There’s been an intensified focus lately on the part of educators, future employers and parents on the value of the “soft skills” that summer camp experiences teach and foster. We have been thrilled to link, post and tweet article after article explaining the importance of: social/emotional learning, particularly kindness and empathy; the 21st century learning and innovation skills of creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration; and the enormous and far-reaching benefits of living, working and playing as an individual who has a responsibility to a group—especially as leadership, decision-making, and conflict resolution skills emerge and grow. In the unique environment we call summer camp, young people are constantly learning--experientially, informally, and through carefully prepared lesson plans in a more formal way. What a camper learns is influenced by the camp’s philosophy, program, and personnel. It is significantly influenced by the other campers, too. Whether a camp is day or overnight, general or specialty, traditional or non-traditional, small or large, or in a CT, MA. ME, NH, RI or VT location, it shares at least one thing with other camps:
Camps are learning communities. Campers and camp staff are constantly learning. Now that the school year is well-underway, teachers, parents and guardians are seeing and appreciating all that children have learned. There are significant ways that camp curriculum contributes to children’s formal academic learning. Camps offer an exposure to new subject areas and fields and access to adults qualified to teach them. Many camps offer a chance to try on a new area of interest in addition to a chance to take a deep dive into a subject area. At summer camp, learning is as valued as it is fun. The whole point of is to inspire campers to learn—about the world, about each other and about themselves; the activities that children sign up for are a path to this greater learning. To celebrate all that learning and to acknowledge the significant contribution camps make to helping children succeed in school and in the future, here’s a list of the kinds of formal learning opportunities woven into the curricula at summer camps here in New England:
Literacy—Campers have the chance to read at camp, both independently and as they listen to a read-aloud. Books are important! Many camps have libraries. And it’s common to have quiet time built into the schedule so campers can read independently—for pleasure. Traditions of reading aloud at camp range from cabin stories before bedtime to readings at all camp campfires. Some of the most meaningful reading that campers do is the reading of their own words at ceremonies of various kinds. During ceremonies like a vespers focused on a friendship theme to a closing campfire, campers have many opportunities to read their own words or those of others. Reading is also part of camp life programmatically. Morning announcements are read, written instructions and manuals are consulted, and CIT and LIT program have assigned reading. At camp, there’s a reason to read!
Numeracy—Children have the chance to work with numbers in such practical ways at summer camp. Culinary arts programs have campers constantly measuring and calculating. Activities like archery teach concepts, like probability, with very practical applications. Taking an overnight hiking or canoeing trip involves backpacks that must be weighed and meals that are carefully measured. Fabric arts and other artistic processes involve quite a bit of math. Campers can understand and appreciate math in some very meaningful ways at camp.
Writing—Children today can get by without handwriting much in today’s world. Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore. Camp provides some powerful chances to write. Journaling is a thing. Whether on your own at rest time or as part of camp program, where you’re practicing an essay for a collage application, campers have the chance to write for both programmatic and personal reasons. It might be a huge welcome back sign for the camp baseball team. It might be a letter home for an overnight camper. It might be a list of things to bring in a day camper’s day pack the next day. Writing at camp happens!
Physical Science—Physics, Astronomy/Space Science, Chemistry and Earth Science are all alive and well at camp. It might be the chance to see the Perseids Meteor Showers up close and in a night sky with no light pollution. It might be an understanding of how fire really works that grows from starting one with one match or without an actual match. It might mean learning more about Dynamics (the causes of motion and changes in motion) by experiencing the zipline and ropes course and benefiting from the debrief the staff conduct afterward. It might mean the chance to go caving or to explore rock formations found only on mountaintops. It might mean being introduced to and exploring Oceanography the camps near the coast of New England as home base.
Life Science—Biology, Botany, Ecology, and Marine Biology are the primary life sciences that power summer camp curriculum, but others are taught as well. Ecology and environmental literacy are huge components of programs. When children spend so much time outside, it’s natural for them to make a connection to how important it is to walk gently on the Earth. Different kinds of lessons and opportunities spark campers’ interest in these sciences. Perhaps it’s the camp location on the shores of one of our region’s large lakes (Champlain, Winnipesaukee and Sebago to name three) and the chance to sail and discover all that is living in the water. Perhaps it’s the camp’s flora and fauna and what’s being grown in the garden. At summer camp, children are enveloped in life science.
Camp learning is fabulously fun! Whether it’s a simple lesson or exposure to a subject or skill or something much more comprehensive, lessons learned at summer camp inspire future learning. Why? Camp people are inspirational and so is the curriculum; both are chosen very carefully for children’s benefit. Learning at camp is intended to challenge children. Campers welcome that; they very much want to learn to do difficult things. Camp communities make it safe to fail and to learn from mistakes, allowing and helping children to try again and again when mastering skills or concepts. Camp experiences build children’s grit, resilience, and persistence all while teaching children other lessons. Camp lessons stick. Teachers and parents report back to us often about how much they notice and how very grateful they are.