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The 21st Century Skills You Gain Learning To Swim At Summer Camp

Over the past few months I have been profiling some of our very talented coaches and teachers at our summer camp in New Hampshire. Our staff do an incredible job simultaneously teaching both the hard skills — like how to swim the front crawl, throw a fast ball or build your own furniture in our wood shop — and vital non-cognitive soft skills like adaptability, critical thinking, and resilience. To understand our summer camp you really need to understand how they foster such incredible outcomes. If you missed any of them, here are some of the more recent staff profiles:


Caitlin (in the middle) and some of her 2014 Evergreen waterfront team

This week I am pleased to introduce you to Caitlin Cochrane, the Director of our Evergreen Waterfront. Caitlin has been a part of the K&E family for many years, and teaches swimming year-round to child and young adults in New Hampshire. She also got engaged this week to James Manigley, Kenwood and Evergreen’s long-time music director! They met at Camp 4 years ago, and are an amazing couple. We are so happy for them! 

On the waterfronts at Kenwood and Evergreen, we love to take a different approach to teaching traditional swimming skills. If it’s a water aerobics class, a lake swim or a fun relay, we always make sure to simultaneously be teaching at least one of the 21st century skills our camp focuses on. Sometimes it’s learn to adapt your technique to swim more efficiently, while other times its emphasizing the grit or resilience you need to master a skill. This has become somewhat second nature for me because I really do believe that these skills are necessary to succeed in any situation. After learning these skills during my first summer at Camp (and how important they are for life) I’ve continued to include them in any lesson plan I am creating. They are now a staple in my regular swim lessons throughout the year!


Let me walk you through a standard day at Camp on the waterfront. Start by imagining the warm sun shining on our beautiful lake. Our entire community loves being at the water. During General Swim (fondly known as G-Swim or Free Swim) the campers have the opportunity to relax and have fun swimming. They can fish, they can take out a canoe or kayak, they can go off our 28-ft tall waterslide. Little do these campers know that even in this unstructured time they are still acquiring 21st century skills. When they first come to the waterfront they need to find a swimming buddy for safety. This typically involves communication, collaboration, and some healthy negotiation amongst the campers. When we have a buddy check to make sure everyone is accounted for the campers are required to use effective communication, not only to find their buddy but to let the lifeguards know that they are both present. At the waterfront communication is probably one of the most important non-cognitive skills that we use, and the campers really take it seriously, which keeps everyone safe!


Riding, and falling off, the Kenwood and Evergreen Rockit!

Now I must mention our famous Rockit ride. It sits in the middle of the lake and a lucky group of campers gets to venture out every activity period to try it. The rocket is one of my favorite examples of how our campers experience life at K&E as fun and exciting (just like a typical traditional camp), while also gaining these important life skills. In order for all 4 of the campers to get onto the rockit successfully, they must use an extreme amount of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication! If they don’t, they end up tipping it so that they all tumble back into the water. Either way, the laughter and giggling can be heard all the way on the beach. It is so satisfying to see them finally figure out the trick to getting everyone on the rockit. They are always so excited, but they have also experienced another K&E moment of working (and maybe struggling) through a task, and then succeeding. As lifeguards we do occasionally give a hint or helpful nudge in the right direction, but I’ve also seen a group of Freshmen girls figure it out in under 2 minutes. Very impressive!

Not everyone wants to use their free time at the lake to swim or boat. Sandcastle building and group relay races are extremely popular on our beaches. Even in this simple activities my waterfront counselors know that these are important opportunities to help the kids work on their non-cognitive skill development. We encourage the campers to think creativity, and it’s lead to some very unique sandcastles! Our campers become so adept at collaborating with one another to find the best ideas possible, while they communicate about who is going to consturct which part of the castle. I’ve even seen some excellent problem solving techniques when part of the castle falls down. It’s truly amazing to see these children take the tools you give them and use them successfully!

In the afternoon campers head back to the waterfront for Instructional Swim (known as I-Swim). The ratio of campers to swim instructors is small enough that we are able to split the campers into groups of 12-15 campers who are all on the same swim skill level. Because of the small group size the campers pay more attention, have more fun and more easily develop their hard and soft skills! During our lessons my staff and I always try to incorporate different teaching modes, which *hopefully* keeps the lessons more interesting and enables them to pay more attention. Eventually it almost seems like they anticipate what my next move will be.

I’ve found that with the ages of the campers at K&E it is much more beneficial for them to have the knowledge of what they’re learning and WHY they are learning it. It is fantastic when they realize that the drill or game I taught them in the last lesson leads into the kick they are learning in the current lesson. 

Incorporating the outcome of teaching 21st century skills into swim lessons has made it easier for me and the other instructors to help our campers both grow as swimmers, and as people. Skills like effectively communicating, creativity problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration are clearly necessary to succeed in school or business, but by teaching children to master them I also find that they learn their technical skills faster as well. Integrating these skills into my lessons has made me a better swim instructor. I love that our campers learn so much, and take such pride in their swimming abilities at the end of each summer!

Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a 7-week brother-sister summer camp in NH. During incredibly fun summers we teach 21st century skills like resilience, collaboration, critical thinking and effective communication to children who will be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. 

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