By Andy Pritikin
We hear it all the time — “What’s with these young people? They can’t focus, can’t communicate, they’re entitled, self-centered, constantly staring at their screens!” Well folks, this is the generation we have fostered. Technology snuck up on us, we gave them all participation trophies, and now we have to work alongside of them for the rest of our lives. But today’s parents are generally better at understanding what is lacking in their children’s development and are prioritizing differently for the children we are raising now.
For the past 150 years our educational system has focused on “the 3 Rs,” hard skills, memorizing dates, formulas, and vocab words, while in the 21st century the world suddenly changed. All of a sudden, millions of jobs have become antiquated and disappeared. To paraphrase the Global Markets Institute, as automation became cost-effective, the bulk of the workforce has shifted from “doing” the work (hard skills) to organizing, coordinating, and supervising the increasingly complex resources behind it (soft skills). While there are currently an estimated 7.4 million unemployed workers, there are 5.6 million job openings. That’s a huge skills gap, and according to employers, it’s not the hard skills that are the problem; it’s the lack of soft skills of the entering workforce.
According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (p21.org), which comprises Fortune 500 business leaders and progressive educators, the top skills sought by today’s employers are:
1. Oral Communication (great texters and tweeters, but not great face-to-face)
2. Teamwork & Collaboration (great on their own, not so much when working with others)
3. Professionalism & Work Ethic (personal satisfaction reigns supreme — YOLO!)
4. Written Communication (most of today’s teachers have literally given up)
5. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving (Parents micro-manage their children to the point in which they can’t do things for themselves)
Add to this picture that 30 percent of students entering four-year college programs drop out after their first year, and only 56 percent graduate within six years. Why is this? Besides financial burdens, see the big five p21 skills above that our kids are lacking, especially #5 when Mommy or Daddy aren’t around to fix their problems!
So where can we help young people find these skills? Schools are focused on standardized tests; families run their children from obligation to obligation, plus homework, and the allure of xBox, YouTube, Instagram, and the DVR. Where can children experience a “Step Back in Time” to a more care-free environment like we experienced as kids, unencumbered by technology, where people interact by actually speaking to one another, face-to-face, outside among nature, in a supportive environment that fosters the development of skills that employers are looking for in the 21st century, away from their over-loving and ever-hovering parents? At summer camp!
Summer camps have existed for more than 100 years but have become more important for the development of children than ever before. Children work together in groups, led by energized staff who lead by example, forced to communicate and compromise with one another, conquering their fears, pushing beyond perceived limits, making and keeping friendships, and learning an abundance of new skills (hard and soft).
The American Camp Association estimates that 11 million children attend summer camp annually, which leaves another 30 million who do not. Why is this? What holds back the uninitiated parent from enrolling their children to camp? After growing a successful program in an area with no prior culture of camp, I present to you my top three excuses:
1. “Too much money.” Of course, this is a perceived belief, as there are camps in all price ranges, and if the camp experience was valued as much as “camp people” attest (priceless), these families could stay at a smaller hotel at Disney, or make other choices to give their children a summer camp experience. Many adults say that they learned more about life at camp than they did at college, at a fraction of the price!
2. “I just want my kids to relax during the summer.” As they should, and boredom (without screens) is an important component of growth. After a couple of days immersed in a quality camp program, though, children find it very relaxing and enjoyable. They can play video games, stare at their phones, and sleep late in the time they will still have at home.
3. “I want to spend time with my children.” That’s wonderful, but will you be providing meaningful opportunities that teach your children important character and life skills this summer, or just entertaining them? Camp can do both!
At summer camp, children take advantage of the unique “out of school learning environment” that is able to teach the vital life skills that traditional schools can not — kkills that allow children to grow into happy, successful, contributing members of society. In a world today that often seems to de-value virtues like kindness and acceptance, camps create a culture that makes it cool to be kind. As parents, we do our best to provide a strong foundation for our children in our homes, like nutrient-rich soil for our little seedlings. Summer camp provides an environment for our little flowers to flourish and bloom, outside in the fresh air and sunshine of the summer!
Andy Pritikin is the owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, NJ, founding partner of Everwood Day Camp in Sharon, MA, and President of the American Camp Association NY/NJ. firstname.lastname@example.org, www.LibertyLakeDayCamp.com
Liberty Lake Day Camp, 195 Florence-Columbus Road, Bordentown 08505. 609-499-7820 www.libertylakedaycamp.com.