Everyone has talents–some obvious, some hidden. At camp, it’s easy to see who the athletes are, somewhat harder to see who the artists are, and almost impossible to see who the intellectuals are.
Because enhanced self-esteem is a cornerstone outcome of most camp programs, it is worth reflecting now–post season–about the ways in which your program identifies, cultivates, and showcases talents of all types.
Self-esteem, after all, is grounded in feelings of competence. And feeling good about at least one thing is essential for authentic happiness.
Most camps heavily emphasize physical prowess, as evidenced by the surfeit of inter- and intra-camp athletic competitions. These competitions are especially wonderful when they allow all children a chance to play, when they focus on fun, and when they include non-traditional games and sports that level the playing field a bit.
In addition to physicality, I advocate competitions and activities that shine the spotlight on musicality, intellectual creativity, and artistic abilities.
The idea is to give every child a chance to improve skills they already have, develop competence in emerging skills, and (of course) sample a few things they have never tried before.
To accomplish this range, directors and their staff need to think outside the box of the tired old talent show. Sure, it’s fun to see who is double-jointed and who can play the harmonica with their nose, but the real interest is in activities that require some skill, such as group mural painting, camper choirs, and short-story competitions.
This summer, I enjoyed watching new activities blossom alongside the traditional ones. For example, one of our division heads took a group of campers out in our largest motorboat and surprised each one with a small easel, paper, and charcoal pencil. Once out in the bay, he cut the motor, dropped anchor, and asked them to draw what they saw.
The results were stunning, especially to the campers who didn’t think they were artists.
Another pair of leaders took a group of campers for a short hike into the woods. They then sat them in a circle and had them meditate for a bit, eyes closed, and write a poem to which each person could contribute just one line. The group read a selection of their poems–some funny; others serious–in the dining hall before lunch. The readings were met with thunderous applause.
On the waterfront, I created a level beyond advanced, called “instructor aid.” These AI’s could apprentice with a staff member who was teaching swimming. Have you ever seen a 10-year-old teach a 16-year-old how to do the breaststroke? It’s remarkable, on a number of levels.
Humbling for the older camper, but strangely motivating. Hey, if this little kid can pull-kick-glide, then I should be able to, as well.
Encouraging for the younger camper, but uniquely challenging. Gosh, I’m better than the big kids at something, but I better take my leadership position seriously.
And, of course, it’s edifying for the staff member. I’ve been teaching this stroke for a decade, and I just learned a new way to explain the rhythm and the breathing.
This weekend, give some thought to how you might juice up your existing program with some non-traditional activities that nurture talents and self-esteem in new and meaningful ways.
Then sit back and watch, next summer, as people show each other what they can do and share how to do it.
Along the way, you’ll be helping them cultivate the one talent set that we all come to camp for: interpersonal skill. Heck, you might even awaken a hidden desire in some of your campers to step up and join your staff when they are old enough.