This summer marks the 130th anniversary of organized camping in Canada. Founded by the YMCA, the first overnight camp – Big Cove YMCA Camp (NS) – began operating in 1889; and since it’s inception, organized camping has grown into a dynamic industry across Canada.
Overnight camps are often thought of as rustic places where youth go to have fun in the sun, develop skills in swimming, canoeing, and outdoor living, at semi-wilderness settings away from urban life. While those skills are important in camp life, the camp experience has been instrumental in developing of ‘life skills’ and ‘learning skills’ in young people. This skill acquisition has been prevalent in the teen leadership training programs and seasonal camp employment experiences.
Today, overnight camps are more relevant than ever preparing youth for both school and career success. In particular, the nurturing of 21st Century skills.
21st Century skills are 12 abilities that today’s students need to succeed in their careers during the Information Age. These skills, best developed early and mastered over time, are essential for the next generation entering the workforce. Senior camp managers play a significant role in the early adopting of these 12 abilities by purposefully delivering leadership development curriculum.
The 21st Century skills for Life, Learning and Literacy
- Critical thinking
- Social skills
- Information literacy
- Media literacy
- Technology literacy
Life skills are skills pertaining to someone’s personal life, but they also flow into career or professional settings. We have often see young leaders develop these at camp due to the nature of a camp’s communal environment where youth while leading youth, take on complex responsibilities of daily program delivery, expeditions, and navigating a myriad of interpersonal and group challenges.
- Flexibility: Deviating from plans and programs as needed
- Leadership: Motivating a team or group to accomplish a goal
- Initiative: Starting programs, projects, strategies, and plans on one’s own
- Productivity: Maintaining efficiency in an age of distractions
- Social skills: Meeting and networking with others for mutual benefit
The second set of skills are the most popular 21st Century skills. commonly called learning skills. Educators know about these skills because they’re universal needs for any career. They also vary in terms of importance, depending on an individual’s career aspirations or choices; similarly required with roles leaders may play at camp.
Camping professionals see these skills applied to safely executing expedition travel, engaging in adventure team challenges, and working collaboratively across age groups and abilities to deliver an enriched camp experience to all attending campers.
- Critical thinking: Finding solutions to problems, like in expedition travel or climbing an adventure course
- Creativity: Thinking outside the box like creating or adapting programs to changing interests of campers
- Collaboration: Working with others to plan programs, charting routes for canoe trips or co-counselling groups of campers
- Communication: Talking to others, like debriefing adventure trips, resolving interpersonal group conflicts or compromising on common goals or sharing experiences in cabin groups.
While camps have not yet faced the digital disruption like the education and business sectors, they will need to adapt to our Information Age as the next generation of tech-savvy youth attend camp.
Literacy skills, each concerned with a different element in digital comprehension, are the third category of 21st Century skills.
- Information literacy: Understanding facts, figures, statistics, and data
- Media literacy: Understanding the methods and outlets in which information is published
- Technology literacy: Understanding the machines that make the Information Age possible
For more than a century camps have remained relevant by adapting their operations, facilities, programs and staff competencies to respond to the interests and needs of youth. I am confident that camps will continue to be special places for youth to learn and grow in this Information Age, while creating leaders of tomorrow to shape our global world.
Keith Publicover is a Charity Impact and Nonprofit Management Consultant with a career speciality in youth camping, outdoor and environmental education centre management.