Camp turns “I think I can” into “See what I can do!”

Camp turns “I think I can” into “See what I can do!”

“Yesterday was a great day. Today is going to be a greater day!” proclaimed seven-year-old Julianna when asked about her first few days at camp.

Julianna’s excitement demonstrates one of the character assets** we strive to build here at camp – helping young people be optimistic about their personal future. If they are optimistic about their time at camp, they will have no problem overcoming feelings of homesickness, engaging in the program, and regaling in a sense of accomplishment at the end of two weeks.

The power of positive thinking at camp starts with our staff. These are the heroes of our camp culture because they are the people our campers look up to and idolize. If counselors wake up and say “today is going to be a great day!,” their campers will say it too. If they say “you are going to love ultimate frisbee today,” campers will run their hearts out in 100 degree heat. But if they say “this evening activity sounds boring, I’m too tired, and it’s really hot,” good luck getting your campers to participate or even crack a smile.

Then there are other external motivators that fuel individual optimism . Things like campers earning crew points for helping another camper find a class or mustering the courage to jump on the blob . Or striving for all ones on their clean-up chore chart. Maybe their artwork is featured in our art show.

But to truly exude happiness and confidence, campers need intrinisic motivation as well – that strong inner desire to succeed, just because, to explore, to learn and to push the limits of their own potential. Intrinsic motivation, while harder to initiate, is what truly fuels their long-term success at camp. And intrinsic motivations starts with a positive outlook of the future.

To find their inner motivation, we teach campers and counselors alike to “own their experience.” For example, each camper chooses what activities to pursue. If those don’t turn out to be as expected, campers meet with the activity director to find alternative classes.

Campers see immediate payoff  from encouraging their friends to do cabin chores. A unified team effort leads to all ones on inspection and possibly even the coveted “golden plunger.” Mastering on-stage performances through cabin skits leads campers to speak comfortably in front of their peers to be elected as a maverick for their crew.

Additionally, we give campers many opportunities to channel their unique skills and talents – some they already possessed and some they just unearthed – into feelings of success. They might solve a Rubik’s cube in front of a few peers on Talent Tuesday, or they might work all term long to master speaking in front of an audience of 1,000 at our closing ceremony. The support, encouragement, and applause they generate fuels their internal drive.

We walk campers through the process of solving their own problems and help them set small yet easily achievable goals. Overcoming a bout of homesickness may mean starting with the personal success of making it through the next three class periods, without tears.

These small victories empower them and push them to achieve more.   And that achievement , that feeling of accomplishment seals that positive outlook. Happy campers are motivated campers. And motivated campers know that while today might be great, tomorrow might just be greater!

**For more than 20 years, the Search Institute has been researching and identifying what it takes to help kids succeed. They have developed a framework of 40 external and internal developmental assets that “identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults”. We incorporate these assets throughout our programming and train our counselors extensively on the benefits of assets and how to use them in activities, cabins and around camp. For more information on assets and the benefits they provide, visit the Search Institute website.

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