For generations summer camp has been a cherished part of the childhood experience. Today many of the sights and sounds of camp are the same as they have been since the first summer camps began running more than a century ago. Taking a splash to cool off from the summer heat, enjoying laughs with friends and taking hikes through the woods are all led by camp counselors across the country. And, just as they have for generations, kids who go to camp gain independence, create meaningful relationships and get a chance to relax and unwind. But camps are now harnessing the potential that they have to do, and offer, so much more.
The American Camp Association, the professional development, education and accrediting organization for camps, has joined the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. The partnership was developed out of the need to better prepare kids for success in their work and personal lives, and as citizens of their community in a world where technology and globalization are quickly advancing. Its’ founding organizations include Dell, Apple, Microsoft and the Department of Education. The partnership has developed the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning, a set of skills that the founders agreed are essential to success in our rapidly evolving world. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills continues to draw partners and advocates among leaders in the education, business and policymaking communities including organizations like The Lego Foundation, The Walt Disney Company and PBS.
Recognizing that they have a unique opportunity, many camps now focus on teaching kids the 21st century skills that they need to “thrive as tomorrow’s leaders, workers and citizens” (p21.org). Camps are taking advantage of the time kids spend outside of school to help them develop skills like critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and leadership and responsibility. The sights and sounds, and the activities, at camp may be the same, but the experiences are being designed and facilitated in strategic ways that foster 21st century learning. As campers set out to hike through the woods, the adventure is now much more than getting from point A to point B. Kids are involved in trip planning and preparation and opportunities for exploration are camper driven. Leadership skills are put to the test in a real world environment and kids work together to overcome the obstacles they encounter on the trail. Counselors act as mentors and guides, encouraging positive communication and contribution to the community. With the diverse experiences that are available to kids, camps with a focus on 21st century skills today may play a key role in preparing kids to thrive in tomorrow’s world.