The Psychology Of Programming

Every person on the planet usually knows what he or she does. This seems to be the easy part; it’s in the manual.

It’s not enough to know how to shoot the arrow; it’s important to know why. Courtesy Of Sasamat Outdoor Centre

But how about an honest and often unasked question: Why do they do what they do? Why do they get up in the morning? And when thinking about your own camp, why does your organization exist?

Over the last 15 years, the children’s-camp industry has been in a state of change. The end point is not entirely clear, and for many camps even the need for change itself hasn’t been recognized. But what’s happening is fundamentally at the industry’s core.

Whether adventure-based, faith-based, or with a focus on special needs or leadership, the transformation is one of intention–from knowing what we do, to an understanding of why we do it.

This tectonic shift is affecting programming and the culture, and it is re-shaping the very idea of what camping can and should be doing for children, adolescents, and communities.

In the 1970s and ’80s, summer camps were focused on two approaches: 1) activity for an activity’s sake–for the immediate, intrinsic benefits (fun and laughter, physical challenge, etc.); and 2) teaching a skill–imparting a technical set of knowledge with which a child will be able to leave camp (how to build a fire, carve a stick, fire a bow and arrow, paddle a canoe).

In terms of what and why, the structure looked like this:

What do we do? Teach fire-building.

How do we do it? Give kids matches and teach them about sparks and kindling.

Why? It is a good skill to have.

As professionals in the industry, we operate now in a generation of camp that emphasizes fewer “skills” and more “experiences.” It is not enough these days (and thankfully so) to design and facilitate a program without contemplating its emotional intention, along with its intrinsic risks and benefits.

So the current structure looks more like this:

What do we do? We build confidence in a child’s abilities.

How do we do it? By fire-building.

Why? Confidence in one’s abilities is a transferable skill.  At home, a child begins to think, “Well, if I can do that, then I can probably do this too …”

Programs are being implemented based on the emotional or spiritual element they target, and facilitated based on how best the participants can be emotionally supported in their challenge.

In the summer of 2013, if you’re not considering your operations in this way already, I implore you to, because the plates are shifting.

Personally, this is why I do what I do: I believe those within the children’s-camp industry are in the best position of any organization to impact the way children view themselves, consider the world, and shape the way they operate within it.

Fostering a connection between children and nature is vital, particularly for a generation of youth that is losing that connection. My intention is to use nature as a tool to build the necessary emotional skills for a happy, successful life: self-confidence, empathy, patience, and communication.

Each of you has your own specific site and program intentions, with a unique reflection:

“Why does my organization exist?”

“Why do I offer this program?”

“Does it further the organization and/or my intentions?”

If the answer to the last question is no, here’s how to ensure that it does.

An adult’s ability to register and comprehend complex information is based on the success at which he or she was able to build a base of practical experience as a child.

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