope at camp.
MLK Day and the celebration of his "I Have a Dream" speech should not be seen as a one-day events — nor should the camp experience only be realized during a season.
Day after day . . .
Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
August 26, 2013
We have reached the end of another summer season. I have watched the Facebook posts of those who are leaving camp to go back to school, home, or another job. Each post is overflowing with mixed feelings of both sadness and hope. The songs, words, and prose abound with memories embedded deep within the recesses of the emotional memory muscles.
What has been learned and shared over what accumulatively may seem like nanoseconds in time will repeatedly resurface during the forthcoming years, having a profound impact on future experiences that will draw from these moments. Ellen Gannett inferred such influence in her recent blog post when she wrote about Willis Bright’s ideas on navigational and interpretive skills. As Willis suggests, those skills actually serve as a moral compass, often for life.
Yet, why does this happen? I have often suggested it is the intensity and density of the camp experience. Yet, that is short-hand for something much richer. Why do kids have such a visceral reaction to the camp experience — one that often is rarely replicated anywhere else in their lives? Or why do kids reveal to others during a camp experience a side of them (even their fears or life torments) when they have not done so anywhere else?
In an NPR radio story on August 8, 2013, “Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic . . . and Respect,” I believe we gain insight into our own phenomenon. As it has been suggested, we know where kids go to receive “academic equipment,” but where are the places they go to receive critical social and emotional readiness equipment? And maybe even more importantly, what happens to the functionality of the academic equipment if the social and emotional equipment has been neglected?
I believe the camp experience provides what many have called a “sacred space.” A space where kids can find authentic adult mentors who are accessible — one cannot share one’s feelings if time is not provided or someone is not prepared to listen. A space where words are used to “name” feelings and emotions, giving kids “emotional literacy” — feelings cannot be expressed, verbally, if one is not familiar with the words or is not exposed to others who know how to use such words constructively.
Finally, a quality camp experience understands and emulates justice and friendship; such attributes create a space that nurtures trust. When we trust others, we often put them in high regard — we respect them. I believe respect is the engine that ensures the social and emotional equipment is working — even through difficult times.
Photo courtesy of Camp Skyline, Mentone, Alabama
August 20, 2013
Guest post by Lance Ozier
Summers have always belonged to children, and the traditionally fun activities that kids enjoy while on vacation at camp might not seem to have any relationship to the skills needed to be successful in school and beyond. After all, most camps are not summer study programs — camps have always served as respites from school, as an oasis from the textbooks and homework associated with the classroom. But as recent research suggests, the seemingly fun and playful activities that engage kids at camp not only serve as important skill builders that mitigate “summer learning loss”; these camp experiences also develop what economists call “noncognitive” factors known to be predictors of life success.
As we drive at full speed into a new school year, and the memory of summer camp fades in the rear view, it seems apropos to recognize the complementary ways in which both school and camp shape the lives of children and young adults. In a recent blog, Peg Smith referred to camp as a “19th-Century Solution to 21st-Century Obstacles,” and I think she’s right. The adoption of Common Core State Standards in almost every state is a clear indication that policy makers are addressing the need for students to analyze rather than memorize in order to equip the next generations with the 21st-century learning skills required of them in college and careers. These new standards, and the assessments being developed to measure them, will focus less on what kids know and more on how they can use their knowledge in new and different situations. For over 150 years, camps have provided landscapes of learning for generations of campers the old fashioned way, and camps now have the opportunity to lead by leaning into the future and continuing to give kids the space to practice what they learn and opportunities to explore ways of making sense of what they know in new and different ways.
A recent review of literature on the role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance issued by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research identified behaviors, attitudes, and strategies that are critical for success in school and in later life. These factors included attendance, work habits, time management, help-seeking behaviors, self-control, persistence, and social problem-solving skills that allow students to successfully manage new environments and meet new academic and social demands. To anyone who knows the power of the summer camp experience, this list sounds very familiar. In fact, ACA has conducted important studies with conclusions aligning closely with this list of noncognitive factors — 3,395 families whose child attended one of eighty different day or resident summer camps measured growth from precamp to postcamp surveys in four domains: positive identity, social skills, physical and thinking skills, and positive values.
Now, more than ever, by simply getting better at what we already do, summer camps are well positioned to be a leader in the rapidly changing educational climate by preparing learners who will make up the fabric of this country’s communities and workforce. The evidence is clear: children need more than academic knowledge to succeed in the world of tomorrow and camps have been proven to provide the kinds of experiences that 21st-century learners need.
Dr. Lance Ozier is the senior literacy specialist at the Institute for Student Achievement, a division of the Educational Testing Service. For fifteen seasons he spent his summers in the Catskill Mountains of New York at Morry’s Camp. Lance now volunteers on ACA’s national Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CA