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Posts for January 2017

Giving Back: How Camps & Teen Programs Teach Kids About Service & Philanthropy

Camps and travel programs alike teach kids the importance of giving back and expose them to multiculturalism and diversity; they take learning far beyond the classroom. Having a can-do attitude will teach children that they can really make a difference. Here and Now recently published a podcast interviewing Ron Lieber, discussing how and why teaching kids about philanthropy will highlight their natural generosity. Lieber suggests starting to converse with children about giving back as early as 3-5 years old, as this is the age kids become curious about the needs of others.

Summer camps teach many remarkable lessons, whether it be independence, cooperation, or how to overcome challenges. One of the lessons camp taught me, which has resonated through the years, is to always give back. As a camper I was given the opportunity to volunteer at a camp nearby that was a summer home to kids with life-threatening illnesses. Connecting with other people who are experiencing harsh situations in life can not only be extremely eye opening but very rewarding as well. Because I was able to make genuine connections to people and the cause itself, I was able to visualize the impact I was making at such a young age. Putting a smile on the children’s faces was absolutely priceless.

Being able to go to camp is a privilege in itself so naturally, there is a sense of genuine gratitude. Many camps embed ways of giving back into their program. One very common example is big/little sister/brother. Older campers take newer campers under their wings and help them adjust to camp while ensuring he/she has a good time. Other camps have kids donate his/her sneakers and shoes at the end of the summer to various causes serving kids in need. In addition, numerous camps incorporate service days or philanthropic events such as swim-a-thons and trips to local camps. Some camps have even developed international service trips for their oldest campers and CITs.

Like camp, teen travel programs also expose adolescents to philanthropy. Service programs, especially those that allow kids to travel and give back to a greater cause, can provide meaning to an adolescent’s summer. Not only does the trip provide a sense of social and civic responsibility, but it also exposes teens to different types of service – helping them find a cause that may resonate with them. Teens can participate in programs with a variety of service components, including constructing shelter and food sources, teaching, wildlife & environmental activism, and more. Participating in service programs allows teens to find projects that he/she can feel passionate about This ultimately creates a situation where the teens can become lifelong supporters of the causes they have been exposed to; even building on this new found passion once they return home. In addition to the physical aspect of performing service, there is an undeniable emotional facet as well. Service programs enable students to connect with the population they’re serving; they are able to build new, special, relationships they would not have otherwise, and be exposed to an aspect of humanity that they may have been sheltered from in the past.

Participating in philanthropic events can help children & teens develop life tools such as problem solving, leadership, and communication. Volunteering also promotes self-esteem and personal growth. Camp and service programs are a great way to jump-start a love for service, and to teach kids & teens the value of giving back.

The Growth Mindset: Developing Skills for Developing Kids

Why do we emphasize skill building at camp? I have worked in different disciplines at different camps in different parts of the country – I have attended specialized sports camps & general camps, teen programs & theatre trips. In every case the camp or program placed a great deal of importance on teaching specific skills to the participating children and teens. As any counselor or trip leader will tell you, this is not done expressly for the campers’ enjoyment. Most kids or teens would be much happier to play a game of knockout than to learn how to make a left-handed layup, and similarly most would prefer to paint a subject of their choice rather than working on specific landscape techniques. And as most of these programs are not training the next generation of superstar athletes, Picassos, or a-list actors, why do they bother to emphasize instruction over simple enjoyment?

The answer is simple: because it’s good for the kids.

The Atlantic recently published an interview with Carol Dweck, in which she discusses the differences between two core beliefs: growth mindset and fixed mindset. These two mindsets affect how people handle challenges and obstacles – fixed mindset is “the belief that one’s abilities were carved in stone and predetermined at birth”, and growth mindset is “the belief that one’s skills & qualities can be cultivated through effort and perseverance”. Unsurprisingly, children who exhibit greater degrees of growth mindset are more receptive to challenges, and are more able to psychologically persevere and eventually overcome daunting obstacles.

The emphasis that camps & teen programs place on instruction and skill-building allows children and adolescents to learn to perform skills that might have seemed unattainable. More importantly, it teaches children and adolescents that they can learn to perform daunting tasks, and develop new skills and abilities. This promotes a growth mindset in children, which will only benefit them as they grow and mature. If a child perceives him or herself as un-athletic, but learns how to catch a fly ball, not only will their confidence be bolstered, but their perception of their own abilities may start to shift as well. Similarly, learning all of the steps to a challenging dance routine, improving breaststroke technique during swim, or developing fluent Spanish language skills on an immersion program, are all ways that children or teens can develop a growth mindset during the summer.

Of course, paramount to this development is the presence of quality instructors who will be able to help these children & teens develop skills and increase their confidence levels. If a camp or program does not have a quality baseball or softball instructor, the un-athletic child might never learn to catch a fly ball. Similarly, if the teen on a Spanish program receives inadequate instruction, they may not drastically improve their Spanish.

At this point, negativity might promote a fixed mindset, and excessive praise might promote what Dweck calls a “false-growth mindset” where the child doesn’t actually develop a growth mindset because they don’t actually witness the growth through experience. The difference between false-growth mindset & growth mindset is the difference between an instructor who says “keep trying”, and one who says “make sure you use both hands”. The second instructor promotes growth mindset, because they maximize the possibility that the child will learn to catch the ball, which in turn provides evidence to the child that this ability (and others) can be developed.

The primary goal of most camps & teen programs is the development of the child or teen. This is why instruction is of such paramount importance to the camps & programs that are tasked with this responsibility. Each camp or program may have a different philosophy or focus – a sports camp is not an arts camp, and an adventure trip in Alaska will be very dissimilar to an art history course in Italy. However, no matter the camp or program, they will hopefully be able to teach specific skills to their campers or participants, and help them develop a growth mindset that will serve them well as they continue to develop and mature.