After twenty-five years running camps together, Ann and I have started to ask ourselves whether we would rather watch our children grow, or help our children grow, because sometimes, at the most important moments, we cannot do both.
We recently sent out a parent survey, and we learned a few things. One is that camps need to do a better job explaining their awards ceremonies. Every camp does this differently, but almost all have this one thing in common: the most important growth, recognition and awards happen when parents are not there. Season-end awards tend to be superlatives: Most Outstanding, Most Improved, Honor Camper, etc., and of course these are the ones that parents are most likely to see. But great programs are aimed less at final awards and more at each camper’s trajectory of growth.
Multiple studies reported by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. (Growth Mindset) show that children develop more resiliency when they try hard, fail and continue trying, than those who easily achieve the award or goal. A 2011 study demonstrated increased brain activity with students who struggle through a problem. Others show that more effort produces more myelin, greasing the skids for growth by changing the brain itself. As a result Dweck prescribes, “praising the process” rather than the success.
Every great camp does this differently. We do it through our White Feather and Little Chief programs. These are weekly gatherings where we award pins and promotions based on growth in skills, chosen challenges and character. The idea is to recognize small steps that lead to big growth. These ceremonies do not recognize every camper, but they do recognize every type of camper. The every camper part happens later that night when a counselor sits by each boy’s bed and describes in detail his strengths and witnessed growth.
So how can you tell from a closing ceremony whether this is happening at your camp? Stop watching the boy receiving the award and start watching the pride of everyone else. They are proud because they know how hard he worked, and they are proud because they are best friends, and they are proud because they are growing too.
So parents, you may miss the best part – but your campers never do!