At Camp, Failure Leads To Success

Posted by Caroline Crawford on Nov 19, 2014 5:12:00 PM
Words are powerful. Words define us. We are labeled by words. In school, children want to be smart. How do we define smart? In sports, children want to be winners. How do we define winners? In school and sports, these words are clearly defined. A child is smart if they make the grades and a child is a winner if they win the game. If a child does not win the game or make the grades, does that make them a failure?

Currently, our society is obsessed with perfectionism. Every child needs to be an incredible student, athlete, dancer, and musician. This can be extremely demanding on the psyche of a child. The need to be perfect can cause a child to question their self-worth and doubt their self-concept. More and more children fear failure, even fearing the word failure.

Failure has a negative connotation, but camp can change that. Unlike school or sports, camp does not clearly define what being smart is or what a winner looks like. At camp, children learn that to fail can be a positive experience. They learn that to fail is normal. They learn to be resilient. If a campers fall while trying to learn to water ski, they learn to get back up and try again. And to fail again. And to try again. There is no limit on their determination. They will not get a red F on a test or a big bright scoreboard shining down their defeat. At summer camp, we teach children that failure leads to success. Failure is not a moment of defeat, but a moment to grow!


Our hope in camping is that every one of our campers gains a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, Ph. D, defines two types of mindsets in her research - a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that a personal characteristic is static. The child is smart (or isn't). The child is athletic (or isn't). These fixed character traits can harm a child’s development by trapping them in defining their success based on one thing and by avoiding challenges that may prove otherwise. In contrast, a child with a growth mindset believes that characteristics can be developed. A child applied himself and studied hard for that test, instead of being smart, or a child practiced her basketball skills and therefore performed well, instead of being athletic. Children who believe that they can grow have a desire to learn, practice, and even fail, as long as they get the chance to try again.

Last summer, I witnessed two nine-year-old girls giving each other high fives at the climbing wall. I asked them what their high fives were all about. One girl quickly responded, “I tried to climb the wall, but I failed!” I was taken aback by her enthusiasm. The other little girl said, “But, you tried! And we get to come back to the wall in two days!” They changed the connotation of the word fail. They made into something that leads to another opportunity to try again. I was so impressed with these two campers and the counselors who helped frame their experience.

Our staff is extremely intentional at working with every child to find their growth mindset. They are trained to point out traits and characteristics that they are working on and avoid fixed language. Instead of saying the camper is a natural leader; we would praise the camper for using their leadership skills. It is crucial for children to believe that they can achieve their goals through their determination and that they can develop any characteristic they desire. A simple failure will not stop them.

Camp creates a space that is unique in our present society; a space that a child can fail and it is okay. This message is rare in their lives of school and after-school activities. However, to be successful in high school, college, and even in the working world, a person must have the resilience to pick themselves up and try again. They must believe that they are more than a grade or a score. Growth mindsets lead to children who embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find inspiration in the success of others. As a result, they reach higher levels of achievement. It is our mission to help every child find their inner Champion and achieve at their highest levels!


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