What we *don’t* tell kids about summer camp

Let’s start with what we DO tell kids about camp: It’s fun! You get to ride horses, shoot arrows, swim in the river! You live with other kids your age—like a giant sleepover. It’s a world especially for kids (even the grown-ups are more like cool babysitters than like parents). You get to do lots of things you don’t get to do at home—theme days, canoe trips, even playing in the rain.
But the enduring power of a summer camp experience is not in these things. More and more, experts are starting to recognize that camp provides the missing ingredient in achieving future success as an adult.
The secret to predicting success, experts say, lies in character, and kids at camp are steeped daily in experiences that help exercise just such skills.

Camp experiences show that obstacles can become stepping stones to success.

Camp experiences show that obstacles can become stepping stones to success.

Traits including grit, curiosity, gratitude, zest, optimism, self-control, and social intelligence are pinpointed as predictors of success by Paul Tough, author of the book, “How Children Succeed”. Mr. Tough was a keynote speaker at the national convention of the American Camp Association last month in Dallas.
Even within games that kids win, mistakes happen, and those mistakes are not disastrous—they are only stepping stones for drawing lessons. Setbacks at camp, such as not reaching the top of the climbing wall, are viewed not as “failures”, but actually as motivators to help the child expand their abilities and their determination to try it again. Two-thirds the way up today and tomorrow I’ll be stronger.
A person’s ability to manage failure is a key factor in dealing with the obstacles that life will present, Mr. Tough explains.
Camp teaches non-cognitive skills in the context of relationships. At camp, getting along with a group (not necessarily of your own choosing), and problem solving with that group, are huge competencies that kids don’t typically get to exercise in school. Yet they are a daily—even hourly—occurrence at camp.
But don’t tell these things to your kids! It’s not what appeals to them. Just tell them to have fun!

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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