During Mental Health Month, we’re focusing on ways to improve our mental health and overall health. Summer camp not only helps kids learn, develop leadership skills and enjoy nature, but it can benefit their mental health as well by reaching out to others and helping to develop a sense of empathy.
Do you want your child to become a man or woman of the woods? Does sending a child to camp mean they will come home with tangible skills to employ at home and at school?
Camp people know how to put up a tent, solo portage a canoe, build a campfire, shoot arrows through a bow, identify species of insects, trees, and more. Is any of this useful for our kids in their “real world”?
I always thought the summer was vacation time, not learning time. The summer is time away from textbooks and assignments, yet somehow our kids emerge from the woods with much more than they entered with.
In this post, I’ll talk about how kids develop empathy at camp. Before I do that, I have to ask you readers why this is even important for young kids? What is the importance of learning empathy at a young age?
Teaching and Learning Empathy at Camp
At camp, it’s not all about “me”. We live, eat, breathe, sleep, and have fun together. There is no single spotlight at camp. The sun shines on us all. In this cohabitant environment, we can help our kids learn about empathy. More interestingly, though, is that our kids learn empathy without our help—it occurs naturally.
I can acknowledge with certainty that emotional intelligence is one of the five key areas where camp goers experience positive outcomes. Within emotional intelligence comes empathy. The Canadian Summer Camp Research Project states in its “Outcome Logic Model” (Inputs > Activities > Outputs > Outcomes) that an initial outcome for campers within emotional intelligence is that they “learn how to recognize the emotions of others and different ways to deal with them”. That is empathy my friends. Empathy is not only about overcoming negatives, it is also about recognizing positives.
So, how is empathy developed? Experience plays a role—those who have been to camp before know what it is like to be a first time camper. Perhaps this is one of the earliest forms of mentoring that occurs between youth.
Empathy in the cabin
- Homesickness (a): “Last year I was homesick too, but I forgot about missing home when I participated in all the activities at camp”
- Homesickness (b): “I miss home right now too. I totally know how you feel. Let’s go to the craft shop and make a card for our moms!”
Empathy at activities
- At the climbing tower: “Last year I couldn’t complete that route up the tower. You should go back tomorrow and conquer it! Think about using the blue grip halfway up.”
- At the trip hut: “Way to go! I remember the first time I solo portaged a canoe. Man, that felt gooooood! Congratulations!” (insert high fives here)
Empathy through programming
- Seeing things from the other side of the table (new perspectives): “I always thought Jack Sparrow had such a fun life. When we were at his station in tonight’s activity he looked sad. I’m glad we cheered him up by completing the tasks.”
For camp staff, it is an incredibly important part of their job to show empathy to campers. One person comforting another and showing empathy is a source of strength for the person in need of a boost. At the end of the day, empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—and let’s face it, if you send your kid to camp, it’s quite likely they’ll have ACTUALLY been in many other people’s shoes by the time they come home!
I am excited to share that my book The Cabin Path: Leadership Lessons Learned At Camp launched on April 7, 2012. This leadership book will inspire camp counsellors and staff to think more consciously about the everyday leadership lessons camp presents them. It is an ideal resource for all camp staff who are looking to improve their leadership abilities, as well as for parents who are making the important decision of whether or not they should send their child to camp.
Go to www.cabinpath.ca to learn more about the book and eBook.
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How do you teach your kids to be empathetic? Do you feel they learn how to do this at camp as well? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.