Teaching The Skills That Children Need To SucceedAugust 27, 2013
This week Scott published an article in Camping Magazine, the nationwide magazine for camping professionals. His essay is a thoughtful and well-researched challenge to summer camp owners and directors to consider shifting their programs’ focus to the life skills that are more important than ever for our children and young adults. We invite you to read this excerpt from Scott’s article, and invite you to leave comments. There’s a link at the bottom of the page to read the full piece.
In his book Homesick and Happy, child psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, describes the dilemma that faces so many of today’s parents. “I have spoken with many parents, who, out of the deepest love for their children, want only to do more — not less — for their children,” says Thompson. “They believe that the more time, energy, attention, and money they can devote to their child, the better” (2012, p. 9). But as Thompson points out, the real challenge is knowing “what” to do for our children: what qualities they will need to be successful in life and fulfilled as human beings and how to “give” them those skills.
What Keeps Parents up at Night?
In truth, as Thompson points out, there are limits to what parents can and should do for their children, and there are several things that most parents want to do for their children but simply cannot. These include making their children happy, giving them self-esteem, giving them friends or managing their friendships, keeping them perfectly safe, and making them independent (Thompson, 2012, pp.10–11).
For many parents, their inability to give their children these things creates stress and worry in their lives. Compounding this are the many other messages that parents are bombarded with each day. Make sure your child is involved in extracurricular activities with some structured activity occupying every afterschool or weekend moment. Get them involved in sports as a toddler so that they don’t miss out on the chance to play on elite teams when they are older. Average isn’t good enough. Ordinary represents a failure of parenting. Look at your neighbor and try to do even better than he or she is doing as a parent.
Everywhere parents look, they are offered competing models of parenting and no end of advice. Most advice centers on an “all of the above” mode of parenting, premised on the idea of childhood as a race — the faster a child develops skills, the better she does on tests, the more she takes on during her out-of-school time, the better she’ll do in life (Tough, 2013). This pressure has led parents to seek out “enrichment” over the benefits of traditional camp programs and to fill their children’s summer with multiple skill-building, specialty experiences. The race to build a child’s resume has extended into the summer space.
Living into Our Mission: Preparing Children for a Changing World
But this view of parenting is rooted in a model of what is, rather than what should be. When asked about the mission of my camps, I respond that our mission is to help children develop the skills that they will need to be successful and fulfilled in life. It is a forward-facing mission, one that requires us to scan the horizon and take account of the changing world and the demands it places on today’s children, youth, and emerging adults. Our vehicle is the camp experience, and our unique opportunity lies in helping children develop the critical skills that they are not likely to acquire at home or in school. We need to fill in the blanks left by today’s parents and today’s schools.
The world is changing and the pace of change is swift. Our K–12 school systems continue to educate our children with the skills of yesterday’s workforce, while today’s workplace requires mastery of a very different set of abilities. When asked, employers of all stripes identify the same set of critical skills that they are seeking in today’s employees — but are in short supply — and will be even more important in tomorrow’s graduates.
There are many different names for these critical skills. In the business world, they are often called 21st-century skills. This framework includes a variety of “applied skills,” which depend upon mastery of core subjects like the three Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) but also include higher-order competencies often involving noncognitive skills. When asked, employers consistently state that communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity — the four Cs (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2013) — are among the most important skills for new hires to possess, and they are in short supply (American Management Association, 2012).