At the December conference of the Western Association of Independent Camps (WAIC) we were fortunate to hear Steve Baskin speak about the crucial role that camps play in helping prepare children for personal and professional success. Steve is a Texas camp owner, American Camping Association board officer, and an honor graduate from Davidson College and the Harvard Business School, so he has good credentials to discuss how to create experiences for children that will lead to their success in life.
He is an advocate of the findings of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills led by representatives from education and business, including Apple, Ford, Crayola and Legos. Their website states: “Learning and innovation skills increasingly are being recognized as the skills that separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not.” These skills include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. “College and high school graduates are entering the workforce with a deficit of skills”, said Baskin. “I can think of (no other place) that is more immersive and intentional for creating these skills (than camps).” He said that, if these skills were strong in graduates, “3.5 million jobs could be filled immediately.” But these skills take practice, and interpersonal skills are not found via technology. Indeed, among the skills that The Partnership for 21st Century Skills feel are important for success, technology skills are not in the top 10.
With the average teenager spending 53 hours a week “enveloped in their own cocoons of technology” (11 of these hours texting), Baskin said there is little time for them to practice interpersonal face-to-face skills such as empathy and the ability to read others’ body language. “That is what we do (at camp). We unplug and are with other people,” he said.
Camps are ideally positioned to help children practice collaboration, communication and creative problem solving through facilitated free play. They give children safe ways to independently challenge themselves physically and mentally, and to learn the joys of succeeding and the equally important lesson about learning from their own failures. Campers have positive, caring adult role models to interact with and learn from. Camps can help instill curiosity and a love of learning as well as the interpersonal virtues of kindness, gratitude, and the capacity to love.
Perhaps most importantly camps are a perfect setting for children to learn how to develop strong and lasting friendships that can strengthen and enhance their entire lives. We hope you will share with other families the reasons why you send your children to camp and the benefits they have received – not the archery or French lessons, but the ability to become confident and successful human beings. We encourage you to check out Steve Baskin’s TED talk and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills website for more information.