Why consider summer camp for your child? Perhaps you hope to raise another Michelle Kwan or Tiger Woods. Maybe you are desperate for an alternative to a summer of day care, chauffeuring, and video games. There is another even more compelling reason to consider a high-quality summer camp according to the child development experts at the American Camp Association. This reason, while it has been true for decades, is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Children at summer camps are learning vital life skills that will help them grow – and will make their lives healthier and happier all along the way. It’s the new buzz word in educational theory that’s been at work in quality summer camps for years: Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence: Nature or Nurture?
Researchers are finding that a set of abilities, collectively called Emotional Intelligence, has much to do with how children grow and succeed. These skills – self-awareness, self-control, empathy, the ability to wait (delayed gratification), the ability to listen, cooperate, share, and work well with others — are actually better predictors of adult success and happiness than traditional IQ scores.
In Emotional Intelligence, clinical psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, makes two important assertions, assertions that parents may not find surprising. He reports on new research showing that children whose Emotional Intelligence skills are well-developed tend to be more successful at school, have deeper and healthier relationships, grow up to have more fulfilling work lives, and become valuable and contributing members of their communities.
Certain life skills seemed innate in kids – like the traditional IQ, children seemed to be born with certain levels of ability in these areas. Goleman’s second assertion is that these Emotional Intelligence skills can be taught. Children can learn and practice these wonderfully valuable qualities under the guidance of thoughtful and aware adults – parents, teachers, and youth leaders of all sorts.
Real Challenges Build Resiliency
Talking about self-esteem or trying to bolster it in kids does not work without real challenge in safe and supportive communities. Children away from home, with new friends and the new challenges of camp can learn much about themselves, their own strengths, and abilities.
Perhaps the canoe doesn’t head where it should at first, or a cabin-mate is unwilling to be friendly. Away from the familiarity of home and school, campers can test their own perseverance, and, with caring and thoughtful help, build new life skills for themselves. Meeting these challenges brings true self-esteem, the kind that is earned, not empty words.
For Life Lessons, Timing is Everything
Counselors at camp teach archery or pottery or swimming while showing children the value of the varied skills and talents of their friends.
Parents are amazed at the clear progress their campers make during even a relatively short time at camp. Given that Emotional Intelligence is at the very heart of the camp experience, this progress is not surprising.
A parent of a ten-year-old boy comments in a camp evaluation: “Living in such close quarters was not without its challenges for Roger, but he is much more able to handle social challenges at school since his return. And he came home just generally a nicer boy in all respects.”
Another explains: “Of course I am glad my girls had fun and learned some new skills, but their new-found maturity and caring for each other was really what I had hoped would happen.”
Camp is a key opportunity for growth, both for children who thrive at school and for those who struggle. Talented students develop their abilities to cooperate and share in a community where they don’t worry about grades and academic competition. Children whose school lives are difficult find real rewards in new opportunities to shine. Having a chance to practice being a leader may be a rare experience for them indeed!
After Camp and Beyond
When campers return home from camp, parents can help them keep building their summer skills throughout the year. Chores are often a great teaching opportunity at home, for example. Parents who model working together as a family to get jobs done are reinforcing vital lessons from camp.
Empathy means recognizing others’ needs, literally “feeling with” another person. Television reports are full of stories of children who have not been taught to empathize, children who become bullies or delinquents or worse. Parents can use these same TV reports as teaching moments about caring and sympathy.
Parents who build a year-round program to teach Emotional Intelligence skills to their kids will find the lessons reinforce each other in wonderful ways.