Today’s Camp Kindness Day, conceived by the American Camp Association (ACA) and executed by nearly 15 million kids at more than 14,000 summer camps across America, highlighted fundamental elements of experiential learning at camp: kindness, gratitude, empathy and emotional support.
Working with KindnessEvolution, ACA is attempting to jumpstart a “positive shift” for the country, noting a shared mission for young people “to be nurtured, taught, supported and inspired to grow into our new generation of kind, compassionate, socially-minded, community-oriented citizens” (ACA, 2018).
Marking the day in a blog post, ACA president and chief executive officer Tom Rosenberg stated, “Summer camps offer campers and staff the opportunity to unplug and deeply connect in-person and immersively in child-centered, social-emotional learning communities. At camp, everyone belongs and learns to contribute altruistically in a nurturing, physically and emotionally safe environment where they learn to build caring, trusting, and respectful relationships with individuals who are different from themselves. They become more aware of their own emotions and more adept at sharing their feelings and learning to understand someone else’s experiences and feelings. Living in a kindness-emphasized community, campers and staff develop greater self-esteem and optimism. They learn to practice mindfulness and fully experience joy, relaxation, and happiness. Camps are positive psychology learning ecosystems” (Rosenberg, 2018).
At Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC) in Brewster, Massachusetts, kindness is celebrated in a number of ways. Opening week conversations about “warm fuzzies” platform the type of environment and interaction ACA promotes. Warm fuzzies are reflected in statements (e.g., “Hey, I think you’re really great”), questions (e.g., “Could you use a helping hand?”) and acts (e.g., kind words, a hug or gentle encouragement). Weekly awards of “Wampum” (polished seashells) recognize acts of kindness, and daily “ripples” offer young people the opportunity to publicly thank peers or staff who have helped them.
Of course, each camp likely has its own traditions and ways of motivating youth to be kind.
Kindness, in turn, creates safe communities where sarcasm, fighting and name-calling are not tolerated; where there is laughter that comes from meaningful work and play; where there are rules (made by the people who live there, including the children); and where campers and staff actively listen to each other.
In her 2017 Psychology Today article “The Importance of Kindness,” Karyn Hall, Ph.D., cites Charles Darwin as one who believed that sympathy and caring for others are instinctual. She says, “Current research supports this idea. Science has now shown that devoting resources to others, rather than having more and more for yourself, brings about lasting well-being.” Hall points out that a lot of colleges, including Harvard University, place a premium on kindness when developing criteria for admissions (Hall, 2017).
A flip side to the kindness of others is gratitude for their presence in one’s life.
Shawn Taylor, in the June 2018 article “Gratitude Is a Survival Skill,” published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, says, “Despite using the terms interchangeably, I see thanks and gratitude as different things. A ‘thanks’ is about courtesy. It is acknowledging that someone has done something for you. I also feel like thankfulness is outwardly focused. I experience it as being transactional. Someone assists you, and your thanks is the receipt of that transaction. ‘Gratitude’ is simultaneously inwardly and outwardly focused. You appreciate what’s been done to or for you, you appreciate the person or thing for providing you with the assistance or experience, and you recognize how the thing has made your life better, even if it is just for a moment ...
“How many marginalized and disproportionately impacted people are getting lessons, being trained in gratitude? I don’t see it as a luxury. I see gratitude as a survival skill. The ability to appreciate and to recognize the good and be thankful for it helps to heave off the weight of the things that are determined to hold us back, to hold us down. Being able to look at the world from a place of interconnectedness is powerful. Knowing that your actions and words mean something to someone, that you matter to someone … instills a perspective, a momentum that invites us to participate in the world in a way that emphasizes cooperation and connection. It allows us to re-envision ourselves, re-envision the world, and re-envision our relationship with the world. To use a very clichéd phrase: We’re all we got” (Taylor, 2018).
UC Berkeley also reports, “Research convincingly shows that, when compared to their less grateful peers, grateful youth are happier, more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs, and less envy, depression, and materialism” (GGSC, 2018).
Charlie Nicholas, 15, a teen leader at CCSC and national advisory board member at the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), offered his perspective in a personal journal notation. “Camp is one of the few special places in my life. It is a place where I feel completely content, where people are friendly and kind. At camp, I am almost always in a good mood. That is the result of the positive atmosphere created by friendships we share and the relationships we maintain between campers, counselors, directors and other staff. This atmospheric happiness is achieved not by force but by instinct. When we are disconnected from technology, we become more aware of one another and thus are more empathetic. The happiness found at camp is fostered by the distribution of warm fuzzies.”
Warm fuzzies and kindness at camp equal inimitable teaching moments. As a camp dad recently posted on Facebook, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
ACA. (2018). Camp Kindness Day – July 24, 2018. https://www.acacamps.org/camp-kindness-day (24 July 2018).
GGSC. (2018). The Youth Gratitude Project. Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/major_initiatives/expanding_gratit… (24 July 2018).
Hall, K. (2017). The importance of kindness – being kind can strengthen your relationships and sense of satisfaction in life. Psychology Today. December 4, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importan… (24 July 2018).
KindnessEvolution. (2018). Camp Kindness Day. July 24, 2018. https://www.kindnessevolution.org/ (24 July 2018).
Rosenberg, T. (2018). Celebrating kindness at camp. American Camp Association. https://www.acacamps.org/news-publications/blogs/camp-connection/celebr… (24 July 2018).
Taylor, S. (2018). Gratitude is a survival skill. Greater Good Magazine. June 12, 2018. Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/gratitude_personal_essay (24 July 2018).
Wallace, S. (2016). On grit and gratitude. HuffPost. November 22, 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/on-grit-and-gratitude_us_5833c782e… (24 July 2018).