Touch Up The Marketing Messages

By Silvana Clark

As parents look for that “perfect” summer camp, they scour websites and brochures to find one that helps their child have fun while gaining new skills. Often camps highlight the amazing ropes course, trail rides, delicious meals, and highly trained counselors. Those items are crucially important to a well-run camp, but parents increasingly look for a camp that helps their child develop social skills as well.

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Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, worked with top researchers in the field to share the science of how children learn and develop social, emotional, and intellectual capacities. News flash! A camping experience touches on all seven of these skills. Consider adding a section on your marketing materials that highlight how your camp exposes children to these essential life skills:

1. Focus and self-control. Youth today think nothing of watching a video while doing homework, eating pizza, and texting their friends. Multi-tasking is a normal part of their lives. (Let’s face it. We adults multi-task as well!) Yet studies show multi-tasking is simply juggling one thing with another, causing us to have to reorient to get back on track. Camp is an excellent environment for campers to focus on a single task. Since most camps ban cell phones, campers have one less distraction throughout the day. Campers learn to focus as they experience the hands-on work of grooming a horse or aiming that potentially dangerous arrow in archery class. Many camps use the “Talking Stick” technique in helping campers learn self-control as they wait their turn to hold the stick and share their opinion. Camp directors often get feedback from parents who say their children return from camp less likely to interrupt a conversation.

2. Perspective. Learning to look at issues from another person’s perspective is a valuable, yet difficult skill to learn. If a child has insight into what another person is thinking or feeling, he or she is more likely to get along with others. Well-trained counselors help a child look at issues from an outside perspective. Counselors often ask questions such as, “How do you think Jessica felt when you grabbed the last inner tube just as she was reaching for it?” At staff training, leaders encourage returning staff members to think what it feels like to be a new employee. That perspective-taking lesson transfers over to helping campers think how others feel in difficult situations.

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3. Communicating. We often think communicating means talking, talking, and talking! Counselors who let children vent their frustration at not being able to reach the top of the climbing wall communicate they care by listening. Children learn there are many approaches to communication. Counselors often say to a new camper, “I’m so glad you are in my cabin,” which models a communication skill to other campers. They may pick up cues and hopefully say, “Come sit at my table,” to that same new camper. At other times a handwritten note saying, “You worked so hard to learn how to waterski today!” left on the pillow of a camper, communicates that camp is a place where effort is rewarded.

4. Making connections. It’s all too easy for children to Google instead of using their own imaginations. Need an idea for a science-fair project? Google it. Want to know how to give a dog a bath? Google it. At camp, children have the opportunity to use their creativity. Think about the tried-and-true activity of giving each cabin a paper bag filled with the same five items campers need to incorporate into a skit. Who knew there were so many ways to act out a story using a dirty sock, a pool noodle, a life jacket, a counselor’s hat, and a banana? Instead of checking with Google, children at camp have the opportunity to devise new ways to decorate their cabin or create a one-of-a-kind craft project.

5. Critical thinking. Most of us remember our mothers asking, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” (To which most of us probably thought, “Yes, we would!”) Camp provides an ideal environment for children to learn about decisions and actions. They decide between taking an Ultimate Frisbee class with a friend or choosing to go solo to a beloved craft class. What are the ramifications of signing up for the camp talent show? How can they let their counselor know they are getting picked on? Let parents know that their children have the opportunity to learn critical-thinking skills in a fun and safe environment.

6. Taking on challenges. How many adults do you know who are scared to take a promotion, ask for a raise, or try a new sport? It’s hard to tackle a challenge. That’s where camp allows children to take safe and appropriate risks. Some parents would be shocked to see their normally timid child jump off a rope swing or bounce over dirt mounds while mountain biking. At camp, the environment oozes with a “You can do it!” atmosphere. Whether it is bouncing off the Blob in the lake or coding a robot to dance, children can try new activities, learning they can overcome challenges.

7. Self-directed, engaged learning. Most classroom teachers have little time to allow self-directed learning. If the class is studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and a child suggests studying sightings of the Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, that idea will probably be put on the back shelf. Way back on that shelf. Camp is more flexible. Campers are free to mix red and blue paint to create a new color. Counselors can encourage campers to change the words to a popular camp song. One “dramatic” camper loved the camp’s costume department. She suggested everyone wear costumes on the next trail ride. Not only did she display self-directed learning, but the camp got some great photos!

As you attend camp fairs, design new brochures, and update the camp website, highlight the ways that camp helps children gain valuable life skills. Let parents know their child will return home knowing how to waterski as well as how to make independent decisions, while effectively communicating for a raise in their allowance!

Silvana Clark has over 25 years’ experience in the camping industry. When not presenting workshops on helping children develop crucial life skills, she conducts camp-like activities at her house where she does emergency foster care. Reach her at silvanac@msn.com, or visit www.silvanaclark.com.