It doesn’t involve any text books, graded exams, or long research papers, but a multi-week experience at residential summer camp, provides an education in social skills that is unmatched.

The article below, written by award winning writer, staff trainer, and camp consultant Jay Gilbert, highlights many of the invaluable social skills that are learned and developed at summer camp.

School for Social Skills – The First Place to Engage in a Real Social Network

by Jay Gilbert

I had a great dialogue with Andrew Lockie, CEO of United Way London and Middlesex over the idea of learning taking place outside of the classroom. He said, “Campers develop the ability to adapt to the conditions and build positive social relationships where traditional conventions that we rely on (socio economic status, geography, academic achievement, etc.) are stripped away.”

He proceeded to enlighten by saying “what it leaves is the requirement that you learn to adapt and function on the merits of your character”.

Camp is a refreshing opportunity to intersect with people where everybody is feeling the same way – there is a newness to the environment. And, there is an accountability that comes with that. “You can choose to be a jerk,” says Lockie, “but you can’t walk away or go home at the end of the day when you choose to be unpleasant”.

Building social skills is incredibly important in the development of young campers into capable leaders and self-sufficient young adults. One day, your camper may decide to head to college or university. In a Psychology Today article by Steve Baskin, who sits on the executive committee of the American Camp Association, he addresses the topic of moving to college. Baskin says, “going to college presents many challenges, three of which jump out at me: increased academic rigor, being away from home and your traditional support system, and dealing with large amounts of uncertainty.” He continues by saying “of course, overnight camp does little to deal with the first challenge of academic rigor, but it helps substantially with both of the other challenges”.

Summer camp is the safe place where children get to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Mary Kay Amos, Founder and Director of Kids Inc. Camp, when having sales conversations with parents calls camp “school for the social skills”. At camp, “nobody is looking even though everybody is looking,” quoted Mary Kay.

I would have to conclude that the social skill building environment deepens the degree to which EQ is built too. For example, camps bring together kids from different geographies and they give kids exposure to different customs.

In the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project, one question within the section on Social Integration and Citizenship read “The camper befriends other campers different from him/herself.” For the entire section, the study found that over 65% of the children in the study showed positive change in this area.

As our conversation drew to a close, Andrew Lockie shared with me his feeling about how “camp opened my mind to working in camp as a career, which I did, but also cast a lens on opportunities for me which ended up being a CEO of a not for profit which gives stimulation and interest in doing what I do.” Finally, Lockie shared that “understanding and embracing the differences from one person to another is the most important social skill a person can possibly have.”

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