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Teaching Kindness at Camp

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

-Mark Twain

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the above quotation that I had read many years ago. Most of us want for our own kids above all else to be treated kindly and to treat others kindly. Children learn from what they hear and see from adults. Parents, grandparents, teachers and friends can all have a significant impact on children’s ability to be kind. However, it seems that many of today’s public role models for children undervalue kindness.

In sports, entertainment and politics, children are sometimes exposed to unkind words and actions. Is it unreasonable to expect business and political leaders, professional athletes, actors and countless others to exhibit kind behavior? There are many wonderful role models in the celebrity world, but it seems like much of the attention surrounds those whose character is questionable.

What are parents and educators left to do? We can’t be expected to shield children from every negative force in the word. In fact, this would be counterproductive as kids need to be taught to be resilient and be prepared for the real world. At camp, “be kind” is one of our Elmwood Ten. Our staff learn that kindness needs to be intentionally and actively taught.

Our counselors highlight/recognize positive behaviors. They use statements such as, “I like how…" or "you are being such a good friend.” Even when it might feel unnatural, it is imperative to point out and celebrate kindness. All campers in our third week of camp participate in an activity called the friendship circle. Each child has a chance to write or draw a positive attribute about everyone in their group. The idea again being that it is our responsibility to give campers many opportunities to practice being a kind community member.

Elmwood counselors also model kind behavior. Campers learn from how staff members treat each other. It becomes clear that conflicts are resolved respectfully because that is what being a part of the Elmwood community means. By adults supporting and helping others, children learn this is the best possible way to be.

Lastly, we have zero tolerance for unkind words and acts. Our staff point out alternative and positive language or actions. We do this is in our activity areas as well. On the ball-field, we take the opportunity to explore how to play to our fullest potential while still supporting our team and being respectful of the opposing team. When acting out a story in drama, we will take the time to talk about a nicer or kinder way a character could have acted.

Our hope is that what campers experience and learn during the summer continues in their year-round lives. It is not easy and sometimes feels like an uphill battle, but the benefits are worth it. Perhaps when today’s kids are of age to be role models to others, they will be the ones setting the kind example. Knowing Elmwood kids and families the way we do, we would say it’s a pretty safe bet.

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