Excerpt from Camp Secret #9: Coach Kids to Better Friendships
(Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults)
The great outdoors can be a great experience for children only if they know how to live and play together in a cooperative and collegial manner.
—Anne (teacher and camp parent)
Why do campers and alumni frequently say that they consider their camp friends, many of whom live far away and they see for only a few weeks each summer, their closest friends? Most camp experiences are intentionally set up to foster friendships as one of the top priorities, if not the top, priorities. At schools, on sports teams, and in other settings, there are usually other goals for kids that supersede social growth and fostering friendships. But at summer camp, making friends is the overarching and most important goal, so we take it seriously.
Kids who are socially adept and good at making friends thrive at camp, just like they do in all their other social settings. But it is the kids for whom social interactions are more challenging, whose social life presents a daily challenge, who have benefited the most from their camp experiences. Because counselors view themselves as their campers’ “Friendship Coaches,” understand their important role in helping campers learn to form close relationships, and provide ample opportunities for practicing, campers often improve their social skills while at camp. Counselors assess kids’ skills, identify social strengths and deficits, and use proven coaching techniques to encourage campers to learn and practice important friendship skills. Conversations about friendship are prevalent at camp, friendships are celebrated, and continuing connection outside of camp is encouraged. Many kids report that their camp counselors are the first adults who ever talked with them about making friends and being a good friend.