I just returned from a week at summer camp where we co-directed a co-ed teen camp. For the last number of years, camp has been an important part of my 3 kids’ summer lives while memories of camp have dominated their winter lives. Admittedly, co-directing a full week of activities for about 125 teenagers involved a steep learning curve, a great deal of creativity, energy and patience with the other co-directors.
Obviously, as a high school teacher, I have had a fair amount of experience working with adolescent learners. However, it was surprising to recognize in the camp environment so many similarities to a school environment. It was even more surprising to observe the great differences in the teens’ attitudes, motivations, and learning outcomes.
Let’s begin with the basic similarities in learning environments. At camp, there are rules about who is in charge (the counselors, directors, etc.), a schedule which moves campers from place to place every hour or so, breaks for meals, safety and behaviour rules with disciplinary consequences and forced team and group events often with expectations for the creation of a “product” in the form of a craft, song or skit. Often, there are competitions which rely on some sort of evaluation or assessment process by judges. Sound familiar?
What is different about this environment is that the campers must also live together for a week sharing living space. This can aid in the development of a community. It is an opportunity for the campers to develop care and appreciation for their community through beneficial maintenance and stewardship of camp territory. Some take longer than others to acquire this appreciation!
Other differences are in the outcomes and attitudes of the camper/learners. By its very nature, camp is able to better offer multiple learning style opportunities to suit the learning style needs of the campers. Kinesthetic learners in particular are offered many opportunities at camp. Certainly much less reading material is offered at camp. Campers must rely much more on visual and audio messages to function well in this setting.
I am familiar with many of the teen campers, counselors and staff that were present at camp this year. Many of them had not flourished well in an academic environment. Yet, at camp, their latent skills and gifts were coaxed out and I observed leadership and citizenship abilities and competencies which were truly outstanding, Not only that, but they were sincere and enthusiastic in their various achievements.
As an educator, I was humbled by what I witnessed. Why can’t school environment be more like summer camp?