Advice For Parents

From campers to leaders

Kids gain leadership skills that they can use at home and school

Lara Skinner
From campers to leaders

Picture this. Your camper is starting her first summer at camp — games, swimming, new friends and camp songs.

The camp songs start making the rounds in the car a few days into camp. It could be the super-catchy Yogi Bear:

I know someone you don’t know, Yogi. Yogi.
I know someone you don’t know, Yogi Yogi bear…

If you forget the words or tune — it is Camptown Races by the way — your camper is sure to remind you.

One day when you pick her up, she can’t wait to tell you about that song. You know her favorite camp song? (As if you could forget!) She taught it to a group of new campers.

So wait. The little camper who will belt out a song in the car but barely whispers it when you ask her to sing it to her grandparents, the same camper who gets the giggles when teaching that song to friends, she taught the song to a group of kids she didn’t know?

Maybe your camper is the one who stands hesitantly to the side during a new activity. But on Friday she comes home excited because she captured the flag during the all-camp game. She is filled with stories about how her camp unit came up with a plan that led to the glorious final run with the flag across the field.

Who is this child and what happened at camp?

The answer is simple. A summer camp setting allows a child to thrive outside the structure of school or regular friends. A child who is normally reserved or allows others to lead may feel comfortable enough at camp, where loud voices and running are encouraged, to be a leader themselves.

Camp gives children (and staff) permission to be human within the camp community. Permission to be human allows a child to try, fail, find encouragement, and try again.

Giving children room to fail helps them find their personal resilience, or, as the latest buzzword in child development describes it — grit — a determination to keep trying even if the first try wasn’t perfect. Children who attend camp for multiple years build on their leadership experiences and grit every time they go back.

“We hear this every summer,” said camp professional Karyn L. Martin, PhD, Assistant Director of Facilities Outdoor Program at Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.

“Parents see their campers gain skills at camp that transfer back to the school and home environment. Parents are always amazed at the gains their camper has made. They come home from their camp experiences more patient with siblings, more likely to take initiative to clean their room, more independent when making decisions.”

Experiences at camp can easily carry into the rest of a child’s life including school or other social situations. If they can lead a song at camp, they can raise their hand at school. Or jump right in to that new game with kids they hadn’t met before and learn the rules as they go.

Older children and adolescents have the opportunity to be camp aides or counselors-in-training, then become counselors themselves. They can take leadership to the next level and become part of the camp magic that encourages leadership and grit in younger campers.

“Our camp aides and CITs (counselors-in-training) are learning and trying new experiences in leadership at the same time they are passing what they already learned to the younger campers,” Martin said.

When those songs are ringing out in the back of your car, jump right in and sing along. That could be the song that turns your camper into a leader.   

Lara Skinner is the outdoor and day camp coordinator for Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.

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