Last week I was lucky to attend the American Camping Association’s National Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While I, admittedly, spent some quality time just sitting in direct sunlight, trying to regain my normal human powers after a long, but mild, Minnesota winter, I also managed to learn a lot about camp, and more importantly, kids.
I arrived at the Convention Center part-Zombie. Fresh off the plane after a three hour layover in Kansas City and too early to drop my bags in my hotel room I squeezed in almost late to hear Dr. Shimi Kang speak.
Much of Dr. Kang’s presentation touched on familiar concerns about kids today. Things those of us in youth development or education or parenting are undoubtedly familiar with. What is the state of today’s youth? Crisis. Over-pressured and underprepared. We could talk for days on end about the digital age, the pressures of success, and the myriad other reasons kids are finding it hard to just be kids in 2017. But what we should probably focus on are the cures.
How do you prepare a child to succeed the world? And what is the definition of success? Every person on the planet would probably answer the latter differently, but the underlying truths are the same for all. Balance: enough of what matters. Where do kids learn that balance? Camp. And what skill do they learn at camp to help them get there? Adaptability.
The truth is, we can all learn to be more adaptable. And change is always possible, which, as a fact in itself, is hopeful. But how do you teach it? And what 21st century skills allow us to develop more of that neural plasticity? I (by way of Dr. Shimi Kang) will tell you:
3. Critical Thinking
Sound familiar? I’m reminded of an absurd moment of genius during this summer’s change-over. The first four-weekers had gone home and while the kids staying through the rest of the summer were off rollerskating their hearts out, the clean-up crew back at camp was hustling, resetting camp to it’s Day One status. A frisbee was discovered on the roof of our Boys CIT cabin–a natural resting place for the rogue toys, and I came upon two staff members, with one handle of a jump rope on either side of the roof, simultaneously running up to the building and whipping the rope to the top in an attempt to get the thing down. It took at least 10 tries, but eventually worked, and the frisbee released itself back to the ground. Maybe getting a ladder would have been the simpler option. But at camp, and often in life, sometimes you have to work with what you have and the satisfaction in “figuring it out” is validating. And all 5 of those skills mentioned above? Used by the guys in this scenario, who beamed with pride and high-fived in succeeding at the task.
I’m not sure that scenarios like this arise more frequently at camp, but the need to figure then out sure does. You can’t Google how to get a frisbee off the roof if you don’t have your phone. Bat in your cabin? New tribal game objective? Skit night? Cabin clean-up? Building the campfire? Guess what skills you’re using. See? Destined for success!
At camp, there’s a constant reminder that we’re all human, we’re all in this together, and we’re all just trying to figure it out.
Greta Kovach, Associate Director