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Summer Camps Offer Kids a Chance to Learn Teamwork

Mar 01, 2017 08:27AM ● Published by Jennifer Monahan

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Gallery: Summer Camps [10 Images] Click any image to expand.

If you’re a kid, summer means lemonade stands, Pirates’ games and splashing through the sprinklers. For lots of young people, summer also means camp. 

Summer camps have much to offer. Campers can meet new people, try new things and dedicate time to things they already love. While such experiences are inherently valuable, parents have yet another reason to consider camp options this summer—camps provide an amazing opportunity to learn teamwork.

Local camp directors agree that the ability to work as part of a team is an essential component of human development. Additionally, teamwork is among the top attributes that employers look for when hiring recent college graduates. Area camp offerings reflect a wide range of opportunities for children to practice teamwork.

“Team-building skills are so important for campers of all ages,” explained Dionne Brelsford, director of programs at Winchester Thurston School. “Learning to empathize, recognize, understand, engage and cooperate with others is a skill that is critical in all stages of life.” 

Winchester Thurston has camps geared toward children ranging from preschool through high school, with an array of themed week-long camps for every imaginable interest. The fictional role-playing camps (Jedi Training, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Superhero and Spy Camp, for example) provide some of the best opportunities for elementary-aged kids to practice team-building skills, according to Stephen Cooper, whose serves as the program’s outdoor education coordinator.

These camps use the team-building model to engage the campers through creative challenges, thought-provoking puzzles and physical obstacles, Cooper said. Everyone has a role in the group’s overall success, and team-building exercises built into the games and activities also help kids build trust and make lasting friendships.

As campers are challenged to accomplish tasks like rescuing the Millennium Falcon from a swamp planet or discovering a magical spell to stop a fire-breathing dragon, they each contribute to solving the problem. 

“As a team, we all succeed or fail as a shared unit,” Brelsford said. “Success is genuine and based on the effort of each individual.”

Teamwork can be learned in a variety of settings. Christie Lawry, executive director of Pittsburgh Ultimate, oversees Camp Spirit of the Game, an ultimate Frisbee camp for kids ages seven to 14.

“A large part of continuing an ultimate Frisbee game is being able to communicate your feelings about a call made on the field,” Lawry explained, adding that when a decision about a rule is made, both sides must agree on the outcome before the game can progress. In order to keep playing, participants must engage in conflict resolution and learn how to communicate their thoughts in a way that moves the discussion—and the game—forward.

Camp Spirit of the Game runs in week-long sessions and is open to campers of all skill levels. Each day of the camp focuses on a different value, including integrity, respect, teamwork, dedication and enthusiasm. Counselors talk with campers about what each value means in the game and how it applies to their lives, guiding campers to recognize and celebrate each other for demonstrating those values.

Being part of such an experience helps children improve their team-building skills in other activities as well, Lawry said. One of her goals is that children learn to apply these skills in all areas—at school, in athletics, in other activities and in play.

Sewickley Academy offers a range of summer experiences for individuals ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade. With a host of creative arts and challenging academic programs, the school also offers sports camps taught by Sewickley Academy faculty and partners. Its summer basketball camps provide a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn teamwork, according to Athletic Director Win Palmer. 

“The camp experience is fantastic because so many things today are focused on individual goal-setting and individual achievement,” Palmer explained. “Adults live in a professional world where teamwork is required. It’s essential to teach kids that skill.”

Basketball camp teaches both the high school counselors—members of Sewickley Academy’s boys' and girls' varsity basketball program—and campers about teamwork. “For the high school students, the camp provides a chance to be role models and leaders, but also demands that they learn how to lead teams effectively,” said Palmer.

The adult coaching staff teaches fundamental athletic skills, while high school counselors assist and serve as team leaders. The counselors soon realize that they cannot just focus on the better players, Palmer said, because everyone on the team needs to have a role. The high school students have to figure out what talents each player has and how the team can benefit from those talents.

The campers themselves learn to be part of the team. Counselors model face-to-face communication (no electronics are allowed during camp) and have a gathering at the end of each day where individual campers are recognized for their efforts and contributions to the team. According to Palmer, the high school students’ games also improve tremendously because through the camp experience they realize the importance that each member of a team has—that being a good communicator or the person who can read and react to the action on the court are valuable contributions beyond just scoring points.

By its very nature, camp is about team-building, according to Jaye Beatty, who has been part of Jumonville Christian Camp & Retreat Center since 1981. 

“Camp is a temporary community,” Beatty explained. “That community can have life-changing effects because it provides a safe place to be yourself and to become something more.”

Jumonville truly offers a camp for every need, from adventure camps to athletic or creative arts camps, recreational (think fishing or playing games) to family camps. Jumonville has programs for campers with special needs and mini-camps for people seeking a more condensed experience.

While Jumonville’s adventure camps focus specifically on team-building activities that foster cooperation, problem-solving, leadership and communication skills, Beatty explained that all of their camps help individuals learn to be part of a team. 

“People from different backgrounds and socio-economic classes join together for a week. They eat meals together. They share experiences and become a community. Each camp fosters physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health through being part of those communities,” Beatty said.

With so many different kinds of camp experiences from which to choose, it is likely that parents will be able to find a good fit for the individual needs and interests of their children. Gaining valuable life skills is just icing on the cake.

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