Campfire Notes

Why Kids Flourish at Camp

Why Kids Flourish at Camp

Traditionally, psychologists have focused on studying psychological diseases – depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. – and their cures. But led by Martin Seligman  (University of Pennsylvania), a new breed of psychologists called Positive Psychologists have, for the past decade, been studying the positive side of people. They ask not what is wrong with people, but what is right. Originally, Seligman had a theory of “happiness” outlined in his book Authentic Happiness, but he moved away from only using the word “happiness” to a new theory that focuses instead on well-being or “flourishing.”

Seligman uses the acronym PERMA to define his theory and the five measurable elements he has determined lead to well-being. As I read about each pillar of PERMA in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, I kept having “ah-ha” moments.  “This happens at camp!” I would think. “And this, too!” In fact, as I read, I determined that ALL of the elements of flourishing that Seligman describes happen at camp. According to Seligman, “No one element defines well-being, but each contributes to it.”

PERMA at Camp

P: Positive Emotion
E: Engagement
R: Relationships
M: Meaning
A: Achievement

P: Positive Emotion
Positive emotion is exactly what it sounds like: feeling happy and having positive thoughts about yourself, the people around you, or your surroundings. At camp, positive emotions are the norm, not the exception. We’re singing; we’re dancing; we’re doing skits that don’t make sense but that cause us to laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. You can almost see a haze of happiness and fun surrounding everyone at camp.

E: Engagement
Seligman’s next element, engagement, describes when one is interested in and connected to what they are doing. At camp, kids are constantly exposed to new experiences and challenges – both recreational and social – that get them interested and excited to learn. They’re pushed to get outside their comfort zone and really engage.

R: Relationships
We all know that positive relationships are one of the main contributors to our happiness in life, so it’s no surprise that relationships are an important pillar of Seligman’s theory. Everyone comes to camp to see their old friends, make new friends, and just spend quality time connecting with others and building positive relationships. And camp is like no other place for that.

M: Meaning
According to Seligman, meaning comes from “belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than the self.” Being a member of a cabin group at camp helps kids gain an understanding of how they are valued by others. For some kids, camp is the first place where they understand what it means to be a valued and accepted member of a community. Kids learn that they are important and valued members of their cabin group, and they discover their character strengths through recognition from peers and counselors.

A: Achievement
People flourish when pursuing goals or the mastery of a skill. Every day at camp, kids have the opportunity to try new things and master new skills. Some kids arrive at camp with a specific goal: a bull’s eye at archery or getting up on a slalom water ski. But others simply practice and work towards improving or challenge themselves to try something that frightens them – like completing the ropes course. And all of their progress and little achievements add to kids’ flourishing at camp.

 

Read the original post from which this blog was excerpted, Why Kids Flourish at Camp, at Sunshine Parenting.

image 6
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989. She is the author of the 2019 parenting book, Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. “Sunshine” has been writing and podcasting about summer camp, well-being, social skills, and parenting at Sunshine Parenting since 2012.

 

 

More Resources

Sunshine Parenting Podcast

Happy Campers Book Info

Posted in:
What to Say to a Nervous Camper

What to Say to a Nervous Camper

This post and video is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety.  

Positive, Encouraging Messages for a Nervous Camper

Here are some positive messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.

One thing I’ve learned after close to three decades at camp is that the same kids who are anxious and hesitant about going to camp when they’re nine or ten will still be anxious when they’re 13.  And they may not be interested in going away to college when they’re 18, either. As a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s separation anxiety, as well as your own. You can avoid it and not send them to camp and hope that they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible. Or, you can bite the bullet, give them positive and encouraging messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.

Words to say

“It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college.  I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home.  Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job.  You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away.  Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home.  I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”

“You may feel homesick, and that’s okay.  A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home.   I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too.  Missing home is part of life.  But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”

“There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need.  They can help with things you normally come to me about.  Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you.  They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”

“Many good things in life aren’t easy at first.  Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard.   Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love.  If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences.  The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay.  I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better.  I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!”

“Every day comes with its good and bad parts.  When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling.  If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself.  Did you talk to your counselor?  Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends?  Write me a letter?  I also want you to share good stuff.  Did you get your favorite food for lunch?  Try rock climbing?  Get up on a knee board?  I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”

“I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year.  I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this.”

“Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it.  Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp.  I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”

Read the original post from which these quotes are excerpted, Messages for an Anxious Camper, at Sunshine Parenting.

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

Audrey “Sunshine” Monke has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989. She is author of the 2019 parenting book, Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults. “Sunshine” has been writing and podcasting about summer camp, well-being, social skills, and parenting at Sunshine Parenting since 2012.

More Resources

Sunshine Parenting Podcast

Happy Campers Book Info

10 Messages for a Homesick Camper

First-Year Family Resources

Homesick and Happy

When Your Camper Doesn’t Want to go Back to Camp

How to Prepare for Overnight Summer Camp (Video or Podcast)

Posted in: