The Great 8: The Benefits of Summer Camp on Skill Development

Posted by Steve Baskin on Aug 4, 2020 1:30:00 PM
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Warning - this blog is a little serious and not particularly amusing.  It is a short piece I wrote for counselor orientation.  Each summer, we have one of the longest and most elaborate counselor training and orienation programs in the country.  We spend roughly two full weeks (of 16 hour days) to help our counselors learn about running programs that are safe (physically and emotionally), fun, and "educational."  To be clear, I do NOT use the "E" word (education) around campers or counselors.  I love education, but most young people do not associate it with fun.  We instead talk about growth, skill acquisition, and adventure in the context of outdoor education and creative play at summer camp.

We want our counselors to understand what the gifts of camp are, so we have sessions that talk about "camp outcomes." The following piece accompanied one such session.  It is called "The Great 8."

The Great 8 

Over the past 15-20 years, the world has changed a great deal.  We live in a global community.  Technology is constantly changing.  Our communities, schools and workplaces are becoming more diverse and (we hope) more tolerant. 

Unfortunately, our education system remains essentially the same.  The traditional education system (lecture style, sitting in rows, testing content) was designed to create great factory workers and soldiers.  It, however, is proving to be a poor way to prepare young people for the world we live in because it teaches the wrong skills.  

This leads to two critical questions:

  • What are the most important skills?
  • How can people learn these skills? 

For the last 15 years, a huge number of researchers, employers, parents, scientists and educators have focused on these questions. For example, many of these questions have been answered by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning ( is a prominent organization whose mission is to help "learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops." So, our world! 

Your humble Camp Geek has spent WAY too much time studying this so that he can share what the best minds have come up with.

What Are the Most Critical Skills: The Great 8

First, let me tell you about the skills that are critical for success.  At Camp Champions, we call them the Great 8.  These are not a complete list of skills, but they represent crucial ones that camp is especially effective at fostering.  Here is the list:

  1. Communication, especially oral communication.  Few ideas are the product of a single mind, but are now the result of teams. Teammates need to be able to share ideas, build trust and understand each other.
  2. Collaboration.  Since working in teams will be essential to success, the ability to work well with others is vital – even when your team is not of your choosing.
  3. Creativity.  We do not know the answers to the vexing challenges of our future. We face water shortages, energy problems, climate change, population explosion and a host of other issues. The answers to these problems will come from creative learning and innovative thinking.
  4. Critical Thinking. The challenges of our lives do not come in simple questions that have simple answers that we can put on a standardized test.  These challenges require the ability to critically analyze a situation and formulate potential solutions that are often not obvious.
  5. Leadership.   As mentioned above, we will be solving problems in groups. These groups need leaders that bring out the excellence of its members.  Sadly, leadership is considered one of the rarest of skills these days.
  6. Resilience/grit.  Every person will encounter challenge and failure. People who can rebound from these challenges will succeed when others quit.
  7. Self Control.  Lasting success requires the ability to postpone some short-term pleasures in pursuit of more important long-term goals. Self control is the ability to postpone gratification.
  8. Optimism.  This is not “the glass is half full”.  Check out this definition:
    1. An optimist is a person that believes that problems are temporary and his/her actions can lessen them.
    2. A pessimist is a person that believes that problems are permanent and nothing he or she does will change anything.

Clearly, no one is a pure optimist of a pure pessimist, but you can see that being optimistic gives you power while pessimism leads to depression.  Here is the exciting news: you can teach children optimism!


How Can People Learn These Skills?

There are many answers to this question, but there is one that is simply superior to the alternatives:


There are many benefits of summer camp that enable us to be a perfect place to foster these "Great 8" skills. At camp, we live in close community with others and are tech free.  As a result, we foster communication and collaboration skills.  Fine Arts cultivates creative learning.  The climbing wall helps develop resilience, build confidence, and teach self control. Resolving cabin issues works on critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  Our nightly rituals intentionally foster and teach optimism. 

But we are not just teaching these skills in obvious places.  We are “teaching for transfer.” In essence, “learning for transfer” means giving a camper the ability to apply a skill from one area to another.  So a camper who is creative in drama might apply that creativity to a basketball game or a cabin inspection.  We want to not teach resilience and optimism, but also empower campers to apply those skills to every aspect of their lives.  

In short, we focus on a deeply powerful gift to our campers: we will help them develop the very skills that are most important to success in college, life, love, and careers, AND we will teach them that they can apply these skills to all aspects of their lives. 

The final great gift is reserved for you, the camp staff. Not only will you get the powerful joy that comes from enriching the lives of your campers, but you will be developing and strengthening these skills as well.  When you complete your time as a counselor, you will be a highly appealing teammate, boyfriend/girlfriend, employee and leader. It's what makes summer camp jobs so valuable not only for your personal growth, but also your resume! 

Of course, you deserve it.  You earned it by helping our campers grow into the Champions they are intended to be!

 Steve Sir


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