Many of us have just returned from the American Camp Association National Conference in Dallas, and I want to share a little of what we learned. The theme of the conference was “Camp: Learning for Life” and we heard over and over again the same message: The skills that children need in order to succeed in the 21st century are not the cognitive skills that are measured by standardized tests in the classroom; they are character skills like enthusiasm, perseverance, empathy, optimism, and self-control. These skills are the best predictors of happy, healthy adulthood.
We heard psychologist Madeline Levine, author of the 2012 best-selling book “Teach Your Children Well”, tell us that children do not gain self-esteem when adults tell them they are smart or talented; they gain self-esteem only from true accomplishment—from riding the horse or climbing the mountain, or successfully making friends in an environment away from home—an environment like camp.
We listened to Mawi Asgedom, who came to the United States as a refugee from Ethiopia, graduated at the top of his class at Harvard, and has dedicated his life to helping young people set and achieve their goals. His message again stressed that our society has placed too much emphasis on grades and academic achievement, and that what young people need are social and emotional skills like networking, creativity, and ability to problem solve.
Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character”, has climbed to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and his title says it all. He spoke about his research and also about the power of adult mentors to help young people gain success—adult mentors like those found in camps.
And, finally, we heard from Dr. Gary Krahn, the Head of Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, about the importance of taking kids outdoors and getting them out of the classroom and into the natural world.
Of course, all of this was music to our ears, and we came away from the conference both affirmed in the critical education we are providing at Big Spring and High Trails, and inspired to do it better. As most of you alums will realize from your time at camp, these are not new concepts at Sanborn. In fact, building a place where children could learn the social and emotional skills critical for successful adulthood, was a foundational principle for Sandy and Laura. And we are still doing it today.
All the research and evidence is pointing in one direction: The camp experience plays a more vital role in each child’s educational journey today than ever before. We are committed to helping children and young adults learn for life.