One of my favorite traditions at camp is having campers make their own rules and consequences. 

We want our campers to take responsibility for their cabins and their behavior.  Youth development experts believe that letting children participate in their communities increases their citizenship and also enhances their Executive Function (their ability to plan ahead and control behavior).

With this in mind, we arm every cabin with a poster board and pens and they create their own rules.  The counselors are merely the facilitator and lets the campers take the lead.  Of course, the counselor may offer a suggestion occasionally.  For example, a counselor might ask, “What do you think about gossiping/name-calling?”

You wonder at times if these efforts really make a difference. 

Between first and second session, we got an answer.

One of our camp moms send a text to us reporting that her daughter had suggested a series of rules for their upcoming roadtrip. They would have mom, dad, camper and two siblings in the car.  The 11 year-old camper created this Rules of Trip. 

They were thoughtful, even elegant:

  1. Be kind
  2. Participate
  3. Be inclusive
  4. Nothing but awesomeness
  5. Apply sunscreen and bug spray
  6. Be flexible
  7. Respect other people’s stuff
  8. Treat others the way you want to be treated
  9. Make great memories and great friends
  10. Have fun!

You have to smile when you see something like this.

[Warning – this blog is going to get a little more academic for a bit.  Please forgive me. My lovely bride says that my Camp Geek side is showing.  As usual, she is right.]

One of the growing areas of interest for developmental psychologists is “learning for transfer”.  The idea of transfer is simple, but it is actually a rare phenomenon.  In essence, learning for transfer means taking a lesson from one area and applying it to another. Sometimes, this is harder than you would think.  A person the becomes a great tennis player through hard work and determination might not believe that she could also learn softball or volleyball the same way. A good math student might struggle with the math in physics, because he thinks he is “only good at math and not science”.

In the book “How Children Succeed”, Paul Tough talks a great deal about the importance of “grit” for success in college. In fact, grit is a better predictor of college success than IQ or SAT tests.  This work, led by Angela Duckworth, has led to many schools and organizations to find ways to teach grittiness.

I had a chance to speak with Paul Tough about how to teach grit. I asked him to recommend someone to help us do some research.  He did not hesitate, “The person you want is Dr. David Yeager. He was at Stanford, but he just moved to the University of Texas.  He will be perfect.’

We arranged a meeting with Dr. Yeager and learned that he is a great guy and a believer in summer camp. 

He also told us that we might be asking the wrong question.  He said the problem with many of the young people who do not complete college is not a lack of grit – it is a lack of transfer of grit.  A young person might be gritty on a sports field and in the neighborhood, but she might doubt that she can also be gritty away from home.

I suggested that camp might be a great place to foster not only grit, but also grit transfer.

From summer of 2103 through the spring of this year, we conducted experiments with KIPP San Antonio to see if one week of camp could impact grit and transfer.  We hope to have results in the next few weeks.

But the “Rules for Trip” seem to be an indication that our camper managed to transfer her cabin rule creation to a family trip. A cabin in Texas is not a lot like a car driving north, but she managed to bring the ideas she learned from camp about independence and responsibility from that camp to her home.  Her mom was thrilled.

So are we.


Steve Sir


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