by Jennifer Fontaine –
11 year old Kaitlin stood on dry, rocky ground, looking up at the top of the cliff. It seemed a million miles away. Her inner voice was on repeat, “Impossible. Impossible. Impossible!” It was the sixth grader’s third day of rock-climbing, and she still hadn’t reached the top of a single peak. Each day, the new pitches seemed to grow harder, and harder, more impossible than the last.
She called out, “On belay?”
“Belay is on,” her instructor called back.
Carefully placing her hands on the rough rock, she responded, “Climbing.”
Not all leaders are created equal. Each individual has, written into their DNA, a specific purpose and capacity for leaving their own unique mark on the world. As parents, educators, and mentors, it is our job to guide and support our kids into becoming the very best version of themselves by providing them with the tools and allowing them the space to flourish and grow.Of course, letting them go is easier said than done, but we all understand that bestowing such trust upon our children leads to confidence, and reinforces their resolve. One such way to release them into a challenging, yet nurturing experience is the time-honored tradition of sleep-away camp. Summer camps across the world provide developing youth that crucial space to be free to make choices, follow a path, and even fail.
5 ways an adventurous sleep-away camp can foster leadership skills
Give Them Opportunities
You can’t develop leadership skills if you aren’t first given the opportunity to sharpen them. Summer camps are brimming with the chance for kids to explore their abilities and hone in on a skill set. A nature-based, sport-focused curriculum can enhance positive behaviors and reduce the risk of delinquency.
Encourage Shared Experiences
Team building activities teach us a wide array of important lessons such as unity and camaraderie, but there can also be deeper revelations when children come together to work towards a common goal. The collaborative environment of a great summer camp can open a child’s eyes to the knowledge that two heads are better than one, instilling a more thoughtful social competence.
While it is completely normal for parents to worry about their kids failing, it’s important to remember there are many times where it can prove to be a valuable learning tool. When we allow our kids to enter into an adventure and to fail, to feel discomfort, disappointment, fear, we give them the gift of experiencing consequence, which can lead to a greater capacity to accept responsibility.
As much as failure is an opportunity for self-reflection, a chance to change course, it is also an occasion for parents and mentors to contribute specific, non-judgmental words of encouragement which can expand a child’s self-motivation and self-pride. When choosing a sleep-away camp for your child, be discerning. Look for staff who are impeccably credentialed, but whose high marks from parents display a rare ability to connect kids to nature, and to themselves.
Set High Expectations
A summer camp counselor’s vision coupled with higher expectations of a child can leave a profound impression on their hopes for the future. When we define their successes not based on ability or outcome, but on the amount of effort put in, we can effectively encourage our kids to do what it takes to achieve their goals, whether it’s pitching a tent or conquering the crag.
“Lower!” Kaitlin called out, but her instructor couldn’t hear. She was about to call out again when she suddenly felt a new surge of energy, pushing past all that stood in her way. The carabiner was right there. She reached out.
“Feeling the hard cool metal of the carabiner sent pride, a new strength though my body. I cheered. A cheer came from below. I touched the carabiner again, and again, and again until I had probably touched it at least ten times. I realized that I just had to push on, and the reward is amazing. I didn’t just touch my first carabiner, but I felt absolutely, truly free.” Kaitlin’s rock-climbing triumph opened up a whole new world of confidence for her and she continues to push herself upward daily, with her newfound strength.
There are a few simple rules to pack your kid like a rockstar for sleep away camp success. Follow them and your babes will be comfy and cozy while they’re off on their own.
- Label everything with permanent marker.
- Don’t pack anything of value.
- Send a re-packing list to camp with your child, so nothing gets left behind.
- When in doubt, pack extra.
- Slip a journal in their bag to document their experience.
For a complete list of sleep away summer camp packing essentials, including clothing, day pack, and toiletry items, download our complete checklist.
NOTE: It is the policy of Outdoor Families Magazine to disclose a financial partnership with a business or organization. Avid4 Adventure provided financial sponsorship to Outdoor Families Magazine in exchange for content.
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.