Non-Cognitive Skills at Summer Camp

Last year, a journalist named Paul Tough wrote a book called “How Children Succeed” that became a bestseller (rare for books about education) and a national phenomenon. The book focuses on a simple question: “what are the skills that children need to be successful, particularly in college?”

Tough summarizes the best current research in Education, Cognitive Development, Developmental Psychology and Youth Development. The conclusion of the research was unexpected and remarkable and is as follows:

We, as a society, have placed too much emphasis on the “cognitive theory” that holds that success in college is a function of IQ, academic skills and SAT scores. These measurements have some relationship to collegiate success, but not as much as certain “non-cognitive skills”, including grit, self-control, optimism and gratitude. Tough also calls these “character skills”.

In short, a student with self-control, grit and optimism is more likely to graduate from college than a student with high IQ or top SAT scores.

The research is essentially indisputable and leads us to a tricky question: if these are the most important skills, then how do we foster them in our children?

The good news is that these “character skills” are, in fact, skills and not inherited attributes. Children can develop grit, learn self-control and cultivate optimism.

Our traditional education system, however, is not designed to produce these outcomes. While great teachers can help with some of these skills, teachers are limited. They only get a few hours a week with students. More importantly, they are evaluated on how they teach specific knowledge (math and reading) and not on character. Typically, we manage what we measure. As a result, schools spend most of their time and effort on academic skills and not on character skills.

Camp Champions, on the other hand, strives to focus on character skills 16 hours a day. In fact, it is our passion to hire extraordinary role models and have them model resilience, love, optimism, gratitude, self-control and other valuable character skills. We focus on the “4 Rs” of Responsibility, Respect, Reaching Out, and Reasonable Risks.

I have had several conversations with Paul Tough about camp and character. He has led me to some of the researchers that he encountered doing his research. We are talking with them about ways to make Camp Champions the most effective camp in the nation in teaching and growing character in our campers!

Steve Sir, The Camp Geek