Very Happy Campers | Teaching Independence and ResponsibilityJuly 4, 2014
Our bunks of very happy campers create unique social contracts to identify the behaviors that are important to them for group living
Being a happy camper doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a lot of intentionally. Living successfully with other people requires compromise, flexibility, and patience. These are life skills that we teach every day at our summer camp in NH. One of the ways that we do this is by asking our campers and staff to work together each summer to create “social contracts”. Rather than dictating the rules that we expect them to live by, we asked each cabin to spend an hour or so within their first day at Camp to have a discussion that was guided by their counselors. They talked about the ways that they want to be treated this summer, along with the ways that they don’t. They also discussed their individual pet peaves and quirks, so that as a group they could make a good plan for living together. Amongst other things, it’s a really good way to help the whole bunk learn about each other and bond.
The counselors also asked their campers to define what it means to be a member of the K&E community. After achieving consensus about the goals of our community, and the rules for the cabin, they wrote everything down on large pieces of poster board that are now hanging in their bunks. At the end of the discussion, to signify everyone’s commitment to trying to live the values of our community, each member of the bunk (including the counselors) signed the document.
Throughout the summer, when conflicts arise or campers push each other’s buttons, the counselors (and even other campers) will refer back to these documents. Because of their involvement in crafting the social contracts most of our campers feel a much greater sense of connection to the rules they need to live by at Camp. We are so proud of how well our campers are able to collaborate on this important discussion of our shared values! Take a look at some of the social contracts that they created!
We also know that this is the first taste of independence for many of our campers. While they may have come with the right sports equipment, stationary, and bedding, taking care of themselves presents many new and important challenges. Our goal is to not just have them make friends and enjoy their activities, but to teach them the independent living skills that they will need for the rest of their lives.
So in our cabins, next to the social contracts, are friendly signs, charts and reminders help our campers navigate their summer away from home. These freshmen boys worked with their counselors to define exactly what they will need to bring with them to every activity this summer…since their moms and dads won’t be around to remind them that they’ll need shin guards, cleats AND socks for soccer practice, or that a wet bathing suit won’t dry itself while lying on the floor.
In all of our younger camper cabins there are charts tracking how often our kids are showering, while also reminding them to put on sunscreen and bug spray before they head out to activities. These visual reminders go a long way towards reinforcing some of our most important outcomes and life skills, including independence, responsibility, collaboration, flexibility, and adaptabilty. They also teach our campers how to be more independent more quickly, which helps them take what they learn here and apply to their home lives.