Camp fun + new social skills = an A+ summer
Five social skills (and more) your camper can work on away from home
As schools turn more attention to test preparation and meeting complex curriculum goals, teachers have limited time to work on character and social-skill development. Recess, social time and interactions that do not directly relate to curriculum standards take a back seat to reading, writing, math and STEM.
This focus on academics means that parents should emphasize different goals for summer out-of-school time — from simply keeping kids engaged with backyard games or beach trips to creating meaningful opportunities for social development. Summer camps present the opportunity for children to be immersed in a social-skills-rich environment and actively develop their own social growth.
Here are a few essential social skills your child can build at camp.
Face-to-face connection and communication. At camp, your child will be in a social-group setting for at least six hours daily at day camp (24/7 at overnight camp). Unplugged from technology, your child will engage in intentional conversation and interpersonal connections that can’t happen during the short bursts of non-academic time during a school day. At camp, your child will get to know new people and begin to understand more about their own needs and preferences. As they chat and play with friends, they are also practicing eye contact (no phone screen to talk across!), active listening and give-and-take conversation skills.
Participation and risk-taking. It’s essential for development that children be exposed to safe risk. At camp, children are presented with opportunities that take them just far enough out of their comfort zone to allow for growth in self-confidence, self-realization, physical fitness and more. Up on the ropes course or on stage for the camp play, with bunkmates cheering them on, children learn their inner strengths and find new interests in hobbies, sports, the arts and more.
Understanding group norms. While the school day may offer opportunities for group work, it’s just that — work. At camp, being part of a group conveys not only instant membership but also meaningful inclusion. There is a natural expectation that campers walk together between activities, share supplies, practice their crawl stroke together, celebrate their triumphs and challenges, and act as a cohesive unit. This gives children the opportunity to internalize group norms and to observe and replicate positive role modeling of both staff and peers.
Developing friendships. Making friends doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and teachers in the classroom have limited time to help children find and nurture friendships. Camp staff, on the other hand, see the development of friendships between campers as a main goal of the camp experience. They receive training on how to facilitate getting-to-know-you games, how to pair up campers for activities or free-play time, and how to identify children who may need additional support for lagging social skills. At camp, children also learn the importance of being a good friend, with the built-in help of a “cool” adult (read: not a parent) to walk them through the squabbles or rough spots that inevitably arise.
Cooperation and problem-solving skills. Camps are big on teaching teamwork and responsibility, which is good news for your camper. They’ll come home from camp talking excitedly (yes, really!) about the chores they did or the way they set the lunch table and volunteered to bring everyone seconds on sandwiches. Team-building activities built into the camp schedule allow for active practice of cooperation. Away from home, children quickly develop self-advocacy and problem-solving skills with support and encouragement from staff. Successfully navigating new challenges, like identifying which clothes to put on after swimming or making it through homesickness, becomes a badge of pride and helps campers develop lifelong skills.
In addition to these five social skills, there are plenty of others, such as being a good sport, recognizing expected vs. unexpected behaviors, respecting personal space, following directions and understanding that one’s actions affect other people. Camp staff are committed to helping your child learn, grow and have fun, so they seek out teachable moments and actively create opportunities that enable your camper to have a successful camp experience. And, bonus points: when your child shows off their newfound skills at school in September, the teacher will give your summer plans an A+.
Emily Golinsky was executive director of Camp Starfish in Rindge, NH for the past 14 years. She recently launched Bright Moose LLC, a training, consulting and advocacy organization.