Character education

At school kids learn what they know. At camp they learn who they are.

“Today’s children will need a balanced set of cognitive, social and emotional skills in order to succeed in modern life,” says a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Their capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” In other words, it’s increasingly important that kids develop character at an early age, throughout their youth, and as they grow into adulthood. Read more

Our Kids believes that busy parents can augment their child’s character education through camps and programs that provide a structured environment in which children can grow in specific character traits. With that in mind we interviewed camp leaders, authors, teachers, social workers, and other experts, including campers and their parents.

Explore how camp helps kids develop these character traits 

 

Experts like the OECD believe it’s critically important for parents to focus on character development in all stages of child-rearing. It's at least as important as academics, and offsets children’s own focus on superficial things like reputation. Character is, in a sense, the true person.

Camp gives kids a distinct advantage in life: character traits that will guide them to create the best life they can achieve.

How do you ensure your child develops good character? David Brooks has written extensively on the issue, in bestsellers like The Road to Character and The Second Mountain. He’s come to believe that character arises out of relationships we have with others. “If you want to inculcate character in [a child],” he writes, “teach them how to form commitments. Surrender to a community or a cause, make promises to other people, build a thick jungle of loving attachments, lose yourself in the daily act of serving others as they lose themselves in the daily acts of serving you.”

When camp professionals are asked to define camp, it's telling that they echo Brooks’ emphasis on community, connection, and service to others. “It kind of gives a general reset to your values, to what you feel is important,” says Johnny Wideman, executive director of Willowgrove Day Camp. It’s a window into a new way of seeing the world and our place within it. “I think it’s the most effective way of community building. [Campers] connect with [each other], empathetically and compassionately. And to do that outdoors, to build an appreciation and future caring and protecting the environment. I think that’s basically all of the building blocks we need to make our communities and the world better.”

President of the International Camping Fellowship John Jorgenson agrees. “That’s really the point of growth that camp offers. It’s that transition stage where you really go from a me-centered experience to a we-centered experience: being able to read others, being able to understand the emotional needs of others, [learn] that emotional and social intelligence are the things that camp can give at a very critical time in most kids’ lives.” 

Many successful camp alumni point to experiences at camp that helped form them into the people they now are. Kids currently in camp recognize the value of their experiences, and see how they’ve grown directly from those experiences, away from parents and others, in an environment that offers structure and learning combined (of course) with fun

Below, find a summary discussion of each character trait, with links to pages that  fully explore each, along with a list of camps that help kids' grow in that trait. 

Character education by trait

 

Courage is the “ability to stand” or take action in the face of “adversity, uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, fear and pain,” says registered social worker, Sarde Matti. Hailey, a young woman camper, says she’s learned important lessons in courage, at her girls only camp. Find camps that promote courage, and learn how to develop this worthwhile trait.

 

 

Creativity, says education coordinator, Rhea Deosaran, is much more than beautification of the environment or using creative works. It means employing “unique and unconventional” thought to recast things. Kavya, a young chef’s camp camper tells of specific instances at camp where creativity was modeled for her. Find camps that help kids develop creativity,  and learn more about what this trait means today. 

 

 

Curiosity, says Aaron Lamontagne of Academie Duello’s Knight Camp is a quality held by “the best people in the world.” Asking why and fully exploring interests simply makes people better. Find camps that promote curiosity, and learn the importance of encouraging this character trait. 

 

 

Generosity is “a value of the spirit,” says Gina Faubert of Radiant Girls. For her, the ability to contribute and provide value to the lives of others is a key indicator of personal success. Sophie Schneider, parent of a Consciousness For Kids camper, thinks it’s “key for a child’s development.” Discover camps that promote generosity and learn how those camps develop this trait. 

 

 

Independence is “the ability to make one’s own decisions and accomplish tasks all by oneself.” Emilia Antunes saw her daughter develop self-reliance and independence at COOKSMART camp. Parents often focus on the development of this trait as a critical benefit of the camp experience. Discover camps that promote independence, and learn how camps develop this important trait.

 

 

Interpersonal skills include communication combined with the “the ability to control emotions” and stems from “positive interactions they’ll have with their peers, teachers and friends,” says Leigh King, a day camp manager at the YMCA of Greater Toronto. Alice Wiafe, psychotherapist at Positive Kids calls this “probably the most important piece [of kids’ personal development].” Both see the social environment of camp as critical in fostering these skills in children. Find camps that promote interpersonal skills and learn how these are encouraged in settings like kids’ camp and programs. 

 

 

Physical literacy, says Natalie Toman of ParticipACTION, entails more than just exercising and staying active, it’s the learned “feeling of confidence” that results, along with “wanting to engage [mindful activity] for the rest of your life.” Discover camps that promote physical literacy and explore the full value of this character trait. 

 

 

Religious faith is a set of the “particular beliefs and assumptions about the way the world works ... and how we [act out beliefs],” says Chantal Huinink, a Registered Social Worker. Faith can teach children to be sympathetic to others, and fosters morals, ethics, and respect. Discover camps that promote religious faith and learn more about this character trait.

 

 

Resilience is the ability to “go forward in spite of difficulties” spurred on by an inner “strength in convictions,” says licensed clinical social worker, Tracey Grose. Chantal Vaidyanath believes that “the camp environment is really important for” her daughter, “to develop resilience” away from “the usual support and guidance” of parents or teachers. Find camps that promote resilience, and learn ways in which it encourages this critical personal trait.

 

 

Responsibility, according to author Audrey Monke, consists of kids “learning to do tasks for themselves without requiring constant supervision or needing to be reminded [or] watched.” Sherri Cully, mother, loves the way camp has helped her daughter "own her actions.” Find out more about developing this trait in children and discover camps that help kids develop responsibility.

 

 

Self-regulation can be defined as “a broad set of skills that allows kids to manage difficulty in their day-to-day lives,” by Una Malcolm, director of Bright Light Learners. Camper Erick says it helps him “balance his emotions.” Discover camps that help kids learn self-regulation and learn how they do so.

 

 

Tolerance is "a basic understanding that difference is the norm and no two people are alike.” says Monica, mother of a Vancouver camper. Tolerant people “[lean] into difference and getting to know all of the ways that people operate in the world.” Learn more about developing this trait in children and discover camps that promote tolerance.



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