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Kids Discover Their Potential At Summer Camp

Life is hard. We know this, and yet so many children grow up sheltered from hardships, as their well-meaning parents unknowingly hold them back. In Adam Grant's excellent new book, "Hidden Potential," (2023) he lays out the importance of children working through tough situations, to build the character skills needed to be successful in life as an adult.

 

Grant explains, "Character is often confused with personality, but personality is your basic instincts for how to think, feel, and act. Character is your capacity to prioritize your values over your instincts." It's more than having principles. Character is the learned ability to live by your principles- like fulfilling promises, standing up for what's right, and managing your emotions. These are skills that Summer Camp nurtures, and great coaches and mentors cultivate.

 

Helen Keller wrote, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 

 

While I'm not advocating suffering, children do need to experience and learn from the inevitable challenges they encounter, in order to strengthen their inner-resilience. Kids are amazingly "Anti-Fragile," meaning that when exposed to stress, they actually become stronger. "Successful people of character are able to overcome life's hurdles because they learn how to get comfortable being uncomfortable." This is a learned character trait that can unlock tremendous potential in children.

 

Going off to Summer Camp, just like going off to college, or starting a new job, can be an impactful challenge for a child- and it's completely normal for children to initially push back on the idea. It's something new and different, and of course, they'd rather sit home and stare at their screens! But we know better, and it's our job to teach kids to push beyond their perceived limits and cultivate the confidence and courage to abandon their comfort zone.

 

Facing fears, and confronting discomfort are skills that if not strengthened in childhood, may never be gained as an adult. It's easier for young people to learn these skills, as they don't have the same fear of embarrassment nor discomfort from making mistakes- Kids mess up all the time! When properly debriefed (our job,) mistakes become teachable moments that set the character mold for the rest of their lives. It's more important than ever in today's world for kids to experience these moments, and gain these skills.

 

In the alarming new book about A.I., "The Coming Wave," (2023,) author Mustafa Suleyman explains how during times of exponential technological growth, "those that survive are the ones best able to adapt." While just a few generations ago, families traveled by horse and cart and burned wood for heat, today we live in an age in which artificial intelligence is emulating human thought, and rapidly changing the way we live.

 

Like it or not, technology is replacing everything it possibly can, making interpersonal HUMAN skills to "recognize, value, assimilate, and apply new information" the priority for future generations to learn and master. At old school Summer Camps, we hone these critical thinking skills hands on, as kids/staff have to think on their feet while encountering the everyday challenges and opportunities that present themselves.

 

Yes, Summer Camp is a lot of "fun and games," but equally as important, are the constant opportunities of learning and honing character skills like meeting new people, trying new things, speaking up, and asking questions. Toss in some extreme heat, an occasional tropical storm, and the opportunity to experience life without digital screens, and Summer Camp can prove to be a seriously impactful, building block of experiences. While little kids learn patience and sharing, big kids manage the nuanced ins and outs of social relationships, and young staff learn valuable leadership skills. 

 

Summer Camp can also be challenging at times, just like real life. Camp is the perfect playground for young people to push themselves, while building the grit and resilience needed for a successful adulthood.

 

 

ABOUT LIBERTY LAKE DAY CAMP

Liberty Lake is a summer community of children and staff from the NJ counties of Burlington, Mercer, Camden, as well as Center City Philly and Lower Bucks County in PA. Liberty Lakers expand their talents, make friends, and develop the character skills needed to become a successful adults in the 21st Century. For more information, visit LibertyLakeDayCamp.com

 

ABOUT THE AMERICAN CAMP ASSOCIATION

The ACA provides accreditation, professional development and public relations for 2500 of the finest Summer Camp programs in the USA, with 500 being members of the NY and NJ Section. The ACA was recently awarded a $45.5 million grant to support a multiyear initiative to grow, improve, and celebrate character development at camps across the USA.  For more info, visit www.acacamps.org  

 

Andy Pritikin is the owner/director or Liberty Lake Day Camp, and a partner at Everwood Day Camp and Camp Southwoods. He's the Past President of the American Camp Association, NY/NJ, and the host of the Day Camp Podcast.

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