June 3, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES II, III & IV • Page 9 SCHOOLS & CAMPS Emotional intelligence (continued from previous page) curriculum and academic testing, camp professionals can focus on those intangibles that are part of the emotional intelligence cluster. Children away from home, with new friends and the new challenges of camp can learn much about themselves, their own strengths, and abilities. Perhaps the canoe doesn’t head where it should at first, or a cabin-mate is unwilling to be friendly. Away from the familiarity of home and school, campers can test their own perseverance, and, with caring and thoughtful help, build new life skills for themselves. Meeting these challenges brings true self-esteem, the kind that is earned. Talking about self-esteem or trying to bolster it in kids does not work without real challenge in safe and supportive communities. Social skills also grow exponentially at camp. A campfire marshmallow roast is an exercise in sharing of sticks and the front row around the campfire. When campers take turns carrying the lunch to the top of the mountain, they learn firsthand how wonderful working together can be. A good counselor will gently remind young hikers of this lesson during the climb, when the message is fresh. Timing is Everything When Life Lessons Are Involved Counselors at camp teach archery or pottery or swimming while showing children the value of the varied skills and talents of their friends. With no formal “curriculum,” a lesson may be interrupted for a chat about sharing or about any of the emotional intelligence skills when the time is right. Parents are amazed at the clear progress their campers make during even a relatively short time at camp. Given that emotional intelligence is at the very heart of the camp experience, this progress is not surprising. A parent of a 10-year-old boy comments in a camp evaluation: “Living in such close quarters was not without its challenges for Roger, but he is much more able to handle social challenges at school since his return. And he came home just generally a nicer boy in all respects.” Another explains: “Of course I am glad my girls had fun and learned some new skills, but their new-found maturity and caring for each other was really what I had hoped would happen.” Teachable Moments at Camp Summer camps work hard to train staff in modeling and teaching emotional intelligence skills. Camp counselors can be wonderful role models for children. They are often closer in age than teachers, and the informal atmosphere of camp encourages relaxed conversations at picnics or getting ready for bed. Every one of these interactions is a potential teaching moment for essential life skills. When children find adult friends at camp who model perseverance, listening, teamwork, and appreciation of differences, they set new and high standards for their own behavior. When they feel appreciated and valued by these friends, they are surer of their ability to live happily away from home. Successful camp summers can help smooth the transition to college in later years. Camp is a key opportunity for growth, both for children who thrive at school and for those who struggle. Talented students develop their abilities to cooperate and share in a community where they don’t worry about grades and academic competition. Children whose school lives are difficult find real rewards in new opportunities to shine. Having a chance to practice being a leader may be a rare experience. At summer camp, children learn from trained and thoughtful counselors. They talk about emotional intelligence every day and hone their skills in a safe and nurturing community. Children at camp know firsthand the value of cooperation and teamwork, and they practice listening, sharing, and waiting their turn. Emotional Intelligence Lessons: After Camp and Beyond When campers return home, parents can help them keep building their summer skills throughout the year. Chores are often a great teaching opportunity at home, for example. Parents who model working together as a family to get jobs done are reinforcing vital lessons from camp. Empathy means recognizing others’ needs, literally “feeling with” another person. Television reports are full of stories of children who have not been taught to empathize, children who become bullies or delinquents or worse. Parents can use these same TV reports as teaching moments about caring and sympathy. Parents can also make sure that teachers and caregivers understand the importance of teaching emotional intelligence skills. Do teachers, for example, set up such strong competition in their classrooms that kids don’t feel encouraged to care about their friends? Do coaches reward only the most aggressive players and talk of winning at all costs? Parents who build a year-round program to teach emotional intelligence skills to their kids will find the lessons reinforce each other in ways. And summer camps are a key part of the reinforcement. With the spotlight finally on emotional intelligence, the best-kept secret in American education, the quality summer camp, will not be a secret much longer. To learn more about camp and child development, visit the American Camp Association’s family website: www. CampParents.org. This article was written by Posie Taylor, who serves as a board member-at-large of the American Camp Association. She is also the executive director emerita of the Aloha Foundation, Inc. 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