Summer Camp Grows Confident, Capable Children
The Advantages of Healthy Risk Taking
As a teacher, summer camp professional and parent, I am always on the look out for interesting topics regarding the healthy development of children. A topic that has recently grabbed my attention is the concept of the “risk-takers advantage”; the idea that allowing children and teens to take appropriate risks is important to their development. It is a subject currently being explored by the TV series Bubble Wrap Kids, and was also examined by one of the keynote speakers at the recent Ontario Camps Association Conference. Dr. Michael Ungar , a professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University, argues that the right amount of risk and responsibility helps children and teenagers to thrive, and that so-called bubble-wrapping children denies them important opportunities to develop belonging, trust, responsibility, and confidence in their capabilities.
The world is a safer place for children and teens in Canada than it has ever been, yet the media often seems to portray the world as a minefield with dangers at every turn for our children. This has left a misleading impression of the actual dangers facing children now. As parents, keeping our children safe is extremely important, but I wonder if there is such a thing as keeping children too safe and I worry about what children may be missing out on in an attempt to eliminate all risk.
Camp is an ideal place to foster the healthy risk taking that helps build belonging, trust, responsibility and feeling capable – all of which are extremely important to a child’s biopsychosocial development. I believe that camp is such a great place because I know that the safety of the campers is of utmost importance to everyone working at camp, yet there is still space for risk-taking. Just going to overnight camp and spending time away from parents and friends is a healthy risk. It may be daunting for your child to go somewhere by themselves, but luckily at camp they will be surrounded by staff who are trained to help children successfully build friendships and learn to live with other people. Camp, particularly overnight camp, certainly develops a sense of belonging and the friendships that are established help children gain confidence in their ability to enter a situation without knowing anyone and come away with friends.
I believe that the Panasmugglican Games, the day of team activities that take place in the middle of the session, is a brilliant opportunity for risk taking at C.A.C. The older campers have an opportunity to be team captains which gives them a sense of responsibility, and following the day a sense of achievement that they were able to successfully lead a team, whether they won or not. The vast majority of the ‘games’ are team challenges, such as getting everyone over the challenge wall, which builds trust and helps team members get to know each other by working together. Sometimes the activities push campers out of their comfort zone, but with the encouragement of staff and their peers, it is amazing what children can accomplish. Teaching children that taking informed risks can enable them to achieve something they did not think was possible is a very valuable lesson for their education and future success. Always ‘playing it safe’ can stifle creativity and the realization of potential.
This is definitely a topic I will continue to explore so I am able to provide beneficial opportunities for risk-taking at summer camp for our campers, in my classroom for my students and at home for my daughter. I’ll keep you posted!