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The buzz about emotional intelligence and your child

Why consider summer camp for your child? Perhaps you hope to raise another Michelle Kwan or Tiger Woods. Maybe you are desperate for an alternative to a summer of day care, chauffeuring, and video games. There is an even more compelling reason to consider a high-quality summer camp, according to the child development experts at the American Camp Association. This reason, while it has been true for decades, is finally getting the attention it deserves. Children at summer camps are learning vital life skills that will help them grow ? and will make their lives healthier and happier all along the way. It's the new buzz word in educational theory that's been at work in quality summer camps for years: Emotional Intelligence.

Real Challenges Build Resiliency

The best-kept secret in American education is that great camps have been teaching Emotional Intelligence since they began. Besides their long years of practice in this arena, camps have another edge. Because camps are free of the demands of curriculum and academic testing, camp professionals can focus on those intangibles that are part of the Emotional Intelligence cluster.

Children away from home, with new friends and the new challenges of camp can learn much about themselves, their own strengths, and abilities. Perhaps the canoe doesn't head where it should at first, or a cabin-mate is unwilling to be friendly. Away from the familiarity of home and school, campers can test their own perseverance, and, with caring and thoughtful help, build new life skills for themselves. Meeting these challenges brings true self-esteem, the kind that is earned, not empty words. Talking about self-esteem or trying to bolster it in kids does not work without real challenge in safe and supportive communities.

Social skills, too, grow exponentially at camp. A campfire marshmallow roast is an exercise in sharing of sticks and the front row around the campfire. When campers take turns carrying the lunch to the top of the mountain, they learn firsthand how wonderful working together can be. A good counselor will gently remind her young hikers of this lesson, not later, but during the climb, when the message is fresh.

Timing is Everything When Life Lessons Are Involved

Counselors at camp teach archery or pottery or swimming while showing children the value of the varied skills and talents of their friends. And, with no formal "curriculum," a lesson may be "interrupted" for a chat about sharing or about any of the Emotional Intelligence skills when the time is right.

Parents are amazed at the clear progress their campers make during even a relatively short time at camp. Given that Emotional Intelligence is at the very heart of the camp experience, this progress is not surprising. A parent of a ten-year-old boy comments in a camp evaluation: "Living in such close quarters was not without its challenges for Roger, but he is much more able to handle social challenges at school since his return. And he came home just generally a nicer boy in all respects." Another explains: "Of course I am glad my girls had fun and learned some new skills, but their new-found maturity and caring for each other was really what I had hoped would happen."

Teachable Moments at Camp

When children find adult friends at camp who model perseverance, listening, teamwork, and appreciation of differences, they set new and high standards for their own behavior. When they feel appreciated and valued by these friends, they are surer of their ability to live happily away from home. Successful camp summers can help smooth the transition to college in later years.

Camp is a key opportunity for growth, both for children who thrive at school and for those who struggle. Talented students develop their abilities to cooperate and share in a community where they don't worry about grades and academic competition. Children whose school lives are difficult find real rewards in new opportunities to shine. Having a chance to practice being a leader may be a rare experience for them indeed!

At summer camp, children learn from trained and thoughtful counselors. They talk about Emotional Intelligence every day and hone their skills in a safe and nurturing community. Children at camp know firsthand the value of cooperation and teamwork, and they practice listening, sharing, and waiting their turn every day.

Posie Taylor serves as a board member-at-large of the American Camp Association. She is also the executive director emerita of the Aloha Foundation, Inc.

Reprinted from CAMP Magazine by permission of the American Camp Association.

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