We all want our children to be happy, confident, successful, and compassionate. Yet often we fail to realize that all of these things are linked by mastery of one underlying skill: the ability to form productive relationships with others.
As Christine Carter of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center put it in her article, “Happiness is being social connected”:
The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.
Famed author Malcolm Gladwell has made similar observations, noting in his book Outliers that even the most intelligent people tend to lose out on happiness and success if they cannot properly connect with and communicate with others.
One of the truly great things about camp is that it allows kids to hone their interpersonal skills by forcing them into situations in which they’ll have to work with and learn from their peers. This occurs not just on the athletic field, but through various team-building exercises and special events.
As a camp owner and director, I’ve felt it especially important to place particular emphasis on this key aspect of camp. Each summer my staff and I devote countless hours to planning and directing activities that will teach kids how to harmonize their skills and act in unison. Without fail, these events prove to be camper and parent favorites, as they not only challenge and entertain, but also build an incredibly high level of camaraderie. We do scavenger hunts, counselor makeovers, inter-group play, and games which involve a high degree of group coordination, such as keeping a balloon in the air or propelling a simple vehicle. The kids are so busy having a ton of fun that they don’t realize that they’re also developing important skills that will help them later in life.
One of our most popular events, year after year, is our weekly Group Performance Skits. Each Friday groups compete to outdo one another on stage, singing, dancing, eliciting laughs, and displaying their collective talents. Both staff and campers get very into this, and I wind up fielding several calls throughout the week from parents wanting to know what that week’s theme is.
Why do kids love this event so much? While there are some hilarious and truly spectacular moments, the truth is that it’s really about just one word: together. The planning and energy that go into each week’s performance leads kids to engage with one another and share a sense of interdependence. They feel empowered: working together tells them that they belong and gives them the opportunity to feed off the ideas and abilities of their fellow campers. It also teaches them to overcome obstacles as a group and to value the contributions of others.
We call Camp W “the place where friendships are made,” and we mean it. We work very hard each year to make sure that every single kid at camp makes friends. But the magic ingredient that helps those bonds form is teamwork. By teaching kids to work together, we’re not just helping them make friends, we believe, but showing them a path that will ultimately improve their characters and their lives.
By Evan Wofsy