The Psychology Of Programming

If the intention at camp is to build trust, for example, leaders need to ensure that the right activity for the right age group is chosen. The information gleaned from experience and how a child feels towards himself or herself and others is registered through different experiences at different ages.

David Sobel, author of Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, describes the various stages of cognitive development:

Stage One–Ages 4 to 7: The Becoming stage is characterized by a child’s inability to differentiate between the self and the other. Empathy plays a central role as a child wants to be the animals as opposed to watching them–to fly like birds, run like rabbits, hunt like foxes, dig holes, play with bugs, and get dirty.

Obstacle/Challenge: An extremely small comfort zone; needs are great.

Goal: To design a program that encourages a sense of wonder and allows a child to “become,” rather than “objectify.”

Activity Examples: Hunting for fairies, building cardboard wings, watching insects, searching for worms.

Stage Two–Ages 8 to 11: The Explorative Years are characterized by a child’s innate desire to explore the periphery and the natural landscape. A child in this age bracket is beginning to understand how the laws of nature work. He or she wants to be challenged, to be engaged by exploration, and to be encouraged by achievement to discover, build, test, demolish, and rebuild.

Obstacle/Challenge: Difficulties are often literal and physical, i.e. bullying.

Goal: To design a program that encourages safe exploration of landscape and builds social relationships.

Activity Examples: Fort construction, raft races, creek exploration, crayfish hunts, tree climbing, camouflage, and hide-and-seek games.

Stage Three–Ages 12 to 14: Social Action is characterized by a child’s abandoning the explored, discovered spaces of middle-childhood and coming into communal spaces (i.e., parks, hallways, the mall, coffee shops, diners). There is a desire for intellectual stimulation through problem-solving, socializing, working through complex challenges, reflecting, and gauging one’s comfort zone. This is a time of self-discovery.

Obstacle/Challenge: Emotional, social, and spiritual.

Goal: To create opportunities in which social relationships can be built upon and tested in a positive way through exploration of self and one’s strengths in relation to others.

Activity Examples: Starting a recycling or creek clean-up program, directing a play, tackling a high ropes course, leading games and campfire songs.

The success of our intentions depends on our ability to know the characterization of the age groups we’re working with and understand how children take in and register information. The scope of our programs should reflect these differences, allowing participants to confront obstacles directly.

If we can do that, we’ll see campers who are not only engaged, but return year after year because they never learned to grow as much or as well as they did at our camp. Our job as facilitators should be to create opportunities for growth at all ages, and we cannot do this without first understanding why.

Calder S. Cheverie is the summer camp and outdoor education director at Sasamat Outdoor Centre in Belcarra, British Columbia, Canada. Reach him at

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Related posts:

  1. Giving Programming a Chance
  2. Top Programming Ideas 2006
  3. Top Programming Ideas 2003
  4. Top Programming Ideas 2004
  5. Top Programming Ideas 2005

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