It used to be so easy. Mom was home, and kids wanted to play outside, as we only had seven channels on the television (and no central air). Boy, how times have changed. Technological advances have profoundly affected life as we know it, including how we raise our children.

Most families rely on two sources for child rearing, (1) what we as parents teach our children at home and (2) what educators teach our children in school. But there is a third very important arena that many parents do not consider: What is taught to our children when we, the parents, aren’t with them, when they are away from us and away from school, when they are most able and willing to learn. This is where the summer camp experience comes into play!

Problem: Too Much Technology Consumption

Technology is a drug, and we parents are the drug pushers. While parents recognize the inherent issues, the majority of American families do not institute (or uphold) rules to govern their children’s technology consumption. It’s right in front of our eyes — the two-year-old scrolling through mom’s iPhone, kids who can’t ride in a car for more than two minutes without a movie playing or a handheld electronic device, and older children addicted to violent video games. Most parents give their children these technological gadgets thinking that it relaxes them, when in fact they are being greatly stimulated, suppressing their capability to control their emotions (self-regulate). Today’s children are less able to cope with challenging situations, as most lack resiliency and patience. Kindergarten teachers tell us how their students are no longer able to build large-scale projects as they get frustrated and quit.

Parents can’t figure out how to mitigate technology consumption. They may avoid negative interactions since they have so little time with their children to begin with. But when summer comes and school obligations end the opportunity is there for a digital detox in the sun, dirt, and sweat of summer camp — the only place where kids give up their phones, xBoxes, TVs, computers and thank you for it!

In an unplugged environment camp helps children develop emotional self-control, allowing them to find connections within themselves — a vital part of growing up. Camp also provides a unique environment for kids to learn how to share, co-create, and collaborate, developing friendship skills along the way.

Problem: 21st Century Skills NOT Taught in School

“21st Century Skills” are defined as the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to be competitive in the modern day workforce. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (p21.org) is a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., which comprises some of the biggest, most successful businesses in the U.S. The p21 organization researched and compiled a list of the specific skills that these companies seek in their new hires. The answers were not the “3 Rs,” which our schools focus on, but “the 3 Cs”:

1. Critical Thinking & Problem Solving.

2. Creativity & Innovation.

3. Communication & Collaboration.

They also listed the following life skills as most important for their new employees:

• Flexibility & Adaptability.

• Initiative & Self Direction.

• Social & Cross-Cultural Skills.

• Productivity & Accountability.

• Leadership & Responsibility.

Unfortunately the wonderful teachers in our schools focus a major portion of their time on preparation for standardized tests. The newest educational reform uses the term “Depth of Knowledge” (DOK), which measures the process of transferring and applying knowledge to different situations. While this is a step in the right direction, the new Core Curriculum does not measure collaboration, creativity, initiative, leadership, or responsibility — skills taught extensively at summer camp. Teachers who work for me in the summer wish their classrooms could be more like camp. While working at Liberty Lake, they tell me, “THIS is why I became a teacher.”

Solution: Children’s Summer Camp. Below is a typical camp experience, acknowledging 21st century life skills:

• Parents sign up their children for summer camp, children anticipate it for the upcoming months, having inner-conversations, keeping their emotions in check, and imagining what it will be like (self-control, emotional control, self-distraction).

• Children take the bus or get dropped off at camp, breaking free of their parents and embarking on exciting new experiences (independence, initiative, courage, optimism).

• Children become part of a group/bunk at camp, sharing responsibilities and working together, all while being a good person (teamwork, responsibility, accountability, integrity).

• Children participate in activities throughout their day, including swimming, athletics, arts, and adventure. They try new things, listen to staff members, and push themselves and their peers to new heights (aspiration, curiosity, respect, leadership).

• Children experience the ups and downs of making and keeping friendships (integrity, communication, adaptability, patience).

Camp is the ultimate “depth of knowledge” environment for teaching 21st century life skills. We see it every day in the growth of our campers (and staff), and more and more camps are doing the research to actually prove it!

At Liberty Lake we survey campers during their final week of camp, and ask questions based on the growth of the life skills we focus on. When asked last summer how their teamwork skills changed at Camp, 63 percent said they “increased some, I am sure,” and 33 percent said they “increased a lot, I am sure” — 96 percent reported increase!

We also surveyed parents, and 81 percent reported seeing an increase in their children’s teamwork skills at home, an improvement in interpersonal skills, ability to effectively communicate, cooperation, collaboration, leadership, and supporting/helping others. The results were similarly positive for the other character skills measured.

Like a life-skills multi-vitamin, summer camp is supplement for modern society. In a world where parents battle for their children’s attention from video screens, and school teachers focus on teaching for the tests, summer camp provides a unique environment for learning the skills that parents and future employers yearn for — skills of character, skills for life!

Andy Pritikin is the owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp and the president of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, ACA-NYNJ.org.

Liberty Lake Day Camp, 1195 Florence-Columbus Road, Bordentown. 609-499-7820. fun@LibertyLakeDayCamp.com. LibertyLakeDayCamp.com.

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