Hot Weather? No Problem!

For those of you tracking the weather in these parts, you’ll notice that we’ve had a heat wave up here the last few days. Though we don’t usually get such warm temperatures in this region of Wisconsin, we certainly know how to handle it in style! We’ve made sure to have lots of fans in every cabin and we’ve had a few beach parties, which the campers always love.

And today, as a great surprise and treat for both the campers and staff, we took everyone for a trip to the waterpark in Duluth—everyone cheered so loudly when we made the announcement that the dogs started barking and howling in response! Of course treats like a waterpark adventure are always a blast, but there’s a little more method behind our decisions to surprise the camp with something like a movie or trip to the waterpark. We place a really strong emphasis on rewarding positive behavior, and when the whole camp rallies during a trying time like a big thunderstorm or hot and humid weather, we like to show them our appreciation with something really special.

I was so impressed to see our staff and older campers doing a great job of keeping the tone around camp upbeat and positive the last few days, and was even more impressed at how quickly and effectively that attitude spread to the rest of camp. Going to the waterpark was a great way to cool off and have some fun, but it was also a great way to send a pretty important message to the whole camp: happiness loves company, and great attitudes deserve rewards.
During staff training week, we talked to the counselors and administrators about our way of issuing effective praise. Here at camp, we have a philosophy of practicing what we call “Describe it, label it, and praise it.” I talked about this a bit in one of the earlier blog posts this year, but I’d like to elaborate on this method of effective praise now that the summer is on a roll and I’m really seeing it in action.

When grown-ups praise kids, they often offer general praise. For example, if a child finishes her homework soon after returning from school instead of waiting for the last minute to do it, you will probably say something like “Great job!” However, giving a child more specific praise is much more effective than simply passing a general exclamation of approval. Showing satisfaction and approval to our campers is really important, and by doing so, we make sure each and every camper knows exactly what she is being praised for.

If kids know what behavior is expected of them, and what kinds of behavior are positive and healthy, they are more likely to engage in those behaviors on their own. If a camper does something great like help a friend who is having a hard time, we don’t let such an action go unnoticed. It draws attention to how mature and responsible she is, and it also shows that your child is sensitive to the feelings of those around her. Saying something like “good job,” can be nice to hear, but it isn’t as specific as saying, “I saw how you handled that argument between your cabin mates—that was really great listening and communicating, and I’m so proud of you for being such a great friend and leader.” This type of praise also lets other kids know the type of behavior we are looking for and encourages them to try these positive behaviors as well.

After describing the good behavior, giving it a specific name or label, and then offering praise for it, we also like to follow up with some kind of little reward. Something as simple as a “thank you,” big hug, or hand-written card often goes a long way.

Even though it can be difficult to put ourselves in our children’s shoes, it’s important to remember that to a child, something like a thunderstorm or really hot day can be a major challenge, as can a minor cabin conflict or frustrating day at the climbing wall. So when we see a camper overcome that kind of challenge with a great attitude and positive outcome, we make sure to let her know that we see it, we acknowledge it, and we appreciate it.

And this is exactly why I was so excited to treat all the kids and staff to a great day at the waterpark—I wanted to make sure they all knew just how much we all value the exemplary attitudes and behavior they’ve been displaying the last few days. It was great to see all the campers show how courteous they can be, saying “please” and “thank you” to the bus drivers and waterpark staff. And even though I was too busy making sure everyone was having a good time to do any swimming myself, I got so many hugs that I ended up getting totally soaked! As I sit here typing this, my shirt still wet from all those happy hugs, I can’t help but feel pretty darn proud of my BT girls.

One thought on “Hot Weather? No Problem!”

  1. I am so happy that my daughter is at your camp and that she has such great guidance. I am also thankful for all of the great advice you offer. Thank you for having my daughter at Birchtrail.

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