Friday, April 13, 2012

Building Girls of Character

By Amanda Block, Girl Scouts of Alaska Statewide Camp Director
Even if you’ve never been to camp yourself, we all know that summer camp is amazingly fun.  At Girl Scout camp girls experience new things like cooking over a fire for the first time or going on a 6 day, 30 mile backpack trip.  They make new friends.  They laugh and sing and play.

To an adult, summer camp might seem to be just simple, wholesome fun.   But for girls there is also important work happening – the work of character development. It isn’t just program activities like canoeing, hiking and outdoor cooking that contribute to a camper’s growth.  Often, it is by way of the small, seemingly insignificant happenings that girls gain the most. 

Through free play (like building gnome homes) and helping with camp chores (setting tables in the dining hall and cleaning latrines) girls build character – the type of character vital to future success.   For example, when girls live together at resident camp or spend all day together at day camp, character issues are bound to arise.  How girls handle these situations (with the support of their counselors), is how character is built. 
Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, has narrowed to 7 the list of critical character traits that children need to develop into successful adults.  Our camp programs have always helped girls build four character traits:

·         A sense of wonder/curiosity about the world:  Our natural, inborn fascination with the world that makes us want to explore, learn and discover all we can about it; The delight we take in seeing the wonders of the world revealed to us.

·         Social intelligence: The ability to read other people’s emotions and connect with tem in meaningful ways; Our awareness of others; Knowing when and how to negotiate, collaborate and compromise with others. 

·         Zest/love of life: An exuberance or upbeat feeling about life and the opportunity to witness the wonders of the world; Zest is key to a positive outlook on life.

·         Optimism:  The ability to see the positive opportunity in situations; Optimism is key to self-confidence and a positive outlook on life. 
This summer our camps will focus on further developing the remaining three character traits which experts have determined are the “silver bullets,” which result in children (and adults) having not just happy but meaningful and fulfilling lives:

·         Grit:  The ability to hang in there, to tough it out, persevere and recover from a setback.

·         Self-control:  The ability to regulate feelings and impulses; to recognize and manage them, edit them, not be run by them.

·         Gratitude:  An essential feeling of recognizing and being appreciative of what we have been given; Gratitude is key to a positive outlook on life. 
Imagine the grit it takes a camper to face a 35 foot tall climbing tower for a first time.  Picture the self-control a camper develops when trying to light a fire in the rain.  Consider the gratitude a camper experiences when another camper who is excitedly involved in an activity, stops and offers to be her buddy to the latrine. 
This summer, we will help campers recognize their character by not only pointing out when they express those traits but by consciously reflecting on them.  For example, every camper group will end their day by sharing what they were grateful for during that day. 

As you think about registering your daughter for camp (or come to understand the character she developed while at camp) here are some examples of how campers have expressed their character growth on their end-of-camp evaluations:

“I learned that I can stay strong even when times are hard.”  A 7th grader expressing grit.

“Never juje [judge] somwon [someone].”  A 4th grader expressing self-control and social intelligence.

“I think when our group was the happiest was rock clim[b]ing because we all were cheering each other on and encouraging [each] other to climb higher” A 5th grader expressing gratitude.
At camp, girls experience vital engagement – the type of engagement that allows for deep learning and meaningful relationships.  It also allows for the character development that is essential for children.
 

To register your daughter for camp go to www.girlscoutsalaska.org/programs/camps where you will find the online registration link (and can download the full camp catalog).  If you have questions about summer camp contact Amanda Block at 907-273-0316 or toll free at 800-478-7448.  You can also reach her by email at ablock@girlscoutsalaska.org. 
Amanda Block, Girl Scouts of Alaska Camp Director, is an American Camp Association certified camp director with fifteen years experience working with American Camp Association camps, mostly Girl Scout camps.  Amanda recently completed her Master’s Degree in Camp Administration.