By Alison “Bean” Moeschberger
“A profound gap exists between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need for success in their communities and workplaces.”
-Partnership for 21st Century Skills
“Having started at Gold Arrow as a little seven year old, I have grown up here. Camp has become my home away from home, and I can honestly say it has shaped who I am today. It has given me confidence and taught me skills far beyond learning how to wakeboard or horseback ride. I am comfortable with myself, I am patient, and I have learned how to become a leader.”
-Katie “Rascal” Baral, 10 year Camper
Parents, educators, and youth development professionals are well-versed in the phrase “21st Century Skills.” The phrase encompasses our current understanding of the urgent need for our children to be learning more than how to read, write, and do math. There are many other skills needed to grow into productive, successful adults. As I look at the list of 21st Century Skills, I am struck by how many of the skills are intentionally modeled and taught at camp. Following are five specific 21st Century skills that children learn at camp:
1. Working Creatively with Others
Campers learn to work creatively with others through working towards goals with their cabin group. Even something as simple as collaborating on a skit, song, or dance requires being open and responsive to different perspectives and incorporating group input. An important aspect of creativity
and innovation is being able to “view failure as an opportunity to learn.” At camp, with every new and challenging activity, campers are encouraged to challenge themselves and persevere past failure. They learn that “creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.”
From the moment they arrive at camp, campers have the opportunity to practice and hone their communication skills. Gathered around the campfire on the first evening, campers talk about themselves in front of their small cabin group. They also listen to others share about themselves. At
meals, campfires, and while walking around camp and participating in activities, counselors guide discussions about deeper issues and make sure all campers participate, even those who are less outgoing. Listening skills are addressed and enhanced through practice. Without th
e distractions and escape of technology, campers practice articulating thoughts and ideas and listening to the ideas of others throughout their time at camp.
When working together at Team Building, during cabin clean up, or while preparing fora performance, campers learn important collaboration skills. They learn that they need to be flexible. They often learn another important collaboration skills, which is that it is often necessary to make compromises to accomplish a goal. Counselors encourage campers to share responsibility for tasks and work together. Campers are also encouraged to value and acknowledge each individual contribution made by team members.
4. Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
Learning to interact effectively with others is an important social skill that doesn’t come naturally to all people. At camp, counselors guide campers to learn when it is appropriate to listen and when it is appropriate to speak. Counselors also require that campers respectfully listen to others’ opinions and treat others with respect.
For many campers, their time at camp is their first opportunity to meet and live with people from other cultures. Camp offers the opportunity for kids to form friendships with staff and campers from other countries. Camp provides the opportunity for campers to gain a respect for and work effectively with people from a range of cultural backgrounds. On International Day each session, we celebrate and learn about our international campers and staff.
5. Leadership and Responsibility
Guiding and leading others is an important 21st Century skill. In campers’ early years at camp, they learn basic responsibility for themselves and those around them. Even our youngest campers have the opportunity to lead others in a song or game. As they get older, campers gain more of an understanding of how their words and actions influence others, and they learn how to positively use their leadership skills.
While academics are important, children need other skills to be successful. Camp offers an ideal setting for campers to learn and enhance many of the non-academic 21st Century Skills. One line of our camp song says, “I sure did learn much more here than I ever did at school.” And, when learning is viewed as more global than the subjects listed on the report card, that is an incredibly profound and true statement.
Read about all of the 21st Century Skills at www.p21.org.
Dr. Emily “Fish” Andrada is serving as our Camp Doctor this session for her 10th summer. When “Fish” isn’t spending her time at GAC, she works as a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Attending Physician at the UC Davis Medical Center, where she trains emergency medicine, pediatric, and family medicine residents and teaches medical students at the bedside and in formal didactics. She wrote this article for our 2016 On Target magazine.
My friend (I’ll call her Ann) is very accomplished. She was valedictorian of her high school, finished her undergraduate degree in three years with a full ride scholarship, and then graduated first in her class in medical school. She completed a highly competitive residency program in general surgery and during that time won the “best resident award.” Finally she moved to a well-known northeastern city to complete her sub-specialization at a prestigious fellowship program.
While incredibly accomplished, getting to know her personally revealed a number of entertaining facts. Ann got driven to and picked up at the hospital every day by one of her parents (she was in her early twenties in medical school). She was often in wrinkled scrubs, carrying around her belongings in a plastic grocery store bag. When she moved to the east coast, her mother moved with her “to get her settled in,” but that turned into a four-month stay, because Ann’s mother still made her dinner, cleaned her apartment, and laundered and ironed her clothes. Three months into fellowship, Ann (and her mother) still did not have a bed to sleep on because she had not figured out how to get out to a big box store in the suburbs. You might think, “Yes, that mother has made many sacrifices and as a result her child has been a raving success!” True. Ann is having great success in her career, but she has failed to develop basic life skills…and THAT is what camp is all about.
My three kids and I have been coming to camp for nine years, and while they “have fun, make friends, and grow,” I believe that the most important thing that they gain from camp is a belief in themselves and their own abilities. Most importantly, their eyes are opened to the fact that they don’t need their parents around to help them with tasks or to complete tasks for them. My kids hate when I read parenting books, but I’ve found a good one called How To Raise An Adult. The author, Julie Lythcott-Haims (a former freshman dean at Stanford), along with parents and educators, compiled a list of practical life skills that kids need before being launched into the world:
• Talk to strangers
• Find your way around
• Manage assignments, workload, and deadlines
• Contribute to the running of a household
• Handle interpersonal problems
• Cope with ups and downs
• Earn and manage money
• Take risks
From my little perch in the Wellness Center and during quick meals on the dining porch, I can tell you with no uncertainty that campers at camp practice ALL of those skills. On the surface, camp offers sailing, horseback riding, high ropes, hiking and a bazillion other activities. But in its beautifully subversive way, camp has provided our kids with a multitude of opportunities to master every single one of the life skills that will help them survive once they leave our home. I’ve observed campers meeting new kids and counselors, figuring out the layout of camp, earning special privileges by attending early morning activities, assisting in the upkeep of the cabin, working out disagreements amongst themselves, talking about their feelings, managing purchases in the camp store, and trying lots of new activities.
Each year after camp (after I have seen first-hand that my kids can function just fine without me), it’s much easier to let go—to let them manage their school work, make their own lunches, feel the burn of being late to school because they did not get up in time, and choose the extracurricular activities that they love. This year was my daughter’s last year as a camper, and while it is bittersweet, she is ready…camp has made her ready. Thankfully my boys have several more years!
I wish you all a great year and hope to see lots of old and new friends at camp next summer!
How Camp Helps Raise Adults,
How to Raise an Adult website
Ready for Adulthood Checklist, Sunshine Parenting
Five Reasons Great Parents Send their Kids to Camp
10 Social Skills Kids Learn at Camp
Five 21st Century Skills Developed at Camp