Summer camp: the perfect place for kids to get ‘gritty’

A summer camp experience builds character

In recent years, the term “grit” has become a buzzword in youth development. It’s considered a highly desirable characteristic, one necessary for young people to truly excel at school, sports and in life.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit as “a firmness of mind or spirit, unyielding courage in the face of hardship.” Grit is shorthand for determination, bravery, resolve, and tenacity — it’s having the perseverance to keep working toward a goal, even when it is hard.

Throughout history, camps have always placed a high value on modeling, practicing and building the “I can do hard things” belief in young people, even if they didn’t call it “grit.”

It’s not easy to be gritty. It takes desire, the ability to ask for support, willingness to learn, the understanding that it’s OK to not succeed the first time and the confidence to try again. Having supportive adults and peers who exemplify, encourage, coach and celebrate successes is critical. Having many opportunities to practice grit greatly accelerates this skill and attitude development… and camp has more opportunities than you can count.

One obvious practice ground is in camp programs, whether it is learning a new swimming stroke, shooting for a bullseye in archery, throwing a bowl on the pottery wheel or perfecting a soccer kick. Another opportunity to demonstrate grit is the experience of living in a camp community. Every day at camp, there are opportunities to practice problem-solving, negotiating, effective communication, compromise and collaboration.

A third area to demonstrate grit is when dealing with homesickness. Missing home is a natural experience that some children have at camp, but happily, most work through it with the support of caring adults and fellow campers.

It can be hard for a child to decide to embrace the duality that they can love camp and miss home at the same time. After embracing that idea, they often find that staying busy, making friends and focusing on the fun and adventure of camp can result in greatly diminished (or even forgotten) homesickness. By taking these steps, a child can leave camp with a very powerful experience of “I can do hard things.”

Camp actively supports our children in building the hard-to-learn life skills of perseverance, resilience, and perhaps, “grit”.

Marijean Parry is the executive director of Fleur de Lis Camp in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

Categories: Camps

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