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Creating Confidence: How Camp Teaches Kids to Make Friends

My first summer working at an overnight camp, I lived in a bunk of 7 and 8 year old boys, all of whom were brand new to camp. During the first week of camp, one boy in particular was having a hard time adjusting to his new environment, and was struggling with mingled feelings of homesickness and loneliness. When we encouraged him to try to make friends with some of his bunkmates, his response was extremely illuminating – “I don’t know how”. This was not an asocial child by any means, but when this boy was at home, his mother made his playdates and his friends were people he’d grown up with, who he’d known for as long as he could remember. In short, he had never been placed in an environment where he had to learn to be his own social advocate. Until he got to camp.

One of the greatest gifts that overnight camp gives to children every summer is the confidence to feel like they can make friends. Most children attend camp for the first time each summer without knowing any other children – and others attend with only one or two friends. These children are thrust into an environment where they cannot rely on past connections to foster future friendships, and as a result they learn to navigate the waters of brand-new friendships, which can be an incredibly empowering and fulfilling experience.

Of course, one of the reasons that overnight camps are so successful in fostering these friendships, is that they provide incredible social support. Staff members go through extensive orientations, and pay specific attention to how to recognize social alienation and help a child work through it. Directors assign specific cabin placements, and even bed placements within the cabins, to put kids together with groups they are likely to get along with, whether due to their interests or their personalities. Icebreaker games and other structured activities give kids many opportunities to get to know one another. And counselors will give compatible kids many opportunities to play and get to know each other, and ultimately to form strong relationships.

However, one key component to all of this is that these friendships are not forced. Instead, kids are taught the skills of how to approach another child, and how to advocate for themselves in a social sphere. Camp provides more than lifelong friendships – camp can give kids the tools they need to embark on a lifetime of making friends. And the confidence that this can bestow on a child can spur their development, and will carry them not just through a summer at camp, but through whatever social situations they encounter as they mature and develop into the teens and young adults they will become.

Pre-College Programs Prepare Teens for College Life

The transition from high school to college can be a challenge for even the best-prepared students. In addition to being thrust into a completely different social environment, adapting to group living, and assuming entirely new levels of independence, students must also contend with the leap to college academia – tackling much more rigorous coursework, more collaborative classes, and elevated academic expectations. Not to mention needing to master time management. Of course, there is no surefire way to ensure collegiate success – but for students who are seeking to simulate or try out in advance the college experience, summers spent on pre-college programs are great ways to prepare to tackle all that this new chapter has to offer.

Independent Living
Pre-college programs give students a great sense of dorm life, which can be incredibly helpful when it comes time to move in for Freshman year. On many programs, students will be housed in doubles, triples, or quads, and will need to learn to navigate the personal space boundaries that group living can pose. There is a real skill to finding solitude in a sea of people – in college it is easy to feel like it is very difficult to find the personal space that was so easily attainable in your high-school bedroom.
Pre-college programs allow students to grapple with these transitions in a supportive, short-term environment, which can be a real asset when it comes time for school. And similarly, on most programs there will be no one waking teens up, no one shepherding them to meals, or making sure their laundry is clean. On pre-college programs, teens learn to grapple with the responsibilities of college independence, and this can help them avoid a slow start in college. In fact, according to the National Pre-college Survey Project, deans of admissions at top colleges & universities shared that group living and living away from home were two skills that they most valued in summer programs.

The College Course-load
While learning to exist in the social sphere of a pre-college program is certainly a plus for students, some pre-college summer programs – especially those run directly by colleges and universities – can also offer great academic exposure to the rigors of college-level coursework. Students arriving in college will inevitably be faced with different academic expectations than those they faced in high-school. Suddenly, hundred-plus page papers and multiple hours of out-of-class reading are the norm, and many students must learn not only to write and critically think at a college level, but also to collaborate with classmates and create their own projects.
Pre-college summer programs can offer students a great stepping stone into the world of college academia. Many programs host courses taught by college professors at major universities, who know firsthand the expectations placed on college students. While some programs might limit out-of-class independent work, others might provide course structures that mimic those of college students, and force them to be diligent with their independent coursework.

Many pre-college programs also present students with the types of learning environments and project-based assignments that they will inevitably tackle in their college careers. Collaboration and group projects are oftentimes staples of pre-college programs, and learning to divide responsibilities, communicate effectively, and otherwise navigate an independent project will be hugely helpful for students when these assignments count in college. Similarly, pre-college programs can give students a great sense of what style of learning they enjoy – for example, if a student realizes they do not function well in large lecture environments.

Information for your Application
By and large, the vast majority of students who attend pre-college programs on college campuses will not ultimately study at the institution that hosts their summer program. However, a summer stint on campus can give a student real clarity as to what types of schools they might ultimately target during the course of their college search. A student who is set on an urban environment might decide solely to pursue metropolitan colleges, but they also might realize they ultimately want a school with a campus environment. A pre-college experience on a New England campus can forge a love of rural campus-life, or might catalyze an interest in city life. Simply trying different college environments can be incredibly useful for students when it comes time to start their college searches.
Students can also become more attuned to their learning style and what types of classroom environments will be most suitable to them. A student might decide that large lecture formats simply don’t compel them, and choose to look at smaller schools with lower teacher-student ratios; or might decide that they really value experiential learning, and pursue schools and fields that will allow them to have a hands-on undergraduate experience. Furthermore, students on pre-college programs have the opportunities to explore specific subjects, which can help inform their decision when it comes time to pick a college major – and remember, it’s far easier (and cheaper) for a student to rule out a major before they arrive at school, rather than during Sophomore year.

There is a reason that the journey to college marks one of the most significant transitions a person will make in the course of their lives. The combination of newfound freedom, social opportunities, and intellectual stimulation that college presents makes it a truly unique experience – but the suddenness of this transition can present a real challenge for many students. Attending a pre-college summer program doesn’t necessarily mean a student is Ivy League bound – however, it does ensure that wherever they end up in school, they will arrive with some experience of the realities of college life. And when it comes to making the college transition, this experience can be absolutely invaluable.

Top 10 Non-Profits That Give the Gift of Camp

These organizations make it their mission to provide children facing challenges with a meaningful summer camp experience. For campers dealing with medical issues, bereavement, financial hardships, or other personal challenges – these organizations provide support & an unforgettable camp experience to those who truly need it. We hope you will consider contributing to these incredible organizations – and if you do donate, inquire with your company to see if they have a gift matching program. This is a great way to multiply your impact and help children have a wonderful summer experience.

Camp to Belong: Camp to Belong was created to offer siblings who have been separated in foster care and other out of home care the opportunity to reunite and create lifetime memories at camp. Donate Now

Camp Corral: The mission of Camp Corral is to transform the lives of children of wounded, injured, ill, and fallen military heroes by providing a unique summer camp experience. Donate Now

Camp Heartland: Camp Heartland is the largest camping and care program for children who experience HIV/Aids. Over 75 percent of Camp Heartland’s participants live in poverty. Donate Now

Camp Sunshine: Camp Sunshine provides respite, support, joy & hope to children with life-threatening illnesses & their immediate families through various stages of a child’s illness free of charge. Donate Now

Girlstart: Girlstart provides a year-round, intensive suite of STEM education programs for K-12 girls. Girlstart’s core programs foster STEM skills development, an understanding of the importance of STEM as a way to solve the world’s major problems, as well as an interest in STEM electives, majors, and career. Donate Now

Experience Camps: Experience Camps seek to normalize the grief process and facilitate healthy integration of loss through peer support in a safe and nurturing environment. Donate Now

Project Morry: Project Morry is a year-round youth development organization that provides to each child a multi-year commitment anchored by a superb residential summer camp experience. Donate Now

SCOPE: SCOPE, Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education, provides children from underserved communities with life changing opportunities through the experience of summer camp. SCOPE believes summer camp reinforces what children learn in school and enhances overall academic learning. Donate Now

Seeds of Peace Camp: At Seeds of Peace Camp each summer, hundreds of teenagers and educators engage with each other across lines of conflict—sharing meals, living spaces, and learning experiences in a traditional summer camp program. Donate Now

The Summer Camp: The Summer Camp is a residential summer camp for inner city and rural girls, ages 6 – 18, from low-income and foster homes. Donate Now

The Many Lessons of a Lifetime at Camp

By Jamie Weiss

I went to camp for 14 years. It’s an odd feeling to make that statement as it may be the first time I’ve ever used the past tense. Alas, the time has come for me to hang up my camp shirts and leave behind the magic that is summer camp. However, I’m not so sure that the magic is really ever going to leave me. It’s what I always say about summer camp: The days are long, the weeks are short, and the impact is forever.

Some may see camp as an opportunity for a child to eat as many s’mores as they want and get out of their parent’s hair. In reality, summer camp is the foundation of my very being and at the forefront of everything I do in life. I have carried with me the many lessons and memories that only a summer (or many) at camp can bring.

Let’s start from the beginning; I’ve begrudgingly had to sweep the bunk during clean ups, resolve arguments with bunkmates while living in the closest of quarters, and learn to navigate the heartbreak of losing a game of Jack’s (you get through it, I promise). Patience. Team work. Respect. At camp, these lessons are hidden in the smallest of events.

In times of doubt, as a counselor in my 20’s, when I had that little voice in my ear saying “maybe it’s time for an internship” I would think back to these lessons and remember I was exactly where I needed to be.

The leadership skills that I have developed from my time at camp will forever be invaluable. At twenty and twenty-one years old, I led a leadership program for 89 teenagers. I honestly believe I developed the leadership skills to run this program through the many opportunities that presented themselves to me throughout my years as a camper. Was it the self-confidence and dedication of organizing a bunk talent show at age eleven that led me here? Was it the determination to conquer the climbing wall that taught me resilience? It was all of the above and the culmination of every obstacle, hurdle, and triumph of my camp career.

Camp taught me about responsibility, and about learning while you lead. For the past seven years I have been lucky enough to have watched over dozens of 12-16 year olds. The job description of a camp counselor is to ensure the safety of your campers and give them the summer of their lives. However, it never really says that they will in turn change yours. The life lessons that they have imparted on me, and the trust that they put in us remains the biggest takeaway from my entire camp experience.

Camp is not just my happy place. Camp is the one place where I am fully comfortable to feel and convey any and every emotion under the sun. I went from being a shy kid leaving home for the first time, to a self-confident but still unsure teenager employed with the task of being a counselor, to a matured and forever grateful adult who knows it’s not goodbye but see you later. And it’s amazing what I’ve learned along the way.

Summers for the Soul: How Camps & Teen Programs Teach Gratitude

Each Thanksgiving we make it a point to practice and express our gratitude. From simply stating the things we are grateful for, to participating in food drives for the needy, to donating to a charitable organization on Giving Tuesday – Thanksgiving is a holiday imbued with the spirit of gratitude and charity.

For children and adolescents, this idea of gratitude – appreciating what you have, and emphasizing giving to those who have less – is not a trait that is inherently present, and is oftentimes something that must be learned. Parents consistently experience the selfish outburst of children or teens – from toddlers, to middle schoolers, even to young college students – who simply don’t realize that their outburst is selfish, and who are unable to acknowledge quite how lucky they are. And given the fact that many elementary, middle, and high schools are growing more academically rigorous – and children and teens are more scheduled than ever, being whisked from extracurricular to extracurricular during a jam-packed day – there is oftentimes little time left over to really focus on teaching a value like gratitude.

One of the countless benefits of camps and summer programs is that an emphasis on gratitude is oftentimes intrinsically emphasized in the make-up of the program. Through campfires or camp services, whether religious or non-denominational, campers are asked to reflect about the importance of values such as gratitude. They are taught to practice thinking, and oftentimes speaking on, the importance of their relationships and camp experiences, and what these mean to them. At many camps, campers will directly participate in community service projects and events – whether it’s a clothing drive, or a race to support veterans. For children and adolescents, these experiences and lessons can be hugely impactful in helping them develop into caring, empathetic, and grateful teens and adults.

Teen programs can also be a great opportunity for adolescents to really learn and practice gratitude. For many students, teen summer programs are their first experiences with living without the creature comforts they are accustomed to. Many students choose to spend their summers volunteering in developing countries and underserved communities, and the transformation that occurs on these programs is so widespread it has become something of a college-essay cliché. But there is no denying that for teens, being immersed in communities that are consistently lacking in the comforts and necessities we take for granted, can be a powerful experience in learning what it is to be grateful. Other students may choose to participate on outdoor adventure trips with rugged accommodations, and learn what it is to live without running water, without permanent shelter from the elements, or simply without a hot lunch. In either case, summer programs give teens the opportunity to immerse themselves in a life without, and they oftentimes return far more grateful for the things they do have.

Quite simply, the world could use more gratitude and goodwill. Children and teens who attend camps and summer camps develop their emotional and social skills, and learn the importance of truly human values like gratitude. And an opportunity to learn these valuable lessons – to be immersed in environments that emphasize and value traits like gratitude, is one of the greatest and most transformative gifts a summer can bring.

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