In Praise of Praise

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Wednesdays at Birch Trail offer a bit of a change of pace. On Wednesdays of every week, we have Cabin Days, where every camper spends the day with her cabin group, enjoying special activities and treats, apart from the rest of the camp and the usual routine. These Cabin Days tend to involve a much more relaxed schedule that allows time to both recuperate and to reflect. Everyone gets to sleep in a bit, and indulge in breakfast while wearing her pajamas (something typically not allowed). These special days are meant to bring each cabin closer together as a tightly bonded unit.

This first Cabin Day is often the most important, as the kids begin to form the friendships that will carry them through the rest of the sessions. As I watch these burgeoning relationships and experiences progress, I can’t help but pause to take stock. For me, these are some of the proudest times. I get to watch as campers spend the first few days of camp coming into their own and finding a place in this new world.

At Birch Trail, there are systems in place to help facilitate positive, peer-to-peer encouragement. Sure, we could cheer and applaud one another like any old schmo could do, but what would be the fun in that? Because we’re BT folk, we have to put a unique spin on things, so we do it all a little differently here. At Birch Trail, instead of clapping to show support and appreciation, we collectively say “HOW!” when someone has accomplished something special. For example, if my wife, Erin, has worked hard all summer to get to the top of the climbing wall and finally made it, I might make an announcement after dinner that goes something like this: “I’d like to give a big HOW to Erin for climbing to the top of the climbing wall today, because she worked really hard and never gave up.” Then, everyone would join me in saying, “HOW” as a show of camaraderie and support for Erin and all of her persistence. Right about then, Erin would likely be feeling pretty darn great. This tradition goes back a long, long way and is a time-honored measure of success here at BT. Not only can a camper call out a friend’s triumphs in front of her peers this way, but it also offers an opportunity for a young woman to become comfortable with public speaking in a fairly risk-free environment.

Much recent evidence shows that peer support raises children’s self-esteem, can lower rates of depression, and is a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care and sustained behavior change for young children with learning disabilities, chronic diseases and other conditions.

As I see these girls smiling and enjoying themselves participating in the activities offered every day at camp, at least part of that smile arises from the simple satisfaction, and maybe a little pride, that follows each new experience, complete with a community that supports her. And that’s worth a pretty big HOW in my book!

One thought on “In Praise of Praise”

  1. Awesome blog post. I wish my work would instill some of this thinking. Definitely sharing with my team!!!

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