Celebrating Kindness at Camp

July 24, 2018
Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO

Happy Camp Kindness Day! Today, America’s summer camps are celebrating the kindness and empathy that is taught and practiced by nearly 15 million children every day at over 14,000 day and overnight camps across the country.

Summer camps offer campers and staff the opportunity to unplug and deeply connect in-person and immersively in child-centered, social-emotional learning communities. At camp, everyone belongs and learns to contribute altruistically in a nurturing, physically and emotionally safe environment where they learn to build caring, trusting, and respectful relationships with individuals who are different from themselves. They become more aware of their own emotions and more adept at sharing their feelings and learning to understand someone else’s experiences and feelings. Living in a kindness-emphasized community, campers and staff develop greater self-esteem and optimism. They learn to practice mindfulness and fully experience joy, relaxation, and happiness. Camps are positive psychology learning ecosystems.

Throughout my 27-year career as a camp professional, countless parents have asked me about the “secret sauce” ingredients of their child’s transformative camp experiences. Living in a summer culture where kindness and empathy are universally valued and where selfless generosity is celebrated helps a young person learn to feel emotionally and physically safe. With encouragement from friends and mentoring leaders, participants learn to take positive risks, learn from their mistakes, and overcome challenges. They become more responsible, confident, and adaptable. They feel an addictive sense of community belonging and are strengthened by greater resilience and humility.

On the last day of each session, it was always a delight to hear campers exclaim to their parents how wonderful it was to spend a chunk of their summer unplugged, not having to worry about texting, social media, and digital relationships. At camp, they focused entirely on good old-fashioned human-powered activities and practicing relationship-building. At the heart of this chemistry is the constant practice of kindness, compassion, generosity, and gratitude in a culture that continues year after year, session after session.

Camp staff emphasize kindness and empathy daily through a variety of practices, programs, and games. At mealtimes, staff model kindness by recognizing campers for their kind, generous, or altruistic behaviors with complimentary “warm fuzzies” tokens. They encourage campers to wish others a great day, stand up for others verbally, and be inclusive in the way they speak. Staff encourage kindness in action by teaching active listening and discouraging interruptions, as well as through efforts to be kind to our environment, volunteering to help others, including everyone in games, checking on the feelings of friends, and by being positive and smiling with a glass-half-full perspective. Camp directors share stories of former campers and staff who now lead families, organizations, and communities as exemplary servant leaders. Tributes to “good people” who frame their lives around impactful contagious acts of kindness that will have an endless positive ripple effect long after they are gone.

I’m looking forward to seeing how camps across the country celebrate Camp Kindness Day. Please share Camp Kindness Day photos, video clips, and stories on social media using #CampKindnessDay. ACA has Camp Kindness Day graphics, kindness quotes, and other program resources in our Camp Kindness Day backpack.

Thank you to camp professionals, staff members, and campers across the country for making a difference by teaching kindness and empathy intentionally in all that you do every day throughout the year.

When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” — The Dalai Lama

When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world.” — Harold Kushner

Tom Rosenberg is the president/CEO of American Camp Association.